Archive for category Democrats

Should Hillary Should Consider Dropping Out?

Hillary Rodham Clinton Signs Copies Of Her Book 'Hard Choices' In New York

It is unfair.  It’s a mix of a GOP witch hunt, as evidenced by statements recently from Rep. Mike McCarthy and a staff member of the committee investigating Benghazi, and modern technology – not yet quite knowing the best way to handle cyber communication.   It is the result of an unwarranted and ugly politicization of the tragedy of the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, but politics is often unfair.  Machiavellian and ruthless, the GOP has weakened the Democratic front runner, Hillary Clinton.  Now the question is whether that damage is manageable, or if the Democrats would be better off with someone else.

This leaves democrats in a quandry.   The Democrats have lots of young dynamic talent, but remembering the rise of Obama in 2008 the Clinton team quietly worked to convince them their long term future was better off not challenging the front runner.  This isn’t 2008; at that time the public was angry at an outgoing President and wanted change.  While Republicans are convinced Obama is the worst thing since cholera, most consider him as having had an effective stint in the oval office.

The young guns that wowed the Democratic National Convention in 2012 thus pulled back to let Hillary glide to the nomination, leaving only an aging leftist Bernie Sanders to launch a plausible alternative campaign, with pragmatists Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb withering in the single digits.

Yet Hillary is not a strong candidate.   Her weaknesses helped enable Obama’s rise in 2008, and she’s never shown herself an effective campaigner.   Indeed, her focus seems to be on infrastructure and organization rather than actually campaigning.  If her husband hadn’t been President, she wouldn’t be where she is today – a glaring weakness in that notion that it’s time to elect a “self-made” woman.   Add to that the e-mail scandal – a minor controversy played up by the media and the GOP – and the public finds itself distrusting Clinton, perhaps a bit tired of a family story that’s been in the public eye for almost a quarter of a century.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is running an excellent campaign in almost every aspect – except winning support! He’s stuck at 3% in the polls.

Consider the talk of 74 year old VP Joe Biden entering the race.  Biden has really nothing going for him – and I say that as someone who truly likes Biden and thinks he’d be an excellent President (he’s been especially prescient on foreign policy).  He’s not a good campaigner, has never done well when he’s been in the ring, and given his age and lack of distinguishing characteristics has no charismatic appeal.  Yet many Democrats (and probably more Republicans) hope he’ll throw his hat in the ring.

Simply, Hillary may be too weak a candidate for the Democrats in 2016, yet the way the campaign has been positioned it’s hard to stop her.  Only a maverick like Bernie Sanders had the audacity to mount a front on challenge – and while the 74 year old former Socialist has whipped up the Democratic base, it’s unclear if he could gain broad public support.

Sanders supporters point to polls that show a lot of public sympathy, and his age may help him overcome the claim that his past socialism makes him too extreme.   First of all, “socialism” as a label has lost some of its Cold War era sting – and he’s redefining himself in a way that fits within the US mainstream.  It’s possible that a populist wave could bring Bernie into the White House.  Indeed, his age might exude a wisdom that overcomes his past radicalism.  Still, it’s a long shot.  Though if he were to face a right wing ideologue like Ted Cruz, the smart money would be on Bernie.

Though dismissed as un-electable, Sanders is by far drawing the largest crowds and eclipsing Obama's record for early fund raising

Though dismissed as un-electable, Sanders is by far drawing the largest crowds and eclipsing Obama’s record for early fund raising

If Hillary is wounded, Biden weak and Sanders a bit too much on the fringe, what hope do the Democrats have?  Might O’Malley, or perhaps other candidates like Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb have a chance?  Might one of the younger voices from the 2012 like Julian Castro suddenly emerge?  Or has Hillary kept them out too long for them to jump in at this time?

Tonight’s debate is big for Hillary Clinton.  If she does not come out clearly on top – or worse, if she appears wounded and defensive – she should rethink whether or not it makes sense to continue this campaign.   To be sure, the Democrats have real advantages heading into the fall campaign, and if she can weather this storm she has a good chance to be the next President.  That hope alone will probably keep her in the race.  But is it enough?

