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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: January 2009

On “Ending the Culture Wars,” Part 2

The other day I did a fairly elaborate post discussing the proposition that Barack Obama and his progressive supporters may be able to achieve an end to–or at least a suspension of–the “culture wars” that have characterized American politics off and on over the last few decades.
Today at TNR Damon Linker, an authoritative progressive voice on this subject, responded to me and also to Tim Fernholz of TAPPED, who asked Damon whether there was any way to really “end” the culture wars.
If you’re interested in this subject, you should read all three posts. Damon agreed with my contention that there are grounds for progressive optimism on church-state separation and LGBT issues, but that abortion policy will continue to be a big problem. But his point of departure from my point of view and from Tim’s, is his suggestion that abortion policy can lose its toxic potency if, and only if, “liberals become willing to de-constitutionalize the issue of abortion.”
For the remainder of this post, I will set aside the obvious objection that pro-choice progressives most definitely aren’t about to take Damon’s advice and surrender the constitutional right to choose, and also the question of how, exactly, they would execute that surrender if they were willing to make it. Damon’s argument is germane anyway since a future Supreme Court could reverse Roe v. Wade and make his preferred state of affairs a painful necessity.
And indeed, Damon’s not the first progressive to argue that pro-choice views are compatible with a post-Roe abortion polity. Jeffrey Rosen made that argument in considerable detail in a much-discussed article in The Atlantic in 2006 (TDS Co-Editor William Galston made a parallel argument in the broader context of progressive dependence on judicial rulings).
Like Professor Rosen (whom I’ve debated on the subject), Damon makes some assumptions about what states would do if they were suddenly the decision-makers on abortion that I consider very questionably sunny from a pro-choice point of view. But the most distinctive feature of Damon’s case is his focus on the psychology of the Right-to-Life movement. He seems completely convinced that the usurpation of state governments’ control of abortion policy by the Supreme Court in Roe is the primary source of the strength and passion of the anti-abortion cause:

Roe “settled” the question of abortion by saying that the pro-choice side wins 100 percent of the time, now and forever: America is a pro-choice nation and those who don’t like it can (respectfully) go to hell. No wonder we’ll still fighting these battles 36 years later.

I have to just say that I respectfully disagree. The source of the strength and passion of the anti-abortion cause is the conviction that every abortion is a homicide, and that legalized abortion has represented (to use a term you hear a lot in RTL circles) a Holocaust. Along with this conviction has come the predictable attittude that pro-choice Americans are at best “good Germans” complicit in a monstrous evil, and are at worst conscious and callous killers of human beings. The RTL movement, meanwhile, quite naturally views itself as analogous to the anti-Nazi resistance in Europe, or to the Allies, or to the German “Confessing Church.” To most sincere anti-abortionist activists, their cause is a matter of overriding moral and/or religious obligation, not an exercise in constitutional law or civic politics.
Sure, the RTL movement is exceedingly vexed that it must achieve its goals via the rocky road of overturning a Supreme Court decision, particularly now that its hopes for conservative court appointments to replace pro-Roe Justices Stevens and Ginsberg have been dashed for the present. And of course, anti-abortion activists routinely include the “anti-judicial-tyranny” argument in their political arsenal, just as they shout about the “barbarism” of late-term abortions despite holding an underlying position that doesn’t distinguish between “partial-birth abortions” and the use of “abortifacient” birth control methods or the destruction of embryos at fertility clinics. When you are fighting a Holocaust, you naturally pick up any weapon at hand that might win allies. But I see no merit to the idea that the RTL movement inherently cares a lot about “democratic” means of winning that fight. After all, the ultimate goal of that movement has always been to secure constitutional treatment of the fetus as a “person” benefitting from full due process and equal protection rights. And for all the talk about the sanctity of “federalism” or “respecting local differences of opinion” in anti-Roe arguments, serious anti-abortionists would jump at any opportunity to enact their own mirror version of the Freedom of Choice Act preempting state laws that were more permissive on abortion policy than whatever they could get through Congress. The Terry Schiavo case should have resolved any doubts about the easy disposability of “federalism” or “local control” arguments in the RTL movement.
So if somehow progressives did take Damon’s advice and found a way to “deconstitutionalize” abortion policy, RTLers would, as well they should if they believe what they believe, pocket the concession and demand more, not suddenly forget about the plight of the unborn. And to cut to the chase here, it’s more than a bit counterintuitive to suggest that it would “end” or even significantly tamp down the culture wars to engineer a situation in which abortion policy became a 24-7 preoccupation in most state legislatures and in Congress as well, world without end. Make no mistake, that is what it would become in a post-Roe environment. It’s not as though we could expect some grand, dignified debate on abortion and then a one-time resolution of the matter. With all the big and little issues related to abortion always subject to modification in one direction or the other, activists on both sides of the debate would never rest. Every bill in every legislature would be vulnerable to abortion policy “riders.”
Even if you think that’s an appropriately “democratic” way to deal with abortion policy, it’s certainly no prescription for turning down the temperature of, much less ending, the culture wars.
Ultimately, Damon himself offers perhaps the best reason for rejecting his argument for a “deconstitutionalization” of abortion policy:

Some Americans believe that an abortion is an act of lethal violence against an innocent human being whose rights (like everyone else’s) should be protected by the state. Other Americans believe that the only legally relevant moral considerations in an abortion are the wishes of the pregnant woman — which of course presumes that the fetus is not a human being in need of protection against lethal violence. These are contrary and incompatible metaphysical assumptions about matters of life and death and human dignity.

I couldn’t agree more, God help us all. But I would contend that such matters of fundamental rights are best decided, for better or worse, in the context of constitutions and courts rather than legislatures. Maybe you think that’s easy for me to say because “my side” has won in the courts, but the broader issue is that someone really does have to win on issues of fundamental rights where compromise is impossible. And I think any honest RTLer would agree with me on that point.
This leaves the residual question, which is implicit in Damon’s argument, that the status quo on abortion leaves RTLers dangerously tempted to become even more extreme in their tactics and strategies, or even resort to violence (which they have honorably and almost universally condemned). Maybe that’s true, but it’s not self-evidently true. Who’s more likely to become “extreme?” A RTL activist who’s facing a long uphill struggle to secure a Supreme Court majority to reverse Roe, or to make America a “pro-life nation” through a change in hearts and minds? Or the same activist who’s three votes short in the Missouri House from a statute that will actually prohibit abortion and “save thousands of lives?” I don’t think the answer is obvious enough to justify a real and tangible sacrifice of the rights of American women in order to appease those activists’ passions.
I remain hopeful that there are some avenues for cooperation between Americans on both sides of the abortion barricades, such as “abortion prevention” strategies, though even there the hostility of many anti-abortion activists to methods of contraception that they consider “abortifacients” is a big problem. But on the fundamental issue of the legality of abortion, there’s no compromise that makes much sense, or that would resolve the conflict. I am truly sorry that, as Damon rightly puts it, RTL activists would be insulted by the claim that Tim Fernholz or I “respect” them even as we reject their “right” to “have a say” over the rights of their fellow-citizens. Ultimately, and honestly, the most respect that can be paid to folks who believe that women who have abortions are murdering their own offspring, and that those who defend their rights are quasi-Nazis, can be summed up crudely but accurately in the old pro-choice bumper sticker that said: “Oppose abortion? Don’t have one!”

