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The Daily Strategist

December 18, 2014

Jeb Bush's Dilemma



Jeb Bush earned some extensive chatter from the political world by suddenly expressing an active interest in the race after months and years of Hamlet-like behavior, while also forming a leadership PAC to support allies and show the flag. He does have some assets along with the much-noted problem of recent friction with conservatives over his positions favoring Common Core education standards and some sort of legalization of undocumented immigrants. But at TPMCafe, I isolated what seems to be the problem he simply cannot solve:

Bush's central problem is that in outside donor circles, he simply isn't beloved in the way a fresher and more viscerally ideological candidate could be, and thus he needs a very strong "electability" argument to pull conservatives, however reluctantly, into his camp. And that's the rub: despite his name ID, his resume, and his "centrist" positions on at least some subjects, this on-paper "winner" is not very popular with the general electorate. In two solid years of being pitted against Hillary Clinton in polls, Bush has not led a single one, and trails her in the latest RealClearPolitics average by over 9%. That's a poorer margin than for Ryan (6%), Christie (7%), and Huckabee (8%), and about the same as for Paul. Ted Cruz is the only regularly polled putative GOP candidate running significantly worse than Bush against HRC (an RCP average gap of 13%), and that's largely because he's far less well-known.

Not having held a public office since 2006, it's unclear what Bush can do to make himself significantly more popular with the general public in hopes of becoming seductively attractive to Republican caucus and primary voters who have a lot of other options. His signature issue used to be education, but his once-novel experiments with private school vouchers and teacher tenure "reform" are now old-hat and universally supported by Republicans. Moreover, education is a hot-button issue mostly to people angry about reform initiatives like Common Core. And there should be red flashing signs in Jeb's camp about his business record, ranging from his involvement with Lehman Brothers and Barclays to his more recent dealings with Chinese investors. If Republicans want another Mitt Romney, the original is still available.

Can Jeb Bush buy his way to the standing he needs? His support from donors will obviously help if he runs, but as Rick Perry showed in 2012, the money can go pretty fast if it's not propped up by positive events. And at the moment, the main way Bush can attract attention is by continuing to scold his once-fellow-conservatives for insufficient realism. Perhaps Bush will be able to elbow Christie and Rubio and even Romney out of the way and slip-slide through a demolition derby of conservatives the way John McCain did in 2008. But he could be on a trajectory to become this cycle's Jon Huntsman, with a lot more money to run through. And just maybe he's jollying his father and brother and various family retainers, and will not run when push comes to shove, leaving the dynasty in the hands of Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, his son, who has had the good political sense to oppose Common Core.

Don't bet the farm on Jeb Bush.


December 17, 2014

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The Middle Aged: Democrats have failed to sufficiently address the economic insecurity of this large and important cohort of working- and middle-class citizens

by Henry Moss

Henry Moss is a retired private sector educational administrator with a PhD in philosophy. He lives in the Bronx and can be reached at hmoss011@gmail.com

About 45% of Americans are between the ages of 40 and 65, roughly the middle ages. Their political importance, however, is even greater than the numbers suggest as they worry not only about themselves but about their adult children and aging parents, and, in many cases, grandchildren and grandparents. This "sandwiching" means they worry far more than any other cohort and are interested in policies that are multigenerational in scope. They speak for the vast majority of the electorate.

This worry transcends race, gender and sexual preference and stretches from the working poor to the many upper middle class workers who are experiencing economic insecurity. Weak productivity growth over the last generation and sustained economic stagnation since 2008 have significantly amplified this anxiety.

Today's Democratic Party, progressive and centrist alike, does not directly address this cohort and is suffering the consequences. Minimum wage, women's issues, climate change, NSA surveillance, gay marriage, money in politics, voter ID, immigration, net neutrality, affirmative action, consumer protection and too-big-to-fail banking reform are all worthwhile causes but largely distant and abstract for the majority of those seeking to provide for extended families. Promoting issues aimed at getting specific constituencies out to vote is not the basis for bringing more of this cohort into the party.

On the more relevant matter of jobs and economic security, we hear from Democrats mostly vague neo-Keynesian proposals regarding road and bridge repair and subsidized jobs in green energy. Infrastructure and more infrastructure, we are told, along with a commitment to education and training that are supposed to ensure future economic growth. Promoting trade barriers to keep unions happy and railing against corporations, Wall Street and rich CEO's adds a touch of motivational populism, but does not tangibly address needs.

We need to address real needs and we do so without considering costs. If we can mobilize resources to fight wars, we can do the same to protect and improve living standards.

What middle-aged voters want to hear from Democrats concerning economic security
Income security and underemployment: Losing a job at 50 years of age can be devastating. Transitioning to a new job is fraught with difficulty. Such workers can be victimized by narrow or outdated skill sets or prior income levels that cannot or will not be met by new employers who rightly expect such new employees to "keep looking". There are also geographical challenges and the threat of bankruptcy, foreclosure and bad credit ratings. With the economy in a prolonged period of stagnation and with labor unions in decline, underemployment is now a major problem. Increased stress and anxiety levels can cause or exacerbate chronic health conditions.