1 Comment

Obama, the Republicans and Immigration

Obama addresses the nation on November 20, 2014

Obama addresses the nation on November 20, 2014

The politics behind President Obama’s executive order on immigration are fascinating, so I’ll quickly dispense with the policy stuff.  Yes, what he did is legal.  It probably should have been earlier, and it comes after he tried to work with Congress for six years to get a legislative solution.  No, this doesn’t go as far as comprehensive immigration reform – we’ll still need Congress to do that (and I suspect they will – but only in 2017) – but it definitely gives the US a more humane, compassionate and reasonable approach to immigration.

And the politics, well…as Spock would say, fascinating.

One theory is Obama is purposefully “trolling the Republican party.”  Not so much by the policy – Obama was going to do this anyway – but by not waiting until a bill was passed in December to continue government spending.   The logic goes like this:  the Republicans do not benefit politically when they try to shut down the government.   Most Republicans do not want a government shut down.   Already 2016 looks difficult for them, wounding themselves politically is something they want to avoid.

Moreover, the GOP remains divided.  They want to create the impression they are united and can be responsible, but the divisions are intense.   If those divisions can be brought into the open and be shown to bring chaos into Republican ranks, then the Democrats not only have a better shot to perhaps win back both houses in 2016, but Obama will benefit politically, giving him more leeway.  Already talk radio hosts, tea party activists and many in the House and Senate are calling for a government shut down.

One probable result of these changes in immigration is improved economic growth

One probable result of these changes in immigration is improved economic growth

This would, however, be a major shift of tone from a President who has been criticized for being too nice with Republicans, too unwilling to take unilateral action.  He is by nature a consensus builder and he has tried to use pressure and persuasion with Republican leaders who make ultimatums and refuse to compromise.   It’s not that they don’t want to compromise, but they don’t have their House caucus under control.  To make significant compromises would be to face a rebellion, and Speaker Boehner would prefer to lead a “do-nothing” Congress with at least the illusion of party unity than one gets things done, but further divides and weakens the GOP.

So the White House may believe: a) there is nothing to gain by trying to work with this Congress – it’ll be no different than the last one; b) it’s now or never, we have two years to continue our agenda; and c) if we act now and inspire anger in the GOP base, then the  party will be divided, play with the fire of a government shut down, and ultimately be weakened going into 2016.

On top of that, Latinos will be thankful, will see and get angry at the rhetoric coming from the right, and turn out in record numbers to vote in Democrats in 2016.   The Republicans will claim the Democrats are “bribing Hispanics,” but that will be even more insulting.  The result: a weakened GOP and a revived Democratic party, already recovering from the 2014 election and realizing that overall the direction of the country still favors the Democrats.

To be sure, Obama wouldn’t have done this if he thought it was bad policy.  This could be another aspect of his legacy that one day shines brightly, despite the controversy now.  It could also make it easier for the GOP to actually decide to pass a bi-partisan immigration policy that has more of what they want, realizing they get nothing if they just complain.  If the Republicans did that, they might find it easier to win over Latino voters in the future.

Too harsh a response and Republicans could help push record numbers of Latinos to vote Democratic in 2016

Too harsh a response and Republicans could help push record numbers of Latinos to vote Democratic in 2016

To Boehner and McConnell, they have to somehow satisfy their right wing (Boehner calling Obama ‘the most lawless President in history’ shows at least he’ll use their rhetoric) but chart a path that shows the country that the Republicans aren’t a bunch of angry whackos who can’t be trusted with the steering wheel.  This is a real test of whether or not the GOP can actually use their new majority effectively.

Clearly Obama is still very relevant and willing to use his power.   Senator McConnell said the President is ignoring the will of the voters (the relatively small number of voters who voted in the midterm), but the Majority Leader should be reminded that Obama won elections with significant majorities twice.   That means he has been entrusted to follow his best judgment.

It’s also interesting how fickle politics can be.  Just over two weeks ago Republicans were overjoyed and Democrats demoralized by the 2014 Midterm elections.   Between the defeat of the Keystone pipeline, the China-US climate deal and now bold leadership from the President on immigration, it’s the Republicans feeling angry and upset, and liberals light on their feet.   But that could change just as quickly.

12 Comments

Liberals – Chillax!

McConnell and Boehner, the leaders of the Senate and House

McConnell and Boehner will lead the Senate and House in the next Congress

Although I held out hope, the result of the election was not a surprise.  The Republicans had a good night – the map was on their side, it’s the six year curse on the President’s party, and the Democrats ran a strategically bad campaign.  Rather than arguing for policy and supporting the President, they ran scared.  The result?  Moderates figured they didn’t stand for anything, and the base was repulsed.  Especially Black and Latino voters stayed home.   Even then so many states stayed very close until the end, it clearly wasn’t a massive GOP wave.

