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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: June 2007


So exactly how big a fiasco has the immigration reform bill been for the Republican Party?
We already know that the saga has been a disaster for the GOPers who supported the “comprehensive” effort. Moreover, according to most of the right-wing accounts I’ve been reading, the Republican Party isn’t getting much credit for finally rejecting the bill in the Senate. “Amnesty” opponents are congratulating each other for bringing their leaders to heel, with at best patronizing glad-you-turned-out-to-be-gutless expressions of appreciation for the flip-floppers, and probably fantasies about future grassroots efforts to get the compassion out of conservatism.
But as a new USA Today/Gallup poll illustrates, the Bush-Rove strategy of using immigration reform to consolidate a Republican majority among Hispanic Americans is completely in ruins. Only 11 percent of Hispanics now identify as Republicans, as compared with 27 percent for the general public. With leaners assigned, the poll shows 58 percent of Hispanics as Democrats, 22 percent as independents, and 20 percent as Republicans (among all voters, the numbers with leaners assigned are 53 percent Democrats, 9 percent independents, and 37 percent Republicans). If, as Karl Rove long believed, Hispanics have become the key swing voter category for the future, they ain’t swinging right for the GOP.
In a nice illustration of the overall futility of the Bush-led immigration reform drive, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Non-Hispanic Whites have almost identical, and quite negative, feelings about “the government’s recent efforts to deal with illegal immigration in the U.S.”
On the other hand, and this could be important down the road, the USA Today-Gallup survey showed that overall hostility to levels of immigration is actually quite a bit lower today than in the 1993-95 period, and in the immediate wake of 9/11. But I don’t think this is going to matter a lot in 2008.
One other quick note: this poll illustrated Hillary Clinton’s very high popularity levels among Hispanics, providing one reason for her consistently robust poll numbers among Democrats generally despite the loss of a very big chunk of her original African-American support to Barack Obama. At present, she is supported by an impressive 59 percent of Hispanic Democrats, with Obama at 13 percent, fellow-Hispanic Bill Richardson at 11 percent, John Edwards at 7 percent, and the rest scattered over the remainder of the field.

Political Digerati Map Future

Mother Jones is featuring a host of articles and interviews of interest to political strategists, particularly netroots and Politics 2.0 freaks.

SCOTUS: Once More To the Brink

When I said earlier that the “big news so far” for today was the rejection of the Senate’s immigration bill,” I hadn’t begun to digest the Supreme Court decision (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District #1) that overturned racially-conscious school assignment systems in Seattle and Louisville.
Four Justices (Roberts, who wrote the official Court decision, supported by Alito, Scalia and Roberts) leaped squarely to the radical position, long urged by conservative legal activists, that race-conscious state action in education is unconstitutional absent a direct relationship to efforts to dismantle state-sanctioned (i.e., de jure) school segregation. Four Justices (Breyer, Stevens, Ginsberg and Souter, with the first two writing dissents expressing not only disagreement but alarm) dissented. And the Court’s current arbiter, Justice Kennedy, agreed with the decision on factual grounds, while disagreeing explicitly with the Roberts position prohibiting race-conscious remedies.
Many millions of words are probably going to be written about this decision in months to come, so I won’t use that many. The Roberts position would essentially bring to a close the Brown v. Board of Education era of official efforts to promote racial integration in schools, except in those very limited cases where current racial school attendence patterns can be traced directly back to Jim Crow. Integration itself would have no favored status, and indeed, measures to achieve it would be deemed in violation of the Equal Protection Clause if race-conscious remedies were employed.
As in the big abortion decision in April (Carhart v. Gonzales), it’s clear that Justice Kennedy is the only obstacle–and a limited, perhaps even ineffective obstacle at that–to a conservative activist majority on the Court with potentially revolutionary goals. Justice John Paul Stevens, in his poignant dissent today, suggested that not a single member of the Court he joined in 1975 would have likely agreed with Roberts’ position, or even with the decision Kennedy enabled. And that Court, mind you, included William Renquist.
Why is this an issue of concern at The Democratic Strategist? It’s simple: the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court is going to be and ought to be a major issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, and perhaps well beyond it. It’s already an overriding issue on the Right. But while Republican politicians have long mastered a dog-whistle rhetoric designed to promise the social engineers of the Right the kind of Supreme Court they want without unduly worrying others–even Rudy Giuliani has learned to talk about “strict constructionist” judges–Democrats have only begun the task of dramatizing judicial and constitutional issues, other than in sidebar discussions with the pro-choice or civil rights activists who are already focused on them.
The Supreme Court is on the brink, and progressives need to push back on a broad front that mobilizes people far beyond the activist ranks.

