Himes pon­ders past to change fu­ture

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Opinion - John Bre­unig is ed­i­to­rial page ed­i­tor. Jbre­[email protected]; 203-964-2281; twit­ter.com/john­bre­unig. JOHN BRE­UNIG

About 14 years ago, I was chat­ting with a vet­eran jour­nal­ist while vis­it­ing the Newsday news­room across the pond known as Long Is­land Sound.

We just met, and would never meet again, but I was struck by the can­dor of his post-elec­tion anal­y­sis.

“We got it so wrong,” he kept re­peat­ing, shak­ing his head.

I was sur­prised that he was so sur­prised. But yes, many mem­bers of the me­dia ex­pected Demo­crat John Kerry to un­seat in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. And yes, he was right, re­porters based in New York and Cal­i­for­nia were so tone deaf that they tuned out the voices from those states in be­tween.

Maybe you for­got about that. Most of the me­dia had by 2014, when Don­ald Trump won the pres­i­dency de­spite be­ing treated like a punch­line by me­dia pun­dits on the coasts.

The con­ver­sa­tion stuck with me for 14 years. A sim­i­lar one from five weeks ago keeps re­play­ing in my head as well. We were in­ter­view­ing U.S. Rep. Jim Himes as part of the en­dorse­ment process. Af­ter a decade in of­fice, Himes re­li­ably in­vites a peek into the Belt­way crys­tal ball on such oc­ca­sions. He’ll of­fer in­sights into fi­nance (he was pre­vi­ously a Gold­man Sachs vice pres­i­dent) or world af­fairs (he’s on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee).

Two years ago, Himes seemed to be keep­ing his cool af­ter Trump’s elec­tion, pledg­ing in a sim­i­lar in­ter­view that he and col­leagues would pro­vide “checks and bal­ances” for a free form com­man­der-inchief.

He ad­mits now that Trump’s elec­tion left him dazed. He uses vir­tu­ally the same words as the Newsday jour­nal­ist. Himes moves his hands to­gether like a vice and re­lives the mo­ment.

“I was so wrong and sub­se­quently have come to un­der­stand how nar­row my field of vi­sion is with re­spect to Amer­i­can vot­ers.”

Did you catch that? A Wash­ing­ton politi­cian used “I was wrong” in a sen­tence. Pay at­ten­tion, he’ll do it again.

Trump’s vic­tory wasn’t the epiphany for Himes. That didn’t come un­til a few months ago when he was in Ohio with U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, whose dis­trict runs from Akron to Youngstown. He told Ryan his heart broke when the pres­i­dent used the phrase “Amer­i­can car­nage” dur­ing the in­au­gu­ral ad­dress.

“Jimmy, come with me to Youngstown, you will get this,” Ryan re­sponded.

Ryan pointed to a line of “old, beau­ti­ful houses in to­tal dis­re­pair” along a bluff.

“Ev­ery third one is empty be­cause no one can af­ford the up­keep, and ev­ery fifth one has some­one who is strung out on opi­oids,” Ryan ex­plained. “The guy at that house who used to make 25 dol­lars an hour at the plant is now mak­ing nine dol­lars an hour at Wal­greens. In Youngstown, Ohio, my peo­ple un­der­stand Amer­i­can car­nage.”

In ad­di­tion to ad­mit­ting fault, Himes mocks his per­sona as a former banker and Green­wich res­i­dent for good mea­sure.

“I could spend all of my time shak­ing my fists, say­ing (Trump’s) a liar, or I could re­flect on the fact that we were part of the prob­lem. Be­cause Fancy Pants Himes here did not un­der­stand the way a lot of peo­ple who used to vote Demo­cratic said ‘I’ll go with the guy who’s promis­ing to bring back the coal mines.’ ”

His cool fa­cade does rip­ple once, as he imag­ines the work Democrats need to do to re­claim the White House.

“We’re do­ing real well in Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut. Let’s get off the god­dam coasts and talk to peo­ple who don’t like us at all.”

As chair of the New Demo­cratic Coali­tion, Himes has a bold strat­egy for the next two years: Work with Pres­i­dent Trump.

Himes clings to other words of the past. He re­calls Trump pledg­ing to in­vest $1 tril­lion into trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, so he wants to rally col­leagues to col­lab­o­rate with the pres­i­dent to make it hap­pen. He also wants to take Trump up on his vi­sion of re­duc­ing the cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs.

Learn­ing from mis­takes and seek­ing com­mon ground are wel­come ap­proaches. A longer view of his­tory rou­tinely serves as a re­minder to Himes that things were once worse in Wash­ing­ton.

He oc­ca­sion­ally takes vis­it­ing con­stituents to the Old Se­nate Cham­ber where Repub­li­can Mas­sachusetts Sen. Charles Sum­ner, an abo­li­tion­ist, was nearly caned to death by Demo­cratic Rep. Pre­ston Brooks of North Carolina. That was on May 22, 1856, a sym­bolic pre­cur­sor to the worst fis­sure Amer­ica has ex­pe­ri­enced.

“You don’t want the Civil War to be the stan­dard,” Himes rea­sons.

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