Archive for category Democrats

2014 is not 2010

This my first post on “campaign 2014,’ analyzing the races and following the election cycle.   One thing is certain from the start – 2014 is a lot different than 2010.

Some things are similar.   Right now things are looking good for Republicans to make gains in the House and perhaps win the Senate. It is a midterm election, which usually brings a more conservative demographic to the polls, something also good for the GOP.   President Obama’s job approval rating is below 50%, which usually means that his party is in trouble in any midterm.   But there the similarities end.   The differences are important and offer some optimism about what has been a dysfunctional political system.

Gone is the tea party rage and passion

Gone is the tea party rage and passion

1.  The tea party is a spent force.    In 2010 the tea party was surging!   Anger over the passage of Obamacare was palpable, and rallies were being held across the country for a new movement to “take back America.”   Entertainer Glenn Beck was at the height of his popularity, calling for a movement to fundamentally transform the US to more conservative/traditional values.    Now Beck says he’s sick of politics and wants to produce movies.

Tea party approval is down at around 20%.   More importantly, the anger, rage, and rallies have been replaced by typical political banter.   In 2010 and 2012 the tea party actually hurt the GOP by producing candidates that could not win.   Sharon Angle, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell and Ken Buck all lost races a moderate Republican would likely have won.  That would have put the Senate at 50-50 today!

When the tea party downed Senator Lugar in the primary, they handed a certain Republican seat to a Democrat

When the tea party downed Senator Lugar in the primary, they handed a certain Republican seat to a Democrat

The good news for the Republicans is that tea party influence is waning, and it looks like strong establishment candidates have been recruited.  The bad news is that they’ll lose some of the passion the stronger tea party brought to 2010; it isn’t likely to be any kind of massive wave election.   But they now have a real shot at the Senate.

2.   The trend lines are different

In April 2010 President Obama’s job approval was at about 50%.  By election time it was down to 44%.   In general, continued anger at an economy that had not started a real recovery, tea party passion, and a general sense that things were getting worse rather than better caused a backlash against Obama and the Democrats.    Now the economy is poised to increase the rate of job growth in the summer, and President Obama’s approval is recovering from its lows with the rollout problems of Obamacare enrollment.  Obama’s approval went as low as 40%, but has slowly recovered.   As the story line becomes more positive about Obamacare, the Republican hope that the issue will drive the election is fading.   The trend can’t be called good for the Democrats, but unlike 2010 it doesn’t suggest any sort of wave.    It will be a normal election cycle.

3.   Nothing is set in stone

In retrospect, 2010′s wave for the GOP was inevitable.   A poor economy, a President with low approval ratings, anger and passion among the opposition in a midterm election which always sees a higher proportion of Republicans vote was a recipe for a certain GOP win.   This year, events can still drive the election.   Strong summer economic growth and more good Obamacare news might boost Democratic chances.   A White House scandal could harm Democrats, as could new bad news about Obamacare.    So as of April, what we don’t know about the 2014 election cycle far outweighs what we do know.

Will the Senate Go GOP?

senate

Now that conspiracy theories about skewed polls have been demolished, even conservatives recognize the power behind Nate Silver’s prediction methods.   Click the link and read his analysis – it’s the best you’ll find at this point, and he admits that it is very close, and a variety of things could skew the elections either way.    At this point he predicts 50.8 Republicans and 49.2 Democrats.  However, if you don’t want to read his in depth analysis, here is my perspective:

The Democrats hold a 55-45 majority.  That means the Republicans have to pick up six seats.   That is a tall order.   21 Democratic and 15 Republican seats are up for election (that’s more than 33 due to some special elections), which means that the Republicans have real opportunities.   In Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia open seats (or in the case of Montana, recently filled by someone appointed by the Governor) are seen as almost certain to shift to the Republicans as these are strong red states.   Two other open seats, Iowa and Georgia, will probably stay Democratic and Republican respectively.

That would put the Republicans at 48 states, three short of a majority.    So far, only one Republican incumbent looks to be in real danger, that is ironically Mitch McConnell.  Five Democratic Senators are in trouble, and one Democratic open seat (Michigan) has no clear favorite.   So among those seven races, Republicans have to win four seats to gain a majority.   That’s do-able, but not easy, especially in a normal election cycle.

Former GOP Senator Larry Pressler is running as an independent in South Dakota, claiming to be a "passionate centrist."  Could his candidacy make a difference?

Former GOP Senator Larry Pressler (1979-97) is running as an independent in South Dakota, claiming to be a “passionate centrist.” Could his candidacy make a difference?

First proviso:  In 2012 North Dakota was considered certain Republican for most of the year until Democrat Heidi Heitkamp ran a surprisingly strong campaign and squeaked out a victory.  So nothing is certain.

Second proviso:  There may be surprises.   Here in Maine Susan Collins is considered by most to be a very safe Republican hold.  However, she’s receiving strong opposition from Democrat Sheena Bellows, who has shown surprising fundraising prowess and organizing skills.   In Maine there is a lot of emotion against the incumbent Governor, meaning there is likely to be strong Democratic turnout.   It’s not likely (Collins had 61% in 2008), but is possible, that Bellows could be a real threat to Collins.   These are the kinds of “what ifs” that could benefit either party.

One can't discount surprises, like Democrat Sheena Bellows running a surprisingly strong campaign in Maine - a blue state - against Susan Collins.

One can’t discount surprises, like Democrat Sheena Bellows running a surprisingly strong campaign in Maine – a blue state – against Susan Collins.

The polling now shows Democrats Kay Hagan (NC), Mary Landrieu (LA) and Mark Pryor (AR) in the most trouble – but all are very close.   Mitch McConnell looks to be in trouble in Kentucky.  Democrats Begich (AK) and Udall (CO) have close races, but look better positioned.

Here’s the problem for the Republicans:  Incumbents do have a tendency to pull out close elections.  Mary Landrieu was endangered back in 2008 but ended up with a comfortable 7 point victory.  To be sure, that was a Presidential election year and she benefited from the higher turnout, but it’s always dangerous to underestimate an incumbent.

