Archive for category US Politics

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?

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Boehner Deserves Better

boehner

The situation is almost surreal.   A small group of Republicans want to shut down government to try to stop government funding of Planned Parenthood.  Not that Planned Parenthood had done anything illegal, but this is part of the on going anti-abortion crusade, this time fed by videos showing officials of the organization un-emotional over the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses for on going medical experiments.  There is nothing wrong with that practice either – better that than just throw it away – but for the zealots that was enough.

Never mind that if that funding was cut – 40% of Planned Parenthood’s budget comes from federal funds, mostly Medicaid – there would probably be a large increase in abortions since so many poor benefit from the contraception services the organization provides – a much more important part of their operation than abortions.  Never mind as well that the President would veto the action, and a shut down would probably hurt the 2016 Republicans as much as the 1995 shutdown hurt the GOP in 1996.  Zealots rarely give in to rational thought.

Both House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell recognized that their moral duty was to govern, and not risk the horrid effects of a shutdown over this quixotic fight.   While McConnell has most of the Senate on his side (only a whiney Ted Cruz strongly disagrees), Boehner faced a full uprising from House Conservatives, about three or four dozen who want to fight this jihad rather than compromise and govern.

boehnerfrancis

And these members, as well as many conservative media sources like Rush Limbaugh and redstate.com, routinely attack Boehner with a vengeance, denigrating him and calling him a lackey to Obama, all because he recognized the limits of divided government.  These people, so frothy in their fervor, don’t understand that they are not only a minority in the GOP, but a detriment to a party that hopes to regain the White House in 2016.  The Democrats have no strong Presidential candidates on the horizon, this could be a big GOP year if they don’t blow it.

Boehner had enough.

He has been fighting this fight for four years, since he became speaker (he joined the House in 1990).  He has survived despite vilification from the right wing, in large part because most Republicans respect him and know he has conservative values.   He choose to leave at a time no one expected, but which seems appropriate.

We don’t yet know when he made the decision.  I wonder if, listening to the Pontiff talk about the need to govern and compromise, he realized he needed to extricate himself from a caucus in complete disarray.  Maybe he decided that this was an appropriate ending point for his career – he has wanted a Papal address to Congress for years, starting back when John Paul II was Pope – the visit of the head of a Catholic Church that means much to him.

Boehner was emotional as the Pontiff spoke, realizing this was for him the biggest, and last major Congressional event he'd oversee as Speaker

Boehner was emotional as the Pontiff spoke, realizing this was for him the biggest, and last major Congressional event he’d oversee as Speaker

Boehner was crucified by his caucus because he wanted to do the right thing – make compromises and govern, recognizing that the Democrats weren’t an enemy to be annihilated, but a necessary part of a democracy that runs well only when there are diverse perspectives which are listened to and respected.   With inbred blogs and media pushing emotional themes and making compromise look like surrender, he was humiliated every day for trying to do the job of Speaker of the House properly.

He deserved better.   He took a lot of bullets for the GOP, he made compromises that were necessary.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the news of Boehner’s departure “seismic” and it seems a clear indicator of the dysfunction within the majority party.  He will no doubt push the hated compromise through, doing his duty to the democracy he serves and avoiding a catastrophic government shutdown.  Already firebrand Cruz is attacking him, even as other Republicans praise his service, and former Presidential candidate John McCain expresses sorrow over his departure.

The Republicans, already wounded by the bizarre media behavior of people like Trump and Carson, have just over a year to get their act together and show Americans they are a responsible conservative party, not a group of loons wanting to shut down the government over one organization’s funding.  With Clinton’s woes, they should be in a much better position then they are.  It’s time for the majority of Republicans to take back their party from the extremists.  That would be best for the GOP, and best for the country.

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Gay Marriage and the Enlightenment

rainbow

The Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage caused great celebration, symbolized by the Rainbow White House.   However, if you venture into the right side of the blogsophere there is a sense of anger and dismay.  Erick Erickson at Red State paints a picture of a society that has “lost its mind” with a wildfire burning and “normal” people being trounced by the insanity.

To many of us who support gay marriage and welcome the cultural shift of the last few decades, such a view might seem bizarre.  No one is hurt by allowing gays to marry, this simply expands freedom and one has to be a bigot to oppose that, right?   That is a view I hear among young people who are just as perplexed and angry about such opposition as the red staters are about gay marriage being made the law of the land.