The Meaning of “Zero”

All around the chattering classes late this week, the big topic has been the unanimous House Republican vote against the economic stimulus package, and what that might mean for Obama’s much-discussed commitment to “bipartisanship,” and for the GOP.
To begin with, it’s important to clear away some misunderstandings on this subject.
First, there was never much of a prospect of significant House Republican support for any kind of stimulus package that Obama or Democrats might go along with. There are very, very few “moderates” left in the House GOP Caucus after their 2006 and 2008 bloodbaths. Grassroots conservative pressure to move in exactly the opposite direction from anything like a spending-heavy stimulus bill, and from anything like real cooperation with Obama and House Democrats, has been obvious and intense from the day after the November elections. And so long as most of the Blue Dogs were kept in line, there was never any need for Republican votes. That’s not the case in the Senate, where at least a couple of GOP votes are essential, and where the rules and folkways of the chamber, in sharp contrast to the House, encourage at least some bipartisan discussion.
Second, the widespread assumption that the design of the stimulus bill involved expansive and naive hopes from the White House for considerable GOP support has never been, in my opinion, at all accurate. Here’s Markos Moulitsas just today:

Republicans played this properly, unlike the constantly-capitulating Dems the past decade. It’s Obama’s chasing of the magic “bipartisan” pony that deserves scorn, because no number of concessions was going to get him a single Republican vote in the House.

I’ve followed the debate pretty carefully, and have never seen any real evidence that Obama thought he’d be able to get House Republican support; other than a couple of blind quotes from Obama aides in places like the Wall Street Journal, there’s never been any evidence of that at all. The idea that including tax cuts in the package indicated a lust for Republican support, or a concession to their views, ignores the rather important fact that the bulk of tax cuts were for implementation of Obama’s central campaign pledge of a tax cut benefitting low-to-moderate income workers. The small batch of business tax cuts in the package didn’t follow GOP ideology at all, and were likely aimed at securing (successfully) business-community support, not that of House Republicans. When House GOPers asked for real concessions, Obama turned them down.
Once you get past the flawed assumption that Obama made concessions in hopes of House GOP support, and failed, his “outreach” to Republicans and his continuation of bipartisan rhetoric must be viewed in an entirely different light. Who was the real audience for these efforts? House Republicans? Or the public? Rationally or not, and like it or not, large swaths of the American citizenry don’t like pavlovian partisanship, and appreciate politicans who make some effort to overcome it. Obama has obliged them, and offered Republicans the choice of cooperating or going into pavlovian opposition. House Republicans have chosen the latter route, and if they continue to do so, “bipartisanship” will become more and more associated with the President and his party, even if they never make a substantive concession to an opposition that refuses to negotiate on any terms other than their own.
There are plenty of metaphors that might apply to Obama’s strategy–which I’ve dubbed grassroots bipartisanship to distinguish it from the familiar split-the-differences beltway brand of bipartisanship–but the simplest is probably the military principle of putting yourself in a position where the enemy must decide to head off one of two likely lines of attack, exposing himself to outflanking once he has committed his forces. It’s the same principle that underlies the option attack in football, or the fast break in basketball. The GOP has committed itself to a course of action in dealing with the Obama administration and a Democratic Congress that gambles everything on frontal opposition, exposing its flanks from several directions.
So it’s entirely possible to support Obama’s “grassroots bipartisanship” while being pleased that the House GOP slapped his outstretched hand away. This development may well hasten the day when the Republican Party finally faces a choice of reconsidering its ideology, or consigning itself to a long-term minority status.