So, given that this is a ‘normal election cycle’ I suspect that the Republicans will fall short of gaining a majority – though they are likely to gain seats.  A 50-50 Senate is a real possibility.   Joe Biden, as President of the Senate (an official role of the Vice President) would have the deciding vote, but if the Democrats held on to that slim of a majority they’d be susceptible to losing it should a member die or resign.   At this point, though, the battle for the Senate looks to be the biggest 2014 election story.

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Liberty!

iberty

On a libertarian-leaning blog, a usually rational and interesting poster made this comment:

It’s all so pointless. We will never convince the majority of people to embrace liberty, instead of looking to government to be Mommy. At least not until government fails so badly that its incompetence is made clearly manifest. And even if that happens, I suspect that the majority of the electorate will look for a man on a white horse, rather than freedom, and the responsibility for their own lives. There’ll always be a cohort that thinks government could do everything for everyone if only the right people were running it. And, it seems, quite a lot of people will listen to them.

Arguing with progressives is pointless, too. It’s like arguing with people in a movie theater who won’t stop texting. It’s a waste of time to say anything to them, because if they had a shred of civility or decency, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you’re a Progressive, I just assume at this point that you’re too abysmally stupid to waste time with on reason or debate.

There are some breathtaking assertions there.   Progressives are abysmally stupid, don’t use reason, have no shred of civility or decency…all because they have a progressive political perspective.   That means, according to this blogger, that progressives refuse to embrace liberty, want government to be mommy, and don’t want to take responsibility for their own lives.

Wow.   If people on the right or libertarian side of the isle really believe that about progressives, no wonder they hate us so!   Any one who knows me or reads my blog knows that I am a firm believer of people taking responsibility for their lives and choices – students hear that mantra from me all the time – your future is up to you, you can’t blame anyone else.   I’m also for  liberty – human liberation from all forms of oppression so we can live as freely as possible – as my primary value.

My biggest critique of government programs is that they can create a psychology of dependency which harms those receiving that aid.  I don’t think the answer is to cut people off – often when children are involved that would be cruel.  But rather right and left should create more effective social welfare programs which are built around community action.  Community organizers should be the hub, and those who can should contribute to building community in order to get aid.

I daresay I’m not abysmally stupid either.  Yet I’d describe myself as a progressive.

partisanship2

Why are we at a point in this country where the political sides can believe such caricatured images of the other side?  I have no doubt that the poster, while perhaps recognizing that he is being a bit over the top and venting, truly believes that progressives oppose freedom and want the government to do everything.

And its not just progressives who get caricatured, the right is often portrayed as heartless, emotion driven nationalists who don’t care about the destruction caused by war, who would love to see the poor suffer, don’t care about pollution in our rivers, or the potential damage caused by global warming.  They just want what they can get, selfishly consuming with no regard for others.  I know lots of conservatives, and that caricature doesn’t fit any of them.

But how to get past this kind of rhetoric?   One way is to think of the concept of freedom.  I submit that both right and left generally have freedom as a primary value.    Neither has it as the only value, otherwise they’d oppose all laws.  For each having a stable and effective community is also important.   So perhaps part of the difference is how they draw that line.   Both might agree that a police force is necessary to maintain order, but they might disagree on health care.

health

From the left:  not having health care denies the poor (nearly 50 million) true freedom because they are more likely to avoid seeking health care and may die or suffer, they are vulnerable to health cost bankruptcies, and their children are less likely to receive quality care, and thus do not have equal opportunity.  Universal health care enhances freedom.

From the right: having guaranteed health care denies the wealthier true freedom by taking their tax dollars, and mandatory insurance does not allow them to opt out.  Universal health care harms freedom.

OK, you know what – there are ways to understand where both sides are coming from.   Yet the two sides usually shout at each other (I think the right shouts and ridicules the left far more than the reverse, but I understand that could be a biased perception) and don’t stop to think that their disagreement is not about core values, but how the system functions.

The left tends to view freedom in two ways: 1) negative freedom or freedom from external; and 2) positive freedom, or the possession of the resources and power to fulfill ones goals.    Poverty, lack of education, lack of health care, structural barriers hindering the capacity to achieve ones goals (racism, etc.) all limit freedom.   Often these limits come from the way society is structured, whereby the wealthy elite achieve more positive freedom at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged.

freedom

The right tends to view liberty as simply not being hindered by laws or external restraint.   Maximum freedom is when external constraint is non-existent.   Because people are not angels, you have to have some laws to prevent overt exploitation, but while the left sees structural exploitation as the problem, the right (or libertarians) tend to focus purely on actual physical violence.  The religious right also sees a role for laws to protect basic traditions and customs.

Again, there are solid arguments for each.  The right has an agent-based view of human relations – society is the result of individual choices that each actor is responsible for.  The left has a structure-based view: society is structured in a way that empowers some and disadvantages others.

The fact is that neither extreme view can be correct.   No one can deny that structure matters – it takes a lot more effort to make it out of rural poverty or a ghetto to be successful than it does from a wealthy suburban family.   Even though its possible for both, one is more likely to be successful than the other.   But it is possible for both – structure doesn’t determine everything, one can make choices to rise from poverty to become successful.

So reality is somewhere in the middle – and that means that disagreements on the nature of freedom are legitimate, one doesn’t have to dismiss the other side as opposing liberty.    It’s too bad that as a society we’re more likely to ridicule the other side and caricature them than actually discuss these issues.   Because frankly, the US is facing numerous problems and neither side has the power to simply implement their “solution.”   We either sink or swim together.

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End the Filibuster!

Obama Appeals Court Nominee Patricia Millett

Obama Appeals Court Nominee Patricia Millett

It is dangerous to play with tradition.   The Senate and House function on a set of time honored traditions and unwritten rules of the game. The filibuster is one of those traditions.   However, the poisonous partisanship in Washington, unprecedented obstruction by Republicans in the Senate, and the danger of creating eternal gridlock means its time for a change.

Senate rules adopted in 1806 created the potential for a filibuster by eliminating the ability to move the previous question.   The idea was that Senators should have as long to speak as needed before a vote.   The idea this would be used for obstruction was not considered.  In 1837 the first filibuster was used, but it remained rare until into the 20th Century.