Yet to hear people on the left talk, the election was a disaster.   The Republicans hold the House and Senate!  Scott, Walker and LePage were re-elected as tea party governors!   The country is going the wrong way, people are ignorant, big money is warping our system, and the media is shilling for the right, etc.

My response to that?  Chill people!  The sky isn’t falling, and there are a lot of reasons for optimism.  Don’t make yesterday’s Republican victory out to be more than it is.  Here’s why:

1.  The House has always led Republican obstructionism, with Senate Republicans able to say that they can’t do more because the Democrats were in control.  Now the Senate has no excuse – if they are willing to compromise, real progress can be made.

2.  Obama has no incentive to capitulate.  He’s not running again.  Especially the first year, look for him to be aggressive with the use of executive orders and other unilateral actions.   Obama may do more to make liberals happy this coming year than the last six put together – in part because if he doesn’t do it now, he’ll never have the chance, and in part to pressure the GOP: If you don’t compromise, I’ll act!

3.  In 2016 the Democrats will have the map on their side, unlike this year.   In many ways, the surprise of the election was that the Democrats were able to keep so many states so close.   Of the 34 Senate seats up in 2016, 24 will be Republican, only 10 Democratic.  Of the ten Democratic seats, only Nevada and Colorado are likely to be in danger, and those are both states that voted for Obama in 2012.   Of the Republican seats, nine are in states won by Obama in 2012, and many others could be in play.  In other words, 2016 might be a mirror image of 2014.  Remember: Democrats do much better in Presidential election years.

4.  It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Democrats could retake the House in 2014.  They’d need to win forty seats, something difficult to do – but if the GOP doesn’t compromise and gets seen as obstructionist, it’ll be possible.

obamaveto

5.  The President has veto power.  He’s a firewall against a Republican agenda.   With the Republicans in control – the onus is on them to prove they can provide a productive legislative branch.  If they don’t, they’ll be that much more likely to have a devastating year in 2016.

6.  The Republicans are moving away from the tea party.  If you look at the candidates they choose, the effort to control the message, and the anger about, say Thad Cochran, it looks like the GOP recognizes that the tea party has no staying power.   I don’t think the GOP is there yet, but they’re in the process of moving away from ideological dogma towards true conservatism.

7.   The country’s culture and demographics still point to a progressive future.  It was virtually a non-story yesterday that a Federal Judge ruled Missouri’s ban on same sex marriages illegal.  The culture has changed that much.   In the grand scheme of things, the trajectory of the country has not changed.

Not convinced?

Try this:  there is nothing you can do to change the election result anyway!   Unless you invent a time machine and can go back and tell Democrats that their timid strategy of ignoring Obama rather than embracing him hurt more than helped, what’s done is done.  Why waste energy by feeling depressed and angry?   It not only doesn’t help, but that energy could better be directed in a positive way.  Practice pragmatism:  Accept what you can’t change, change what you can.  And there is a lot we can do!

3 Comments

Senate Prediction: Democrats 52 Republicans 48

Michelle Nunn, the Democratic hope in Georgia

Michelle Nunn, the Democratic hope in Georgia

Every election cycle I make predictions right before the election.  In 2008 I predicted Obama would win with 410 electoral votes.  He had 365.  In 2010 I didn’t post predictions, but posted lists of races to watch, and different scenarios.  In 2012 I predicted Obama would win with 347 electoral votes.   He won with 332.

I also predicted the Senate races in 2012.   I predicted the Democrats would come out with a 56 – 44 majority, counting the two independents with the Democrats.   That was seen as wildly optimistic (especially that I picked Heidi Heitkamp and Tammy Baldwin), but I was only one seat off – and I knew my prediction of Richard Carmona in Arizona was iffy.  I did not try to predict the House in any election, though in 2010 I was skeptical that the wave would be as big as it was.

