Midterm Messaging (with Jason Kander)

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Julián and Sawyer talk about the GOP’s misleading rhetoric regarding Russian sanctions and their effects on American gas prices, while also examining the Democratic Party’s messaging choices ahead of the 2022 midterms. They then welcome Majority 54 podcaster Jason Kander to chat about his advocacy work, especially when it comes to bipartisanship in a post-Trump society.

Follow Jason online at @JasonKander.

Keep up with Julián on Twitter at @JulianCastro and Instagram at @JulianCastroTX. Sawyer can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @SawyerHackett. And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.

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Jason Kander, Julian Castro, Sawyer Hackett

Julian Castro  00:13

Hey there, I’m Julian Castro.

Sawyer Hackett 

And I’m Sawyer Hackett.

Julian Castro 

Welcome to OUR AMERICA. This week we’ll spend some time talking about messaging. First, we’ll get into the GOP’s incredibly misleading rhetoric surrounding gas prices following American sanctions against the Russians. We’ll also discuss the debate around the Democratic Party’s messaging heading into the 2022 midterms. And later in the show, we’ll welcome the host of the Majority 54 podcast. Jason Kander. First let’s tackle the misleading rhetoric that the GOP is employing around gas prices. Sawyer?

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, I mean, it’s just another chapter in the GOP saga of misleading the Americans about any particular issue this week. It’s gas prices. Obviously, as folks saw a couple of weeks ago, the White House and Congress are both moving towards imposing sanctions on Russian oil, imports of Russian oil, the White House acted on that first after some pressure from Congress. But it seems that this is, you know, a bipartisan issue, Democrats and Republicans both aligned in banning these Russian imports. But you know, right after coming out in support of banning those imports, Republicans have decided to attack Democrats on the hiking gas prices that resulted from you know, that lack of supply coming from Russia. We talked a little bit about this with Michael McFaul in last week’s episode about how the US doesn’t import that much gasoline or oil from Russia, it’s not a huge chunk of our of our supply. But of course, it does have a nominal impact on gas prices, which have already been at record highs due to inflation. You know, Republicans have tried to use this opportunity to essentially attack Democrats saying this is Joe Biden’s gas price hike, the White House, you know, initially, I think, stumbled out with this message about Putin’s price hike trying to you know, late at Putin’s feet. Now, it seems like progressives and Democrats in general, are coming around to this idea that that we have to go after big oil here, that after a year of record profits, these big oil companies are willing to pass the cost off of inflation. You know, the actions of dictators like Vladimir Putin, they’re just willing to just, you know, hike up the price of gas, and it’s hurting Americans at the pump. It’s kind of sparked this debate, I think, in the Democratic Party about how we message these things, how we can counter GOP misleading messaging, I wanted to get your thoughts on just how you think we’ve responded thus far, where you think we need to head towards this, this is obviously going to be a key issue heading into the midterms.

Julian Castro  02:39

Well, I mean, let’s start off with the fact that I mean, we know why the GOP is doing this, right. I mean, this, they have an opportunity here. They feel like because Americans, I mean, this hits them in the pocketbook. It’s something that they see, it’s something that they feel it’s easy politically. So it’s not a surprise that Republicans are trying to take advantage of this. And we know that in prior years, during Republican administrations, you know, it’s been the reverse, right? Like, Democrats have made hay about the fact that gas prices were high under Republican administrations for different reasons. And every time you also get the other response, which is probably true, right? And I think true, very true in this case, that the President of the United States has a very limited impact on the cost of gas in America. The good news is I think that this isn’t actually working. I think, because this time, it’s so tied to a particular action, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Biden has pointed that out, and others have pointed that out, I think they can definitely do a better job, right, amplify that message. But I think people are getting that connection. And to the extent that they get that connection, the polling that I’ve seen, and CBS News came out with polling just a couple of days ago on this very point, like, is it worth it, basically. And the vast majority of Americans, I want to say it was something like over 60% of Americans said, yeah, we are willing to pay. Now how long people will be able will be willing to do that and how high they might be willing to pay. You know, it’s one thing if it goes to $4.50 in their area, it’s another thing if it goes to $7.50, the other thing is you have people like Donald Trump that are totally lying about the cost of gas. I mean, this is like a month ago, he said that it was already $7.50 right. So I think right now the Democrats are getting the better of this, but they’re gonna have to amplify that message and make the connection between you know, what we’re doing in response to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and why gas prices are rising. And right now the American people I think are okay, generally okay with it.

