For liberals like me, living in scarlet-littered Flagler has felt a lot like endlessly summering on a common heretic’s cross on Golgotha, with no obliging Romans to un-nail me and certainly no third-day resurrection in the shape of a good fat juicy burger of a viable Democratic candidate to give me faith. Even pretend faith.
It’s been a few thousand days since a Democrat last represented any part of Flagler in Congress. That was the corrupt and, in my book, criminal Corinne Brown. We’ve had our share of candidates since, but they’ve been sacrificial lambs or sophomoric dopes.
Now comes Nancy Soderberg.
On paper, she looks like an apparition and a paradox both: an overqualified foreign policy expert proposing to run for Congress in a hyper-provincial district of Northeast Florida where going to Palatka counts as traveling abroad. Compared to Ron DeSantis, the Republican currently pretending to represent the 6th Congressional District (his more calculated allegiance is as a member of Capitol Hill’s premier sabotage organization euphemistically known as the “Freedom Caucus”), she certainly packs more policy experience in a week’s worth of her past than DeSantis has accrued in front of Fox TV’s cameras in the past four years.
But we re-learned in 2016 that in politics anymore experience means nothing. In 2016 the most politically experienced presidential candidate lost to the least qualified in American history. Soderberg’s experience, in other words, won’t help, particularly as it is mostly associated with the (Bill) Clinton years. Though she worked for the most politically savvy president since Lyndon Johnson, it doesn’t seem to have rubbed off. When I asked her what lessons she drew from Hillary Clinton’s loss, she said “I’m really not going to comment on that.” Twice.
Really? If Democrats are to have any hope, locally, at the state level or nationally, they’d better have an honest analysis of why they’ve become so marginal, and why an outlier like Donald Trump could defeat them after Barack Obama’s ostensibly successful two-term presidency. But Soderberg won’t comment.
Republicans own 32 legislatures and 33 governorships across the country. They have a crushing advantage in the Florida Legislature. Bill Nelson is the last statewide Democrat still standing. In Flagler, Democrats hold just two measly elected offices, one on the school board and one in Flagler Beach. Republicans have a 7,000-vote advantage over Democrats in the county, by far the largest margin ever. It keeps growing. Trump won the county by 20 points after Obama won it by two just eight and a half years ago. But Soderberg won’t comment.
She could point to at least one Hillary mistake she could learn from. But she’s repeating it. She’s running on her CV. She’s making assumptions. She could point to another: Clinton’s disconnection from the people she sought to represent, her preference for running behind white papers. But there too Soderberg for now appears to have no more connection to Flagler than DeSantis does. She recently appeared at one local Democratic group’s event. That was actually the first time I’d heard of her. I had to ask her repeatedly what other events she’s attended locally. She repeatedly deflected the question, then said there were a few, then said she couldn’t specify and would have her campaign aide tell me which they were. The aide never did.
Soderberg taught at the University of North Florida, where some of her students are from Flagler and the rest of the congressional district. That’s one way she’s learned about the district, she says. But that’s like saying that I know Islam because I knew a few Muslims. It might help in a game of Flagler-based Trivial Pursuit. It won’t help to win respect in a congressional campaign.
Not that the CV isn’t impressive. She went to graduate school at Georgetown. She was Ted Kennedy’s foreign policy aide between 1984 and 1988, back when the Reagan White House was more of a junta than a presidency and could use every check in the arsenal. She was the Bill Clinton campaign’s foreign policy director at a time when Clinton himself was considered a foreign policy greenhorn. She served as deputy director of his National Security Council, playing a key role in Clinton’s historic brokering of the British government’s peace agreement with the Irish Republican Army. That’s no small achievement.
She then became a top aide to United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, handling African affairs and stepping in for him at various points in the waning days of the Clinton Administration. That earned her the title of “ambassador,” which she technically did hold, but she was not the UN ambassador as we understand the position according to those who filled it during the Clinton years—Madeleine Albright, Bill Richardson, Holbrooke. She was not even “acting” ambassador, like Peter Burleigh for a while. That’s not to diminish her accomplishments. But title inflation is unnecessary, considering her much deeper accomplishments elsewhere. (I have nothing against the UN: I’m a graduate of its school in New York, I’m one of roughly seven people left in Florida who consider it a necessary institution, its work often more useful than whatever Congress does most days. But a candidate flying the UN flag in a place like Flagler will only make her opponents’ hearts flutter with glee.)