So my track record is: a) my predictions aren’t bad; and b) they are slightly biased in favor of the Democrats.   That makes sense – subconsciously everyone thinks that what they want is more likely.  Yet I do have reasons for my prediction.  So here goes:

First – really safe seats, ones NOT up for election:  34 Democrats (including 2 indies who caucus with the Democrats), 30 Republicans

SAFE REPUBLICAN  (asterix = pickup)

Alabama, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana*, Nebraska, both Oklahoma races, both South Carolina races, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia*, Wyoming
(44 either not running or safe)

LIKELY REPUBLICAN

South Dakota* (45 not running, safe, or likely)

SAFE DEMOCRATS

Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia
(45 either not running or safe)

First, note how there are few states that are just likely.  South Dakota probably is safe Republican, but three way races are problematic and volatile, so I can’t quite call it safe.  But this leaves us with a 45 – 45 split, and 10 races that will decide it.  Democrats must win five of those ten to keep the Senate, Republicans must win six.  So here are my predictions:

Republican victories

Arkansas – Tom Cotton over Mark Pryor by 4
Kentucky – Mitch McConnell over Alison Grimes by 6
Louisiana – Bill Cassidy over Mary Landrieu by 6 in a run off

Democratic victories

Alaska – Mark Begich over Dan Sullivan by 1
Colorado – Mark Udall over Cory Gardner by 1
Iowa – Bruce Braley over Joni Ernst by 2
Georgia – Michelle Nunn over David Perdue by 0.2% in a run off
Kansas – Greg Orman over Pat Roberts by 6 (indie – likely to caucus with the Democrats)
North Carolina – Kay Hagan over Thom Tillis by 4.5
New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen over Scott Brown by 4

Senate result:  Democratic Caucus 52, Republicans 48

Of the Democratic victories, Georgia, Colorado and Alaska are the ones least likely.  If I’m wrong on those three – and current polls suggest I will be, then the Republicans will control the Senate 51-49.

Why did I choose as I did?  Digging into differences in the ground game and its importance in Alaska lead me to think Begich will pull it out.  In Colorado the mail in ballot should help Udall, who also has a good get out the vote machine.   Polls in Colorado have under-counted Democrats in the past.   In Georgia I think the state is shifting purple, and Michelle Nunn is in a position to pull off an upset – she has been up in some recent polls.  Iowa is neck neck in the polls now, but early voting seems to be favoring the Democrats and bringing out more voters that didn’t vote in 2010.  There is an outlier that just came out showing Ernst up 7; five other polls show shifting leads, very small.

To be clear: I know I’m predicting an upset.   I do believe this upset is going to happen.  Last week the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys met the 2-5 Washington Redskins in Dallas.  Very few predicted a Redskins upset, but they beat the Cowboys.   (Aside:  I predict the Vikings will beat the Redskins Sunday – and that is a blatantly partisan wishful thinking prediction!)

If there is a GOP wave, as some speculate, Republicans could take all of these races and have a 55-45 majority.  I’m obviously not expecting a wave, but it’s certainly possible.   Tuesday we’ll know!

7 Comments

Who Will Control the Senate?

Early voting suggests that turn out will be very good in places with close contests

Based on early voting patterns, it’s likely that voter turn out will be very good in places with close contests

The midterm elections of 2014 look tailor made for the GOP.   The President has low approval ratings, the public is in fear mode over ebola and ISIS, Democrats are structurally in an election that would be difficult anyway.   They are defending 21 Senate seats, the Republicans are defending only 15.  The Democrats are defending seats in traditional Republican and “split” states, while the GOP is defending in states that went for Romney in 2012.   Three states the Democrats are defending: South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia look all but certain to go to the Republicans.

Given all this one would expect November 4th to be a huge blow out victory for the GOP.   And it certainly could be just that.  However, the Democrats remain tantalizingly close in the polls, and there are many scenarios in which the GOP makes up on November 5th disappointed.   Instead of a wave, which many Republicans expect, the water could turn out to be still and flat.

Three things should give the Democrats hope:  1) In Senate elections the candidates matter more than the party to swing voters; 2) in close races voter turnout is likely to be higher than usual – Democratic enthusiasm has rebounded, unlike 2010; and 3) the polls are so tight that get out the vote efforts could make a difference.

North Carolina's democratic incumbent Kay Hagan continues to hold a slight but consistent lead in the polls

North Carolina’s democratic incumbent Kay Hagan continues to hold a slight but consistent lead in the polls

Currently the Senate is split 53-45 in favor of the Democrats.  Two independents caucus with the Democrats, so it’s really 55-45.   That means Republicans need to win six seats to gain control (Vice President Biden would be the tiebreakers if they won only 5).    Of the 21 seats they are defending, the Democrats look secure in only 11 of them.   Of the ten remaining, Republicans look like they are coasting to victory in three of them (though with a three way race, South Dakota could surprise).