After 12 Senators used their capacity to stop the Senate from voting on a bill by continuing debate (in 1917, to allow President Wilson to arm merchant ships), the Senate created a cloture rule, allowing 2/3 of those voting to end debate.   This still meant that a group could stop consideration of a bill, but it would have to have a broader base of support.

More importantly, a filibuster meant that a Senator or group of Senators had to keep talking; debate literally had to continue.  Once Senators stopped speaking on the floor, debate was over and a vote could be taken.   Strom Thurmond filibustered for 24 hours against the 1957 Civil Rights Act.   Usually filibusters ended on their own without invoking cloture.   When Senators filibustered the 1964 Voting Rights Act a cloture vote was held for only the second time since 1927.  Simply, the tradition of the filibuster is that it was rare and required Senators be present and continue talking.

The filibuster is rare by tradition; the current use is recent and dangerous

The filibuster is rare by tradition; the current use is recent and dangerous

By 1979 the rules had changed to allow 60 Senators to invoke cloture, but not requiring speakers to remain continuously on the Senate floor.  Unfortunately, both parties found this an easier to way to try to obstruct votes they didn’t like and the use of filibuster increased dramatically.   Mitch McConnell once infamously said it is the “rule of the Senate” that you need 60 votes to make a law.

Both parties abused the filibuster.  In a battle over judicial nominees Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott threatened the “nuclear option” of simply making cloture a majority vote and ending the filibuster.   Vice President Cheney was ready to sit in as President of the Senate (a role the VP officially has) and rule that the filibuster cannot be used for judicial nominees.  Senators wary of changing rules and traditions avoided that via compromise.

Trent Lott and Dick Cheney threatened to eliminate the filibuster when the Democrats abused it.

Trent Lott and Dick Cheney threatened to eliminate the filibuster when the Democrats abused it.

In that case, the Democrats were abusing the filibuster and turning it into a tool to obstruct.  But the use of obstruction has grown to unprecedented proportions with McConnell (R-KY) as Senate minority leader.   It no longer is a rare and dramatic way to try to prevent a vote on something very emotional or controversial (a method that in the past usually failed) but has become a defacto rule that says without 60 votes nothing at all controversial can pass.

More importantly, it is being used to block the President from undertaking his constitutional authority to make appointments, including again to the judiciary.

Mitch McConnell once filibustered his own motion!

Mitch McConnell once filibustered his own motion!

Patricia Miller is one of three appointments to the DC Court of Appeals to fill vacancies.  Right now there are 8 Judges on the Court, four chosen by each party.  The Republicans fear that if President Obama names all three, the Court might rule in a more liberal fashion.   But that’s life – the President gets to choose the nominees and the Senate approves.   It’s directly from the Constitution.

Looking for a rationale for their clearly political motive to obstruct, they claim the Court does not have enough work for 11, or even 9 Justices.  But the court was just as “under worked” when they argued passionately to put President Bush’s nominees on the court.    Simply, the filibuster and current cloture rules have to go.

If the Republicans are allowed to abuse the filibuster in this way, to make it require 60 votes for anything to pass, and to use it to block Presidential appointments, the Democrats will do likewise.   They have in the past.    The current rule is a cause of dysfunction.

Though it will limit the Democrats at some point in the future, Reid must be bold enough to change the cloture rule now

Though it will limit the Democrats at some point in the future, Reid must be bold enough to change the cloture rule now

The only solution:  end the filibuster by making cloture a majority vote in the Senate.   That way everything gets voted on and a minority can’t cause gridlock to appease their base or stop the majority from passing controversial bills.   That way a President can execute his authority to make appointments without having well qualified choices denied due to politics.  Patricia Millett is very well qualified with strong bipartisan credentials.

The country right now needs to have a functional Washington.   The abuse of the filibuster in recent years by both parties has morphed it into something that is new and dangerous, not part of the Senate traditions.   So either go back to forcing Senators to keep talking until they run out of energy or desire, or adopt a new cloture rule requiring a simply majority vote.

 

 

 

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Chaos Prevails

Susan Collins, R-Maine

Susan Collins, R-Maine

Republicans and Democrats increasingly seem to be in separate worlds.   Reality is never objectively perceived “as it is.”  It is always interpreted through ones’ perspective, a prism of beliefs and past experiences.   Yet most people are convinced reality is as they perceive it, they believe they are being objective and clear, meaning that those who think differently are somehow flawed.   They may be stupid, dishonest, disingenuous, or have some kind of nefarious belief system.   The US political system depends on a smaller class of people, those who can understand diverse perspectives, and navigate to a position of common ground – even if it’s a option all can barely life with.

I’m not writing to praise Senator Collins’ political views or positions.  I agree with her on some things, disagree on others.  But I do praise the fact that she is one of those able to try to work with people of different views to craft solutions to problems – to have the intellectual capacity for multidimensional thinking, rather than the true believer mentality of the ideologues.

As I write this a wild circus is playing out in Washington DC.   As Senators Reid and McConnell, both who like Collins see past ideological cages, near a compromise, an angry house demands to pass a bill with no chance of support from the Senate or White House.  But as they plan for an evening vote, apparently they can’t come up with anything.   Confusion reigns!  Now it sounds like no vote will occur.

Boehner:  "Truth is we have no idea what we're doing, and haven't for the past three weeks!"  (Well, what he would say if under a spell to tell the truth)

Boehner: “Truth is we have no idea what we’re doing, and haven’t for the past three weeks!” (Well, what he would say if under a spell to tell the truth)

Reading the quotes of the Republican tea party Congressmen is like reading quotes from die hard communists during the Cold War.  They have their ideological world view, and anything not falling within it is, well, a ‘threat to freedom,’ ‘demolishes the Constitution’, or some such silliness.

Speaker Boehner, who is also able to bridge diverse perspectives, at this point has to find a way to balance an out of control House, the need to solve the problem, and the views from the Senate and White House.    He doesn’t appear up to the task – perhaps no one is.  It appears that the lunatics have taken over the asylum!

Consider David Vitter, (R-La)’s defense of the shutdown:  “Approximately 15,000 EPA employees are furloughed, making it less likely fake CIA agents at EPA will be ripping off the taxpayer.”    Sure – while people in the Pentagon are holding food drives for furloughed employees, Vitter sees the government as some pack of demons.