A bit of perspective.  In the 1700s, centered in France, the enlightenment began.  After the explosive advance of science in the 1600s, beginning with Galileo and ending with Newton’s discovery of classical physics, people turned their rational minds towards understanding society and humanity.  They encountered a world built on tradition, religion and superstition, and started to tear apart that edifice.

Perhaps better than any other philosopher, Burke recognized the need to balance enlightenment progress with respect for tradition and culture

Perhaps better than any other philosopher, Burke recognized the need to balance enlightenment progress with respect for tradition and culture

It started with the Deists.  Believers in God (usually due to the need for a “first mover” in order to get a “world in motion”), they tore apart the Christian Bible, finding contradictions and pointing out that the God of the Old Testament is more like a petulant child than someone worthy of praise and love.   Some like Rousseau saw God’s word in nature, but after the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 Voltaire decided that while God made the world, there was no sign God really cared about it.  God doesn’t need our love, our fellow humans do, Voltaire declared, beginning an approach that today is called “secular humanism.”

The attack on tradition began in earnest.  In Great Britain this attack was pragmatic and  gradual – the divine right to rule gave way to a parliament, and the power of the nobility and the Anglican church slowly waned as reforms dominated the 1700s and 1800s.  In France the assault on tradition took the form of a radical revolution that wanted to change everything right away!  That failed – and it showed a weakness of the enlightenment: reason is a tool, it does not provide the kind of values and core world view that a religion might.  Once they pushed aside tradition, they couldn’t agree on how to move forward.  Tradition and culture hold a society together; you mess with that at your peril.

Yet that is the enlightenment project – messing with tradition and culture.  Edmund Burke, a conservative who hated the French revolution, didn’t oppose that project, he only insisted it move carefully and gradually, with progress showing respect for tradition, even as those traditions lose power.

Expanding women's rights, from voting to working and having equal rights, was as dramatic a change in culture as gay marriage

Expanding women’s rights, from voting to working and having equal rights, was as dramatic a change in culture as gay marriage

Every step of the way, there were those convinced society was collapsing.  Women getting to vote!  That is not what God intended.  In the South the assault on slavery led to a civil war.  Women getting equal rights, entering the work force, not being subservient to their man – that to many seemed a direct rejection of Christian teaching.  Every step of the way, society was seen as going deeper into the darkness.

In way, the critics were right.  Unmoored from some kind of rule book, free to choose what we construct, we dabbled with Communism, Nazism, other forms of fascism and fought great wars.  For awhile the West embraced radical racism, justifying conquest of virtually the entire planet, destroying cultures and looting natural resources.  Many would say, with justification, we still do that, albeit in a less overt manner.

Yet there is no going back.   If we opened Pandora’s box, it can’t be closed.  Once we examine the world rationally and recognize that religious traditions are mythological and really can’t be true, we can’t say “oh well, it’s better just to believe in them.”  Once women can work and succeed, we can’t tell them to just find a mate to serve.  Once we make marriage about love, we can’t say that divorce shouldn’t exist and we should bring back “traditional marriage.”  Once gays are accepted and can marry, we cannot tell them to scuttle back into the closet.   And for all the difficulty our enlightenment freedom creates, it’s worth it.

The enlightenment opened up Pandora's box of human liberty.  It's worth it.

The enlightenment opened up Pandora’s box of human liberty. It’s worth it.

The enlightenment is a process of human liberation.  It is about freedom, it is about constructing a social world rather than adhering to past teachings and customs.   It is a dangerous endeavor, as the holocaust, communist dictatorships, the French revolution, colonialism and capitalist sweatshops demonstrate.   It is what has led to consumerism and global warming just as it has led to liberty.

That’s how we should understand opposition to gay marriage.  They read this into the enlightenment’s dark side, a divorce from tradition, an anything goes mentality that can lead to chaos, lack of moral grounding, and collapse.  Psychologically, they yearn for a “right answer,” stability, and a sense of security in the social world.   Religion, tradition, and the values those represent are comforting and powerful to them.  Symbolically, gay marriage represents a threat to all that.

