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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: May 2009

Republican Strategy From the Way-Back Machine

One of the settled rituals of the Republican Party is to refer constantly and almost exclusively to Ronald Reagan as the lodestar of conservative ideology, communications and governance. It’s gotten to the point where you half-expect a Republican audience to quickly bow heads at every mention of his name, like some Christians do at church when Jesus is mentioned.
But for all the hagiography, memories of Reagan’s actual career are sometimes hazy or inaccurate, and don’t offer a lot of specific guidance for political strategy, other than “optimism” and “winning.” That’s why Noemie Emery’s long article in The Weekly Standard , offering Reagan’s pre-presidential politics between his unsuccessful 1976 primary bid and his victory in 1980 as a template for today’s Republicans, is of particular interest.
The parallels between the Republicans of 1977 and those of 2009 noted by Emery are pretty obvious. They’d just lost two straight national elections after a period of great optimism about their ability to create an enduring majority. They’d lost the White House after holding it for eight years, and were in a weak minority position in both Houses of Congress. Emery doesn’t mention this, but they were also in the shadow of a intensely disliked former president, though the Ford interregnum had helped put Nixon in the past. And there were all sorts of messy intraparty disputes that had been simmering for a while.
She does not, however, mention (beyond an exaggeration of Carter’s political luster upon taking office) some dynamics about the temporarily-ascendant Democrats of 1977 that aren’t necessarily paralleled today. Carter had very nearly lost the 1976 election to Gerald Ford after holding a huge early lead. His election was heavily dependent on winning southern states reacting to his “historic” candidacy as the first Deep South nominee since the Civil War–states that no knowledgeable observer expected to remain in the Democratic column in future elections. The ideological “sorting out” of the two parties that began in the 1960s was well under way, a development that offered nothing but grief to the ideologically diverse Democrats in the short term. And Democrats had controlled both Houses of Congress for twenty consecutive years.
It’s also probably not a stretch to observe that Jimmy Carter’s political skills–particularly in his dealings with Congress and with fellow-Democrats–were not quite up to the standards set so far by Barack Obama. Jimmy Carter’s image of fecklessness at home and abroad grew sharper with each year of his presidency, and was a large factor in Reagan’s 1980 victory (there’s a reason, after all, that Republicans still talk about Carter’s brief presidency as an object-lesson, much as Democrats will be talking about George W. Bush’s longer tenure for years to come). It will come as a rather gigantic surprise if Barack Obama faces a major challenge to his renomination, as Ted Kennedy posed to Jimmy Carter in 1980, or has to deal with a third-party candidate stripping away a significant number of liberal votes, as John Anderson did to Carter in the general election.
Moreover, Emery’s account of Reagan’s ideological positioning and messaging doesn’t seem immediately relevant to the needs of Republicans today. As Steve Benen observes today:

Emerie’s article doesn’t exactly offer modern Republican leaders a road map. According to the piece, Reagan, for example, spent much of 1977 emphasizing a hawkish approach to the Soviet Union. In 2009, there is no Cold War. In 1977, Reagan also encouraged the party to work in concert with the fledgling religious right movement. However, the religious right is no longer fledgling, it’s already part of the GOP coalition, and isn’t much of a movement anymore.

