Archive for category US Politics
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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)
South Dakota* (45 not running, safe, or likely)
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:
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!