• Unemployment compensation should be significantly lengthened and compensation levels must allow for meeting critical expenses during transition
• Recognize and include those who are involuntarily underemployed in the unemployment compensation system.
• Automatically reduce mortgage, student loan and medical debt payments up to a limit during transition.
• The retirement age should not be raised. It should even be lowered in the event of economic stagnation.
• Expand grants to states to support short-term and on-the-job retraining and internship programs. Community colleges should run these programs and tax credits should be provided to companies who provide the service.
• Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.
• Increase the federal minimum wage. This will support spouses and children who are forced into the workforce to support family income.
• Require that disability benefits, paid sick leave, paid parental leave, at least five paid holidays and at least one week of paid vacation time be provided for all full-time and permanent part-time workers.
• Ensure that working two-earner families and working single mothers receive childcare support through direct transfers or tax credits, sufficient to allow for a decent standard of living.

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December 16, 2014

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A Teachout Moment For Hillary Clinton:
A First Look At 2016 Through The Lens Of 2014

by Sean McKeown

scientist and engineer Sean McKeown has been involved in several national and New York-based campaigns, and is writing a book on finance and economics."

There is an emerging progressive populist movement that many in the media have called "The Elizabeth Warren Wing of the Democratic Party" thanks to the skyrocketing popularity of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Groups such as the PCCC embrace this label for the purposes of memes and soundbites, but while describing this emerging movement as a "wing" might be useful as a fundraising strategy, downplaying these shifting values within the Democratic Party trivializes what appears to be a meaningful political realignment. These "Warren Wing" Democrats do not consider themselves a "wing" at all, seeing themselves instead as the neglected backbone of the Democratic Party, embodying values and beliefs that appeal to many voters in the center and across the political spectrum. It is crucial to disaggregate the terms 'progressive' and 'populist' in order to understand this in a transpartisan perspective, for the meteoric rise in popularity of Senator Warren's brand of economic populism is not a purely-Left phenomenon. Since she can potentially access groups of voters which no other Democratic candidate can reach, her political fate is not limited by Democratic Party insiders' current strategies for advancing pragmatic, viable candidates.

Populist History

Populism's resurgence in the modern era can be viewed as a response to the 2008 financial crisis, particularly as a negative response to bank bailouts known and the TARP program in the last year of the Bush administration. Components of an economic-populist agenda were present in early Tea Party rhetoric, fueled by activists who wanted to prevent future bailouts and tax-dollar giveaways to big business by cutting Washington's ties to moneyed interests. This insurgency helped advance them to a significant position within the Republican Party in 2010 and 2012. As it grew larger and obtained big-donor support, however, it shifted focus and tactics. Rather than presenting its own legislative agenda, today's Tea Party has instead stood in the way of the same critical repairs their initial voting constituency had pressed for, such as firmer controls on "Too Big To Fail" banks.

Self-identified "moderates" who banish Senator Warren to the fringes of the Party (except as a useful election-season surrogate ) handicap the Democratic Party by continuing to forfeit sizable constituencies whose economic opinions mirror Warren's. Consultants and strategists inside Washington seem to ignore a crucial historical fact: the anti-government views of this constituency are rooted in the belief that government disproportionately favors the anti-competitive monopolistic behavior of big business, corporations, and Wall Street - a sentiment Senator Warren herself espouses.

With recent calls for Elizabeth Warren to run for President in 2016, it is critical to analyze this "struggle for the soul of the Democratic party" and its potential fissures to see what a Clinton vs. Warren primary might look like to voters across the political spectrum. To do so, let us look at a recent New York race, where Zephyr Teachout challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary.

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Creamer: Cruz and Pelosi Budget Battles Show Why Dems Have 2016 High Ground



The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," is cross-posted from HuffPo:

Over the last week we have seen played out in the national political spotlight the fundamental reason why Democrats have the high political ground in 2016.

Senator Ted Cruz used every procedural move available to block Senate consideration of the "CRomnibus" appropriation bill that he demanded defund President Obama's Immigration Executive Actions.

Senator Warren and House Leader Nancy Pelosi led campaigns to prevent inclusion of a provision to once again allow a federal bailout of big Wall Street banks that engage in the same kinds of risky investment schemes that precipitated the 2008 financial meltdown and the Great Recession.

Neither side was successful in the legislative short run. At the same time, both sides engaged and motivated the bases of their respective parties with their stands.

But the similarities stop there. These two battles are powerful illustrations of a major emerging fact in American politics.

It is widely understood that the more GOP candidates for president adopt the priorities of the base of their party -- particularly hard-core opposition to immigration reform -- the more difficult it is for them to win general elections. That's because hard-core stances against immigration reform, women's reproductive rights, gay rights, etc. alienate huge sections of the electorate that are required to win presidential elections. That is especially true of socially moderate suburban women swing voters and elements of growing segments of the electorate like young people, single women, Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans and of course LGBT voters.

What is not so widely understood is that by adopting the populist positions championed by the progressive base of the Democratic Party -- especially when it comes to raising the wages of ordinary Americans, reigning in Wall Street, and ending the widening chasm of income inequality -- Democrats are more likely to win general elections at all levels.

Political consultant and former Senior Advisor to the President, David Axelrod, was asked Sunday on Meet the Press if the Democratic Party could accommodate both the Clintonites and the Warrenites. He answered absolutely -- if Hilary Clinton moves to adopt the more populist position of the Warren wing of the party -- because those are the positions that will also increase Democratic chances of winning general elections.

No one with an ounce of political sense would ever say that it makes Republican candidates more likely to win general elections if they adopt the radical positions of Ted Cruz.