I’d add that even Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric and domestic agenda is hardly a panacea today. In 1977 the federal government had been steadily acquiring barnacles for 35 years. The top federal income tax rate was 70%. The number of violent crimes had more than doubled in the previous ten years, as had the number of Americans on public assistance. Just as importantly, the conservative domestic strategies that Reagan championed seemed fresh and new; neither of the previous three Republican presidents, Ford, Nixon and Eisenhower, had done much to change the New Deal or Great Society programs.
The spending buildup by the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress underway may ultimately produce a comeback for anti-government rhetoric, but probably not so long as the economy is in a deep recession, and if the economy improves, it’s unlikely there will be much demand for a quick return to Republican governance.
If, of course, the entire Obama agenda dismally fails, or if there is some foreign-policy-oriented catastrophe, then obviously Republicans will have an opportunity to mount a big comeback. But that’s not a strategy for Republicans; it’s just a thinly disguised desire for bad times to get worse.
Emery’s more compelling set of lessons for today’s Republicans flow from her account of Reagan’s leadership style, which she breaks down into four components: (1) a focus on large central themes rather than individual issues or events; (2) a gracious and civil tone devoid of attacks on the opposition; (3) a relentless tone of optimism and a focus on the future; and (4) an ability to build up the conservative movement while building out a big-tent Republican Party into diverse constituencies.
But the question must be asked: are these qualities very evident in today’s breed of Republican leaders? I don’t think so. Today’s Republicans largely think of Reagan as a political winner with a charming personality who was a rigid ideologue. They don’t like to talk about his serial backdowns in budget confrontations; the two tax increases he signed during his first term; his appointment of “turncoat” Supreme Court nominees O’Conner and Kennedy; or his pattern of giving social conservatives rhetorical comfort rather than actual victories. And for all their admiration of his sunny personality, civility and optimism, they don’t seem capable of emulating these characteristics. Look at how the putative Republican presidential field for 2012 is behaving towards the Obama administration, towards Republican “moderates,” and most recently, towards Sonia Sotomayor, and see how much sunniness and civility and tolerance is being exhibited.
And that brings me to one final observation about Emery’s advice to Republicans: you can’t emulate “Reagan in opposition” without someone who is vaguely like Ronald Reagan. In 1977, Reagan had been the unquestioned leader of the conservative movement for a decade, and a major celebrity since at least the early 1940s. The conservative movement today is probably as factionalized as the GOP as a whole was in 1977, and the closest things they have to universally recognized celebrities are the serially-damaged Newt Gingrich and the highly-controversial Sarah Palin. In 2008 Mike Huckabee made a brief bid for the sunny-side Reagan heritage of the GOP, but is now sounding like a bitter and angry insurgent. The party’s most visible leaders at the moment are Rush Limbaugh, who spends much of his time acting as an ideological commissar lashing Republicans into craven submission, and Dick Cheney–chief of staff to Gerald Ford when he defeated Reagan in 1976–who could hardly be described as sunny or optimistic.
While Noemie Emery has injected some real history into the hagiography of Ronald Reagan, it’s by no means clear that his current worshipers are willing or able to follow his path.

Galston On Democracy Promotion and the Cairo Speech

Next week President Obama is due to make a “big speech” in Cairo that, among other things, will likely set the tone for U.S. attitudes towards authoritarian regimes like, well, Egypt’s. And given the unsavory reputation of “democracy promotion” as part of the Bush administration’s foreign policies, it’s not clear exactly what direction the president will give on this subject.
At The New Republic yesterday, TDS co-editor William Galston assesses the challenges the president faces in formulating his Cairo speech, particularly in view of the legitimate preeminence of economic and security concerns at present. Galston asks four specific questions:

* Consistent with the overall case he presents, will the president discuss democracy and human rights during his formal address to the Muslim world?
* Will he also bring up these concerns during private meetings with President Mubarak, and if he does, will his entourage take steps to publicize this fact?
* Will he meet with well-known dissidents, opposition leaders such as Ayman Nour, and representatives of beleaguered independent groups?
* Will he insist on the right of the United States to fund whatever Egyptian groups it chooses, whether or not the Egyptian government has officially recognized and certified them?

How Obama answers these questions will largely determine whether democracy and human rights continue to be viewed as a significant part of the administration’s policy towards the Middle East, and of its efforts to rebuild U.S. diplomatic strength and moral capital after years of sporadic neglect.