The Gregg Gambit

Republican Senator Judd Gregg is probably going to be getting more love today than anybody in Washington, as buzz builds about his possible selection as President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce. Should Gregg accept the post, New Hampshire’s Democratic Governor John Lynch will appoint his successor — the 60th Senator Obama needs to stop filibusters (assuming Al Franken is sworn in).
Some promising signals are emanating from the Gregg camp. This week Gregg called President Obama a “tour de force” and he has said “I can’t tell you anything…no comment,” in response to media inquiries about his possible nomination, according to the New York Times. In addition, Gregg is a bit of a gambler, who won about $850K, when he hit five of six numbers on a Powerball lottery ticket, after purchasing four different $5 quik-piks at a D.C. gas station.
The Gregg appointment would work well on several levels. His fellow Republicans would not be able to whine much about his qualifications, since Gregg, a former congressman, and Governor (and son of a Governor), as well as Senator, is one of the more broadly-experienced members of the GOP. He is one of the more moderate Republicans, but he has solid cred with the private sector as an advocate of cuts in taxes and government spending. Commerce is one of the more coveted cabinet posts among Republicans, inasmuch as it offers a wealth of fund-raising connections and a potent rollodex for future campaigns, as well as entre to the upper echelons of the corporate stratosphere, with its dangling golden parachutes and cushy Board memberships.
No doubt GOP leaders and corporate honchos will be offering Gregg all kinds of goodies not to take the job. (See the item in our staff post yesterday about the corporate panic over the possible enactment of EFCA).
Not accepting the post, however, would mean Gregg spending the remainder of his Senate tenure as member of the party of legislative obstruction, not a particularly happy prospect for a three-term Senator, who is up for re-election next year. After 16 years in the Senate, he can’t be too excited about his future opportunities in that body.
The Gregg gambit would also work for Dems, since Obama would likely appoint a moderate, pro-business Democrat to the post, if not Gregg. At Commerce, Gregg would not be a big tilt to the right. Green Dems should be fairly comfortable with Gregg, who was instrumental in passing the New England Wilderness Act, voted for the CLEAN Energy act of 2007, and he has a mid-range rating (43 percent) with the League of Conservation Voters. As Nate Silver has noted, Gregg has voted for the Obama agenda in six of seven votes thus far.
All in all, it’s a good match for both Gregg and the Democrats, giving Obama cred for bipartisan outreach, while strengthening prospects for his legislative agenda.

Lilly Ledbetter Vindicated

I couldn’t be happier that the very first congressional bill signed into law by President Barack Obama turned out to be the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. In case you’re not familiar with Ledbetter’s saga, she was a long-time Goodyear employee in Alabama who successfully sued her employer for chronic wage discrimination against women, only to see her victory reversed in the US Supreme Court via an interepretation of federal statutues that required the filing of a complaint in a fixed period of time after the discrimination began, even though she and similar employees had no way of knowing about it.
The bill signed by Obama today, which modifies the equal pay laws to correct this obvious miscarriage of justice, passed the House in 2007, but was blocked from floor action by Senate Republicans. John McCain was among those opposing the bill on the usual specious “burden on businesses” grounds.
Back during the Democratic convention, I mentioned that Lilly was one of the speakers I got to work with in the rehearsal room. She is a woman of enormous decency, dignity and courage, and it’s fitting she joined Obama at the signing ceremony for the law that bears her name.

Keeping Young Voters Down-Ballot

If the only people allowed to vote in November’s election were those under 30, Barack Obama would have carried at least 40 states. He was the choice of 66 percent of America’s youngest voters.
That was no accident.
Early on in the campaign, the Obama campaign made a strategic decision to tap into that enthusiasm and develop followings among a range of demographic groups outside the typical Democratic coalition (or in many cases, first-time voters outside the political process altogether).
That decision paid off, and these supporters became the volunteers, the donors, and the voters who helped him win the primary against Sen. Clinton and ultimately become president.
Now is the time to ask whether the Obama model represents a sustainable future for the Democratic Party as a whole.
If you look at the data (much of which has been nicely compiled by the folks at Future Majority), many of the signs are encouraging. The youth vote partisan advantage has been trending toward our party for nearly a decade.
Voters of my generation — Millennials — in large part have an essentially progressive political outlook. Research done by the Center for American Progress backs this up:

  • Millennials are more likely to support universal health coverage than any age group in the 30 previous years the question has been asked, with 57 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds saying that health insurance should come from a government insurance plan.
  • Eighty-seven percent of Millennials think the government should spend more money on health care even if a tax increase is required to pay for it, the highest level of support in the question’s 20-year history.
  • An overwhelming 95 percent of Millennials think education spending should be increased even if a tax increase is required to pay for it, the highest level ever recorded on this question in the 20 years it has been asked.
  • Sixty-one percent of Millennials think the government should provide more services, the most support of any age group in any of the previous 20 years the question was asked.
  • Millennials are very supportive of labor unions, giving them an average ranking of 60 on a 0-to-100 scale (with 0 indicating a more negative view of labor unions and 100 being a more positive view), the second-highest level of support of any age group in the over 40-year history of the question.