But the fact is that the core positions of the base of the Democratic Party are widely popular in America: raising the minimum wage, eliminating loopholes that allow employers to escape paying overtime to employees, raising the wages of the middle class, making student loans more affordable, regulating -- and even breaking up big Wall Street banks.

Even positions that used to be wedge issues in the Democratic coalition -- universal background checks for all gun purchasers, women's reproductive rights, sanctioning gay marriage, civil and voting rights -- receive overwhelming support among Democratic voters and majority support among swing voters.

The more the Democratic Party reflects the values, priorities and policies of its progressive base the more likely it is to win. The more the Republican Party reflects values, priorities and polities of its Tea Party conservative base, the more likely it is to lose -- it's that simple.

This political reality reflects the basic underlying economic and social reality of 21st century American life. Most Americans have experienced stagnant incomes for over three decades. Our Gross Domestic Product and productivity per person have gone up about 80 percent, but average incomes didn't go up 80 percent. Instead nearly all of the increases went to the top two percent -- and especially to the speculators on Wall Street.

As a result today -- even after the shock of the Great Recession -- the stock market is at record highs, corporate profits are at record highs, and the share of national income going to wages is at a record low.

The party who speaks to that fact, will have the support of the American people -- and the populist, progressive base of the Democratic Party does just that.

There was a time, when many Americans understood that Republicans stood up for the rich and Democrats stood up for the average person. Now, it is true that many people in the middle class believe that -- where they are concerned -- there isn't much of a difference. Many understand that the Republicans stick up for the rich alright, but they also think Democrats only stick up for the very poor and their friends on Wall Street -- leaving them -- the people in the middle -- without a champion.

The fact is that the more the Democratic Party adopts the populist, progressive, anti-Wall Street positions of its base, the more it attracts the middle class swing voters whose votes are critical in a general election.

And, of course, these are exactly the same messages that motivate the party's progressive base to turn out in large numbers.

Unfortunately, the messages that motivate the Republican base to turn out in large numbers do not have that effect on swing voters at all. Sounding more like Ted Cruz might excite the GOP faithful, but it is frightening to soccer moms and sounds down right strange to young people.

And something else is important to remember. When swing voters don't believe that one of the two parties is their champion -- when they don't think there is a clear contrast when it comes to who is on their side -- they are much more likely to be open to try the opposition if they don't think things have been going so well for them under the current management.

If voters don't think there is any more difference between Republicans and Democrats than there is between American and United Airlines, they make a simple and seemingly rational calculation: if my income hasn't gone up much under a Democratic president, might as well try a Republican president.

But that calculation changes enormously when they become convinced that one party is truly their champion and the other party is not.

The populist economic message of Progressive Democrats is a huge winner when it comes to ordinary middle class voters who are just trying to live their lives and don't follow the ins and outs of politics every day. And it makes them tune in.

My wife, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, was approached as she was shopping by six ordinary customers at the Jewel Food Store -- and a sales clerk at Carson Pirie Scott Department store on Saturday after she voted with House Leader Pelosi to oppose the new Wall Street bailout that was included in last week's appropriation bill. All of them had been following the battle and thanked her for her vote. This is not at all what ordinarily happens after a vote in Congress.

Washington insiders and pundits can go on until they are blue in the face trying to convince us that there is an equivalency of those who advocate for the values of the Tea Party on the GOP side, and the populist values of the progressive base of the Democrats on the other. They would do well to get out more.


December 15, 2014

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What Pope Francis Can Teach the Democratic Party

By John Russo

John Russo is the former director, Center for Working-Class Studies and, currently, a visiting research fellow, Metropolitan Institute, at Virginia Tech.

Most journalists and political commentators covering papal politics have been consumed with the Church's recent Synod on the Family that concerned social and religious issues of modern marriage and family life. Some conservative commentators warned that Pope Francis and the Synod itself was sowing "confusion" among the flock, while others praised the Pope for providing a breath of fresh air into traditional Catholic thought. Nevertheless, the Synod brought together various groups in a respectful way to build bridges in an attempt to find a common good. While no decisions were made at the Synod, it certainly laid the foundation for future reform within Catholic Social Teaching on family life.

While consumed with the Synod, the Catholic community, journalists, and politicos missed or deliberately ignored an equally important and much more critical populist speech by Pope Francis at the Conference of Popular Movementsin Rome last month that concerned the importance of community organizing and poverty.

In the speech, the Pope praises the conference organizers for their community organizing in getting low-income people and the dispossessed to organize and speak out for themselves. He reminded the audience, "The poor not only suffer injustice but they also struggle against it!" He added that popular movements are necessary "to revitalize our democracies, so often kidnapped by innumerable factors. It is impossible to imagine a future for society without the active participation of the great majorities."

Pope Francis was critical of both liberal and conservative solutions to poverty (such as some welfare programs) that "go in one direction, either to anaesthetize or to domesticate." Further, he seems genuinely angry with those who use euphemisms to describe poor people, suggesting that to identify the issues as matters of "segregation" or "disenfranchisement" masks not just the seriousness of the problems but the deliberate injustices they involve. As the Pope puts it, "behind euphemisms there is a crime."

