Archive for category Tea Party

What Cochran’s Victory Means

cochran

On Thad Cochran’s fourth birthday Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, sending the US into World War II.   Like most Mississippians of that era, Cochran grew up a Democrat.  In those days the south produced very conservative Democrats who eschewed the Republican party because it was the party of Abraham Lincoln.   Cochran was a success at almost everything he undertook: he was an Eagle Scout, majored in Psychology (minored in Poli-Sci), served a stint in the Navy and ultimately graduated from the University of Mississippi Law School.

In the sixties the country was changing and Cochran recognized that the Republican party was increasingly reflecting the view of southern conservatives.   He became one of the early converts to the GOP, winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1972 in a close race.

After three terms in Congress Cochran successfully ran for the Senate, replacing retiring Democrat James Eastland.  That made Cochran one of the first of the new breed of southern Republicans to get elected.  Given the Democrats’ choice of George McGovern to run in 1972, the next decade would see a massive shift to the Republican party in the south.

South Dakota's George McGovern was seen as way too liberal for southern Democrats, speeding a shift in the south to the GOP

South Dakota’s George McGovern was seen as way too liberal for southern Democrats, speeding a shift in the south to the GOP

Southern Democrats were in something of a civil war then.   The establishment Democratic candidate opposing Cochran was Maurice Dantin.  He was supported by Eastland and part of the good old boy southern Democratic tradition.   Yet the Democrats were also now the party of the civil rights movement, and Charles Evers, a black liberal, ran as an independent.  This split the Democratic vote and allowed Cochran to win with a plurality.

A younger Thad Cochran campaigns with Nancy Reagan

A younger Thad Cochran campaigns with Nancy Reagan

Time once labeled Cochran one of the most effective Senators.  Always a behind the scenes “persuader,” he brought pork to Mississippi (he was a master of the earmark) and earned a strong 88% rating from the American Conservative Union.   He developed considerable influence in both Mississippi and the Senate, and was generally well liked.   In 1990 he ran unopposed, and after his narrow first win his margins were: 61-39, 100-0, 71-27, 85-13, and 61-39.   He was never given a serious challenge in a state Republican primary.

Now as the GOP is engulfed in its own civil war, Cochran faced a surprisingly serious challenge from Tea Party backed State Senator Chris McDaniel.   In the state primary, a candidate must win a majority to gain the nomination.   In the first round, McDaniel won a plurality, defeating Cochran 49.57 – 48.88.   That is enticingly close to a majority, but 50% + 1 vote is needed for a majority.   In the second round, Cochran prevailed 50.9% to 49.1%.

Chris McDaniel - photo from a fascinating Salon article on the tea party.

Chris McDaniel – photo from a fascinating Salon article on the tea party.

This result was not expected.   Most polls showed McDaniel comfortably ahead by 5 or 6%, with national groups questioning giving continued support to Cochran.   McDaniel went into the day the favorite, and came out defeated.   He is supposedly considering legal action against Cochran because Cochran’s team reached out to black voters and Democrats.  In their mind a true conservative Republican was defeated because an old establishment Republican got support from black voters.   It appears they are right – the numbers indicate that black voters probably did give Cochran his margin of victory.  They may not have been Republican, but they didn’t like McDaniel’s views.

So what does Cochran’s victory mean?   Well, coming so soon after Eric Cantor’s loss, it shows that the establishment is not dead, and the tea party has less influence on the Republican party than any time since its 2009 inception.    There is a sense of desperation within the movement that their ideals are under threat from their own party leadership.

Cochran’s victory means that the GOP “civil war” is about to enter it’s final stage.   The tea party/far right sees politics as good vs. evil. They do not want compromise and pragmatic governance, they are driven by ideology and many of them want a kind of political holy war – defeat the liberals completely and bring America back to their image of what should be/once was.   That image is more nostalgic fantasy than reality, but they are convinced they are the only ones with the proper conception of what America should be.

The tea party is starting to recognize that THEY are the RINOs!

The tea party is starting to recognize that THEY are the RINOs!

When they thought they could dominate their party and defeat the Democrats, their disdain for RINOs (Republicans in name only) meant primary challenges and, more often than not, electoral defeat at the hands of the Democrats.   This led the establishment to fight back – they can tolerate the extremists, but they can’t tolerate continual electoral defeat – and now the tea party realizes that they are a minority in their own party, and Eric Cantor notwithstanding, losing clout.