She also taught at UNF for a decade. She heads Soderberg Global Solutions, which her UNF bio describes as “an international consulting firm.” And she is or has been a member of innumerable boards and councils, among them the Council on Foreign Relations. I mention that last one because it hardly gets more insiderish-Washington. And because it leads to that other Soderberg paradox, which is turning into a cliché of campaigners for any office: Soderberg claims to be running as an outsider, as someone who understands that Washington—the Washington that made her name—“is so dysfunctional,” in her words. She points to a disconnect between Washington and constituents. The intended applause line paradoxically underscores her own disconnect from the 700,000 voters she’s going to be speaking to in the months ahead in Flagler, St. Johns, Putnam and Volusia.
She speaks convincingly of working to fix the Affordable Care Act and preventing the elimination of insurance coverage for what she says would be 70,000 people in the district. She has no illusions about the failings of Obamacare. She says its market has to be stabilized, not plundered, to work better. That’s all fine, and the GOP’s cascades of collapsing attempts to “repeal and replace” may well give some Democrats an opening. But I doubt that’ll be the case in our own 6th District, where prejudice and propaganda, not evidence, prevail when Obamacare is the subject. Specifically what Soderberg would do to fix it, beyond preservation, is what we want to hear.
I’ve not heard it yet, and just badgering DeSantis or the GOP on that account won’t do. We know his understanding of health care stops at “tax cut.” We know he’s cruel, indifferent, clueless. We also know that it hasn’t stopped him from winning the district by nearly 20 points last time out. He’s rehearsing a run for governor in 2018, which could open the seat to yet another flood of candidates, giving Soderberg another opening she needs to make a greater mark. But at this point Republicans in this district could run the retrieved skeleton of Laika, the poor bitch the Soviets shot up in Sputnik 2 in 1957 to orbit Earth, and still win.
Given the big advantage of Republican registrations in the district, I asked Soderberg what she was going to do to reach across party lines to win crossover votes (the way Republicans have been doing so brutally well). This is what she said: “The district is a lot of people who are registered No Party Affiliation. The NPA vote, many of them have voted for Trump in the past and have voted for Ron DeSantis in the past. But when I talk to them, Independents and even some of the Republicans, they want to have a healthier conversation about the national policies that Washington is forging that’s more practical, less ideological, and adjusted to the needs that they have. Obviously when I talk to the Democrats they’re off the chart energized.”
I don’t think you can build a political campaign—any political campaign—on the promise of a “healthier conversation.” When I first saw that someone of Soderberg’s caliber was preparing to run locally, and got a sense of her background, I was expecting to be overrun with ideas, to say nothing of that “energy” she speaks of, to be swept off my feet politically and intellectually, to finally hear the program of a DeSantis—of a GOP—antidote. There was none of that. There was nothing I have not heard before, mostly from Republicans but also from what shredded Democrats have made a run at what, thanks to their rote assumptions, keeps being the impossible.
I’d spoken with a veteran Democrat who’s known local politics for decades–and who, true to form when it comes to speaking of fellow-Democrats (Republicans are no better), did not want to be quoted by name. But there was no hesitation in the diagnosis. “She’s the same old same old,” the Democrat said of Soderberg. “You’re not going to elect in this district a Clinton appointee Democrat, it’s not gonna happen. Are we stupid? I mean, good god. I don’t understand why we refuse to understand the people in this district and what they want. I don’t know her from Adam, but I read her resume and I thought forget it, done.” Then: “We continue as a state party and a national party to not be serious, and we don’t develop people on the bench.”
I thought the assessment too harsh. That was just before my interview with Soderberg. After the interview, I thought it was an understatement. But there’s time, assuming Soderberg is willing to learn her district the way, say, a successful county commissioner or a state legislator inherently does–as she does not. She could start by losing the term “ambassador.” The 6th Congressional District does not need one from Clintonland.
She has my vote!
Ron R. says
She has my vote.
I’m excited. . . Hey Nancy, you’ve got my vote!
Send her to Dade county. Maybe she can get elected there. We don’t want her.
She has my vote
Jon putney says
She’s gotta come up with something better than being tight lipped to get any votes. Neither party. Ares about the people only about raising money to get re elected.
I stopped reading at Demo…
There was no mention of her being a political appointee under Obama to the PIDB. Just another democratic establishment flunky sucking up a salary.
Tired of it says
Wow Pierre am editorial about a Dem that you don’t support. I am shocked. She doesn’t have a chance just like the rest of the liberal Dems that will try to run for office in 2018.
WE DO NOT NEED ANY LIBERALS HERE. Maybe she should move to a place like NY or California where there are few jobs, much welfare, and people are taxed to death. That is where people of her ilk will find a following.