The advent of the birth control pill led to the sexual revolution of the 60s, altering traditional marriage forever, making it about love and choice, with most marriages ending in divorce.

The advent of the birth control pill led to the sexual revolution of the 60s, altering traditional marriage forever, making it about love and choice, with most marriages ending in divorce.

But every step forward in the last 300 years has meant that.  The rock band Rush sums up the enlightenment’s impact on the West well:  “It’s the motor of the western world, spinning off to every extreme, pure as a lover’s desire, evil as a murderer’s dream.”  Our freedom and rational thinking have led to advances in human dignity, as well as crimes against humanity.    It’s a journey worth taking, even if landmines are scattered about.

In this case, gay marriage is to me up there with giving women the vote and the right to work, ending slavery, and eliminating the aristocracy and the divine right to rule.  It expands human dignity and value, making it compatible with what Martin Luther King Jr. calls natural law in his “Letter to a Birmingham Jail.”

It is, however, just a step along the path we in the West have been traveling for centuries.  And while I see it as a very positive step, I appreciate those who fear losing tradition.  To keep us along a sustainable path of progress, we do have to respect the dangers of moving too fast, as Burke might say.  The enlightenment is need of a kind of spiritual core to help us avoid the negative extremes.  Even if traditional religious stories cannot provide that, they point to the need to take values seriously – something I plan to write about soon.

On this issue I think we haven’t moved too fast.   Support for gay marriage is now a majority position, and among young people it’s at near 80%.  We’re changing along with the culture, not moving out in front of it.   The enlightenment project of expanding human liberation, a difficult and dangerous journey, moves forward!

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Obama: the Jackie Robinson of Politics

potus44

“But no president in our nation’s history has ever been castigated, condemned, mocked, insulted, derided, and degraded on a scale even close to the constantly ugly attacks on President Obama. From the day he assumed office — indeed, even before he assumed office — he was subjected to unprecedented insults in often the most hateful terms.

He has been accused of being born in Kenya, of being a “secret Muslim,” of being complicit with the Muslim Brotherhood, of wearing a ring bearing a secret verse from the Koran, of having once been a Black Panther, of refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance, of seeking to confiscate all guns, of lying about just about everything he has ever said, ranging from Benghazi to the Affordable Care Act to immigration, of faking bin Laden’s death, and of funding his campaigns with drug money. It goes on and on and on. Even the President’s family is treated by his political enemies with disrespect and disdain.”Geoffrey Stone, in the Huffington Post

President Obama has been a successful President by almost every measure.  The economy has moved from the deepest point in the recession to sustained job growth.  He has legislative triumphs, foreign policy success, and a relatively scandal-free Presidency.  He was elected twice by relatively large margins.   Yes, his party lost the midterms twice, but this last time had voting turn out at only 36%, meaning probably about 19% voted for the Republicans, hardly enough to counter his victories with a much larger turnout.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to criticize him.  The right certainly disagrees with him on many issues, and the left has been frustrated by his centrism unwillingness to really push on liberal causes.   That goes with the territory of being a pragmatic centrist.

But given the clear racial divide still existing in the US, evidenced by the reaction to numerous cases of unarmed blacks being killed by police with no legal consequence, I believe the response to Obama is motivated in part by enduring racism.

Although nothing in reality supports it, the far right has created a caricature of Obama to ridicule and demean him.

Although nothing in reality supports it, the far right has created a caricature of Obama to ridicule and demean him.

That charge generates yelps of indignant “how dare you call me a racist” from Obama foes.   No.  You aren’t a racist if you oppose Obama.   People left and right will oppose the “other side” all the time – that isn’t racism.  What is racist is the way in which some critics of Obama attack his person, trying to denigrate the man, making it seem like he is unfit for the position he holds.

The causes of this are complex.   To some it’s not overtly race, at least consciously.  They see Obama as “different.”  He’s not the kind of person we usually see as President.  Not the wood splitting cowboy Ronald Reagan, or even the good old boy Bill Clinton.  He’s urbane, intelligent, cosmopolitan, and doesn’t seem the type who would split wood or go to the corner bar to scream at the screen while watching football on a Sunday afternoon.