The last act of this civil war will be the tea party going all out to fight against the GOP leadership.   It will either lead to a bitter primary season in 2016 as the Tea Party goes for the big prize – the Presidential nomination.  Or if truly cut out, more radical elements will likely try a third party, convinced they are the future of the conservative movement – that the Grand Old Party is obsolete.   Either way, the Tea Party will lose, and the Republican establishment will reassert control.

Ironically, this would be a Republican version of what helped bring Thad Cochran to Congress in 1972.  The Democrats had been engaged in their own civil war thanks to the anti-war and civil rights movements.   The 1968 Chicago convention started a fight that ended after a tortured 1972 Democratic Convention rejected party moderates and nominated the fiercely anti-war liberal George McGovern.  This created widespread dissent within the party and the Democrats had one of their worst Presidential elections in history.

With eerily fascistic visuals, the tea party's desire to "take back America" increasingly collides with the Republican desire to impact public policy

With eerily fascistic visuals, the tea party’s desire to “take back America” increasingly collides with the Republican desire to impact public policy

The good news for the Republicans is that if history is a guide, the election isn’t a direct threat to their holdings in the House and Senate.   The  House Democrats did lose 13 seats in 1972, but kept their majority.   Senate Democrats actually gained two seats.   People did not automatically take dissent with the Presidential candidate as a reason to distrust their own representative.

Thad Cochran’s career will thus bookend the two biggest internal civil wars the major US parties had in the post-war era:  The Democrats in the late sixties and early seventies, followed by the Republicans since 2010.  And he represents the side that wins those civil wars – the party establishment.

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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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Obama Destined to be Remembered as a Great President

Destined to be ranked among the greatest US Presidents

Destined to be ranked among the greatest US Presidents

The right wing has been obsessed with doing all they can to vilify and attack Obama.   But if you pay attention these attacks are either broad and empty (personal attacks on him, his experience or motives) or simply wrong.   The right wing was all over Obama because Putin attacked Crimea, showing real ignorance about Russian interest and world affairs, for example.

My goal here is not to argue against the babble on talk radio or the right wing blogosphere, but point out that President Obama is amassing a record that all but assures that his Presidency will be remembered as not only a success, but one of the greatest.   The reasons full into four categories:  1)  Policy success, including fundamental changes in the nature of public policy; 2) A successful foreign policy, shifting US interests to adjust to new political realities while extricating the US from two painful wars; 3) Economic success, preserving through the deepest economic crisis since the great depression; and 4) Personal and cultural factors – who he is, and the shifting culture of the times.

Domestic Policy:   The White House was almost giddy as enrollments in Obamacare reached over 7 million, a number nobody thought they’d reach after the problems with the website roll out last year.   It is almost inconceivable that this law will be repealed – the cost and disruption of doing so would be immense, and it would create a massive health care crisis.    There will be reforms; once the GOP realizes the law is here to stay they’ll work on fixing problems in it rather than waging ideological jihad.  But President Obama did what Nixon, Carter, and Clinton all failed to do: achieve a major health care overall to expand coverage to tens of millions (ultimately) uninsured, and slow the rate of health care cost increases.

It took patience and persistent leadership, but President Obama claimed success this week as Obamacare enrollment hit the 7 million goal

It took patience and persistent leadership, but President Obama claimed success this week as Obamacare enrollment hit the 7 million goal

Obama has amassed a series of other major policy victories that often get neglected, but will shape the nature of US politics in the 21st Century.   He turned around the auto industry which stood on the brink of collapse in 2009.   He got an economic stimulus package passed that started creating jobs, including for the first time in decades an increase in manufacturing jobs.    Wall Street reform is major improvement on what we had before, and likely will protect the US from the kind of Wall Street induced crisis like that of 2008.  Relatedly, the recapitalization of banks, while controversial, avoided an entire collapse of the credit market in the US and allowed for a quicker recovery than I expected – I thought in 2008 we were looking at a decade before the economy would come back.

He repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and his justice department gave considerable support to the growing move to legalize gay marriage by recognizing such marriages at the federal level, being on the right side of an irreversible cultural shift.  He also worked to get the banks out of the student loan business, increase Pell grants, and make student loans easier and more accessible at a time when education is becoming more expensive.   Also under Obama’s stewardship the US became the world’s leading producer of natural gas and oil for the first time since the early 70s.