Even with the liberal outlook and Obama fervor, however, there are questions about how deep their partisan loyalty goes.
Cornell Belcher — a pollster for the Obama campaign and the DNC — drafted a memo for Howard Dean just after the first of the year where he attempted describe the post-election landscape.
Midway through Belcher’s discussion of the new 2008 voters is an important nugget spotted by Michael Connery of Future Majority:

The surge among new voters of color was incredible. Thirty-eight (38) percent of our new electorate was either Hispanic or African American. It is becoming increasingly clear that the key to sustaining and growing our Democratic majority coalition lies with younger and more diverse voters who are clearly trying to turn the page. Younger white voters are far more open to supporting Democrats than their parents (whites under age 35 broke for the Democratic House candidate by +14 points in our polling), but Democrats must work hard to fully bring home these voters who primarily surged in support of Obama. Our post election poll data shows that Democrats down the ballot left a good number of younger votes on the table as 20 percent of voters under age 35 dropped off after casting a presidential ballot rather than voting for a House candidate. These younger and browner surge voters are, by and large, Obama‘s right now, not necessarily the Democratic Party‘s. If Democrats are to strengthen our majority coalition going into the off year, we will clearly need to reach and engage these voters with some party persuasion. Again, the Party must continue to aggressively build in the off year—the time to let up on the 50 state strategy is not now. We must expand upon it with a particular youth and minority focus.

Study after study indicates that early political allegiances tend to remain remarkably consistent even as we age, which bodes awfully well for Obama and for future Democratic presidential nominees. But what does that mean when one in five voters under 35 fails to finish filling outhis ballot?
Clearly, the party as a whole isn’t done cultivating the youth vote.

EFCA’s Enemies, Missed Opportunities, Dubious Polling…

TDS Co-Editor William Galston has a post up on The New Republic’s The Plank, “Making the Most of Crisis,” calling attention to missed oportunities for needed reforms in the spending proposals of the stimulus package.
Roland S. Martin explains why “Focus on first 100 days is absurd” in his CNNPolitics commentary. Dissent magazine, on the other hand, has a septet of progressive academic writers offering their advice in a “The First 100 Days” round-up.
In the ‘know thy adversary’ department, Sam Stein has a juicy HuffPo expose (via Truthout) of an anti-EFCA conference call organized by Bank of America and lead by Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, who reportedly likens EFCA to “the demise of a civilization” and uses some pretty extreme language in urging action against EFCA and even corporate leaders who don’t make it’s defeat a top priority.
Andy Sulllivan has a Reuters UK update on how “Obama Hopes to Keep Campaign Supporters Involved,” through a new organization “Organizing for America,” which will make use of the Obama campaign’s 13 million email adresses list to help enact needed reforms.
Poll analysts and armchair poll-watchers will get some chuckles from David Moore’s Pollster.com wrap up “George Bishop’s and David Moore’s Top 10 ‘Dubious Polling’ Awards.”
Brendan Nyhan takes issue with Nate Silver’s recent post on Obama’s political capital, discussed in J.P. Green’s Tuesday TDS post; Nyhan makes the case that “Obama may have a honeymoon in presidential approval, but he doesn’t have a mandate.”