Sawyer Hackett  04:56

Yeah, I mean, I think we can’t dismiss pocketbook issues like this, we can’t pretend that that people aren’t affected by them, we can pretend that people aren’t angry about them, whether it’s just inflation on, you know, the goods and services that they’re buying every single day, or its gas that they’re pumping into their car. I think Republicans once again, are just sort of exploiting the veil of ignorance that that most of the American public has about, you know, how we purchase gasoline, where it comes from where we get it from. I don’t think if you ask the average American what the national average of gasoline is today, I don’t think that most people could tell you, but they see news coverage, relentless news coverage about how gas prices are at an all-time high. And they are at an all-time high. And of course, we have to have a message there. I think where Democrats get skittish is like, you know, we know that gas price, attacks on gas prices has a potent message for Republicans. But instead of saying no, here’s what we’re doing to solve it, you know, don’t be so concerned about this, which I think is has been the tendency of a lot of, you know, older Democrats, establishment Democrats, I think we need to hit twice as hard back in terms of going after the big oil companies. Because I think this presents an opportunity for us, it’s not only are we able to say no, hey, look like big oil is passing off the cost of inflation. And of, you know, the ban on Russian oil to you, the consumer after a year of record profits, after a year where they’ve handed their CEOs millions of dollars. After you know, Trump essentially gave them billions of dollars in corporate bailout money during the beginning of the pandemic, you can hit back Republicans on this by saying, Look, after all of this, they want to hand these big oil companies a blank check to keep drilling drill, baby drill, and that’s going to continue to hurt the climate, it’s not going to have any impact on your wallet, immediately. It’s not going to make us more energy independent, it’s just going to make us more dependent on fossil fuel companies. Instead, we can lead the transition to a green economy where you know, we’re creating millions of jobs, we’re lowering your energy costs. And ultimately, we’re getting off of this fossil fuel addiction that we have that’s kept us mired in this issue for so long. Democrats don’t have the tendency to hit back twice as hard with that kind of message.

Julian Castro  07:02

This is an opportunity to get a twofer, to reduce our dependence on places like Russia, and other autocratic regimes. I mean, look at the skirmish that they’re getting in, Democrats are getting in themselves. You know, I saw Senator Menendez go after President Biden for these talks they may be having with the Maduro regime in Venezuela about the potential for oil supply. But you get to say, look, reduce or eliminate your dependence on these autocratic regimes and their oil and gas, and then also transition to cleaner energy for the long term, something that is better for our environment that is becoming cheaper and cheaper. That I think is the message that they need to be putting forward. The other thing is that we’re only going to have this moment, I think, for a little while. And I don’t mean, just because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I think that if it goes on too long, you’re gonna get greater and greater pressure to increase US domestic oil production. Already in the polling that I’ve seen. That’s the first thing that many Americans turn to. I actually believe that for the long term now that we’re talking about messaging, that the left needs to swipe this message of energy independence to mean that we shift from fossil fuels to green energy.

Sawyer Hackett  08:33

It’s recapturing national security as a Democratic issue.

Julian Castro

Yeah. I mean, but that energy independence message has been a Republican message about domestic oil production. Right. It hasn’t been. I remember during the presidential campaign, I think I used that phrase, you know, that I believe in energy independence, and we got, you know, raised some eyebrows on the left, like, what are you talking like? And what they meant was what he taught him. That’s what the people on the right, say, and what they mean is, well increase our own domestic oil supply. But no, I mean, I think we should use it from the standpoint of if you really want to be energy independent, go to clean green energy. That’s the path.

Sawyer Hackett

Yeah, it’s not just to reduce dependence on foreign oil, it’s reduced dependence on oil overall. And in the meantime, we create, you know, millions of green jobs here at home, like we lead that transition across the globe. And again, like we’re horrible at connecting the dots here. Gas prices are up across the globe right now, right? Like this can’t be Joe Biden, because it’s happening everywhere. And that it was a mistake for the White House to try out this Putin’s price hike message. I mean, why are we campaigning against Putin here? He’s got a 5% approval rating in the United States. It’s not like I don’t think blaming Putin for gas prices is going to get us past this issue where if you go after the oil companies, which have been making record profits again, we’ll just keep on saying that. If you go after the oil companies, you can get two birds with one stone by hitting that inflation issue, countering that inflation issue the Republican are hitting us on also countering the message about Russia, the banning on Russian oil. It’s a good message. And then it also contributes to hey, look, by the way, Democrats also have this Build Back Better bill that’s been stalled for so long with $500 billion of investments in green energy, passed this bill. That’s one huge giant step towards energy independence here in America. recapturing like you said, recapturing energy, independence and recapturing national security, because we’re not reliant on these Petro state dictators like Vladimir Putin. And we’re not trading Vladimir Putin for Mohammed bin Salman, who just you know, murdered a Washington Post, you know, columnist a few years ago, like why are we having a debate about which dictator that we should trust for the short term, and we can have this conversation about the long-term transition to clean energy.

Julian Castro  10:41

Yeah, I mean, in the, you know, this debate, I’m sure is gonna rage on and on in DC, I have no doubt that Republicans are gonna keep pushing for greater domestic oil production here in the United States. And they’re gonna keep doing everything that they can to stall a move toward cleaner energy. I mean, so many of them are in the pocket of those big oil and gas companies and their lobbyists. And that’s who they’re over listening to. And I mean, this is another like prime example of why we need to get big money out of politics, but they have this death grip on the Republican Party. And let’s also be honest, I mean, they also influence some Democrats too, I recognize that it’s not possible to go like from 2022 to 2023, 100%, clean energy, but we can be more aggressive, a lot more aggressive than we have been as a country in moving to cleaner energy. And this is a moment that we have where the American people I think, are seeing the benefits of that move, understand the argument and are focused on it more than usual. And so hopefully, Democrats will take advantage of that.