Public Support for Immigration Reform Rising

In his latest Public Opinion Snapshot at the Center for American Progress website, TDS Co-editor Ruy Teixeira reports on an encouraging development regarding public attitudes toward immigration reform. Reports Teixeira:

…We might have expected tough economic times to inflame cultural prejudices, thereby promoting intolerance of immigrants. Instead, the reverse seems to be taking place, as confirmed by new polling from the Pew Research Center.
Their just-released 2009 Values Survey shows that 63 percent favor “providing a way for illegal immigrants currently in the country to gain legal citizenship if they pass background checks, pay fines, and have jobs,” compared to just 34 percent who are opposed. That’s up from a 58-35 split on the issue in December of 2007.

Teixeira adds that the Pew survey indicates that “moral values” in general seem to be “declining precipitously” as a voting issue., with only 17 percent now saying moral values is their “most important voting issue,” down from 27 percent in a Pew poll conducted in November 2004. Teixeira notes that “the economy/jobs is up 29 points as a voting issue, health care is up 8 points, and education is up 6 points.” He concludes,

Perhaps the decline of moral values voters has allowed the immigration issue to emerge from the shadow of the culture wars and be considered on its own merits. If so, that’s a very good thing for our country and for sound public policy.

And not a bad omen for Democrats who support immigration reform.

First Polling on Sotomayor Positive

The first public opinion poll on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is out, from Gallup, and it shows the initial reaction to her as on balance positive, predictably stratified on partisan lines, and pretty similar to the favorable reaction that met the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005.
Telescoping these factors, Gallup’s analysis says this:

Americans’ first reactions to the news of President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court are decidedly more positive than negative, with 47% rating the nomination as “excellent” or “good,” 20% rating it “only fair,” and 13% rating it “poor”….
Comparing ratings of Sotomayor to those of the three previous nominees (all chosen by the Republican President Bush) suggests that the current partisan reaction to Sotomayor follows a fairly standard pattern. Between 72% and 79% of those identifying with the party of the president making the nomination react positively to the candidates. There is a slightly larger range in positive ratings among those identifying with the party not controlling the White House at the time of the nomination: from a high of 31% of Democrats who supported Roberts and 29% of Republicans who support Sotomayor, to a low of 18% of Democrats who supported Alito.

There’s a pretty noticeable gender gap in perceptions of Sotomayor, with 54% of women deeming her excellent/good, as opposed to 42% of men. Interestingly, there was virtually no gender gap in initial reactions to the ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers.
No word from this first poll on Hispanic reactions to Sotomayor, but we’ll see those eventually.

Will Republicans Delude Themselves on Hispanics and Sotomayor?

It’s been no secret that one of the great perils of a Total War attack on confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor for Republicans has been the backlash it might provoke among Hispanics, that great potential swing-vote prize of American politics that once so obsessed people like Karl Rove. Indeed, it’s a classic swing-base dilemma for the GOP, which is under intense pressure from its loyal but grumpy culture-war wing to go to the mats, or at least make a lot of conspicuous (and thus politically dangerous) noise, in opposition to Sotomayor.
Writhing in agony on the horns of this dilemma, conservatives are showing some signs of wriggling free under the delusion that a nasty confirmation fight won’t actually hurt them much among Hispanics.
Here and there you see suggestions that Hispanics generally won’t identify with Sotomayor, since she is, after all, a Puerto Rican. Check out this post by David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy:

“Hispanic” includes everyone with Spanish or Portuguese speaking ancestors, and I wonder how much pride, say, Mexican-Americans in California or Central Americans in the Northern Virginia suburbs take in the success of a Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx. One can imagine satisfaction that a fellow “Hispanic” is being nominated to the Supreme Court, but one can also imagine resentment that the first “Hispanic” nominee to the Court is from a relatively small demographic group, Puerto Ricans who live in the mainland, and not from by far the largest group of Hispanics, Mexican Americans.