Pierre unless the Democrats get a message and fess up to why someone like Trump can get elected, they will go nowhere. Hint… it’s not the Russians. You liberals put up a worse candidate, Obama’s policies and the direction his administration took the country was a failure. And if you keep calling people who disagree with you, homophones, racists, xenophobes, deplorables (the list goes on and on), and that we want children to die… blah blah blah…the conservatives, independents and logical thinking democrats, will come out of the woodwork and vote and you will continue to lose. You and I obviously are on different sides here but this country needs to strong parties with messages / platforms that are good for the “people”. Right now your side has nothing but blaming others for your mistakes and looking for excusing instead of fessing up and moving on. Democrats get your crap together.
Yawn….. She’ll fall right in line and Caucus with the Democrats, Florida’s version of Elizabeth Warren. She couldn’t even win the State District 4 Senate race in 2012. Really, Does this district need an international policy expert to represent it? ( Does she really think the UN is more “useful” of an institution than the US Congress?) Why do the Democrat’s feel they need to nominate these Yenta’s (Warren, Pelosi, Wasserman, Patty Murry….boring). Anyone see a pattern besides me?
**note to author…the only think you’re right about is the pejorative you used to describe who excites Democrats.
O.k., she’s not “Flagler”. But she’s smart and she cares about our people. If that comes out, people will come out.
Paul Nachtigal says
Sadly, I agree. While very qualified to be IN the House, you have to win the election to get there and at this point I don’t see Nancy Soderberg as having the “qualifications” to win in this district. To win you will need more of a “Blue Dog” Democrat. Most importantly, emphasize that the candidate will REPRESENT this district and not use it as a stepping stone to higher office as DeSantis has. Use his very conservative voting record against him. He voted against Hurricane Sandy relief. Will Congressmen from Sandy affected districts support us if we get hit hard next time? He voted in favor of oil expolration (which leads to drilling) off Florida beaches.He recently voted against clean air measures and a bill to help commercial fishermen. I am sure if his voting record were carefully reviewed there would be many other circumstances where our districts interests were ignored vs. his ambitions. While the freedom caucus and conservative higher ups may applaud these votes, 6th district independents and reluctant Trump voters could be swayed. Don’t call them idiots for their presidential choice and don’t try to get them to vote for someone even remotely associated with the name “Clinton”. Tread carefully and lightly on single issue voter topics. Vow to follow the will of the Fl. 6th constituency. If N.S. wants to win here, she will have to refocus and de-emphasize her resume. Don’t worry, her Republican opponent will surely emphasize it enough.
I heard Ms. Soderberg speak at an event sponsored by the Coquina Coast Democratic Progressive Caucus before she announced, and I disagree with much of what Mr. Tristam has to say about her.
The 2016 election is over, and I don’t think asking a 2018 candidate about it is the best way to move forward, and I think Soderberg was correct in deflecting the question. When I heard her speak, she addressed issues of Flagler county and was quite accurate in saying that Mr. DeSantis was not focused on our needs — for example, his interest in moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from its capital in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has no direct impact on the people or economy of FL District 06. He actually made a trip to Jerusalem to scout out possible locations before this idea was sidelined. How did this help us?
Another thing I liked about Soderberg after hearing her speak was her blunt, nonpartisan talk. She did not bash the current administration and actually commented on issues where she thinks the president is moving in the right direction. The ability to speak to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents is critical, and it’s an ability I believe she has.
Representing the United States at the United Nations requires intelligence, tact, compassion, empathy, and a host of other traits that simply cannot be seen as anything but positive. I hope that Americans have not lost all sense of reason and will not dismiss someone because she was an “Ambassador.” Personally, I am more likely to vote for someone with that kind of experience.
Mr. Tristam is correct that the ability to connect with voters is also important. Not everyone, however, is a born campaigner/politician. This, I believe, is good because the American people have sent a pretty strong message that they are sick of politicians. Instead, we have an intelligent, well-qualified woman running who is taking her message to the people of District 06 and learning more about our needs.
Mr. Tristam is also correct that the Democratic party needs to be a better job of nurturing new candidates. It is a challenge that numerous groups are addressing.