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, I mean, I think, to your point about, you know, I think most Americans aren’t expecting that complete 180 flip to green energy tomorrow that Democrats are promising that, of course, we’re not promising that. And I think the White House leaned a little bit too far in that direction. They’ve been promoting, you know, how much oil drilling we have been doing under President Biden, which I think has been at a higher level than it was under Donald Trump, that there’s all of these wells that that oil companies actually aren’t tapping into right now. That affects the supply issue. Of course, if we’re losing supply from Russia, we, you know, in the short term, need it from somewhere else, they could get it here. But again, and so we’re recording this podcast on Monday, I saw this morning, and your brother share this on Twitter that the price of oil has dropped now below $100 a barrel, which means it is lower now than it was two, even three weeks ago. And yet the price of gas has gone up in that time, the price of gasoline. So these companies are literally price gouging us. I mean, I think maybe this week, you start to see those numbers start to drop on the terms of the pump, at the pump, how much Americans are paying, but right now the price of oil is dropping, and the price of gasoline is going up. And that means that Americans are eating the cost of that. And if we can’t connect the dots between the fact that we handed these oil companies, the 77 biggest fossil fuel companies in the country $8.5 billion in the Cares Act that Donald Trump essentially wrote them a blank cheque with no strings attached. And then the next year, they made record profits, they laid off 60,000 American workers, they handed out these big bonuses to their CEOs. And now they’re price gouging us at the gas pump. Why do they get no criticism in this debate? Why is Putin the one that we’re subjecting our outrage towards?

Julian Castro

Yeah, I feel like it’s so amazing. If anybody actually did a thorough investigation, an audit and got the numbers from these companies, which would probably be almost impossible to do. I can only imagine how much they have price gouged over the years, how many times they’ve been slow walking, reducing prices, when they could have very well done that they could have taken some of that pain away from Americans in their pocketbook. But they don’t do it. I mean, they play this game, and they’re gonna keep playing that game. In remarks that he made a few days ago, Biden was clear about companies shouldn’t use this. The inflation that’s happening and the conflict that’s going on. And basically, it’s an excuse to raise prices. But you know, that that’s what is happening. And he can say that all he wants, unfortunately, that’s what’s going to happen. And there needs to be much greater agency and congressional oversight, especially because, as you said, we handed out a lot of money to these companies. Not only that, I mean, not just you know, pandemic relief, but every single year in the budget and through our tax code. They’re still rewarded.

Sawyer Hackett  14:46

But while we’re on the topic of messaging, there’s been a lot of coverage, I think, over the last few days about talks behind the scenes that Democratic Party leaders are having with the White House, with leadership in Congress, heading into the midterms about what The Democratic Party’s message should be Speaker Pelosi and Democratic leadership have been having conversations suggesting different kinds of messaging. vulnerable house members, I think are very wary about sticking to that Build Back Better messaging, you know, believing that it’s become toxic after the failure of our major, you know, our major legislative priorities. Speaker Pelosi apparently preferred the phrase Democrats deliver. But the White House had already tested that message in different message polling that they were doing, and it was at the very bottom of potential slogans that they had tested. So, you know, it’s, I think, starting this debate, you know, an important debate the Democratic Party needs to have heading into this cycle about what we’re saying, you know, at a time where we’re heading out of this pandemic, the economy is starting to pick up. But of course, at the same time, you know, we’ve been stuck in it for two years. And we now have this conflict with Russia and Ukraine. It’s just a lot of stuff, eating up a lot of the oxygen in the room. And so what the Democrats say, what do we say heading into the midterms? What’s our message?

Julian Castro  16:02

I mean, I think we say life is better now, fundamentally, for most people in this country, if you compare January of 2021, to today, life is better, they’ve gotten vaccinated, their job or their small business has more certainty right now. They’re not wearing a mask, and not to wear a mask. You know, there’s a little bit better, justifiably, better feeling about where we’re at, in the pandemic, so life is better now, because of Democrats. And I think that’s a little bit different from Democrats deliver. But I do think you need to make that case of how people’s everyday lives, their health, their job, their kids, education is better off now. Because Joe Biden is there, because their state representative is there, their statewide elected officials who are Democrats, and you know, maybe most importantly, Congress and the Senate that we want to keep in 2022. We get into these messaging debates, and we have this heartburn every two years during these cycles. There’s never like a magic bullet message. I don’t think that works. But I have to believe that people recognize the difference between where we were at the end of 2020. And where we are today, I get discouraged. Because just looking at the polling, Americans don’t seem to either believe or understand fully right now that we have an unemployment rate under 4%. Like by historical measures, all of this is, you know, impressive. You know, I usually say that the good news is that we have time, but really, we’re kind of running out of time. Because people’s opinions when once they’re set by the end of the summer, I think that’s what’s going to dictate how they vote in November.

