2020 Democratic contenders made a number of eyebrow-raising statements about President Donald Trump, identity politics and hot-button policy issues before a largely black audience in New York this week at the National Action Network Convention.
The annual conference for the civil rights group founded by Rev. Al Sharpton kicked off Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
Democratic A-listers, including every leading presidential candidate, as well as rising party leaders like former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and businessman Andrew Yang are speakers this year.
The convention will “provide an opportunity to revisit the current state of the national civil rights movement in America,” according to its website.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who spoke Thursday, used his podium time to take potshots at Trump and stressed the theme of division and fear-mongering.
“We’ve got to make sure that we confront those who will use fear to hold onto that power as our president uses fear to hold on to that power, to make us angry, to keep us apart, to make us fearful of one another and even of ourselves,” the 2020 contender said.
Speakers also sought to temper the results of a booming American economy, which has seen record lows in black unemployment and quarterly growth due to the administration’s tax cuts and regulatory reforms.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democrat, undermined the idea that a strong American economy is good for everybody Thursday. “The idea that a rising tide lifts all boats just isn’t true,” he said.
Identity politics also proved to be a running theme at the convention. Stacey Abrams, who has not decided yet on whether she will be running for political office, stated in her Wednesday speech: “Identity politics works.”
Abrams, who lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race to GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, said: “We had this little election back in 2018, and despite the final tally and the inauguration and the situation we find ourselves in, I do have one very affirmative statement to make: We won.”
Castro, who served in the Obama administration, hit on the theme of universal pre-K on Wednesday, which has become a popular talking point among progressives. “We need universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds in our country so that everybody gets a strong start in life,” Castro said.
Businessman Andrew Yang, also running in the Democratic 2020 field, regularly touts himself as being “the opposite of Donald Trump.” He laid out arguably the most sweeping campaign platform of Wednesday’s speakers, including dispensing with private prisons, giving all Americans $1000 per month, and pardoning everyone in jail currently for nonviolent drug related offenses.
“I would legalize marijuana and then I would pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent drug-related offense. I would pardon them on April 20, 2021 and I would high-five them on the way out of jail,” Yang said.
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