Currently there are ten seats “in play” – three Republican seats have the potential for a Democratic pick up.    Each of the two parties each can only be reasonably sure of 45 seats at this point.   To gain a majority Republicans need to win 6 of those 10 races, Democrats need to win five.

Assessing the individual races

Alaska:  Republican Dan Sullivan seemed to eek out a slight lead in recent polls, though the most recent poll (with a low sample size) showed Democratic incumbent Mark Begich up by 6.   Given the advantage incumbents have, Begich has a real shot.  Going strictly with the numbers the Huffpost pollster (here after HP) gives Sullivan a 62% chance to win.

Arkansas:  Republican Tom Cotton pulled ahead of incumbent Mark Pryor in recent weeks, but hasn’t been able to sustain a lead.  This is why the GOP isn’t making this a slam dunk, they can’t seem to pull away from the Democrats.  The latest poll has Pryor up by 1 – it’s close.  Again, given the advantage incumbents have, this is winnable for the Democrats.  HP also has this as a 62% likely GOP win.

Colorado:  Another race giving Republicans both hope and headaches.  Cory Gardner appeared to polling solid leads, even up 7% in one poll.  But four of the last five polls show incumbent Mark Udall with a 1% lead.  With Colorado’s mail in voting, this may be one where voter turnout helps the Democrats.  It’s definitely winnable for Udall, though HP gives Gardner a 61% chance.

Georgia:  Two new polls tell starkly different stories.  One has Republican David Perdue up 8%, another (Rasmussen, with twice the sample size) has the race tied.   Polls have shown Democrat Michelle Nunn or Perdue up 2 or 3, no one has had a sustained lead.   Given demographic change in Georgia and high minority voter turnout in early voting, Nunn has a good shot.  HP gives Perdue a 64% to win.

Republican Joni Ernst maintains a small lead in Iowa - but hasn't been able to pull away

Republican Joni Ernst maintains a small lead in Iowa – but hasn’t been able to pull away

Iowa:  Another race that seems to be shifting.  Republican Joni Ernst had a week or so of consistent leads in the polls.  Small, but consistent.  In the last week Democrat Bruce Braley has polled better, the latest poll has him up 4.  It appears Iowa may be shifting towards the Democrats, though HP still gives Ernst a 56% chance of victory.

Kansas:  A deeply red state with an incumbent Republican running, this should be a no-brainer.  Yet right now Greg Orman, running as an independent, looks like he’s holding a small lead over Pat Roberts.   This race is too close to call, even HP has both with a 50% chance of winning.

Kentucky:  Another sign of GOP trouble – that Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is in trouble!   Lately his well oiled machine has put him ahead in almost all the polls, between 2 and 8%.  This is a longer shoot for Democrat Alison Grimes, but it’s close enough that it can’t be seen as likely Republican.  HP has a 66% chance of a McConnell win.

Louisiana:  Due to the fact that the top two vote getters compete in a run off, it’ll be December before we know who wins, but it is looking increasingly unlikely that Mary Landrieu will save her seat from Republican challenger Bill Cassidy.  However, Landrieu has appeared dead before and the race may shift in tone once they go into run off mood.  At this point, though, it looks good for the GOP, and HP gives Cassidy a 68% chance of victory.

North Carolina:  Kay Hagan has managed to stay ahead of Republican challenger Thom Tillis, but not by much.  HP gives Hagan a 58% chance to keep her seat, but it would not be a shock of Tillis pulled off a victory.

New Hampshire:  Democrat incumbent Jeanne Shaheen has also managed to stay ahead of Republican challenger Scott Brown in most polls, though as with Hagan it remains too close to call.  HP gives Shaheen a 59% chance of victory.

At stake: which of these old white men will run the Senate

At stake: which of these old white men will run the Senate

What do we make of these ten races?   At this point the Democrats only look ahead in two of them, according to the polls.  If Orman won Kansas as well, that would be three of the ten for the Democrats, seven for the GOP, and the Republicans in control of the Senate 52 – 48 (assuming the two independents continue to caucus with the Democrats).    However, the Democrats would only need two of the remaining seven to hold on to their control.  And at least five of the seven look very possible for the Democrats.