Sawyer Hackett 

Right. I mean, I think that there’s this built-in disadvantage that Democrats have in the media about our problems are on the front page of the news. And when we solve problems, you know, it’s it doesn’t ever get covered. I think that’s especially true for the Biden administration. Because I think that just frankly, you know, I don’t think they’ve been very good at messaging all of their success. And I think they’ve tried in many ways, but I just don’t think that we’ve talked about a number of times just about how they’re able to have those messages breakthrough in the intention economy. And I think they’ve done a lot of things, you know, bringing in TikTok, or to the White House to talk about how to frame these things. Things like that, I think are incredibly useful. And like, we absolutely need to be doing them, but they’re not really breaking through in a mainstream way. And I think you’re right, like the message, life is better, you know, not saying that you’re suggesting that that’s a slogan we should use. But life is better is way different than Democrats deliver, because I think leaders in Congress, they want to focus on how we pass the American rescue plan and the bipartisan infrastructure law, and all of these little tiny minor bills that nobody has paid attention to. I mean, nobody knows anything about what’s in the American rescue plan. I think they remember getting a check. I don’t think they even know which president sent it to him, though. And I think, you know, it’s one of these things where like, folks in Congress gets so sucked into their own world. And they think that everything that they’re doing is on the front pages of all these local papers, it’s not, it’s not being talked about at the kitchen table anymore. They’re talking about the pandemic. They’re talking about how, you know, the jobs that they lost in their hometown are not coming back. They want to hear about how they can get back to normal, which I think is the Build Back Better message that that Biden had put together. I think, of course, the vulnerable Democrats are right that a lot of that has been soured, because we haven’t been able to pass important things like $15 minimum wage, we haven’t been able to pass voting rights. We haven’t been able to pass our Build Back Better bill, we haven’t been able to pass all of these things that we promised voters in the last cycle. At the same time. The other big part of this is we have to be able to paint a picture of Republicans. And if we’re not doing that in a year where the Republican Party is literally embracing fascism, and that Republican members of Congress are attending conferences where they’re praising Hitler. I mean, how are we not winning that messaging war? How are we not winning a messaging war about Ukraine, when Trump is calling Putin a genius, like, we have to be able to do those two things at once. I think part of that is building a slogan, of course, building a message. But it’s telling that whole story before you get to the slogan, voters have to have that baked idea in their heads before you get to the slogan, it has to affirm what they already know about Republicans and about Democrats.

Julian Castro  20:32

Yeah, well, and, you know, I have no doubt that they’ve done a lot of thinking in Biden’s camp at the DNC, the DSCC, the DCCC, you know, all the alphabet soup of groups of trying to figure that out, but ultimately, it’s gonna come down to people’s lives and you know, what they feel in their lives? And do they give the administration and Congress congressional Democrats credit for that or not? And so I think these guys got to keep pounding away at those basic messages.

Sawyer Hackett

Speaking of messages, you were traveling over the weekend, you went to Idaho, what were you hearing from voters out there? I mean, it’s probably one of the first trips you’ve done, you know, back into sort of somewhat normal pandemic time, Pope’s post pandemic times. What were folks talking about in Idaho?

Julian Castro 

Well, I decided to only take on the bluest states in 2022, like Idaho. Yeah, I remembered, during the presidential campaign, I made a pledge to visit like all 50 states. And I think we got to 30 of them. But the first two that we went to that were off the beaten path, this was like, I think in late February of 2019, I went to Salt Lake City, and I went to Boise. And it was my first time in Idaho at that point. But what I saw there was, you have a very active group of Democrats, you basically have two areas, the Boise area, which is a largest area in the state, and then Sun Valley, which a lot of people know, right, is this resort community and, you know, ideas community, it’s grown a lot in the last few years, both of those places have, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the states that often get written off. Because Texas has been written off for so long. What I found there and what I found in many of these places that I’ve been to the states where people just write them off and say they have no chance and mean, let’s be honest, it’s very difficult, right, for Idaho, statewide candidates to win in 2022. But I tell them, I mean, look at what’s happened in places like Virginia, you know, the home state, you grew up in a Virginia that was very Republican. You know? Colorado, North Carolina, California, before the 1992 presidential election. I mean, California was the state of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and a number of other Republican governors.

Sawyer Hackett 

Pretty much that whole Sunbelt, which is now I think the future of the Democratic Party was, you know, just a few years ago considered, you know, deep red.

Julian Castro 

So I mean, Georgia, if you told somebody, you know, a few years ago, even though look, I know, it was the South, and there was a time like Texas when it was very democratic. But in the last 30 years, generally the states, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, even that’s gone a little bit back and forth with their governors, but you’ve seen change, Arizona to talk about the Sun Belt. So I told them, you know, keep working, keep the faith. They had a very energized group of Democrats. They’re about 550 or so people in Boise. And I also told him the story of Texas like in 2018, during the Trump years, like we won these two congressional seats, 12 State House seats, two state Senate seats. We kept on just about all of those gains in 2020. We didn’t make progress that we wanted to in 2020 in Texas, but hey, we didn’t really lose ground either. So I told them, hey, you can do it. And my hope is that we’re going to compete in all 50 states in 2022. And then again in 2024, because that whole Sunbelt, and then Mountain West that Idaho was a part of, I really feel like that is the future of the party and the electoral map. And so hopefully, they’ll keep plugging away and all of that.