Finally, it is not helpful to bash a well qualified candidate. Well-intentioned advice should be presented to her and her staff, not shared in a public forum that will only serve to give the opposition more fodder. Perhaps returning to “a departed era” of relative peace (both at home and abroad) and unparallelled economic growth like we experienced during the Clinton years wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
Pierre Tristam says
Carol, I appreciate the comment, but I disagree with the last paragraph. Reporters love to puff themselves up thinking they can influence candidates or sitting politicians with confidential advice. But the moment they start giving advice to any politician behind the scenes they become partisan hacks and lose all credibility. (See: Walter Lippmann, James Reston, George Will.) The paragraph also misunderstands the role of media. Whatever our revealed sympathies, we’re not here to be on anyone’s team or report–or not report–based on whether something will or will not give the opposition fodder. We’re here to report and analyze wherever that leads. Republicans may love Reagan’s alleged 11th Commandment–“Thou shalt not criticize another Republican”–but that’s why the GOP so often slouches (or worse) toward that faintly fascistic pandering to party purity. Democrats may be tempted to go that way. But if they give up on clear-eyed analysis and shut down criticism (we’re seeing it quite a bit, your last paragraph being an example), they’re done for. Liberalism by definition is to be open-minded, though admittedly these days too many liberals have shown their cards by preferring the term “progressive,” a mealy-mouthed anachronism (TR, a Republican, was truer to the word in application and deeds) and a surrender, as I see it, to the GOP’s slurs of liberalism. Let’s not fear the word or its implications, and for god’s sake let’s not start aping GOP goose-steps in the name of Democratic groupthink. For the record, I am one of those registered Independents Soderberg needs to convince, and I doubt there’s a single original thought or position in the 1,600 words above: my sense is that more voters than Soderberg can afford to lose think similarly. Circling the wagons and winking and nudging behind the scenes will only doom her, and be a self-inflicted insult to her intelligence (as the bulk of your comment, incidentally, was not: I hope you’ll keep airing your thoughts openly and critically.)
I should also note that your reference to the Clinton years as “relative peace” is a bit out there, depending on our definition of “relative” (next we’ll be haggling over “is”) particularly since Soderberg’s credentials during the Clinton years rely on her foreign policy portfolio, and more particularly on her Africa portfolio. Yes, Northern Ireland was a smashing success. But it was also on her watch that the Rwandan genocide took place (800,000 massacred in a mater of weeks, 14 times the number of Americans killed in Vietnam over a decade and a half), as did the debacle in Mogadishu, as did bin Laden’s rehearsals for 9/11 in Kenya, Tanzania and in the waters off Yemen, as did Clinton’s so Trump-like bombing of Khartoum, as did his prevarications over the Balkans (not that Europeans weren’t sheer cowards in that bargain), as did his letting Netanyahu get away with murder in the non-implementation of the Oslo accords, and so on. Relative, yes. A foreign-policy record to run on? Not exactly.
Also she has my vote along with mine for Adam Morley next time he runs.
Congress and Senate need something new out of this stagnation and treason approvals.
Great piece Pierre. It got quite a response from your readers. And by the way count me in as one of those 7 people in the state.
Jack Howell says
Sorry, she is just another politician who will say whatever needs to be said to get elected. Makes no difference what party she belongs to. She is in it for the salary and perks just like DeSantis. She could give a rats ass about Flagler or the people she is supposed to serve. Should she be elected she will be tutored by Pelosi and Shultz and told to fall in-line. She will bring no difference in the approval rate of Congress by the American people. We need term limits… 2 years to learn the job; 4 years to do the job and you’re done. Two, Four and out the door!
William Moya says
A too large portion of Democrats seem to be walking in a historical stupor failing to see the seismic political changes of the last ten years. Confused, engulf by doubt, and in denial they turn to Mark Penn’s admonition, move to the center, become “Republican light” we’ll win congress and then the White House and everything will go back to normal, if only it were that easy.
The center, independants, swing voters, whatever designation you like to use, are the plasticine of politics. They are molded by the left or the right, depending on the vision, conviction, and rhetorical appeal of their beliefs.
After the 2010 congressional election the Tea Party went to work on taking over and remaking the Republican Party, Sherman’s March to the Sea comes to mind as to the ease and speed that they manage to do so, and thus they are today the de facto Conservative Party.Democrats on the other hand are in a political puberty trying to find out who they want to be when they grow up.
Nancy, against any Republican candidate I will vote for you, but it will be without enthusiasm or hope, and therein lies yours and the Democrats’ conundrum.
j d peters says
another Dinosaur-thinking Democrat that doesn’t know it is 2017 and things have changed.
I totally agree with “Tired of it”
I completely agree with William Moya. Although I would certainly vote for Nancy over “most” current Republicans. . . the Democrats have seemingly lost their inspired passion and direction when it comes to leading us into a much brighter, positive, progressive, successful future filled with justice and hope for ALL Americans.
Their recent public messages are all “defensive” and “reactive”. . . the Democrats know what they are “against”, but they seem lost when it comes to a better, brighter vision for the future. Their messaging is muddied and downright terrible! At this point, for me, they are only the “lessor of two evils”. I am so disappointed that they have not banded together to seize the Golden Opportunity the horrific Republicans have handed them on a silver platter!