Consider Collins:  “I would encourage people, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both the Senate and the House, to take a look at the proposal that we’ve been working on.  I also think that the Senate needs to act first, and that there’s more chance of an agreement being reached in the Senate and we need to lead.”   You can just hear the tea party folk hissing at her “betrayal of principle.”

But Collins is right about what it takes.   The Democrats made their point earlier in the week when they resurrected demands to roll back the sequester.  If the Republicans want to “negotiate” before opening the government or raising the debt limit, the negotiation can’t be from “the status quo” to closer to where they are – that’s hostage taking.  The negotiation has to be from the Democratic starting point, which is precisely what Reid demonstrated!

From there Susan Collins got involved and crafted a bipartisan plan.  It didn’t pass muster, but Reid and McConnell took over from there, and it appeared we were on track to get an agreement.  It would give the GOP a face saving out, but the House Republicans would have fought a quixotic cause, turning the country against them and making the tea party look like a different kind of crazy.

The Tea Party - a different kind of crazy

The Tea Party anthem album

Simply, blinded by ideology they felt justified making outrageous demands, believing they were RIGHT and fighting on PRINCIPLE!  They scoff at those who compromise as somehow “compromising principles,” not recognizing that it is a kind of psychological malady to think one needs the world to adhere to his or her principles in order to be true to them.   Then as defeat became inevitable and the scope of the damage they’ve done to their party, themselves, their movement and perhaps the country became clear, they veered off in numerous directions.

So tonight meetings continue.   Susan Collins is working behind the scenes, still a major force.  McConnell and Reid are talking – all recognize the scope of the problem.   Still, the real issue is not the debt ceiling or shutdown, but how could we let such a dysfunctional group of Congresspeople veer the country so close to catastrophe?   How could it be that people like Louie Gohmert, who said that President Obama should be impeached if the country defaults (even if his party is the cause of the default) – he’s the same guy who said terrorists were having babies in the US so the babies could commit terrorist acts in 18 years and that John McCain supports al qaeda – can be as influential as Collins?

Republican Pete King (R-NY) put it best:  “This party is going nuts…Even if this bill passed tonight, what would it have done?  After shutting down the government for two and a half weeks, laying off 800,000 people, all the damage we caused, all we would end up doing was taking away health insurance from congressional employees. That’s it? That’s what you go to war for? That’s what we shut down the United States government for?”

I predict they’ll find a way out and pass an agreement that the House will have to swallow.   More important for our future is to elect people with the insight to recognize that our system welcomes political conflict as long as the participants are able to recognize the legitimacy of diverse opinions.   Because if the tea party mentality takes root – and a similar way of extremist thinking grows on the left – our Republic will be on a downward spiral.

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Why Obama Must Not Negotiate

obama

House Republicans are miffed that the President refuses to negotiate with them about the government shut down.   “He’s willing to talk with Iran, why not us,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell bemoaned.   Yet the truth of the matter is that there is nothing to negotiate.  For the good of the political process, for the sake of future Presidents Republican and Democratic, and for the country, the President must remain resolute.

The Republicans are trying to gut or delay the Affordable Care Act, and using a threat to shut down the government as a means of doing so.  That is, a group of people do not like a law that was passed a few years ago, and are threatening the entire country’s economy and well being in order to try to stop that law.   That’s not how you do it.

In a Democratic Republic, if you don’t like a law you make the case to the public.   You get your people elected, and then you change or rescind the law.   You do it through a constitutional process whereby the House and Senate vote, confer, and then pass a bill.  The President can sign or veto it.  Congress can override the veto if they have the votes.

Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a key component of Romney's failed Presidential bid

Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a key component of Romney’s failed Presidential bid

In this case, the 2012 election had Obamacare as a main component of the campaign.   Candidate Romney vowed to rescind or at least dramatically alter the act if elected, the President vowed to maintain it.   The votes were counted and the President won by a large margin.  The Democrats gained seats in the Senate.   And though Republicans took the majority in the House, more votes for the House went to Democrats than Republicans.

If it becomes possible for a minority to get their way and undercut laws simply by threatening to shut down the government, a horrible precedent will be set.   Rather than letting the democratic process operate, dangerous and destructive games of chicken will become common place.   Today it may be the GOP and the Affordable Care Act, but sometime in the future the Democrats might threaten to do the same to stop changes in Social Security.

It’s even worse than that.   If the Speaker of the House allowed a free vote on conscience, the government shutdown would be averted.  A number of Republicans disagree with the extremist approach being taken.  But they are being silenced by a large minority, which has not only stymied the legislative process, but put the world economy at risk.

Whatever one’s view on Obamacare, there should be agreement that blackmail and threats to the very fabric of our country are not the way to oppose it.   A case in point: on October 1, the first day that exchanges were up to sell insurance for Obamacare, lots of glitches and problems arose.  The GOP could use that in their favor to argue against Obamacare.  Instead those stories were under the radar as everyone focused on the shutdown.

I’m not saying the glitches are truly a reason to oppose Obamacare, only that the GOP should be focusing on substance to make their case before the 2014 election rather than playing Russian roulette with the economy and the jobs of nearly a million federal workers.

Every parent learns that giving into bad behavior means it will become more frequent

Every parent learns that giving into bad behavior means it will become more frequent

Today is a gorgeous day in Maine, and one of the most beautiful parks in the US, Acadia National Park, is closed thanks to the fact Congress can’t do its job.   When a young child wants to watch TV and a parent says no, often the child throws a tantrum.   If the parent gives in, then the child learns that tantrums work, and will more frequently and more vigor go ballistic to get his way.  If the parent holds firm and there are negative consequences for the tantrum, the child soon learns that tantrums don’t work and it’s better to follow the rules.

The tea party wing of the GOP is throwing a collective tantrum.  To give in would assure that shutdowns, crises and other threats to our stability become more frequent – the tactic will have worked.   The President cannot let that happen.

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Gates Smacks Down Obama Critics

Gates served as Secretary of Defense under Bush when the President altered his Iraq policy

Gates served as Secretary of Defense under Bush when the President altered his Iraq policy

Gates was harsh on Republican critiques of the President, ridiculing the idea that we could have flown planes overhead so “apparently the noise” should scare them.   Not only would they be undeterred by noise, but Gates noted that given all the missing anti-aircraft weapons, it would have been a stupid decision.