He noted the special solidarity that exists among the poor and explores its meaning beyond "sporadic generosity." Solidarity means "to think and act like a community" in "fighting over the structural causes of poverty, inequality, lack of work, housing, and the denial of labor and social rights...and to confront the destructive effects of the empire of money: forced displacement, painful emigration, the traffic of persons, drugs, war, violence and all those realities that many of you suffer and that we are called on to transform."
He understands that talk like this will lead some "to say that the Pope is a Communist," but he dismisses such criticism, saying that his critics "don't understand that the love of the poor is at the heart of the gospel" and that the "struggle for land, roof, and work are sacred rights." That is, he grounds his belief in no overriding political orthodoxy but rather in religion and human dignity.

The Synod and speech got me thinking about the Pope's approach in dealing with difficult issues and what model Pope Francis might provide for the future of the Democratic Party. For example, the recent midterm election debacle has been most often attributed to demographic factors. For example, the poor turnout among African Americans, Latinos, and women and the inability to attract white voters and the shrinking middle class have been the most common explanations for its 2014 electoral collapse. But commentators like Harold Meyerson have argued that demographics alone cannot explain the results of the midterm election nor "save" the Democratic Party. Rather, Meyerson suggests that Democrats failed to provide a clear and consistent message regarding economic inequality and wages that appealed to the struggling poor, working and middle classes, Latinos, African Americans, and millennials. Without a clear economic message, Howard Dean asked unapologetically "Where the Hell is the Democratic Party" and chided the Democratic Party leadership and operatives that "You cannot win if you are afraid!" But afraid of what? My guess is Democrats are afraid of angering their corporate and business supporters by addressing issues of inequality and poverty in any but a timid and incremental way.

This is where Pope Francis's approach could help. First, the Democrats could follow the Pope's model and bring together various factions for a serious discussion about the future of the party in moral and ethical terms. In the process, they could engage in community organizing and pursue the common good of ending poverty and inequality. They could also build a measure of solidarity and support on moral terms for those experiencing the injustices, the struggling working and middle class and those trying to help organize the struggles. Put differently, less politically expedient efforts to garner electoral support and more solidarity and substantive reform based on moral and ethical stands grounded in human dignity.
Such an approach will worry many Democratic politicians and their apparatchiks who cower in the face of uncertain polling data and angering their corporate patrons. No doubt, some will join with Republicans and call this "class warfare." Some will claim that Democrats can't win using populist themes, especially in red and purple states. But politicians like Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio prove otherwise.

Today, Ohio Republicans control all executive-branch positions, the state Supreme Court, 12 of 16 U.S. House seats, and huge majorities in the state House and Senate. Yet, despite the Ohio's Republican dominance and having $60 million against him, Senator Brown easily won his last election with broad community organizing with a working class and populist agenda that helped carry President Obama in Ohio.

The country is distressed over the level of inequality and the forty-year decline of the middle class, and we're tired of euphemisms surrounding poverty and austerity. The Pew Research Center shows that Americans are overwhelminglyconcerned with widening inequality. When given an opportunity to reduce inequality, such as increasing the minimum wage, they overwhelmingly vote in favor, even in historically red states. Now is the time for Democrats to follow the Pope Francis's iconoclastic approach and develop the type of value-based agenda suggested by Meyerson. That could give new meaning to what it means to be a Democrat.


Political Strategy Notes



"Democrats Divided on Their Path to 2016," argue Karen Tumulty and Sean Sullivan at Washington Post Politics. But I would say it's a good thing for two reasons: (1.) The best time for a big tent party to debate major policy differences is right after an election to help shape the agenda (2.) The progressive case against the spending bill has to be presented in a big way to affirm the left voice in the Democratic Party and move the needle of 'centrist' Dems leftward. A consensus presidential candidate will need some left cred. I'd worry more if there were no divisions being aired at this point.

No doubt many Democrats who voted for the spending bill agree with Elizabeth Warren's analysis, but felt like killing the bill would let the more Republican incoming congress pass an even worse bill and would run the risk of blaming the government shutdown on Democrats. Such purely strategic considerations notwithstanding, E. J. Dionne, Jr. makes a worthy point in his latest syndicated column in noting "negotiating in this way rewards those who use shutdown threats as a form of hostage-taking. If the reasonable side regularly makes concessions to unreason, the extremists win."

Wouldn't it be great if some "political athletes" would get involved in voter registration and turnout campaigns?

From Nate Cohn's "Obama's Immigration Move Benefits Democrats Where It Counts" at The Upshot: "A month after President Obama's decision to defer deportation and offer work authorization to millions of undocumented immigrants, his action not only looks like a winner, but it also seems to be a fairly promising sign for Democrats after the disastrous midterm elections last month...A Pew Research poll conducted last week showed that 81 percent of Hispanics supported the immigration action, as did 64 percent in a Gallup poll conducted between Nov. 24 and Dec. 8."

Re Brendan Nyhan's Upshot post "Our Unrealistic Hopes for Presidents," going forward, presidential accomplishments will depend even more on the President's party having a healthy majority in both the Senate and House.

At The Federalist W. Bradford Wilcox explains why "It's Not Just The Economy Devastating Working-Class Families." Wilcox says "Andrew Cherlin's magisterial "Labor's Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America" provides a cogent, concise, and largely compelling account of why marriage is floundering in working-class communities, and flourishing in more affluent, college-educated ones. His account shows that conservatives "who insist that family changes are wholly a matter of cultural shifts" are as wrong as progressives who insist that America's family problem is simply a "matter of economics alone." Instead, Cherlin deftly points out how shifts in the economy and the culture have together combined to undercut the health of marriage and the stability of family life in working-class communities across the country."