Nancy. . . I hope you are reading these comments. You certainly have an uphill climb in Flagler County!
Michael Smith says
There are no new ideas here, from the left, the right or independent Pierre. First, let’s stop looking for “leaders” to gallop into Washington, D.C., on a white stallion to drain the sewer. Instead, let’s try a direct democracy in which voters are first qualified by passing an online test of knowledge. Second, let’s recognize that the market economy is a relic of the past and doesn’t work. Get rid of money; it’s now nothing more than a hypothetical unit of transactional value. It’s a credit economy, anyway. Go the distance and institute a universal credit for every citizen regardless of age. They can exchange this credit for goods and services. In return, adults must work necessary jobs, if they are qualified. The technological changes of the future will be so rapid and widespread that a full-employment economy will not be possible or necessary. The new social contract should elevate individual health care to the level of free speech. Not only overturn the Second Amendment, but outlaw all weapons of human obstruction. Strive for open borders and the elimination of national boundaries. We need a world government oriented toward individual freedom, the rapid accumulation of knowledge, and the exploration of space. I got more ideas, but I’ll stop for the outrage.
Sad to say I agree 100%
The only thing so-called centrists provide is roadkill: People run over by wealthy money grubbers and ignorant troglodyte yokels.The bad guys have a bottomless purse and endless supply of DeSantis’ (Ramsay Bolton in a coat and tie) ilk.
What can men (and sophomoric dopes) do against such reckless money, lies and hate?
Oh great another democrat to talk about Russia, Russia, Russia! LOL
Pierre, I appreciate the well reasoned response. We agree on more than we disagree on.
As far as the “relative peace” of the Clinton years, I did qualify that statement with “relative.” as you noted. You are certainly correct in enumerating the horrid events of those years and the innumerable innocent civilians killed. At least we weren’t facing the prospect of nuclear war with North Korea.that would likely leave at least large areas of the planet uninhabitable. Hyberbole, perhaps. But if there’s one thing I’ve had to accept in the past eight months, it is that the unthinkable is possible.
I don’t disagree with your criticism of my last paragraph. I struggled with it and debated on whether or not to include it because I do appreciate the need for the press to be independent and critical. However, I am quite seriously downright scared about the direction the country is going. I have studied enough 20th century history to recognize the beginning of the end of democracy and the rise of fascism. Threats on the press, questioning the validity of the press, creation of a cult of personality, perpetuation of an us versus them mentality, calls to blind nationalism, the creation of an internal enemy that has to be ostracized — these are all too familiar. We have witnessed many intelligent and reasonable Republicans who passionately and vehemently disagreed with Mr. Trump during the primary season fall silent regardless of how outrageous and egregious his comments and actions are. He has threatened the free press, political opponents, and the Constitution itself when he said he claimed it was an antiquated system. In the face of this clear and present danger, I see little alternative to supporting an opposition candidate.
And yes, I do recognize the irony in my statement. But in my heart I fear it may be just a matter of time until smoke rises from the Reichstag. I am scared.
Another Clinton Cancer, He’ll NO
Thoughtful reply. I agree with you. And Nancy Soderberg has my vote.
This is great for republicans.
Great response Carol. . . and you are right on. It’s important those of us who still believe in open minded equality, fact over fear filled emotion, education over ignorance, ethics over corruption, an open and free press, the rule of law, the balance of governmental powers . . . to have the courage to face the onslaught of the fascists and stop them in their tracks!
John Augello says
I’ve made over SIX requests for further information based on her claim that insurance COMPANIES (with an S) hung-up on her.
I demand to know which companies they were. As a Stage 4 cancer patient, I have NEVER BEEN DENIED COVERAGE.
SHE’S A LIAR.
@Follow the money
Mary Beth Long
Long is the owner of law firm MB Long & Associates PLLC, which specializes in export compliance. She also serves as Principal at Global Alliance Advisors and co-owner of Askari Defense and Intelligence, LLC. Long founded her first defense company, Metis Solutions LLC, in 2010 and sold it to private equity in 2016
Michael G. Waltz – Chairman of the Board
So he bought a company, and apparently, the next item on his shopping list is a seat in Congress. Yeah – he’s one of us. NOT.
Vote for a joker that dick cheney, for a time, had on a leash; a proud never trumper before he became a proud trump poodle – if you want. Look at Waltz’s campaign site – his positions on issues looks like a classified ad for a used car.
I didn’t think the Republicans could nominate a person as bad, or worse, than desantis – but they did.