The comment thread to that post, with scattered anecdotes about intra-Hispanic resentments, is interesting if not very compelling.
Aside from the fact that all the objective signs are that yes, Hispanics of every background are praising Sotomayor’s nomination as historic, there’s the problem that Puerto Ricans themselves are a pretty big deal politically. As a TDS staff post yesterday noted, Puerto Ricans have become a huge and growing factor in Florida elections, already beginning to rival the Cuban-Americans of the state in voting strength if not yet in national notoriety.
And it’s not just in Florida. Puerto Ricans are a significant bloc of voters in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois, Texas and even California. While they are reputed to be an overwhelmingly Democratic group, “stateside” Puerto Ricans are actually not much more tilted towards Democrats than Hispanics generally. On that score, and in terms of their historically low levels of voting participation, there’s probably nothing like direct insults to Sonia Sotomayor so sure to produce a nice backlash against the GOP in the immediate future.
Perhaps the very dumbest move Republicans could make is to wilfully conflate the Sotomayor confirmation fight with appeals to the conservative base over resentments of Hispanics generally, or of immigrants in particular. In addition to giving Mexican-Americans an even stronger reason to identify with the judge, such talk will particularly offend Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens by birth whether born “stateside” or in Puerto Rico itself.
Given that lose-lose proposition, you’d think Republicans would make every effort imaginable to keep Tom Tancredo a million miles away from the debate over Sotomayor’s confirmation. Yet there he was on the tube just the other night, calling her a “racist.” How long will it be before other anti-immigrant voices in “the conservative base” turn this whole thing into a veritable Cinco de Mayo of Hispanic-bashing?
But the most hilarious example of Republican self-delusion came from none other than senior GOP Senator Chuck Grassley of IA, who advanced an interesting version of the so’s-your-old-man argument:

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and member of the Judiciary Committee, noted that Democrats had used a filibuster to block the confirmation of Miguel Estrada, a Washington lawyer nominated by Mr. Bush to be the first Hispanic on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Senate Democrats who considered Mr. Estrada too conservative blocked his nomination after he refused to answer questions about his judicial philosophy at his confirmation hearing.
Mr. Grassley said that since Democrats had not paid a price among Hispanic groups for opposing Mr. Estrada, Republicans should not be held to a different standard if they opposed Judge Sotomayor.

So Hispanics need to give Republicans a free shot at Sotomayor because of Democratic opposition to Estrada, eh? Estrada, in contrast to the mildly center-left Sotomayor, was a big-time conservative legal activist. But even if you brush that aside, Republicans need to put down the crack pipe if they think fighting a circuit court nomination is the emotional or political equivalent to Hispanics of fighting the first Supreme Court nomination. Whatever his merits, people will not be naming their children after Miguel Estrada for years to come. Once Sotomayor is confirmed, there will likely be an upsurge in daughters named “Sonia,” and not just among Hispanics.
UPCATEGORY: Democratic Strategist

Rational and Non-Rational Arguments Against Gay Marriage

With all due allowances for Jonathan Chait’s impressive logical and rhetorical skills, it’s still amazing how briskly he is able to dispatch the rational arguments made against marriage equality in The New Republic today, reflecting “a body of opinion held largely by people who either don’t know why they oppose gay marriage or don’t feel comfortable explicating their case.” So gay marriage advocates do tend to state rather than explain their position, or come up with assertions about the baleful effects of same-sex marriage that wouldn’t stand up in a high school debate.
Jon begins, however, from a premise that is broadly accurate about the rules of discourse in contemporary Western society, but that clearly isn’t embraced in its entirety among conservatives:

In a liberal society, consenting adults are presumed to be able to do as they like, and it is incumbent upon opponents of any such freedom to demonstrate some wider harm.