Immigration Bill: Truly Dead

Today’s big news so far is that the Senate decisively rejected a cloture motion on the immigration reform bill, ending the debate, in the Senate at least, until after the next general election.
The margin was pretty stunning: 46-53, or fourteen votes shy of the 60 necessary to cut off debate. And even though (annoyingly) the Post article linked to above suggested the bill was killed off by attacks “from the left and right,” it’s clearly GOP support that collapsed. Democrats (including their leader, Harry Reid) supported cloture 33-15, while Republicans (including their leader Mitch McConnell) opposed it 37-12; the two independent split, with Lieberman voting for cloture and Sanders against it. All the Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate (Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Obama) voted for cloture, along with 2004 nominee Kerry. With Sam Brownback, an earlier supporter of the “grand bargain,” voting “nay,” John McCain stands alone, more than ever, in the Republican presidential field.
Presumably, the House won’t volunteer to shut down its phone and email systems by taking up any immigration bill, now that it’s clear the Senate’s done for the time being. But the issue is obviously not going away. Even as they high-five each other for killing “the amnesty bill,” conservative pundits and activists are already talking about next steps towards an “enforcement first” policy (check out the ongoing discussion at National Review’s The Corner for details). And newly emboldened by their Senate victory, anti-immigration conservatives are not likely to be satisfied with fences or border control money or other such amelioratives. If not in the Senate or House, then in the right-wing blogs and on talk radio, we will soon see an effort to make mass arrests and deportations, along with big-time employer sanctions, a limus test for Republican candidates for president and for Congress in 2008.
What Democrats do about all this, other than standing back and watching the carnage, is an open and important question. The Senate bill certainly had obnoxious features (most notably the whole guest worker abomination) that legitimately led some Democrats to oppose it and to help, in a small way, to kill it off. But if the Right takes over this issue in the Republican Party against an increasingly marginalized George W. Bush (not to mention a politically doomed John McCain) and tries to draw the lines as pro- or anti-“amnesty,” Dems will need to explore their own “grand bargain” to provide mercy and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants along with a serious look at fixing the broken process for legal immigration.

EFCA Vote Defines Political Parties

Next time you hear somebody complain that they don’t know what Democrats stand for, refer them to the cloture vote on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), in essence a vote for or against stronger trade unions in America.

Lugar, GOP Voters Sour on Iraq Policy

In the wake of GOP Senator Richard Lugar’s call for an end to the troop ‘surge’ in Iraq, a CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted 6/22-24 reports that 38 percent of Republicans now say they oppose the war and 42 percent support withdrawing at least some troops.

“No Child” Left Behind

With one major element of the original Bush-Rove “compassionate conservatism” agenda under withering fire from the Right, how are conservatives feeling about the other big “compassion” item, No Child Left Behind? Not well, according to a piece in today’s Washington Post, whose subheadline is: “Conservatives Givng Vent to Doubts; Support for Opt-Out Proposals Grows.”
NCLB is up for reauthorization in Congress this year, and the initial debate offers a reminder that the education initiative in some ways involved compromises as complex and treacherous as those of the immigration bill. Originally cribbed from a Democratic proposal, NCLB basically constituted a grand bargain whereby states and school districts would obtain new federal money in exchange for a commitment to achieve tangible improvements in educational outcomes for disadvantaged students. The administration got conservatives on board by including federal support for private-school vouchers (dropped, predictably, during congressional negotiations to prevent wholescale Democratic defections), and also by giving states considerable leeway in setting their own goals (thus avoiding that conservative no-no, national educational standards).
Now conservatives want their voucher bauble back during reconsideration of NCLB (now more than ever a deal-killer for Democrats), and many are getting behind the op-out proposal, which would crucially undermine NCLB’s character as a national reform effort by letting states bail from the program’s key federal mandates.
None of this should be surprising in an atmosphere where many on the Right have convinced themselves that Bush’s and the GOP’s many problems are attributable to an abandonment of the True Cause. When it comes to education policy, many conservatives are probably looking back fondly to the Clinton era, when Republicans fantasized about abolishing the Department of Education and fought tooth and nail against anything that looked like national standards. And it’s worth noting that NCLB, like immigration reform, was the product of direct negotiations with Ted Kennedy, who retains an outsized position in conservative demonology.
So as the debate over NCLB gains steam later this summer, don’t be surprised if the Right attacks the initiative frontally, perhaps echoed by one or more of the major 2008 GOP presidential candidates. Among conservatives these days, the market for “compassion” has turned ferociously bearish.

Touchback or Turnover?