Gates said that he would have made the same choices the President did, and defended former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.   There was no military alternative, he insisted; Republican critics that imagine some group could have been flown in on the fly have a “cartoonish” view of what military action is all about.

Of course.

There is no scandal around Benghazi except for the fact that some Republicans are shamelessly trying to use an attack on America to fish for some kind of partisan jab at the President.   Or perhaps they want to hurt Secretary Clinton’s chances to be elected in 2016.

We should come together to learn about what went wrong or right on a tragedy, but not turn it into a political partisan circus – something that the hearings last week obviously became.   With wild hyperbole (Sen. Jim Inholfe  R-OK, said it was worse than Watergate, Iran Contra and Clinton’s scandals) and claims of a cover up, they use noise and accusations to hide that they have nothing.   It is a fishing expedition designed for partisan purposes, nothing more.

The only claim they really have is that maybe some talking points right after the attack didn’t call it terrorism when they knew it was terrorism.  They claim it was to somehow protect Obama’s re-election campaign; but given how quickly he came out and labeled it terrorism and got the information out there, that’s a pretty lame argument.  It’s also one that has no traction.  In the early days after an event when so much is still uncertain, and when the Administration is weighing responses, there are limits to what you want to be public.

So they have that non-attack, absurd claims that the military could respond, smacked down by Secretary Gates who has served for both Obama and Bush, and who knows Obama’s character.

The bottom line is that many Republicans didn’t think Obama would be re-elected, they thought they’d have the Senate, and they don’t like how the media is focusing on how out of touch their message is right now.   As pragmatic Republicans try to wrestle power away from the extremists, many want to construct a scandal where none exists.  They hope to use that to weaken the President, take the public’s mind off both the pressing issues of the day and how dysfunctional a divided Congress has become.

It will backfire – it already has.   The story is old and despite all the hype FOX and the GOP are trying to create,  more columns are being written critical of the Republicans in Congress than the President.   It has given the late night hosts plenty to mock.   Jon Stewart skewered FOX for playing up the hype of yelling fire when there’s not even smoke!
But sadly, this circus is indicative of the political dysfunction that paralyzes the country as our problems mount.  Rather than recognizing that the attack was a tragedy that should bring us together and learn how to better defend our embassies, politicians search for partisan gain (and Democrats are not blameless, some claiming that Republican cuts to embassy security allowed the attacks).

This is why we can’t reach compromises and deal with the difficult issues facing the country.  It’s spectacle and posturing, rather than hard work and compromise.   It is a sign that our democratic institutions are starting to buckle at the hands of ideologues who don’t understand that the founders designed a system to inspire compromise.  They were divided t00 – the founders had a variety of different views, and they know that would always be true in a democracy.   They compromised, and created a system that requires compromise to function.

Thank you,  Secretary Gates for pointing out the absurdity of the charges being made.   I hope within the GOP leaders look at the lack of evidence of even a whiff of scandal and recognize that this absurd circus is hurting them, and that real issues facing the country need serious attention.

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No election rigging, please!

If electoral votes were awarded by district

If electoral votes were awarded by district

Many Republicans, including RNC Chair Reince Priebus, think that it would be a good idea to change the way we award electoral college votes.  A state is allocated electoral votes based on the number of Representatives and Senators they have.   So Maine, with two Congresspeople and two Senators, gets four votes.   In most states whoever wins the state gets all of that state’s electoral votes.

Republicans would like to change that to award electoral votes by district, which is currently the practice in Maine and Nebraska.   So in Maine one vote goes to the winner of the first district, and one to the winner of the second.   The final two go to whoever wins the most popular votes in the state.

However, there is a dark side to this idea.   While Maine and Nebraska choose their system in a bi-partisan manner, without one party wanting to use a change in rules to rig the election in their favor,  plans now are pushed only by the GOP with the specific goal of trying to improve their chance to win the Presidency, even if they lose the popular vote.

The real 2012 results

The real 2012 results

Simply, the purpose is to undermine the democratic will of the people so one party can get and hold on to power regardless of whether or not they have popular support.  That is the kind of plot one expects to see in third world states rather than a country that claims to be the world’s greatest democracy.

As the maps above shows, even though President Obama easily won the popular vote by a four point margin, with a hefty 332 electoral votes, awarding them by district would have given Mitt Romney the Presidency.   Democratic districts tend to be urban and overwhelmingly Democratic – sometimes over 90%, some precincts get no Republican votes!    Republican districts in the suburbs and rural areas have a significant number of Democrats, rarely below 30%.

Another problem has been gerrymandering.   That’s when the party in power redraws the districts with the intent of using district boundaries to make it easier for their party to win.     Consider: the Democrats got far more votes for their candidates for the House of Representatives than did the Republicans.   But the GOP easily maintained their majority of seats.

Virigina's Republican Governor Bob McDonnell nixed the plan - for now.

Virigina’s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell nixed the plan – for now.

Virginia was the first state to seriously consider changing how it awards electoral votes after the 2012 election.   The Republican party there hatched a plan to not only award electoral votes by district, but to give the two extra votes each state has (based on two Senators) to the person who won the most districts rather than to however won the popular vote.   That would be different than the Nebraska and Maine systems, and mean that although President Obama won Virginia by 3%, he would have gotten only 4 electoral votes to Romney’s 9!   Again, that’s the kind of shenanigans you’d expect in some banana republic.

Wisconsin politics has already been poisoned by partisan scabbles

Wisconsin politics has already been poisoned by partisan scabbles

The Virginia plan appears dead for now, thanks to opposition from two Republican State Senators and the Governor, but many said they didn’t like the timing rather than the idea.   Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan are also considering such action – all of it very partisan and with intense opposition from the other side.  Those are also “blue” states in which awarding by district would give the Republicans a majority of electoral votes.

What would the ramifications of the change be?   If a few “blue” states changed their system then it would increase the chance for a Republican to win the Presidency in 2016, even if he or she fails to win the popular vote.   But just as the cuts in early voting led to a backlash against the Republicans in states like Florida, the unintended consequences of such a move could hurt the GOP.