Sawyer Hackett  24:28

Yeah, I mean, I think when you said when you made that pledge to visit all 50 states, there was a collective sigh in our campaign headquarters, knowing that we would be traveling to some of the most obscure places in the country, but you know, there was a  lot of jostling for that potential Hawaii trip that we were hoping.

Julian Castro

That we never made. Yeah, that’s twice man. Hawaii and West Virginia are the two states that I still have not been to, you know, we’re gonna go at HUD and then it you know, time ran out of time and also I was alive. You know, we’re a little bit Hey, if you’re gonna actually go to Hawaii as the HUD secretary or government official from DC, you have better have a legitimately good reason to do that, you know, not just go to go. And we never made it out there to Hawaii. I still have it.

Sawyer Hackett 

Well, speaking of going to places, you know, Republican states. In a few minutes, we’re gonna have on Jason Kander, who is a former Missouri State politician. He’s an Army veteran. He’s an author, and he’s now the co-host of majority 54 podcast. He also founded let America vote, which is a national campaign against voter suppression. We’re going to talk to him about Russia and Ukraine, talk to him about campaigning in and talking to voters in a deep red state. So really looking forward to that conversation.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I mean, Jason, you know, he follows this. He lives and breathes it. I think it’ll be a good conversation. Stick around for it. Jason Kander is a former Missouri State politician, Army Veteran author and the host of the Majority 54 podcast, He also founded Let America Vote, a national campaign against voter suppression. And as a leader with the Kansas City based veterans community project. Jason, I was gonna say, Welcome to OUR AMERICA, but actually welcome back. You were with us last season. Welcome back to the show.

Jason Kander  26:42

I’m honored to have earned a repeat appearance. Thank you.

Julian Castro 

Now, it’s always great to have you. Well, of course, the big news of today, and really, for the last couple of weeks has been about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the invasion, you actually served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. And I know you follow these events closely. The situation there in Ukraine has gotten very dire, more than 2 million people have fled the country as refugees into bordering nations. We’ve all seen the images have destroyed hospitals and other infrastructure and the lives that have already been taken. Just want to ask you about your reflection on how you believe the people of Ukraine are pushing back and holding up.

Jason Kander

I think it’s, you know, it’s inspiring, and it’s remarkable, and I’m certainly not original in that thought, I will tell you what is personal about it to me, or at least where it is personalized is my wife came to the United States as a refugee from the Soviet Union in 1989. She was seven years old. She was eight when she got here, seven when she left, but she left Odessa, Ukraine, you know, my in laws, my wife like, there’s this whole community here in Kansas City that came from Ukraine, because of anti semitism. And it’s been an interesting, I don’t know, we’ve been processing this over the last couple of weeks, because that community here in Kansas City, at least, and I bet this is true of that community and other places around America has always referred to itself as the Russian community, because when they left, it was the Soviet Union, they were made to speak Russian, they were, you know, but even there, they weren’t considered Russian. They were considered Jewish. That’s what their passport said. And therefore, there were things they weren’t allowed to do. What’s been interesting about it, for me personally, is, you know, like my kids, I’ve told them, you know, you’re half Russian. But now, like this week, I mean, my daughter’s one, but I told my son this week, I was like, you know, you’re half Ukrainian, and like, we had a conversation, but of course, he’s eight years old. So he’s like, okay, whatever. But, you know, it is a whole different way of thinking about it. And really where I’m landing this is they left because of anti semitism. And, and I always wanted to go, I studied Russian in college, I wanted to go back, see where my in laws were from where my wife was from. And they always said, you know, that  place didn’t want us. So we don’t really have a lot of interest in that. And now they’re feeling much more connected to it. But also, I you know, Zelenskyy was elected by 72% of the population, a Jewish man was elected by 72% of the voters in that country. 30 years after, you know, my in laws, and a lot of other families said, this place doesn’t want us. And I guess I just, I say all that to say it makes me think about how important and precious democracy actually is. And that’s what I see happening on the ground is people there for several years now have had a taste of actual democracy. And that’s why their willingness to fight is so strong.

Sawyer Hackett 

So Jason, I want to talk a little bit about how this is shaping politics at home. You know, Americans are rightly concerned about, you know, rising gas prices already, you know, compounded by inflation. But to me, it seems like Republicans and some Democrats are kind of using this as an opportunity to benefit those oil and gas companies, those big donors of theirs. How do you think Democrats should be both pushing back on that and leading on the issue of energy in relation to Russia?