So what is the Democratic left's alternative economic agenda? Sen. Bernie Sanders rolls it out in 12 points at 21st Century Democrats.

In his New York Review of Books article "Now We Face 2016!," Michael Tomasky notes, "It must be said that the Democrats' main problem in this election was economic. While many indicators are positive, wages in the middle are flat. In fact, median household income was lower in 2012 ($51,017) than it was in 2008 ($53,644), not a record that would inspire workers to vote."

Dream on.


December 12, 2014

A Reminder About Ideological and Strategic Differences Among Democrats



With yesterday's split between the White House and Speaker Pelosi (and her Senate ally Elizabeth Warren) over the "Cromnibus" spending bill, we had the first really significant rift within the Democratic Party since the president formally became a lame duck and the 2016 presidential nomination contest--at present, but not necessarily for long, a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton--began. It clearly centered on the extent to which the Democratic Party needed to make its top priority protecting the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, and/or disassociating itself from Wall Street.

Now for some last-ditch opponents of the Dodd-Frank amendments contained in the Cromnibus, this is an ideological matter involving the financial sector as responsible for today's economic problems or as an obstacle to progressive economic policy. For others it is a strategic issue involving perceptions of the Democratic Party or its positioning vis a vis a Republican Congress over the next four years. And there are Democrats on the other side of this particular barricade who variously have ideological or strategic reasons for feeling otherwise about the Dodd-Frank amendments specifically or anti-Wall Street "populism" generally.

But lest this dispute mestastasize into a "struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party," I'd like to remind Democrats of a plea we made at some length here five years ago about the importance of sorting out and taking seriously ideological and strategic differences before the rhetorical fur flies:

[I]deology, however muddled, is part of what makes most politically active people tick. And if we don't talk about it--and about differences in strategic thinking as well, which should be the subject of future discussions--then all we are left with to explain our differences on this issue or that is questions of character. And anyone paying attention must recognize there's far too much of that going on. "Progressive pragmatists"--the camp with which I most often personally identify, as it happens--often treat "the Left" condescendingly as immature and impractical people who don't understand how things get done. Meanwhile, people on "the Left" often treat "pragmatists" as either politically gutless or personally corrupt. This is what happens when you don't take seriously other people's ideological and strategic underpinnings; whatever you gain in ignoring or minimizing differences in perspective or point of view is lost in mutual respect.

It's not a bad thing to think about before Democrats start calling each other "socialists" and "corporate whores."


December 11, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Progressive Democrats are angry about the sweet deal for bankers and big corporate contributors to political campaigns in the $1+ trillion spending bill, but fears of a shutdown may insure passage anyway, report Lori Montgomery and Sean Sullivan at the Washington Post. Elizabeth Warren is leading the vocal opposition to the bill: "...Warren said the changes in the spending bill "would let derivatives traders on Wall Street gamble with taxpayer money and get bailed out by the government when their risky bets threaten to blow up our financial system." She added: "These are the same banks that nearly broke the economy in 2008 and destroyed millions of jobs."

Let's hope this trend for the worse is short-lived. As reported by Dalla Sussman's "Americans Have Become More Accepting of Use of Torture" at The Upshot: "Fifty percent of Americans in an Associated Press-NORC poll conducted in August 2013 said torture against terrorism suspects to obtain information about terrorism activities could often or sometimes be justified, while 47 percent said it could rarely or never be justified. But partisanship is a factor, with Democrats less supportive than Republicans. In the A.P.-NORC poll, 40 percent of Democrats said torture could be justified sometimes or often. That rose to 55 percent among independents and 61 percent among Republicans."

According to a nationwide, bipartisan survey conducted for the American Lung Association by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Perception Insight, "By a more than 3-to-1 margin, voters believe that the EPA, not Congress, should be setting pollution standards. This includes large majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans...Voters rate clean air as a higher priority than reducing regulations on businesses. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, voters rate clean air as a higher priority over reducing regulations with 80 percent of voters rating clean air as extremely or very important...A majority of voters (63 percent) support standards for methane emissions. After hearing a balanced debate on both sides, support increases overall to 66 percent. In particular, Republicans move from 39 percent supporting to 53 percent supporting."

John Guida has yet another "Should Democrats Write Off the South?" ramble, this one a New York Times "OpTalk" post. Pretty much the same ole 'let's pretend VA, NC and FL are not in the south' riff to facilitate projection of a simplistic grand strategy.

Dave Weigel's "Can Democrats Ever Compete for the Deep South? Should They Even Bother?" at Bloomberg Politics and John Cassidy's New Yorker article, "Should the Democrats Give Up on the South?" explore the same theme. FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten doubts the permanence of the GOP's southern sweep.

There's lots of buzz about Michael Tomasky's zinger-rich Daily Beast post "It's Time to Dump Dixie," which eloquently vents the disgust many of us who live in the south feel about our midterm electorate. Hindsight is always 20-20, and the resources invested in the failed campaigns of Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn in GA, for example, might have produced better results for Kay Hagan, who lost in NC by less than 2 percent. But I would agree with Ed Kilgore's reality check that, generally "the national party did not really undertake any "concessions" to the South. So there's no reason to swear off the South as an evil conservative seductress tempting Democrats to stray from the paths of righteousness." In a way, the Dems dumped Dixie a while back, rightly or wrongly. All of that said, most major southern cities have progressive mayors, and that's where the party-building should continue.