Democrats would be forced to compete more intensively in areas they now cede to the Republicans.   That could ultimately expand the Democratic party and endanger currently safe Republican House members.   Beyond that, state politics would be injected with more anger and partisanship.

One can imagine that Democrats would undo the changes if they managed to get power, and the issue could make it harder for parties to cooperate in times where problem solving is necessary.   It is time for Republican leaders to say that changing the way we elect our President is a serious matter and should not be done on a partisan basis to try to use the rules to rig elections.

"We can't be the stupid party," Bobby Jindal pleaded

“We can’t be the stupid party,” Bobby Jindal pleaded

The Republicans should follow the lead of people like Bobby Jindal who recognize that the party needs to appeal to the majority, rather than looking to change the laws in order to grab power.   It is a sign of desperation that some Republicans would even consider trying to change the rules so they can win power even if they can’t win vote.   It is also an opening for people like Jindal to take the lead and recast the Republican party to be able to compete to win a majority of votes, not just electoral districts.   America needs two strong, competitive parties.

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Welcome 2013!

2013

The world did not end on December 21, 2012 and the country averted the so-called fiscal cliff.   But perhaps the end of the Mayan cycle does symbolize change:  the world has been on an unsustainable path and the direction is shifting.

Politically, the US is becoming more progressive.   Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama are both larger than life Presidents, disliked by their opponents but pragmatic.  Each compromised – Republicans forget the types of compromises Reagan made during his term – but focused on shifting the country’s direction.   Reagan succeeded – for thirty years taxes have been going down and the debt has been going up.   The growth in social welfare projects was halted, while social conservatism grew.

Those days are over.  With states rapidly approving gay marriage, drug laws shifting (remember the vindictive nineties when Newt Gingrich was advocating the death penalty for even selling pot?), and the internet creating a more open and tolerant public, the culture wars are over.   The social conservatives lost.  A new generation is emerging less repressed, less convinced by social conventions, more willing to experiment and be open.

Republican infighting grows as the nation shifts from center-right to center-left

Republican infighting grows as the nation shifts from center-right to center-left

With the fiscal cliff deal people accept that tax reform is necessary to bring more revenue and stop living beyond our means.   The only reason the debt’s gone up under Obama is the recession — something he didn’t create.   Recessions radically increase the cost of government programs, decrease tax revenues and require spending to stimulate the economy.   But Obama has signaled structural reform that will turn around the budget mess, even if the results won’t be clear until the economy is growing.

Until recently concern about global warming was losing support in public polls.   That’s turned around.   Things like Sandy, droughts, and historically high temperatures are convincing the public this is an issue.   A generation of children are coming of age who learned environmentalism and science in the schools.  Environmental activism is becoming cool again.

Beyond that the fossil fuel era is ending.   Despite promising finds of natural gas and tar sands, global consumption has been rising fast and new finds will not be enough — though they make the transition easier if we are proactive.   Saudi Arabia is past its peak and likely to become an oil importer by 2030.    Right now the recession has kept oil prices low, but even with the world in the economic doldrums oil is near $100 a barrel.  If growth returns, oil prices will rise dramatically.

Even with oil sands and fracking for natural gas, the fossil fuel era is ending

Even with oil sands and fracking for natural gas, the fossil fuel era is ending

Luckily, led by the EU, the rise of green technology is dramatic.   Still, higher energy costs will force a shift in life styles.  I doubt it will be the collapse predicted by some, but the days of cheap energy are ending.

The biggest shift is in technology.   Social media and the internet started a revolution in the Arab world that will take years to play itself out.   Those who think this is bad – or could have been prevented – are sorely mistaken.   The regimes relying on fear and bureaucratic control are going to find that people are becoming informed and empowered, able to rise up.    This started back in 1989 with the fall of Communism in Europe, but will grow and spread.

Even in Africa, where a genocide in 1994 and numerous wars involving some of the worst atrocities of recent history went unnoticed, a new activism is emerging.   Though Kony 2012 faded, the connections people are making across borders make it likely that over the next few decades the African continent will have a rebirth.  They own many of the scarce resources that the rest of the world needs; corrupt dictators are starting to fall.

Old political notions of sovereignty, national self-interest, and fear based policies are slowly giving way to interdependence, shared interests and hope.   The world is waking up, change is coming.   It will not be easy, there may be decades of instability and uncertainty before we see a better reality.    But a new world is coming.

The biggest barrier to peaceful change are those who cling to old ways of thinking – fear, anger, greed, self-interest at the expense of others, and a ‘them vs. us’ mentality.    The old mentality will not work in the world that’s emerging, and following the path of fear will yield crisis and conflict.    But change is coming, yesterday has past, now let’s all start living for the one that’s going to last.

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A Far Right Freak Out

“We lost America” according to Limbaugh

The re-election of President Obama was not unexpected.   In fact, having followed the polls and Nate Silver’s modeling of the election it played out almost as if scripted, with no surprises.    In my predictions I got only two races wrong, and I knew each was a long shot (NC for Obama, Carmona for AZ Senate).    Usually elections hold surprises, this one did not.

At least, not for those of us who believed that the pollsters knew their business and someone with Nate Silver’s track record should be taken seriously.    On the far right there was shock, indignation and collective anger and dismay.   How could this happen?   (Note: I use the term “far right” to differentiate them from average, reasonable Republicans and Romney supporters.)

Many bemoaned the fact that the country “is no longer center-right,” and talked openly about the inevitable decline of the United States.   A few on the fringes hoped for a quick decline, with talk about “going Galt” and stocking up on ammo and supplies.  Glenn Beck urged people to buy farm land, get as far from the East coast as they could so they can be around “like minded” people and keep the kids away from public schools!   The country cannot survive an Obama victory, Beck prophesied.     After the heady high of 2010 many found the results of the 2012 election simply impossible to accept.

Many on the right took these “predictions” seriously!

Two things are happening.   Some on the far right are stuck in their own parallel universe.    They read each other’s blogs, watch FOX news and listen to talk radio, creating a sense that their own view is far more widespread than it is.   Groupthink of this sort isn’t rational, it’s more like a feeling, something “in the air.”