That’s another way of saying that the proper question about gay marriage isn’t “why?” but “why not?” And that is indeed the question Americans are beginning to ask more often, particularly as their circle of gay or lesbian acquaintances grow, and as same-sex couples come out of the shadows with no visible bad effect on anything other than the tender sensibilities of homophobes.
But the growing shabbiness of the “rational” case against same-sex marriage helps expose the extent to which gay marriage opponents actually depend on non-rational but still powerful arguments from Tradition and Revelation.
The case from Tradition, which you hear over and over from gay marriage opponents, is that marriage has always been defined as the “union of a man and a woman.” Sometimes in their exasperation they stamp their feet and enumerate how very long always is. The idea is that same-sex marriage is a dangerous act of (to use the term employed by the Catholic Bishops of Iowa in the statement linked to above) “social engineering” that challenges the settled wisdom of the ages. From this quintessentially conservative point of view, of course, the liberal presumption in favor of the rights of “consenting adults” has always been rejected, on this and every subject, in favor of what Chesterton called, approvingly, the “democracy of the dead.” Traditionalists typically try to deploy the rational arguments that Chait demolishes to buttress their case, but their case is essentially unrebuttable because it treats precedent as the only authority.
The main weakness of the Argument from Tradition, of course, is that much of what we have come to recognize as the Western Tradition in recent decades has reflected an Enlightenment-based revolt against much older traditions–in other words, that the liberal habit of mind that Chait cites has become, even though unevenly applied, the real Tradition that demands respect. Even the most rabidly inflammatory exaggerator of the impact of same-sex marriage would have to acknowledge that the emancipation of women has been a vastly greater change in the “traditional” way of life of the human species, and even anti-feminists are loath to suggest we were better off when women couldn’t vote or own property. In the long, long sweep of history, slavery has about as strong a pedigree as “traditional” marriage. So the “democracy of the dead” can and must be overturned now and then in the interests of the living.
Opposition to same-sex marriage based on religious “revelation” (either infallible scripture or infallible Church teaching) isn’t rational, either, and will probably be a tougher nut to crack. Prior forms of discrimination, of course, have appealed to the same “divine” sanction. Perhaps tomorrow’s conservative evangelical Christians will view the attention paid to the Bible’s scattered condemnations of homosexuality much as today’s scoff at their forebearers’ use of Scripture to sanction racial discrimination (e.g., via the Curse of Ham). And perhaps the hierarchies of the Roman Catholic and Latter Day Saints Churches will revise their teachings on same-sex marriage some day, much as the former revised the doctrine of the Jews’ collective responsibility for the Crucifixion and the latter revised the “precious doctrine” of plural marriage.
In any event, Revelation-based opposition to same-sex marriage is a relatively low priority for culturally conservative Christians, who are usually far more exercised about legalized abortion–another affront to both “Tradition” and “Revelation” that in their view represents state-sanctioned mass murder. Beyond that, among hard-core social conservatives, homosexuality is regarded as merely one among many abominations that reflect a general abandonment of the divinely ordained order of life.
In general, the weakness of rational arguments against same-sex marriage, and the inadequacy, in a semi-secular, semi-liberal, future-oriented modern society, of arguments from Tradition and Revelation, are best illustrated by the rise of defensive, circle-the-wagons “arguments” wherein opponents complain about persecution. This phenomenon was especially evident in the furor over Carrie Prejean, whose “innocent” answer to a beauty-contest question about same-sex marriage is being treated by conservatives as an act of Christian martyrdom. As Daniel Gilgoff recently noted, this reflects a general shift among same-sex marriage opponents to claims that giving all Americans the freedom to marry threatens their own freedom of religion.
It should be obvious that this sort of embattled-minority whining no longer reflects the psychology of a confident citizenry, backed by the testimony of the centuries and divine revelation, scornfully dismissing the radical agenda of sodomites and civil libertarians. Once you adopt the Prophetic Stance against the manifest wickedness of your own society–or, to put it in the secular language of the very first issue of National Review, you “stand athwart history yelling Stop!”–then your less-conservative fellow-citizens quite naturally tend to take umbrage at your opinion of them, and begin to identify themselves with the liberal presumption of equality. That could well be what’s happening with the dynamics of the debate over same-sex marriage, as Americans cast a skeptical eye towards the increasing hysteria of opponents, and ask: “Why not?”

National Sales Tax: Tough Sell to Progressives?