In other words – this election is going down to the wire.  If the last week does bring forth a Republican wave, the GOP could win some that look good for the Democrats now, and have up to 55 seats.  If the Democrats manage to pull ahead in these close races, they could end up with a more comfortable majority, maybe as much as 52 or 53 seats.  Neither is a sure thing.

A wave seems unlikely because the economy is good, people give the Democratic party higher approval ratings than the Republican party, and there is no tea party zeal or raw anger like there was in 2010.   But even if there is no wave, it’s an uphill battle for the Democrats to try to hold the Senate.

That the Democrats are this close in so many races should give them heart, even if they end up losing the Senate.  That’s because in 2016 it’ll be the Republicans defending twice the seats as the Democrats!   I will make predictions the day before the election, I want to see if there is any momentum shift in the polls in this last week.  But with so many close races, election night should be exciting!

 

 

1 Comment

Obama the Republican?

obamagop

The American Conservative, an often refreshing publication espousing classical conservatism, has a rather provocative article out suggesting that President Obama is really a Republican, heir to Richard Nixon rather than Saul Alinsky (photo above is from their article).  I had to google Alinsky, he was an mid-20th Century radical.

The piece goes issue by issue, noting that Obama has undertaken essentially conservative policies, ones much in line with traditional conservative thought.  He has been hawkish on national security, yet skeptical of jumping into wars.   His economic policies have dramatically brought down the deficit, and he has been fiscally conservative, much to the consternation of his own party.   He still enforces tough drug laws, even as states decriminalize.  It took him a long time to voice support for gay marriage, even as his party was leading the way.

Corporate profits have risen, he hasn’t done much to address the imbalance of wealth between blacks and whites, he’s been hawkish about security leaks, and even his health care reform was based on Romney’s plan in Massachusetts (and is less bold than Nixon’s proposal back in the 70s).

Obama has probably decreased deficits more than a Republican President would have.

Obama has probably decreased deficits more than a Republican President would have.

So why does the right have such outlandish personal attacks on Obama?  By any objective standard he’s been a competent, centrist President.  Yet he gets called a radical.  He gets labeled “incompetent,” and his successes are swept under the carpet.  He gets blamed for things like ISIS – an absurd claim, but one those on the right fall over themselves to make.  Though the Center for Disease Control is one of the most respected health organizations in the world,the cautious and successful approach they’re taking to ebola gets criticized.  In fact anything wrong in government (and left and right can agree there are always some problems in government) is laid at his feet.

Up until now I thought the reason for this antipathy was because some on the right think Obama is different.  Not just racially, but he’s urbane, cosmopolitan, has a strange name, and doesn’t seem to be the kind of good old boy Americans were used to.   He symbolizes a transformation of the country that many fear but are powerless to stop.

However, there are two other factors.  One, given the treatment of Bush by the left, it might be that any President these days will be vilified by the other side, especially given the prevalence of inbred media (blogs, media, and other sources populated by only one part of the political spectrum). But more importantly, if someone is a competent centrist, all you really have are personal attacks.

The President surrounds himself with Wall Street insiders who would be just as comfortable in a Republican administration.

The President surrounds himself with Wall Street insiders who would be just as comfortable in a Republican administration.

To true partisans of the left, the news that Obama governs from the center isn’t new.   Much of his disapproval rating comes from the left side of the political spectrum.   The biggest criticism of his Presidency is that he’s too cautious, too willing to work with Republicans and concerned more about finding solutions that appeal broadly, rather than fighting for a cause.    From fracking to the trans-pacific partnership and the Canadian oil pipeline, Obama has been slow to act.   A liberal activist would govern much differently.

Partisans of the right might grumble that it’s only because of Republican opposition that Obama could not get more done.  They may take credit for forcing him to govern from the center.  Yet that doesn’t explain his style – even during his first two years with a Democratic Congress he showed a penchant for pragmatism.

So is this a good thing?  With all due respect to my liberal activist friends, I still believe Obama will be remembered as one of the great Presidents in large part because of his pragmatism.   It’s not that I agree with him on everything – I don’t.  Yet agreement with me isn’t the measure of a President!