Other policies involve significant education reform, toughening fuel efficiency standards, major credit card reform, improved veterans benefits, food safety, an emphasis on nutrition that may be turning around the obesity epidemic among the youth, federal regulation of tobacco, expanded national park service, massive investment in green technology (which will pay benefits long after Obama leaves office), new sentencing guidelines, and more.   Obama has reshaped the policy landscape. That’s one reason the right is so beside itself hating him: he’s an effective leader that has altered the political environment and put the US on a fundamentally different path than had been the case six years ago.

At time when child obesity threatens both the health system and young people's future, Michelle Obama's focus on nutrition is a needed shift in thinking

At time when child obesity threatens both the health system and young people’s future, Michelle Obama’s focus on nutrition is a needed shift in thinking

Foreign Policy.   The US has undertaken a quiet but very successful shift in foreign policy, including military downsizing, the Asian pivot, support for nascent democratic movements in the Mideast, and an effective effort to collaborate on international financial regulations.   He ended the war in Iraq and is ending US involvement in Afghanistan, reoriented US missile defense, helped topple Gaddafi in Libya, and supported South Sudan independence.  Osama Bin Laden was eliminated, and al qaeda is a shadow of what it was in 2008.    Due to unprecedented cooperation between countries (even ones not exactly friendly with each other) on intelligence about terrorism, terrorism has gone from being a threat feared by Americans daily to just a nuisance.

For me, a scholar of international relations, Obama's foreign policy has been a remarkable success in that he turned around policy content and America's image in a way many Americans don't yet grasp.

For me, a scholar of international relations, Obama’s foreign policy has been a remarkable success in that he turned around policy content and America’s image in a way many Americans don’t yet grasp.

Perhaps most importantly by ending torture policies and having two very capable Secretaries of State – Hillary Clinton and John Kerry – US prestige and clout is at its highest point since the end of the Cold War.   President Obama is respected internationally, and has shown himself capable of engineering significant breakthroughs with Iran and – if reports are right – soon in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.   When people claim that Putin’s taking the Crimea is a failure of Obama, they are grasping at straws.  That is, as I noted, a sign of Putin’s weakness and desperation.   Obama has reinvigorated US international leadership.

Economic success.   When President Obama took office, the US was bleeding jobs, and the budget was out of control.   Now the deficit is far lower than anyone predicted (federal spending has grown much more slowly than during the Bush Administration), and more jobs have been created than during the entire Bush Administration when the US was experiencing a bubble economy. The economy looks set to take off with increased job creation this summer, meaning that the book ends of Obama’s Presidency will be an inherited economic crisis of immense proportions at the start, and a growing and revived economy by the end.

Job growth has been consistent and beyond levels during the Bush years; many economists expect increased job creation towards the end of 2014

Job growth has been consistent and beyond levels during the Bush years; many economists expect increased job creation towards the end of 2014

Finally, when the GOP tried to hold the US economy hostage on the debt ceiling, Obama starred them down, refused to bend, and ultimately the GOP was forced into a humiliating retreat, being blamed for a government shut down, a downgrade in the US credit rating, and playing Russian roulette with US jobs.   That was an example of the successful leadership that defines Obama’s stewardship of the economy.

Personal/cultural factors:  Although the right has tried to find one, Obama has had a clean and scandal-free Presidency.   He has shown himself to be a strong personal leader, using speeches, visits, and his own influence to guide policy.  He is, of course, the first black President, and reflects an America that is more cosmopolitan, tolerant, and diverse.   Just 20 years ago it would have been inconceivable that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could win the Presidency.

The so-called Tea Party in the US, made up of mostly older white folk (my demographic), reflects shock at the scope of this change.  They believe they are losing America to some strange force which Obama – the black President with the funny name maybe born in Kenya – personifies.  He’s not “one of us,” he went to a radical church, he travels, he’s well educated, he’s not a good old boy like “W”. In that, Obama is indeed symbolic the emerging culture shift.   The process is just beginning, and Obama is destined to be associated with these changes.  He took office as the old order collapsed in an economic crisis and failed wars; he’ll leave office with the country revived and heading down a different path.  He symbolizes a pivot to a new direction for the 21st Century.

Just as most people now forget the attacks on Reagan by the left, or the vicious attacks on Clinton by the right – the two are both remembered fondly by most Americans – the attacks on Obama will fade from the collective memory.   Within ten or twenty years it’ll be clear that his Presidency was not only successful, but ranks alongside America’s greatest Presidents.