Moreover part of groupthink is to see your opponents as less intelligent, moral or rational than yourself.   That the left is “falling for Nate Silver’s statistical mumbo jumbo” or “believing obviously skewed state polls” becomes viewed as self-evidently true.   They reinforced each other’s certainty that the left was deluded.   Some even fantasized that the left would riot and burn cities if Obama wasn’t re-elected!

Liberalism is not about dependency but opportunity

That brings me to their second error : a caricatured and completely over the top misguided view of the left.    To them the left loves big government  and has a victim mentality that rationalizes taking from the rich.    The right, in this odd perspective, represents hard working Americans who take responsibility for their success and want personal initiative rewarded.   The right is steadfast, rational, ethical, and responsible.   The left is wobbly, emotional, greedy and jealous of success.

That explains the level of intense emotion and anger on the right. They have constructed a straw man adversary who represents the worst character traits humans have:  greedy, lazy, wanting to steal from others, irrational, unethical, and jealous of success.   To them the left is a group of slack jawed moochers relying government to rob from the job creators to give them their flat screen TVs, dependent on a sinister government who trades this ‘free stuff’ for votes.   If they truly believe all that it’s understandable how righteous rage, indignation and even resignation come from this election.

The reality is that virtually no one on the  left believes people should see themselves as victims.  Indeed the key to success in life is personal initiative, a willingness to work hard, and an acceptance that each individual is responsible for their own success in life.    The only sense of entitlement  is that military service entitles veterans to basic support when they come back, and that after a life of work the elderly are entitled to a basic standard of living and health care.

Moreover, the views of the left are rooted in a sense of liberty that can be traced back to thinkers like John Stuart Mill in Great Britain.    Mill noted in mid-19th Century Great Britain leaving the market to its own devices had led to horrific results.   The economy was growing, but the workers lived in squalor, working class children weren’t educated, health care depended on wealth, and that social status at birth determined life success, not hard work and personal initiative.

John Stuart Mill is in many ways the father of modern liberalism, recognizing the positive role the state needs to take to expand liberty

Capitalism and markets are good, but we can use the state to assure that all people have true opportunity.   In trying to make sure that people aren’t condemned by status at birth to a life of grueling labor and poverty, the goal is to expand liberty.    Create real opportunities for everyone to succeed.   Make sure that hard work and initiative determine success, not simply status at birth or how much you inherit.

The left in the US embraces the notion of wealth as a reward for success.   Why are so many millionaires Democrats?   They don’t hate success or think being wealthy is bad.   Rather, the goal is to make sure that if you’re poor you still have the opportunity to become wealthy –  that the deck isn’t stacked against you.   Again, that’s an expanse of liberty, in line with American values.

The debate should be about how to work towards real opportunity without stifling economic growth and development.   What role should government programs play, and are they effective?   How do we prioritize dealing with the debt and deficit, how do we restructure our economy to fit the changes of the 21st Century?

So with all due respect to those on the far right freaking out:  chill.   It’s OK.   Democrats don’t want to overturn capitalism, create a country of dependent moochers, or punish success.   Indeed no Democratic plan would even raise tax rates close to the levels they were under Reagan.   Democrats are open to making reforms of what isn’t working, they want government programs to create opportunity for people to help themselves, not build a dependent class.

While the media covered the anti-Obama riot at the University of Mississippi, more telling was the much larger “peace rally” held to counter the anti-Obama protest

It’s emotionally satisfying to imagine the other side as more menacing and less rational than they are — the left does that to the right as well.   But ultimately Americans come together and solve problems.   Americans recognize that disagreement is an essential aspect of our system — we learn by debating differences and exploring compromise.

Ideology can be comforting – many use it as a way to try to find certainty in an uncertain world – but it’s based on delusion.   No simplified model of reality can really capture the complexity of the economic and political realities we face; rather, we have to work to solve problems and be practical and patient.    As the President noted, what unites us is far stronger than what divides us.   As Governor Romney noted in his gracious acceptance speech, it’s time to put the partisan bitterness and division behind us.   Time to get to work!

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Prediction: Obama 347

See the map above for when polls close in the various states (note that some states have parts of the state close at different times). All times EST.

Yesterday I predicted Obama would win the election Tuesday, based on data from polls, early voting and voter turnout projections.  It does not appear likely that state pollsters were statistically biased or that voter turnout will go significantly below 2004 – 2008 levels.   Moreover, late polls seem to be breaking for the President.  It is still close, but the evidence points to an Obama win.

Caveat:  While the headline prediction looks excellent for the President, it’s based on four states that literally could go either way:  Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire.   If they go for Romney, then he’s within 16 votes of the Presidency — Ohio would give the election to Romney.   The data suggests to me that Obama is favored in each, but not heavily.   The election could still go either way.

Predicting which states he’ll win and what his electoral vote total will be is difficult.    I’ve been pouring over information about early voting stats in Florida and North Carolina (my two hardest calls), reading different prognostications and trying to figure out my own best guess.    So here goes.  First, a number of seats are not competitive:

SAFE  ROMNEY                                SAFE  OBAMA

Alabama  (9)                                   California (55)
Alaska (3)                                      Connecticut (7)
Arkansas  (6)                                  Delaware (3)
Georgia  (16)                                   District of Columbia (3)

Idaho  (4)                                        Hawaii  (4)
Kansas  (6)                                     Illinois (20)
Kentucky (8)                                   Maryland (10)
Louisiana  (8)                                  Massachusetts (11)
Mississippi (6)                                New Jersey (14)
Nebraska   (5)                                 New Mexico (5)
North Dakota (3)                              New York (29)
Oklahoma   (7)                                Oregon (7)
Tennessee (11)                                Rhode Island (4)
Texas  (38)                                      Vermont (3)
Utah (6)                                           Washington (12)
West Virginia  (5)
Wyoming  (3)

VALUE:  144 EV                            VALUE:  187 EV

A number of other states will only be competitive if there is some dramatic twist in the election.   I’ll just list these, giving electoral vote values.