If The New Republic somehow gets revived, the editors should give Ta-Nehisi Coates's critique at The Atlantic about the magazine's staff diversity and reporting on racial injustice a sober reading.

It's way early for 2016 Senate race prognostication, but Crystal Ball's Kyle Kondik estimates that "because the Democrats need to net four or five seats to take control, depending on the party of the next vice president, the Democrats' opening odds to win the majority are significantly less than 50-50." As for the House, Kondik says "Our early expectation is that the Democrats will net at least a few House seats in the 2016 election," but not enough to win a majority. We say upsets can come from all directions.

At Democracy: A Journal of Ideas Eric Alterman explains why mainstream reformist Democrats need the party's radical left flank: "Constructive radical critiques serve two primary purposes: They provide a vision for the future, and they remind liberals not to get too comfortable with the here and now...Much has changed in American liberalism since the New Deal, but nothing quite so much as the loss of its fighting spirit. "I welcome their hatred," bragged the self-described "militant liberal" Franklin Roosevelt of the "economic royalists" who sought to retain a status quo that operated by and for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Radicals of the day helped sustain some of that spirit, as well as planting many of the ideas that FDR and others helped bring to fruition. Our not-so-militant liberals of today could damn sure use some of that kind of help."


December 10, 2014

Democrats Should Treat the South Just Like Any Other Region



Angst over the Democratic Party's relationship with "the South" (variously defined) is a traditional post-election preoccupation, and given Democratic losses in the region on November 4, it's not surprising it's started up again. At TPMCafe, I suggested that those who favor special appeals to white southerners or conversely demand a pox on the whole atavistic area chill and consider treating "the South" just like any other region. Here's an excerpt:

As my use of quotations around "the South" suggests, this topic is plagued by definitional problems. When The Atlantic's Molly Ball, for example, calls soon-to-be-former Sen. Mary Landrieu "the last southern Democrat," she is excluding two states of the former Confederacy (Florida and Virginia) that have Democratic U.S. Senators and were carried twice by Barack Obama; non-statewide Democratic elected officials like Tennessee's Steven Cohen who don't fit the moderate-to-conservative stereotype of southern white pols; and most importantly, the African-Americans who are hardly an incidental presence in "the South" by any definition.

If anything is dying in southern Democratic politics, it's the idea that you can forge successful statewide majorities with white candidates who hang onto 30 to 40 percent of the white vote by positioning themselves as far to the right as possible--and then expecting 90 percent of African-Americans to get them across the finish line. The Blue Dog model has almost certainly run its course. And I'm not remotely as optimistic as some progressives (almost invariably non-southerners) who think "populism" is some sort of magical formula for getting southern white working class voters to stop thinking about God and Guns and start thinking about their paychecks. The southern "populist" tradition (heavily associated with racism) is even more anachronistic than the Blue Dog model.

There is some room for creating a backlash against corporate lackeys like Rick Perry and Nikki Haley, whose idea of "economic development" is to eagerly sacrifice the people of their states to every whim of "investors." But "the South" is going to be more pro-business and anti-government than other parts of the country for the foreseeable future, if only because there's no social democratic Golden Age memories to conjure up the way there are in the once-heavily-unionized rust belt. Right now staunch support for public education, proud and unconditional anti-racism, and a vision of the social safety set, taxes, and basic regulations as something other than an inconvenience to "job creators," is probably "populist" enough.

For the national Democratic Party, there's really no longer any reason to agonize over "the South" as some sort of existential challenge to Democrats' ambitions or principles. Democrats can win presidential elections while losing the region; the last Democrat to rely on southern states as anything other than electoral college gravy was Jimmy Carter way back in 1976. Nor is the decline in ticket-splitting that doomed Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor this year an exclusively Democratic problem, as one might be misled to think by the very unusual Senate landscape of 2014. We'll be reminded in 2016 of how many Republican senators are representing "blue states."

But in any event, it is clear there was nothing the national party might have done to reverse the results in Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia or North Carolina this year. Just as importantly, unless you buy the dubious argument that the brief delay in the president's executive action on immigration was purely a pander to "the South," the national party did not really undertake any "concessions" to the South. So there's no reason to swear off the South as an evil conservative seductress tempting Democrats to stray from the paths of righteousness.

Treating the South like the rest of the country makes the most sense for Democrats going forward. A return to presidential cycle turnout patterns should, in any close election, again make Florida, North Carolina and Virginia winnable for Democrats. The demographics of Georgia are making that state more "purple" every day, especially in presidential elections.

After noting some of the state-specific variations that too often get overlooked in discussions of "the South," I conclude by asking Democrats for something southerners rarely request but could definitely use: less specific attention.

Seeing "the South" as a set of discrete political opportunities requiring skill, good candidate recruitment, the kind of ideological "flexibility" accorded to any other region, and resources calibrated to the risk and reward, is the best approach for Democrats. All the regional mythology should be treated as gone with the wind.

December 9, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



From former DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-NY), reported by Kate Nocera at Buzzfeed: "The Republicans have done a much better job of laddering up taxes and spending where Democrats ladder down to 16-point plans. That's our problem," Israel said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. "We have to the ladder up to that one theme that voters identify with.... We're building out an infrastructure we've never built out before."