In his “E.J.’s Precinct” blog at WaPo, E.J. Dionne is hosting an interesting discussion about the national sales tax, a.k.a. value added tax, as a not-so-new idea generating fresh interest among Democrats. Dionne’s blog riffs on a WaPo article by Lori Montgomery in Wednesday’s edition entitled “Once Considered Unthinkable, U.S. Sales Tax Gets Fresh Look.”
Broadly defined the VAT is a regressive tax, and rightly opposed by most progressives. Still the advantages are impressive and acceptable to most other social democracies, as Montgomery explains:

Enter the VAT, one of the world’s most popular taxes, in use in more than 130 countries. Among industrialized nations, rates range from 5 percent in Japan to 25 percent in Hungary and in parts of Scandinavia. A 21 percent VAT has permitted Ireland to attract investment by lowering its corporate tax rate.
The VAT has advantages: Because producers, wholesalers and retailers are each required to record their transactions and pay a portion of the VAT, the tax is hard to dodge. It punishes spending rather than savings, which the administration hopes to encourage. And the threat of a VAT could pull the country out of recession, some economists argue, by hurrying consumers to the mall before the tax hits.

And pressure seems to be mounting to at least open a discussion about some form of the VAT. Montgomery quotes Democratic Senator Kent Conrad “I think a VAT and a high-end income tax have got to be on the table.” And even in its most regressive form, taxing nearly everything that is sold, using the revenues to finance universal health care for example, might make it more palatable to progressives. According to one estimate cited by Montgomery, “a 10 percent VAT would pay for every American not entitled to Medicare or Medicaid to enroll in a health plan with no deductibles and minimal copayments.”
Dionne, who has opposed the VAT as regressive in the past, now says “I am starting to think such a tax may be inevitable because government is going to need a lot of revenue in the coming years.” One of the more interesting comments responding to Dionne’s blog comes from Tomscanlon1, who notes that a VAT can be modified to make it less regressive:

Canada was in a deep hole in the early 90s and bit the bullet on a very unpopular national sales tax of 7%. It saved them and today it’s down to 5%. It exempts basic necessities like food, rent and kid’s clothes, so it doesn’t punish the poor. Canada’s finances look a hell of a lot healthier than those of the US.

Certainly, alcohol, tobacco, fatty and sugar-heavy foods and sodas that cause so many health problems should be taxed more rigorously for health reasons as well as for enhancing federal revenues. Healthy food should be exempt. Jennythacker adds in Dionne’s blog:

The fed could follow California’s example and choose not to tax necessities. Food items bought in stores would not be taxed although restaurants might be. Entertainment items like theater tickets, ball games, etc. would be. Home utilities (heating oil, water, garbage pick up, recycling, electricity) might be considered basic necessities and therefore not taxed.
Or the fed could follow Virginia’s example and tax only luxury goods (cars, boats, RV’s etc. costing more than $20,000)…We can also keep the tax small. Few people will be severely hurt by a 1% tax, but the benefits to our federal budget would be enormous…There are ways to make the tax happen. There are ways to make it effective. And there are ways to do it that don’t necessarily hurt the poor more than the well-t-do. It is possible, and it might be a very good idea.

It may be that American voters will be more receptive to a national sales tax in the current economic crisis. As another commenter, Spencer99, adds,

…If we are going to promise European benefits, we need European taxes. Europeans vote for government benefits knowing they will actually be paying for the benefits. the VAT system is much closer to this

A commenter named Garak makes this point about a national sales tax being a tough sell, politically:

Any national VAT or sales tax will pressure states to cut their sales taxes. The higher the total sales tax, the more resistance from the public. It’s easier to pressure state and local governments to cut taxes than it is to pressure the federal gov’t.
Further, states will resist because first, sales taxes historically are reserved to the states, and second, because states rely on them to a very high degree. You will see states fighting a national VAT/sales tax tooth and nail…Europe doesn’t have this problem because taxes are primarily national taxes, not provincial.

Clearly there are lots of problems associated with federal sales tax proposals. But it’s not like income tax hikes are a cakewalk for the Administration. As the contributors to the discussion at E.J.’s Precinct have demostrated there are a range of modifications that can make the VAT an easier sell to American voters. Maybe now would be a good time for the Democratic Party to hold public hearings across the country to generate further discussion about creative ways to make a national sales tax a progressive alternative.