Jason Kander  30:15

Well, I think in general, when it comes to energy policy, we have to do a much better job of making sure that we assign blame and motive. And that’s true before this, right? And that’s, and here’s what I mean, like, there was a quote from one of the big players at the American Petroleum Institute at Big Oil. Last week, I don’t remember what he said exactly. But it was, you know, some sort of fancy business speak of saying like, right now we’re going to focus on, you know, dividends, and not increasing supply, but on profitability. And I was like, okay, I get it, what you’re saying is, we’re not going to increase the supply of oil in America, we’re going to charge more per barrel because we have that opportunity right now. And rather than spend the money to increase the supply, we’re gonna take that money, we’re just gonna send it to people who own stock in our companies like I mean, they just said that out loud. I don’t think we should let them get away with that. So obviously, there’s enormous disruption to the market right now. And yes, those disruptions are in part caused by the fact that Americans have so far decided to do what is the right moral thing, which is to levy sanctions against Russia, and to say, we’re not going to buy oil from you. And for a while Americans are going to be okay, with gas prices being higher. But Americans also need to be told by the left, that gas prices are not entirely higher for that reason, they’re higher because oil companies want to make a lot of money off you during a crisis. And we have to get that message out. Because Republicans while simultaneously joining a chorus of Democrats to say we should, you know, stop importing any oil from Russia, we’re also setting up basically a political ambush, to say, don’t let Biden blame the Russia situation on the increase gas prices they’re trying to do both at the same time, which means we need to remind people that no, look, the bad actor here is the oil companies.

Julian Castro  32:05

You know, that’s a good segue to my next question. You’re there in Missouri. I’m in Texas, we’re kind of kindred spirits in the sense that we’re both in these red states. The difference being that during the Trump era, Texas started moving left and during that same time, moving to the right. But your podcast Majority 54, based on your own experience, has centered a lot on how Democrats should reach out and talk to the other side and folks in the middle who could be swayed. I mean, what do you think the biggest messaging challenges or flaws of today’s Democratic Party is ahead of the November 22 election? And what do you think we should do about it?

Jason Kander 

Yeah, well, I appreciate the question. And let me start by saying what I think it is not because it is. I frequently hear people talk about this as a debate between do we move more to the center? Do we compromise more on our policies? Or do we, you know, lean hard into a more progressive agenda? I actually think that that is an academic conversation that has very little to do with winning voters over I also hear the conversation constantly framed a different way, which is, do we bother to try to win people over and sometimes that gets even worse, and it becomes like, as if there’s some sort of moral failing or moral judgment to be laid upon people who try to get the votes of people who have voted for Trump in the past? I mean, I’ve had folks who I agree with on like, pretty much every issue act like I’m some sort of, you know, collaborator with fascist and racist because I try to convince people who voted for Trump not to do, not to vote for the Republicans. And I’m like, okay, great. Yeah, from Brooklyn, that is a perfectly reasonable view for you to inhabit and have it not changed your life at all. But my next-door neighbor, who my kids play with has a let’s go Brandon T-shirt. So like, I’m not, like that is not and I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too. That’s not a tenable strategy when you live among people. And also, I feel like, Look, I’m not compromising, too if I want to have a conversation about politics with my neighbor and try and convince him. I’m trying to save a soul is how I look at it, right? Like, it is not collaborating. It’s soul saving. It’s being evangelical about our progressive beliefs. So I think the biggest challenge there within the party is making sure people understand that and from a messaging perspective, I think it’s understanding that our arguments are actually really, really good. And our policies are popular when they’re, and we know this, their policies are popular when they’re delivered without the brand of Democrat and in a more rural or even suburban to rural area. But what we have to do is we have to center them on the things that are happening in people’s lives. And I don’t mean we have to focus them on people’s economic interests, because people vote their values against their economic interest all the time, given the enormous wealth that comes with podcasting, obviously, you and I must be in top brackets at this point.

Jason Kander 

But yet we still vote Democratic, right. So my point is, we have to center them in values and things that everybody can connect to. So what I always come back to is four simple things that everybody wants for their family. They want their family to be happy, healthy, safe, and nearby, you know, those middle two, safe and healthy, the Democratic Party overall, has gotten pretty good at that, like we message those really well, we have figured out that safety, you know, you can get into that issue by talking about gun measures, right, that makes sense. Health. I mean, we’ve always been good at that going back to Truman, right? Happy? We’re starting to figure that out a little bit. But we got to recognize that that has to do with people’s cultural identity, right? That, that doesn’t mean that you don’t protect transgender rights so that you don’t do those things, it means that you got to talk about him like somebody from where you’re from talks about him, you don’t have to get into all the details of it. You can just say, I don’t believe in discriminating against other people’s kids. Like that’s a cultural identification. And but the big one that we miss on to actually answer your question, the big one that I think we miss on more than anything is we never talk about nearby, where you’re from and where I’m from, we’re all worried that our kids are going to go somewhere else in the country for opportunity. And that we’re gonna have to make that choice, do we leave the place that we love to be near our kids and eventually our grandkids? Or do we stay and not get to be a part of their lives as much. And so when we talk about trade, when we talk about, you know, alternative fuels, it can’t just be we’re going to create green jobs, it’s got to be, we’re going to create green jobs so that your kids don’t have to leave, and they can stay near you that to me is in the Midwest in the South. That’s the centerpiece of our message and what it’s got to be.