Likely Romney:  Indiana (11), Montana (3), Missouri (10), South Carolina (9)  South Dakota (3)

Likely Obama:  Minnesota (10), Maine (3)* (Maine divides its EV by Congressional district and the 2nd district is only leans Obama)

Total safe and likely Romney EV:  180   Obama EV:  200

And now my state by state predictions for the rest, with explanation where warranted, in alphabetical order:

Arizona (11):  Romney:  Soon Arizona may join Nevada and New Mexico as swing states or even Democratic leaning if the Latino population in the US continues to predominately support Democrats.  It is possible that a surprising uptick in Latino votes could push Arizona into Obama’s column — that’s why it’s listed out here.   The polls suggest that strong white support for Romney will keep Arizonia with the Republicans.

Colorado (9):  Obama:  This was a hard state to call.  It’s been at times in the polls for Obama, and at times for Romney.  Republicans are doing well in early voting.  A strong Latino vote and late polls that leaned Obama cause me to award it to the President.   Also today reports are that the Romney camp is down on Colorado due to internal polling.

Florida (29):  Obama:   I thought as late as yesterday that I’d guess Romney on this one.  But the early voting was phenomenal given the shortened time period (near equal to 2008), and a backlash against attempts to limit early voting might work against Romney and the Republicans.   Also, I think polls might be underestimating Latino votes (note – as becomes clear, this may be an election Obama owes to Latinos).   I think voter turnout will be high, and Obama will pull it off.

Iowa (6):  Obama:   Obama hit this state hard at the end, and most polls showed him pulling away, though not to the extent they did in other swing states.   Still, this is where it started for him, he’s winning the early vote big time, and recent polls have looked strong.

Maine 2nd Dist. (1):  Obama:  I live here, and it’s definitely the rural/conservative portion of Maine.   Still, both polls I’ve seen suggest Obama has a decent lead, and I expect he’ll take the district.   I wouldn’t be shocked if Romney got this EV, but the election doesn’t seem to be trending this way.

Michigan (16):  Obama:  Pretty easy call, though some late ad buys and a couple close polls made it at least conceivable Romney could do well.   Most polls show an easy Obama win, especially given the auto bail out.

Nevada (6):  Obama:  This one is closer, but most polls show Obama with a decent lead of about 4%, and Romney stopped really competing for it in the last week.  This suggests that they consider it out of reach and in Obama’s camp.

New Hampshire (4):  Obama:  Polls have varied widely for New Hampshire, and this is a state that likes to defy expectations, whether in primaries or general elections.   It’s often forgotten that if New Hampshire had gone for Gore in 2000 Florida would have been irrelevant – Gore would have won.   I was very close to giving this to Romney, but some huge rallies, good late polls and lots of effort by Obama there towards the end suggests that they’ll have the momentum to pull it off. 

North Carolina (15):  Obama:  North Carolina is another that had me switching sides — first I thought Obama should take it, then new polls and the very narrow margin of 2008 made me lean Romney.   After all, nobody expects Obama to do as well in 2012 as in 2008, do they?   So I’ve been reading about early voting results, the mood in North Carolina, and watching what the campaigns are doing.   Since I think this election is breaking towards Obama, I decided, perhaps more from the heart than the head, to give this to Obama.   I was about to call it for Romney but when I saw that early voting increased over 2008 I decided to take a bet that this means very heavy turnout.   Still, I’m sticking my neck out here!

Ohio (18):  Obama:  Ohio has been polled more than any other state, it seems, and the polls are overwhelming in favor of Obama, some late polls by a solid margin.    Early voting has also been strong in Ohio, and I read reports that Republicans were alarmed by the level of early voting in Democratic counties over the final weekend (the weekend where the Legislature and Governor didn’t want anyone but military families to be able to vote early, until overruled by the courts).   So everything points to a clear Obama win here.    If Ohio is really close, that could be a sign that the Romney team’s assumptions about this race were accurate after all – an important state!

Pennsylvania (20): Obama:  Late ad buys and a final appearance by Romney cause many to think that the GOP considers Pennsylvania winnable.   John McCain made a similar effort in 2008.    Yet Obama has had pretty consistent leads in most polls (and those that show otherwise tended to be outliers or partisan).   With 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania is a real prize.  If you have to gamble, this is the place to do it.   But Obama should win by at least 5.

Virginia (13):  Obama:  Until a few days ago I was leaning Romney on this one, but late polls seem to be breaking for Obama.   Virginia does not have no excuse early voting, which is one reason I thought Romney might pull it out, especially if Democratic enthusiasm is even a bit down.   Still, given the late polls I end up giving it to Obama.  Not as hard a call as North Carolina, but this could go either way.

Wisconsin (10):  Obama: Wisconsin was to be in play with the choice of Paul Ryan of Janesville as Romney’s VP candidate, but all signs are that Obama is finishing strong here.    On Monday Bruce Springsteen opened for Obama in Madison.  How many people can say that they’ve had Springsteen as their opening act?

So, add all these together and the result is:

OBAMA:  347 EV          ROMNEY:  191  EV

Other Predictions:

Popular Vote:   National polls have moved to give Obama a one or two point lead.   They now seem in line with the state polls.  I don’t expect Obama to win the electoral college and lose the popular vote, in part because the small states that go red tend to have smaller population to EV ratios.  I’ll predict Obama 50.8   Romney 48.2.

The House of Representatives:  I have not been following the House races closely enough to make an informed prediction.   In 2010 I paid more attention and the best I could do was to pick a range of Democratic loses from 29 to 69 – it’s hard to miss with that kind of range!    All I can do this year is say that I think the Democrats will gain at least ten.    If things really break their way they could take the House back, but from what I can tell even Democratic optimists doubt that.

Same Sex Marriage:   It looks very much like it should pass here in Maine — it was close in 2009, and that was an off year election which allowed the evangelicals of the state to have a stronger impact.   I’m not sure about Minnesota, Washington state and Maryland.    Polls in three of the states show about 52 – 45 in favor of same sex marriage (not sure about Washington state’s polling).   Polls tend to overstate support, so it will likely be much closer.   If it were to pass in all four states this would be a watershed, perhaps the most historic aspect of the 2012 election cycle.    Even if only one state supports same sex marriage this will mark its first success in a referendum, and that would be a big deal.

So it comes down to tomorrow!   However it turns out, this has definitely been one of the more topsy turvy and interesting general elections in recent history.   It’s been fun to watch!   Don’t forget to vote!

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