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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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The Last Shutdown

The 1996 Clinton vs. Dole election may have been decided by the 1995 government shutdown

The 1996 Clinton vs. Dole election may have been decided by the 1995 government shutdown

In 1995 and into 1996 the government shut down after President Clinton vetoed budgets sent to him from the Republican House and Senate.  The first shut down was from November 14-19, 1995,  followed by a second from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996.  The Republicans suffered politically from that shutdown, and their case was better then than it is now.

So in 1995 both houses of Congress were united in sending the President a budget to fund the government.  The President vetoed the budget.   The President does have veto power, but the Republicans then could make a strong case that they represented the will of the people in both houses.   Moreover, the reason the shutdown didn’t start until November 14th was because a continuing resolution was passed to extend spending from October 1 to November 13th to give them time to settle differences before the shut down.

At that time it was appropriate for Clinton to negotiate.   Congress was united on a budget and his veto prevented it from becoming law.  In that since his veto was as much to blame for the shutdown as the GOP budget — It was a real conflict over the scope of spending, and the inability of the two sides to agree led to an impasse that shut down the government.   Today’s shutdown is nothing like that, it is a small group of House Republicans trying to use it to force the President to delay Obamacare.   Already it’s clear that cooler heads in the GOP have recognized that such a demand was over the top – but it’s hard to stand down from a battle once its started.

But while it may be clear why the GOP is being hurt by this shutdown, why were Republicans blamed in 1995?   That shut down looks triggered by a Presidential veto, not a refusal to vote!   The reason is that the GOP appeared too eager for confrontation, with Speaker Gingrich infamously saying “Which of the two of us do you think worries more about the government not showing up?”   That played well to Republican stalwarts, but seemed bizarre to most people who simply wanted things to get back to normal.   There was also a sense that the Republicans, and in particular speaker Gingrich, had personal motives:

The shutdown was probably the biggest reason Gingrich's political career went downhill.

The shutdown was probably the biggest reason Gingrich’s political career went downhill.

While the shutdown was underway, President Clinton did not talk to Gingrich on the flight to the funeral of Yitzak Rabin.  That irked Gingrich who complained that the President didn’t allow a meeting, and in fact made him exit from the back, separate from the President.   This almost assuredly was not the cause of the shutdown, but it fed into the idea that it wasn’t serious – that the Republicans were just trying to get Clinton.   Compare that with quotes coming from the GOP this shutdown, and if anything their reputation is worse than it was in 1996; the only good news for the GOP is that Speaker Boehner is more careful in his sound bites than Newt was.

elephant

Back in 1995 after six days of government shutdown they passed a temporary spending measure that reopened government but didn’t resolve the dispute.   That led to the second shutdown, which lasted 22 days.  It was settled by a balanced budget agreement that included a mix of spending cuts and tax increases (yes, the Republicans agreed to tax increases).   In comparison to today’s tea party wing of the GOP, Newt Gingrich appears as a reasoned moderate.

The impact on President Clinton was clear – his approval rating dropped from 51% to 42%, even as the country blamed Republicans for the shutdown by a margin of 46% blaming the GOP to 27% blaming Clinton.    During the shutdown most Americans were disgusted with both sides, especially as the shutdown occurred over Christmas.

At the 1996 State of the Union address, President Clinton used the recently ended shutdown to his advantage

At the 1996 State of the Union address, President Clinton used the recently ended shutdown to his advantage

But after the shutdown, President Clinton emerged a clear winner.   He had been seen as a likely one term President in mid-1995, but after the shutdown he looked stronger and ended up gliding to an easy victory in the 1996 election.   The Republican House of Representatives did not suffer much, losing only three seats.

Still, the mood of the country shifted, and Clinton emerged as a very popular President.

But think about it – that shutdown happened after both sides passed measures designed to give them more time to settle legitimate differences on the budget.   It happened because the President has veto power.   And the public blamed and punished the side whose message was mixed and hostile, ultimately rewarding the President.    The GOP was left blaming the media.

Senator Ted Cruz may have already peaked in relevance

Senator Ted Cruz may have already peaked in relevance

That scenario is playing out again.   The good news:  Americans don’t like confrontation of a sort that disrupts our routine and is embarrassing for our political system.   They’re smart enough to realize that pushing the country into shutdown mode (or default mode) is absurd.    I suspect neither party will want to travel down this path again any time soon, and the extremists who pushed for this may find themselves losing political clout after all is said and done.

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Weimar America?