Sawyer Hackett 

I want to stick on messaging for a minute, because I think it’s really important point. I’m a regular listener to your podcast. And yeah, and I was struck in preparing for this interview that you two have a lot of similarities. You’re both young, you’re both from red states. You’re both under 50. But I think on the messaging side, you both also seem to reject this mindset about persuasion versus turnout, like you said, you weren’t giving up on voters in that pursuit while remaining, you know, staunchly progressive. So I guess my question is kind of for both of you like, what do you think the older generation of politicians gets about messaging that the younger generation of politicians don’t, and vice versa?

Jason Kander 

Well, I will defer you, it’s your show. So it’s a question for both of us. You go ahead.

Julian Castro  38:00

I mean, I do think that sometimes we get too doctrinaire and averse to actually reach out and speak the language, or at least try and figure out a way to meet folks halfway in the messaging. And in places like Texas, in places like Missouri, it’s an absolute must, if you’re going to win people over. I found that out in local politics, when I was running in nonpartisan races as a city councilman, and for mayor, and, you know, on our block clock lists, we would have people that were Republicans and Democrats because it was nonpartisan. And you know, when you got to the door of those conservative folks, you had to figure out how to talk to him and not betray your values or what you were, you know, your vision for the city’s future, but speak to them in a way that convinced them that you are a person that could do a good job and was listening to them and would be fighting for them, even if you didn’t agree with them, or they didn’t agree with you on a whole number of issues.

Jason Kander 

Yeah, I agree. I think that the older generation, like I’m talking President Clinton’s era of Democratic politicians, one thing that I think that they did very well, that has been lost a bit is showing rather than telling and, you know, if you think back to those Clinton State of the Union addresses, it was a series of stories of people who were dealing with the problems that he was trying to solve. It was never a lecture about why American values and you know, the Constitution and are united, […] mean that we have to do acts? Like, I think, for instance, if that area, if Al Gore, and he and people like that were engaged at that level today, they wouldn’t make the mistake we make of just saying why voter suppression is bad. They would lead with a story about a woman in Wisconsin, who, you know, had been voting at the same polling place for her entire life and all the election judges knew her by her face, and yet, you know, because her license had expired. She hadn’t had the opportunity to vote. And she had marched with Dr. King, right? Like, like they would tell you that story, or they would do like what, you know not to use too extreme of an example. But what we’re seeing out of Ukraine right now, which is they would show you what’s happening. They would  combine if you combined it with and this is where learning from young people that use of social media, and messaging technology to make something go viral. But if you combine that with the I want to show you what’s happening, because if you think about where the conversation in this nation changed on, for instance, BLM, it happened, because there was an eight-minute video, right, it was an example that you could not turn away from. And so I think that combining that approach of telling a story with, you know, recognizing what is compelling and can be viral and shared. That’s, I think, the sweet spot of where we have to go,

Julian Castro  40:52

you know, speaking of this November, and all of the candidates that are out there, you’re in Missouri right now. And you guys have Eric Greitens, who used to be the governor of Missouri until he got caught up in this sexual assault scandal.

Jason Kander 

Combined with a whole campaign reform scandal or campaign finance scandal,

Julian Castro 

and then ignominiously resigned from office a few years ago, and now he’s back. And he’s running for the United States Senate there. And my understanding is that he’s competitive at least. And there’s a fear among Republicans that if he wins the nomination that may give Democrats an opportunity to take back the Senate seat. What is going on in that race? And can you just kind of decode the craziness there?

Jason Kander 

So you’ve got you’ve got Eric Greitens. You know, I actually knew Eric Greitens. When he was a Democrat, we had sort of existed in the same space, right? He’s from St. Louis. I was from Kansas City, we were both active politically, and we were veterans. And people were like, You got to meet this guy. Now, at that time, he was like meeting with the DCCC and trying to figure out which congressional seat he was going to run in. In 2008. He drove like 16 hours with our former Democratic governor, to go see President Obama except he’s not in the nomination in Denver. Like, he was a very active Democrat. And then what 2016, you know, he ran for governor as a Republican. It was not like a few months before that, that he was like thinking of running as a liberal Democrat for Congress. And then I guess he decided that, you know, as one does, that he would become like a crazy, right-wing Republican. I mean, it makes no sense, right? And it tells you what kind of personality you’re dealing with. So that was, you know, that was kind of the end of our relationship. But so that’s Greitens, and yeah, he’s got a real chance, for sure. Well, let’s keep going down the list. You got one of his top competitors, a guy named Eric Schmidt, who’s our Attorney General. Eric and I always got along real well, because he was the guy. He was like, every Democratic legislator or statewide officials favorite Republican because he was reasonable and moderate. I did a trade mission to China with Eric once I did several bills with Eric, I do not recognize the fellow who’s running for the United States Senate. I suspect neither does Eric. And it’s kind of sad. So that’s the second Eric, let’s go to another guy. There’s this guy I’ve never met McCloskey. Now, you may remember this fella, because he and his wife came out, like two months into lockdown during BLM protests and waved AR-15s around.