At The Plum Line Greg Sargent laments the Democrats' position at the state level, and wonders if "the Democrats' best near-term hope for winning back the House may be a Republican president who is unpopular enough to trigger big Dem wave elections, like those in 2006 and 2008."

The "Dems should skip the south" argument is back, big-time, notes Sargent in another post. No one doubts that the GOP has a lock on most southern states, but the case is always compromised with the rather large exceptions of FL, NC and VA, the 3rd, 10th and 12th largest states. Still, the electoral votes of GA, the 8th most populous state, are probably out of reach in 2016, and it may be wiser to put campaign resources in the other three.

Kyle Trystad wonders "What's Next for Michelle Nunn?" at Roll Call. Democrat Nunn lost her race for U.S. Senate to David Perdue by 8-points, but left a good impression on political observers, who noted that she became a much more confident debater and speaker by the end of the campaign. It seems unlikely, however, that she could best the popular Republican Senator Johnny Isakson in 2016, who perfectly fits the genteel reactionary style Georgians seem to like in their Senators.

James Hohmann's Politico post, "Can Southern Democrats make a comeback? The populist, middle class "vision" that could turn it around for them" offers a slightly sunnier take on Democratic prospects in the south. Hohmann notes, "Former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said...Democrats need a broader, more comprehensive plan. "To me, the sweet-tea-and-grits crowd still likes our economic issues," said Musgrove, who served from 2000 to 2004 and narrowly lost a 2008 Senate race. "Democrats need an economic message based on opportunity: education, job training, infrastructure rebuilding, and even health care - where voters know that Democrats can make a difference in these issues...[Atlanta Mayor Kasim] Reed praised Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine in 2012 and Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2013 for not running away from Obama, espousing progressive principles and aggressively attacking their opponents. "The Virginia model is the model we need to follow in the South," he said.

In similar vein Caitlin Huey-Burns explains "How Democrats Can Get Their Mojo Back" at Real Clear Politics.

The election of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to head the Democratic Governors Association may signal a new emphasis on strengthening state parties in the mountain west, says Reid Wilson at The Washington Post.

For a disheartening tale of meddlesome digerati screwing around in political journalism, read Dana Milbank's WaPo column, "The New Republic is dead, thanks to its owner, Chris Hughes." TNR had threaded numerous crises over the decades to become a reliable source of nuanced progressive political analysis. But now it's suddenly gone. Is there no chance that a wealthy liberal can somehow clean up this mess?

The demise of The New Republic is not the only indication that American journalism has taken a turn for the worse.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



December 18: Jeb Bush's Dilemma

Jeb Bush earned some extensive chatter from the political world by suddenly expressing an active interest in the race after months and years of Hamlet-like behavior, while also forming a leadership PAC to support allies and show the flag. He does have some assets along with the much-noted problem of recent friction with conservatives over his positions favoring Common Core education standards and some sort of legalization of undocumented immigrants. But at TPMCafe, I isolated what seems to be the problem he simply cannot solve:

Bush's central problem is that in outside donor circles, he simply isn't beloved in the way a fresher and more viscerally ideological candidate could be, and thus he needs a very strong "electability" argument to pull conservatives, however reluctantly, into his camp. And that's the rub: despite his name ID, his resume, and his "centrist" positions on at least some subjects, this on-paper "winner" is not very popular with the general electorate. In two solid years of being pitted against Hillary Clinton in polls, Bush has not led a single one, and trails her in the latest RealClearPolitics average by over 9%. That's a poorer margin than for Ryan (6%), Christie (7%), and Huckabee (8%), and about the same as for Paul. Ted Cruz is the only regularly polled putative GOP candidate running significantly worse than Bush against HRC (an RCP average gap of 13%), and that's largely because he's far less well-known.

Not having held a public office since 2006, it's unclear what Bush can do to make himself significantly more popular with the general public in hopes of becoming seductively attractive to Republican caucus and primary voters who have a lot of other options. His signature issue used to be education, but his once-novel experiments with private school vouchers and teacher tenure "reform" are now old-hat and universally supported by Republicans. Moreover, education is a hot-button issue mostly to people angry about reform initiatives like Common Core. And there should be red flashing signs in Jeb's camp about his business record, ranging from his involvement with Lehman Brothers and Barclays to his more recent dealings with Chinese investors. If Republicans want another Mitt Romney, the original is still available.

Can Jeb Bush buy his way to the standing he needs? His support from donors will obviously help if he runs, but as Rick Perry showed in 2012, the money can go pretty fast if it's not propped up by positive events. And at the moment, the main way Bush can attract attention is by continuing to scold his once-fellow-conservatives for insufficient realism. Perhaps Bush will be able to elbow Christie and Rubio and even Romney out of the way and slip-slide through a demolition derby of conservatives the way John McCain did in 2008. But he could be on a trajectory to become this cycle's Jon Huntsman, with a lot more money to run through. And just maybe he's jollying his father and brother and various family retainers, and will not run when push comes to shove, leaving the dynasty in the hands of Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, his son, who has had the good political sense to oppose Common Core.

Don't bet the farm on Jeb Bush.


December 12: A Reminder About Ideological and Strategic Differences Among Democrats

With yesterday's split between the White House and Speaker Pelosi (and her Senate ally Elizabeth Warren) over the "Cromnibus" spending bill, we had the first really significant rift within the Democratic Party since the president formally became a lame duck and the 2016 presidential nomination contest--at present, but not necessarily for long, a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton--began. It clearly centered on the extent to which the Democratic Party needed to make its top priority protecting the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, and/or disassociating itself from Wall Street.