The country is in the midst of a radical transformation.  The economy is deep in debt, and the financial meltdown Obama inherited shows deep structural flaws in our economic system.  Transformation in the Mideast, the source of our cheap energy for last half of the 20th Century, creates real security threats.   Environmental problems are real, even if people want to close their eyes to them or embrace some wild theories to deny global warming.

obamatweet

The only way we’ll get through the next decades without paralyzing political gridlock is if we find a way to work together.   Not just here at home, but internationally (and Obama retains very high respect abroad).   That means compromising even on important issues- that’s how the world works.  While Republican hyperbole and obstructionism may tempt Democrats to use executive power to its fullest extent, Obama has been moderate in its use.  He believes in being President to all Americans, even those who call him names.

We are undergoing a profound cultural and demographic transformation.  As the tea party fades and Republicans finally start to work against extremists in their party, the stage is set for compromise in the future.  No matter who wins the midterms, the conversation has shifted away from the radical rhetoric of 2010.   Obamacare is entrenched – it may be changed, perhaps improved, but not gutted.  The power of Grover Norquist, while still real, has declined.  Tax increases are thinkable as part of a budgetary compromise.  Even climate change denial is shifting as the weather patterns make clear something real and potentially dangerous is happening.

So the left may be dissatisfied by Obama’s centrism while the right finds all sorts of absurd reasons to try to cut him down.  But quietly and effectively, he’s been a steady force in a country under going a fundamental transformation – a fact that will become much more evident in hindsight.

3 Comments

Will the Ground Game Help the Democrats?

voterturnout

As a football fan I believe very much in having a strong ground game.  I’ve always thought games are won or lost by the offensive line.  Yes, Super Bowl champions also need good skill players, the line can’t do it alone.  But the ability to control time of possession and keep the other team’s offense off the field can provide a real advantage late in the game when players tire.

It is with that in mind that I consider a New York Times article which notes that Democrats are spending far more than Republicans on their ground game – early voting, voter registration, absentee voting and of course election day get out the vote efforts.  Republicans are focusing media, especially television ads.

As a social scientist, I find this an interesting test.  The Democrats have always been hurt in the midterms because their voters are less likely to vote than Republicans.   In Presidential elections the turn out is good, but it drops off dramatically in the midterms.

turnoutmidterm

So the Democrats are placing a bet.   They believe that if they invest heavily in their ground game, they’ll alter the election dynamic and fare much better than polls anticipate.  Pollsters show very tight races in at least ten Senate contests.   If the Democratic get out the vote effort changes the usual voting pattern, Democrats might out perform poll expectations.  The polls weight their results based on anticipated voter turnout, after all.  Democrats are trying to change that dynamic.

Consider: young voters tend to vote Democratic.  In 2008 youth turnout (18 and 19 year olds) was 51%.  In 2010 it dropped to 20%.   Voter turnout was back up in 2012.  If you expand the age to 18-29, Obama won with 60% of that vote.  If those voters stay home in 2014, the Republicans will have a very good year.

raceturnout

The same is true when it comes to race; voter turnout among blacks surpassed white turnout in 2012 for the first time.  Youth and black voters were a major reason Obama won handily.  If the voter demographics were the same as they had been in 1980, Romney would have won a landslide victory.   Yet those voters tend not to vote in midterms.  This gives the GOP an advantage, and helps explain the discrepancy between the 2010 and 2012 elections.

voter turnout

So the Democrats are trying to wage a different form of midterm fight.  Rather than trying to win votes (i.e., market share) by advertising heavily and hoping to convince voters (consumers) that their brand is best, they’re putting money into trying to get new customers into the market with more contact on the ground.

Will it work?  It’s probably a better strategy than simply matching the Republican ad blitz.  It’s not clear how persuasive campaign ads are to swing voters, most people have made their minds up.

Consider the South Dakota race.   Despite being outspent by 13 to 1, former Republican Senator Larry Pressler, running now as an independent, has surged to 25% in the polls, becoming a real factor.   While one can attribute this climb to skillful media use, name recognition and dissatisfaction with the gridlock in Washington, clearly media spending is NOT the reason he rose in the polls.

So this is an interesting test.   The GOP is focusing on the air waves, the Democrats on getting out the vote.    If the Democrats out perform polls and do better than expected in key races, that will be strong evidence that emphasis on the ground game pays off.  If not, well, the Democrats need to find a good QB for 2016!

 

6 Comments

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.

1 Comment

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.

2 Comments

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.

 

 

 

16 Comments