He’s also not a wealthy, respected businessman like Mitt Romney, nor is he even the southern moralist former Navy submarine commander like Jimmy Carter.  He’s different.  He’s black – but that isn’t all of it.

It is, however, part of it.

Obama symbolizes the changing nature of US politics and demographics.  The future will have more Obamas and less Reagans.  White males no longer determine who leads the country, or who sets its values.  And just as many whites fear the rage from inner city youth and who thus try to blame the media and so-called ‘race baiters’ for the protests, they also fear the America that Obama symbolizes.

Robinson had to endure massive abuse, but baseball was never the same afterwards.

Robinson had to endure massive abuse, but baseball was never the same afterwards.

In many ways, Obama is like Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in baseball.  He is doing a good job, but subject to unprecedented hate, vitriol and ridicule.  He cannot respond in kind – that would be to play into the low level gutter politics of his opponents.  He just has to do his job and let history make the call.   And he is doing it very well.

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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!

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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!

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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!

 

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Manufacturing Scandals

Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

If anyone epitomizes the toxic partisan atmosphere of the US Congress these days, it’s Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.   Whether it’s allegations about Benghazi, the IRS, or most recently the Hatch Act, Issa has searched for anything he could use to manufacture a scandal in order to tarnish the Obama Administration.   He has issued 99 subpoenas, most of them unilateral and political.

Recently, trying to argue that the White House was violating the Hatch Act prohibiting senior officials from engaging in political activity while doing their duties, Issa subpoenaed David Simas, a top White House advisor.  The White House balked, saying there is no reason to him to testify and as a top advisor he was immune from such a subpoena.   Issa had called two other witnesses, but after seeing that their testimony would contradict his claims of clear violations of the Hatch Act, he quickly ended the session without giving them a chance to testify.

Issa's actions have infuriated ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings who correctly notes that Issa's actions has destroyed the committee's credibility

Issa’s actions have infuriated ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings who correctly notes that Issa’s actions has destroyed the committee’s credibility

 

The subpoena abuse and abrupt cutting off of testimony that would weaken his claim angered ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings, who said Issa was using the committee as “center stage for political theater.”   Indeed, Issa’s activities go far beyond the norm for that committee.   His subpoenas are mostly “unilateral,” meaning they don’t have the approval of the ranking Democrat nor has the committee voted.  In essence he’s casting his net wide hoping he’ll find something.

This is unprecedented – in the past (except for a brief time when the GOP pursued Clinton) the committee has been very careful with subpoenas – almost always they had bipartisan support. That in a microcosm is what’s wrong with Washington.  Rather than trying to figure out how to run the country better and solve problems, the goal is to find some way to politically embarrass the other side.

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But there is also reason not to trust Issa. Issa has been accused of car theft, insurance fraud (he settled out of court for $20,000 with an insurance company rather than collecting hundreds of thousands he was insured for because the fire was so suspicious) and there is no evidence of how he was able to purchase his business anyway.  In short, the guy is at best shady.  (Read more: here)

The desire on the far right for some kind of scandal to use to impeach Obama has failed, yet they have created a fantasy land where they think Obama’s been acting like a tyrant.  They claim he’s trying to run the country with executive orders when the number he’s made is small by historical standards, and minuscule compared to his predecessor.    Of course, when Dick Cheney, architect of an Iraq war that has damaged US foreign policy more than any other policy in history, says Obama’s the worst President – well, it’s clear he can’t handle reality.

The GOP has to watch it.   While inbred blogs and talk radio can get them to bolster their own fantasies and think it’s clear that Obama is an idiot and the scandals are real, that’s not reality.  It’s a political fantasy shared with an almost cult-like set of memes and false beliefs.

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They correctly see how the culture of the US and our role in the world is shifting due to globalization, changing demographics, and economic reality.   They don’t like the way the country is changing, and a black President Barack Hussein Obama personifies the new emerging America.  Rather than dealing with reality, they hope they can make it go away by finding some sexy scandal that could destroy Obama and thus the America he represents.

That prevents them from playing a constructive role in dealing with the real issues (rather than improve Obamacare they try in vain to eliminate it).  Ultimately, reality bites.  The world is changing, and there is no super scandal that will turn back time.  We need a constructive conservative voice, not a delusional one.

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What Cochran’s Victory Means

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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?

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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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