Now for some last-ditch opponents of the Dodd-Frank amendments contained in the Cromnibus, this is an ideological matter involving the financial sector as responsible for today's economic problems or as an obstacle to progressive economic policy. For others it is a strategic issue involving perceptions of the Democratic Party or its positioning vis a vis a Republican Congress over the next four years. And there are Democrats on the other side of this particular barricade who variously have ideological or strategic reasons for feeling otherwise about the Dodd-Frank amendments specifically or anti-Wall Street "populism" generally.

But lest this dispute mestastasize into a "struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party," I'd like to remind Democrats of a plea we made at some length here five years ago about the importance of sorting out and taking seriously ideological and strategic differences before the rhetorical fur flies:

[I]deology, however muddled, is part of what makes most politically active people tick. And if we don't talk about it--and about differences in strategic thinking as well, which should be the subject of future discussions--then all we are left with to explain our differences on this issue or that is questions of character. And anyone paying attention must recognize there's far too much of that going on. "Progressive pragmatists"--the camp with which I most often personally identify, as it happens--often treat "the Left" condescendingly as immature and impractical people who don't understand how things get done. Meanwhile, people on "the Left" often treat "pragmatists" as either politically gutless or personally corrupt. This is what happens when you don't take seriously other people's ideological and strategic underpinnings; whatever you gain in ignoring or minimizing differences in perspective or point of view is lost in mutual respect.

It's not a bad thing to think about before Democrats start calling each other "socialists" and "corporate whores."


December 10: Democrats Should Treat the South Just Like Any Other Region

Angst over the Democratic Party's relationship with "the South" (variously defined) is a traditional post-election preoccupation, and given Democratic losses in the region on November 4, it's not surprising it's started up again. At TPMCafe, I suggested that those who favor special appeals to white southerners or conversely demand a pox on the whole atavistic area chill and consider treating "the South" just like any other region. Here's an excerpt:

As my use of quotations around "the South" suggests, this topic is plagued by definitional problems. When The Atlantic's Molly Ball, for example, calls soon-to-be-former Sen. Mary Landrieu "the last southern Democrat," she is excluding two states of the former Confederacy (Florida and Virginia) that have Democratic U.S. Senators and were carried twice by Barack Obama; non-statewide Democratic elected officials like Tennessee's Steven Cohen who don't fit the moderate-to-conservative stereotype of southern white pols; and most importantly, the African-Americans who are hardly an incidental presence in "the South" by any definition.

If anything is dying in southern Democratic politics, it's the idea that you can forge successful statewide majorities with white candidates who hang onto 30 to 40 percent of the white vote by positioning themselves as far to the right as possible--and then expecting 90 percent of African-Americans to get them across the finish line. The Blue Dog model has almost certainly run its course. And I'm not remotely as optimistic as some progressives (almost invariably non-southerners) who think "populism" is some sort of magical formula for getting southern white working class voters to stop thinking about God and Guns and start thinking about their paychecks. The southern "populist" tradition (heavily associated with racism) is even more anachronistic than the Blue Dog model.

There is some room for creating a backlash against corporate lackeys like Rick Perry and Nikki Haley, whose idea of "economic development" is to eagerly sacrifice the people of their states to every whim of "investors." But "the South" is going to be more pro-business and anti-government than other parts of the country for the foreseeable future, if only because there's no social democratic Golden Age memories to conjure up the way there are in the once-heavily-unionized rust belt. Right now staunch support for public education, proud and unconditional anti-racism, and a vision of the social safety set, taxes, and basic regulations as something other than an inconvenience to "job creators," is probably "populist" enough.

For the national Democratic Party, there's really no longer any reason to agonize over "the South" as some sort of existential challenge to Democrats' ambitions or principles. Democrats can win presidential elections while losing the region; the last Democrat to rely on southern states as anything other than electoral college gravy was Jimmy Carter way back in 1976. Nor is the decline in ticket-splitting that doomed Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor this year an exclusively Democratic problem, as one might be misled to think by the very unusual Senate landscape of 2014. We'll be reminded in 2016 of how many Republican senators are representing "blue states."

But in any event, it is clear there was nothing the national party might have done to reverse the results in Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia or North Carolina this year. Just as importantly, unless you buy the dubious argument that the brief delay in the president's executive action on immigration was purely a pander to "the South," the national party did not really undertake any "concessions" to the South. So there's no reason to swear off the South as an evil conservative seductress tempting Democrats to stray from the paths of righteousness.

Treating the South like the rest of the country makes the most sense for Democrats going forward. A return to presidential cycle turnout patterns should, in any close election, again make Florida, North Carolina and Virginia winnable for Democrats. The demographics of Georgia are making that state more "purple" every day, especially in presidential elections.

After noting some of the state-specific variations that too often get overlooked in discussions of "the South," I conclude by asking Democrats for something southerners rarely request but could definitely use: less specific attention.

Seeing "the South" as a set of discrete political opportunities requiring skill, good candidate recruitment, the kind of ideological "flexibility" accorded to any other region, and resources calibrated to the risk and reward, is the best approach for Democrats. All the regional mythology should be treated as gone with the wind.

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