Their Master’s Voice

To a remarkable extent, the day-after commentary about the unanimous Republican vote in the House against the economic stimulus package has credited or blamed this development on Rush Limbaugh. Politico is actually devoting its rountable-format “Arena” today to the proposition that Limbaugh has become the de facto leader of the Republican Party. And earlier this week, Georgia Republican congressman Phil Gingrey was forced to make a humiliating retreat and apology after criticizing Rush’s attacks on the GOP leadership for insufficiently robust opposition to Barack Obama.
In a separate development, House Republican conference chairman Mike Pence refused in a media interview to take any issue with a newly notorious Limbaugh comment that Americans have to “bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever” because Obama’s “father was black, because this is the first black president.”
This is all pretty interesting, if depressingly familiar. In the wake of their drubbing last November, the one thing Republicans generally agreed they needed to do differently was getting hep to new media–you know, social networks, twitter, blogs, YouTube, etc. But now here we are in the first big decision-moment of 2009, and the GOPers are still taking their orders from that big mouth on the AM radio dial.

On “Ending the Culture Wars”

In a post yesterday about the anti-abortion movement, I made passing reference to an article by Peter Beinart arguing that Obama might be presiding over an end to–or at least a pause in–the culture wars of the last couple of decades.
This is actually a proposition that merits its own discussion. Has the Cultural Right begun to run out of steam? Will the economic crisis radically reduce the salience of issues like gay marriage or abortion or church-state separation? Is there something about Barack Obama’s style and substance that tends to calm the cultural waters? And what if any accomodations should Obama or progressives generally make to neutralized culture-based opposition?
The first three questions are rather speculative and also perhaps premature, but I’d answer them “some,” some,” and “a little.” The last question is the real kicker, and the key thing here is to define who, exactly, we are talking about neutralizing or persuading.
There are millions of Americans who think any form of legalized abortion is incredibly abhorrent, with some consciously comparing it to the Holocaust, which implies an active obligation for resistance. There is no imaginable accomodation, compromise, or gesture compatible with a basic pro-choice position that will ever, ever satisfy these people. Even if they were offered a “compromise” that eliminated what they are always screaming about as an outrageous extension of the original Roe v. Wade holding–the “health of the mother” exception to the general permissability of prohibitions on post-viability abortions–serious right-to-lifers don’t really care when an abortion is performed, after the moment of conception, so they’d pocket the concession and start moving the goal posts towards a total abortion ban of the sort that most Republican pols already support.
But millions of other Americans, however they choose to identify themselves on the abortion issue, are discomfitted by the idea of “abortion on demand,” particularly late in pregnancy, and these folks might well be assuaged by accomodations to “pro-life conscience” and to scruples about “partial-birth abortion,” or by “abortion reduction” strategies that involve expanded contraception availability and better health and economic options for women. Every progressive will have to decide for him or herself whether such accomodations or compromises are worth any sacrifice of pro-choice principles, but it’s equally clear that (a) they may well have a payoff in the mushy middle of abortion opinion, and (b) they won’t have any real effect on the hard-core Right-to-Life constituency, or its clerical leadership.
Let’s bring this sort of calculation to bear on an immediate decision that Obama and progressives will soon have to make: the perenially pending Freedom of Choice Act, which Obama has cosponsored, and has promised to sign if Congress passes it. As I noted yesterday, FOCA has become the central base-motivator for anti-abortionists who consider it the final, fatal step towards abortion-on-demand, with no wiggle room for late-term abortion restrictions or the sort of waiting-period or parental notification requirements or harrassment of abortion providers that have represented the small but symbolic trophies of the Right to Life movement in recent years. The very estimable Damon Linker, a mighty warrior against the theocons of America, suggested earlier this week that enactment of FOCA would produce a dangerous radicalization of the Cultural Right, and perpetuate the culture wars for another generation.