The latest developent in the long, painful saga of the Senate’s consideration of immigration legislation is the decision by Republican backers of the bill (presumably with White House support and at least grudging acceptance from some Democrats) to sponsor an amendment expanding the “touchback” requirement for illegal immigrants who want a “guest worker” visa. In the original “grand bargain,” illegals would only have to go home to their country of origin when their visa expired, or in order to apply for permanent legal status (i.e., to get on the “path to citizenship”). Under the amendment, they’d have to go home to apply for the guest worker visa.
This so-called “touchback” provision, dumb as it is (it virtually guarantees a low rate of compliance), is intended to scratch the conservative itch that I described yesterday as representing a neurotic legalism. In effect, it would demonstrate that the U.S. could deport all illegal immigrants (which is what large elements of the Right really want) if it chose to do so. More to the point, the amendment is yet another bone tossed to conservative Senators who are beginning to line up against the whole enterprise. With key procedural votes set for today and Thursday, that’s become a monomaniacal preccuption for the bill’s sponsors.
Obscured by all these placate-the-nativists maneuvers is the growing unhappiness of Democrats with where the bill seems headed. As the New York Times noted today, the labor movement is already split on the legislation, with the AFL-CIO formally opposing it, while three big unions in the Change to Win coalition (SEIU, UNITE HERE, and the farm workers) are backing it.
More broadly, Democrats are restless about the implications of voting for an increasingly bad bill “to keep the process going,” counting on the House to pass something more acceptable. Nose-holding votes of this sort are standard fare in Washington, but so too is the fear that if the whole process breaks down at some point, Democratic Senators will be saddled with support for a legislative product that no one much likes.
If, of course, the “touchback” amendment and other concessions to the Right fail, and the whole unseemly “bargain” unravels, Democrats can and should gleefully hold Republicans accountable for the failure; the House could still proceed with something more sensible, though it would be largely symbolic. But if the Senate bill somehow survives this week, the “touchback” amendment may start to resemble a “turnover” of immigration reform to those conservatives who really want nothing more than to roll back immigration generally.

The Cheney-Tancredo Doctrine

The second in the Washington Post’s four-part series on Dick Cheney was published today, and it continues the story of Cheney’s behind-the-scenes control of administration policy on treatment of terrorism suspects. The story-line is pretty simple: Cheney, through his top legal advisor, David Addington, consistently and successfully pushed the administration into a position of minimum observence of domestic and international laws providing due process for suspects and prohibiting torture, and maximum assertion of a quasi-imperial concept of the president’s national security powers. Aside from its exposure of Cheney’s ability to overcome objections to these policies from the State and Justice Departments (and from the National Security Council), the series is also depicting then-White House counsel and now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a weak and often clueless accomplice for Cheney’s designs.
A subtext of the story is that Cheney’s policies have produced a major backlash in Congress, the courts, and among U.S. allies, unraveling some of the more outlandish administration positions. After outlining this backlash, the Post story reaches this sobering conclusion:

[A] more careful look at the results suggests that Cheney won far more than he lost. Many of the harsh measures he championed, and some of the broadest principles undergirding them, have survived intact but out of public view.

That may well be true, but one Cheney victory is right out there in public view: His contribution to the remarkable lurch towards authoritarianism in the Republican Party. The signs are all around, most notably in the glaring contradiction between GOP contempt for the rule of law in the fight against jihadist terrorism, and the hyper-legalism of the emerging conservative position on immigration reform, which focuses obsessively on the alleged outrage of tolerating violation of immigration laws.
Authoritarianism–the belief that those who make the laws, and no one else, can break the laws–is the only ideology that can square that particular circle. And to the extent that the GOP presidential field continues to make advocacy of torture and preemptive war, and opposition to “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, its dual litmus test–let’s call it the Cheney-Tancredo Doctrine–we are witnessing a truly dangerous trend in one of America’s two major parties.

Nancy Pelosi, American Idol

Every now and then someone conducts a poll testing Americans’ knowledge of current events, civics and history, and adjudges the U.S. a nation of ignoramuses. So I wasn’t surprised when Newsweek rolled out one last week, with the snooty title of “Dunce Cap Nation.”
It is indeed discouraging to learn that 40 percent of Americans still think Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. But the number that jumped out at me was this: 59 percent of resondents to the Princeton Survey Research Associates poll successfully identified Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. This finding compares well with the 18 percent who named the latest winner of American Idol (though Pelosi did benefit from a multi-choice offering). Thus Newsweek lost the opportunity to follow up its numbingly predictable headline with the predictable analysis that Americans are spending too much time watching junk TV instead of CSPAN.
Pelosi’s relatively high name ID is undoubtedly attributable to the publicity surrounding her status as the first female Speaker. So even if Americans don’t know much about history, they do seem to notice when they are living through it, unless the subject is Saddam Hussein and 9/11.