“We’re not going to be disrespected.  We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”  ” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.)

Rep. Martin Stutzman (R-Indiana)

Rep. Martin Stutzman (R-Indiana) – the Rodney Dangerfield of the GOP

In a thought provoking piece in The New Republic, John Judis argues that the Republican party is causing one of the worst crises in American history.   “Welcome to Weimar America,” he chides before launching into an entertaining and persuasive reflection on American history and the roots of the current crisis.  While I’ve diagnosed the “tea party” as a nostalgic movement resenting the changes in American demography and culture, Judis argues its actually a continuation of earlier movements, including the Calhounist nullification movement that led to civil war.

We’re not likely to have civil war, but there is a real danger that the current crisis reflects growing political fragmentation destined to weaken both American democracy and strength.

But Weimar America?  The electoral system of the United States works against the kind of extreme fragmentation of the German system before the rise of the Third Reich.   The Weimar Republic was a straight proportional representation system which allowed dozens of parties to compete and get representation in the Reichstag.  That required a Chancellor gain support from a large number of parties before being able to control a majority bloc of the parliament and govern.  That worked OK until 1929, then after the Great Depression hit Germany became ungovernable.    For years no government could form and President Hindenburg ruled by emergency decree.    Adolf Hitler rode the unrest, instability and confusion to power, even though he never actually was elected by a majority in a free election.

That won’t happen here.   Our system of single member districts assures we’re likely to stay a two party system; it’s a structural feature of how we run elections, and it does create a kind of stability.    Yet other aspects of our system of government create possibilities that make the Weimar metaphor plausible.   Since we do have a government divided between the executive and legislative branches (not the norm in most democracies), and the legislative branch is divided into two separate bodies of independent power, it is possible that if the culture of compromise and tradition is broken, gridlock and division could become the norm.   That would destroy the essence of systemic stability that has brought us freedom and prosperity.

Dennis Ross (R-FL)

Dennis Ross (R-FL)

“Republicans have to realize how many significant gains we’ve made over the last three years, and we have, not only in cutting spending but in really turning the tide on other things.  We can’t lose all that when there’s no connection now between the shutdown and the funding of Obamacare.  I think now it’s a lot about pride.”  Dennis Ross (R-Fl)

Ross, like other Republicans skeptical of the tactics being undertaken, recognize that the shut down and threats to default are being taken by people who have no clue what those things mean.   They mutter things like “Oh, good, shut down that horrible government,” not recognizing the real consequences for the country.   “The debt’s too high, let’s not increase the debt limit,” some bemoan, utterly clueless to what the impact would be of going into default.  These people aren’t stupid, they’re ignorant.  They are so blinded by ideology that they don’t take the time to study the real implications of what’s happening.

Ironically, John Boehner may be the best hope for avoiding disaster.

Ironically, John Boehner may be the best hope for avoiding disaster.

Luckily, John Boehner does not fit into that category.  Yet he’s dealing to what one pundit called, a Republican civil war.   Both parties have their ideological extremes, but usually they are kept in check by the establishment center.   The extremists hate the pragmatic centrists because they “compromise on principle” and aren’t driven by ideological fervor, but they’re the ones that assure stable governance.   The extremes pressure the centrists and that’s important, but in the GOP they’ve taken over the party.

And they’re mad, certain they are right, and they don’t care about the system because they’ve decided it’s “crashing and burning” anyway, and only big government lovers would suffer if the whole thing collapsed (since presumably a more “pure” America would rise from the dust).  OK, not all are that extreme, but the mix of extremism and ignorance has allowed one party to put the country and the world dangerously close to catastrophe over….pride.   Being ‘disrespected.’   Trying to change a law they couldn’t change the usual way.

As noted last week, the President cannot let that tactic work.   That would be damaging to the Republic in the long term; as bad as the short term consequences are, it would really become Weimar America if parties started to make these games the norm.   Yes, there have been government shut downs before, but the circumstances here are unique.

So the ball’s in Boehner’s court.   He has to find a way to walk the tightrope of avoiding all out insurrection from his tea party wing, but not being the man who dashed the American dream by refusing to hold a vote.   He understands the consequences.   While Obama can’t negotiate, perhaps he can give Boehner a face saving way out.   Perhaps Harry Reid and Boehner can figure out a path that gives Boehner “peace with honor.”   Because right now the Republicans are risking damaging the country immensely at a time we least need it.  This has to end sooner rather than later.

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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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