Julian Castro  42:10

Oh, that guy.

Jason Kander 

That’s some of the more colorful characters. But yes, there is a chance, you know, regardless of who’s nominated, there’s a chance in Missouri, but I try and be really realistic with people about the fact that Missouri like a lot of other states right now, is a state that can become competitive. But it’s a mini it’s a multiple year project. That doesn’t mean we can’t win an election now. But it means that we have to stop looking every election cycle for like, who’s the candidate who’s gonna save us? Well, we’ve got to do is we’ve got to build our democratic infrastructure, so that it’s not like one or two possible candidates in people’s minds that that could come along and help that, you know, any good candidate could be really competitive. And this may be one of those years. But we either way, we have a lot of work to do here.

Julian Castro  44:19

Well, you know, in addition to your podcast, Majority 54, you’re also leading a national expansion of the veterans community project, which I know is a Kansas City based organization that’s focused on providing housing to veterans who are facing homelessness, obviously, that’s near and dear to my heart, and wanted to hear a little bit more about what y’all are doing.

Jason Kander 

No, I appreciate the chance to plug like everything I’m doing. Thank you very much. Yes, so I am the president of national expansion of veterans community project, and we raised villages, for anybody who has raised their hand to defend the country. So we it’s a transitional housing model. And it’s incredibly effective, we have an 85% rate of positive transitions into permanent housing for homeless individuals, we also have this whole other side of what we do, it’s more focused on curbing the suicide epidemic among veterans. That is just our outreach program available to all veterans. You know, a lot of people are familiar with the statistic that 22 veterans take their lives every day. What a lot of people don’t know is that on average, 16 of those 22 are not connected to any kind of veteran specific services at the time that that happens. So having a very low barrier to entry, and making sure that you can provide services in a very nimble way, is crucial. And so that’s the other piece that we do and, and so now, you know, we’ve been providing services in the Denver area for about a year, we’re under construction on a full campus, they’re under construction in St. Louis, now, we’ll break ground this month in Sioux Falls after that is Oklahoma City. And then we’ve got a few other on the burner that I just can’t announce yet. So it’s really exciting. And it’s the best civilian job I’ve ever had.

Julian Castro  46:00

Well, you know, and I’m glad to hear about the work that y’all are doing. Because, you know, President Obama made ending veteran homelessness, such a big priority, and between 2010 and 2016, reduced with the help of so many folks across the country, reduced veteran homelessness by 47%. And then it started to tick upward again, during the Trump years, and homelessness in general has risen during this pandemic, you know, President Biden a couple of days ago was in Fort Worth, and addressing a group of veterans regarding health care and other issues. And I think a lot of people agreed with what he said, which is that these men and women who have served our country shouldn’t have to ask for a damn thing. But too oftentimes, they get failed, by, you know, the institutions that they rely on.

Jason Kander 

Yeah, and, you know, on top of that, these are folks who have a lot left to contribute to society. And it’s not just a matter of like getting people out of homelessness. I mean, like, the folks that we’ve transitioned out of homelessness have gone on to do great things in our community and in the communities where we work. And so it’s really in everybody’s interest.

Sawyer Hackett 

So what’s next for you? I think a lot of people are interested in, you know, wondering, when we’re gonna see return back to politic, elected office, do you see that in the near future for you?

Jason Kander 

Well, I feel like I’m in politics, at least to the amount that I’m interested in right now. You know, I have my podcast Majority 54. I, I do you know, we’re in an election year. So when we get in the second half of the year, I’ll be doing more of the surrogate thing like I did last time. So I you know, I feel like I’m pretty politically involved. But look, I coach Little League Baseball, I play on a men’s baseball, not softball, baseball team, I, you know, I’m having a lot of fun. And I’m really enjoying getting to build these communities and save veterans lives across the country. So I love all this work. So I guess what’s next for me is like, I’ll do this. I have a book coming out in July, I’ll just pivot right to, I have a book coming out on my journey with, you know, PTSD and running for office at the same time. It’s the best and most important thing I’ve ever written. It’s called Invisible Storm. People can preorder it now. And if they read that book, I answered that question, boy, look at this. I answered that question in the last chapter of the book about like, will I ever run for office again. But you know, what I can tell you now is, it’s not something I’m looking at doing right now. I’m having a lot of fun.

Julian Castro  48:32

We’re glad that you’re having fun. And, Jason, we’re glad that you could lend your insight to us on the podcast today. And that your book that folks should be looking out for is called Invisible storm. And hopefully we’ll have you on a third time to talk about those journeys and other things in the months to come.

Jason Kander 

That’d be awesome. I will take you up on that. Thanks so much for having me back.

Sawyer Hackett

And as always, folks can leave us a voicemail sharing some of the stories that you care most about right now at 833-453-6662. That’s 833-453-6662 and as always subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts.


OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Media Original. Our Producer is Xorje Olivares, with executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Julian Castro. Mix and scoring by Veronica Rodriguez. Music is by Xander Singh. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett and at @LemonadaMedia. If you want more OUR AMERICA, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts.

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