But as I noted yesterday, the odds that Congress will send Barack Obama a FOCA bill that abrogates existing law on late-term abortions or the most frequent state harrassing tactics are extremely slim. Much more likely, if FOCA advances at all (not a good bet) is a bill that really does just codify Roe v. Wade and ensure that in the remote event it is ever overturned, there will be a federal law in place that preempts state efforts to actually ban pre-viability abortions. Would such a FOCA anger the hard-core right-to-lifers? Sure, but they will be angry at anything other than a radical restriction of abortion rights. Would it galvanize the mushy middle on abortion? Hardly, since big majorities of Americans favor a basic policy of legalized abortion prior to fetal viability with a health exception for abortions after that stage of pregnancy–the fundamental thrust of any FOCA likely to ever become law in the foreseeable future.
Shifting from abortion policy to same-sex marriage and GLBT rights, you might initially think that this is the strongest ground for the Cultural Right, and certainly a tempting issue to “take off the table” for progressives who want to tamp down the culture wars, particularly in the South, the Midwest, and the Interior West. After all, every poll shows (in sharp contrast to the data on abortion) unmistakable demographic trends that virtually guarantee a future defeat for the Cultural Right on every issue related to this subject. But that’s in the future, and the single biggest difference between the abortion and same-sex-marriage issues is that the status quo, and thus inaction, is basically benign on the former and malign on the latter from a progressive point of view.
And that in turn is why the passage of Proposition 8 in California last year was such a big and tragically avoidable disaster. For the first time in the recent history of anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives, Prop 8 overturned established same-sex marriage rights, however brief. Reversing that setback in California or elsewhere is important not just for the people directly affected, but in terms of the dynamics of the issue. Unlike abortion, same-sex marriage does not command active and perpetual resistance from those who strongly disapprove of it on religious grounds. Even if you think same-sex marriage represents the triumphal return of Sodom and Gomorrah, that’s fundamentally different from the Holocaust that Right-to-Lifers see in legalized abortion. Once same-sex-marriage proponents learn how to decisively refute the specious but potent arguments that letting gay folk enjoy equal rights will impinge on the free-speech rights or religious prerogatives of traditionalists, and once same-sex marriage becomes–as legalized abortion has become–part of the landscape, this issue should rapidly lose political salience.
The third big culture-war issue, church-state separation, is one on which Barack Obama can probably make the most direct and immediate progress. Remember that this is the same man who has strongly supported a continuation of federal “faith-based organization” policies, has reached out to all sorts of religious folk in his campaign and his inaugural events, and who also gave a shout-out to “nonbelievers” in his inaugural address. He’s a pretty good validator–as Bill Clinton might have been if not for the furor over his sexual behavior–of the very old and once invincible idea that believers can and should be comfortable with a continuation of the ancient American tradition of church-state separation as a protection of, not a threat to, religious liberty.
The bottom line on this vast and complicated subject is that the “culture wars” will never die in the fever swamps of the Right where they were nourished if not conceived, particularly on the abortion issues; that protecting the cultural status quo is a vastly more powerful position that progressives should aspire to occupy; and that the critical plurality of Americans are happy to declare a truce in the culture wars so long as progressives don’t behave like conquering secularist radicals.
I’m basically with TAPPED’s Tim Frenholz:

Unlike some liberals, I think people who feel differently deserve a certain amount of respect. But they don’t deserve to have a veto over other people’s rights. If that makes the religious right angry, well, that’s what happens in a liberal democracy.

To use two biblical metaphors, it’s time for cultural progressives to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the sheep from the goats. The Cultural Right as we know it has to be defeated, even as its troops are offered consolation in the form of convincing refutations of their more lurid assumptions about the motives that we, their enemies, actually harbor. But the vast cultural middle of the American electorate, which is neither fish nor foul, nor is hot nor cold, on hot-button issues can be convinced that Barack Obama and the progressive coalition he represents are faithful to the American values they embrace.

That Godless Liberal Herbert Hoover

TDS has been following the race for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee as offering important insights into the conservative zeitgeist these days, with its steadfast and increasingly strident claims that there’s nothing wrong with the GOP that an ideological turn to the Right can’t solve.
As the RNC vote draws nigh (it is scheduled to occur on Saturday), the zaniness is getting even more intense. Check out this exerpt from a WaPo analysis by Perry Bacon, Jr., on the state of the chairmanship contest:

Party activists coming to Washington say they will focus on restoring what they describe as the GOP’s core principles. Even many of Duncan’s backers support the anti-bailout resolution, which could be before the full RNC tomorrow.
“People in this country are more conservative than what has been shown,” said Cathie Adams, an RNC member from Texas. “Republicans have lost because we were playing the me-too game of growing government.”
RNC members, who include three representatives from each state, frequently criticize Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” particularly his efforts to make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens. And while usually not naming Bush, all six RNC candidates have also emphasized the need for Republicans to push for lower federal spending. [Ken] Blackwell has been the most explicit, likening Bush to former president Herbert Hoover for advocating policies that increased the size of government.

As Bacon’s full story richly documents, the GOP’s “core principles” now seem to include a semi-universal view condemning not only the Bush-led autumn financial bailout, but “compassionate conservatism,” the stimulus package, and anything other than an actual reduction in the size of the federal government. But leave it to Ken Blackwell to refute charges of Republican “neo-Hooverism” by attacking the memory of Herbert Hoover as a guy that caved in to the godless liberals of his day and failed to honor Republican “core principles.” By all accounts, Blackwell is unlikely to win the RNC chairmanship, but he may well best represent the ideological dispositions of latter-day conservatism.

Votes a-Popping

Today the House is scheduled to vote on the economic stimulus package. It is almost universally expected to pass, though yesterday’s vote on the rule for its consideration was a little dicey, with 27 Democrats (including 24 of the 52 Blue Dogs) voting against their leadership and the administration. The unanimous GOP vote against the rule wasn’t that unusual, but the number of Republicans voting for final passage may not be much higher.
According to Jared Allen of The Hill, a larger defection of Blue Dogs on the rules vote was headed off by a letter from the President to House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey supporting a return to pay-as-you-go budget rules for future legislation once the stimulus package is enacted. That pledge wasn’t a big surprise, but its timing indicated nervousness about the earlier indications from Blue Dogs that they’d give Obama a pass on the usual budget hawkery for purposes of enacting the stimulus package.
It’s pretty clear by now that the GOP case against the stimulus package is going to be less about its overall size or its necessity, and probably less about spending-versus-tax-cuts than earlier propaganda hinted, and more about “frivolous spending” or “expansion of big government” or “pork.” The idea is that this isn’t an economic stimulus package at all, but decades worth of pent-up “liberal” policy changes. And that’s why GOPers are focusing on family planning money and “welfare” and reseeding the National Mall. It’s an effort to do the same number on Obama as Republicans did on Bill Clinton in 1993 with his “stimulus bill,” which may or may not have funded a municipal swimming pool somewhere in Texas, and in 1994 on the Omnibus Crime Bill, with its famous “midnight basketball” provisions.
It’s anybody’s guess whether these attack lines will get any serious traction with the public, or sway any moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the Senate. The Senate will almost certainly conduct some surgery to remove spending categories that are particularly subject to parody (as happened in the House at the last minute, when “reseeding the Mall,” and, more controversially, Medicaid contraceptive services were deleted). But the odds that something pretty close to Obama’s original proposal will be enacted remain very high.
Progressives need to remind the consumers of Republican attacks on the stimulus package that including popular policy changes that also boost the economy is both efficient and desirable–a huge “two-fer.” It’s also worth remembering that the closest thing structurally to this bill in recent American history was the gigantic Reagan budget and tax packages of 1981, which included a vast array of conservative-oriented policy changes in the guise of boosting the economy while reducing the budget deficit (both of which it failed to do). The budget portion of the Reagan legislative offensive was enacted via a floor substitute in the House that virtually no member of Congress had read. Compared to that vast and hastily-drafted hodge-podge, the Obama stimulus package is a paragon of clarity and transparency.