Sotomayor Pick May Seal FL for Obama in ’12

Turns out that President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to be the next U.S. Supreme Court Justice could be a stroke of political genius — because there is a good chance it may end the GOP’s hopes of winning Florida’s electoral votes in 2012.
So writes Bill Pascoe in his CQPolitics article “Did Obama Just Use the Sotomayor Nomination To Lock in Florida?” As Pascoe says,

In the 15 presidential elections going back to 1952 — of which Republicans have won nine, and Democrats six — Florida was part of the winning GOP coalition in each of the party’s nine national victories…In fact, one has to go all the way back to 1924 to find the last time the GOP won the presidency without winning Florida.

Even more interesting, it’s not all about Cuban-Americans being sympathetic to an Hispanic nominee:

…While everyone knows of Florida’s huge Cuban-American population, how many outside of Florida know of the massive influx of Puerto Ricans that has taken place over the last decade and a half?…According to the 1990 census, Florida was home to 241,000 Puerto Ricans. A decade later, that number had swelled to 482,000. And by 2007, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund estimated that 650,000 of them lived in Florida — most of them in central Florida, along the I-4 Corridor that is the political fault line in statewide contests.
According to that same Pew Hispanic Center study, 393,000 of them were registered to vote….The ongoing Puerto Rican migration to Florida is so huge that it may well be the case that by the time of the next presidential election in 2012, Puerto Ricans make up the largest Hispanic voting segment in Florida.

And if Obama needs a good surrogate to remind Hispanic Floridians of the Sotomayor nomination when 2012 rolls around, her mother, Celina Sotomayor, who lives in Margate just north of Miami, would do nicely.

Newt Tweets

Unlike my colleague Matt Compton, I haven’t, so far, been convinced that Twitter is a game-changing, awe-inspiring medium, and in terms of using it as a principal means of communication, I tend to rebel against the character limitations.
But hey, one thing you can definitely say for Twitter is that it can produce some inadvertent admissions by its users, since it really doesn’t give you much opportunity for euphemism or innuendo.
We’ve had a good example of that today, when Newt Gingrich tweeted from Europe:

White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.

I’m guessing that Newt, whose many sins do not include gross stupidity, would have probably preferred to make this a slightly less inflammatory statement, with references to “reverse discrimination” and “ethnocentrism” and “identity politics” and “multiculturalism” and so forth, much as other conservatives have done over the last day. And Lord knows Gingrich can talk just about any subject to death, at mind-numbing length.
But there he was overseas, dependent on his Twitter account to make his views on the news of the day known, and so he hastily typed the R-word, placing himself out there in the fever swamps with the similarly uninhibited Rush Limbaugh. And as Newt should know by now, it’s a fool’s errand for any Republican politician to get into a game of rhetoric one-upsmanship with Limbaugh, who will never have to face a single voter.
I think he should have kept his thumbs off that tiny keyboard on his phone, and taken the awful risk of letting Americans live in suspense for a day or two about his pithy thoughts.

Guilt By Pronunciation

Shortly after reading a meditation by Damon Linker on conservative intellectuals that suggested, among other things, that National Review has recently been sinking into populist demagoguery, I happened upon (via David Kurtz) this gem from Mark Krikorian at National Review Online‘s The Corner:

Deferring to people’s own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits. Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English (which is why the president stopped doing it after the first time at his press conference), unlike my correspondent’s simple preference for a monophthong over a diphthong, and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn’t be giving in to….
This may seem like carping, but it’s not. Part of our success in assimilation has been to leave whole areas of culture up to the individual, so that newcomers have whatever cuisine or religion or so on they want, limiting the demand for conformity to a smaller field than most other places would. But one of the areas where conformity is appropriate is how your new countrymen say your name, since that’s not something the rest of us can just ignore, unlike what church you go to or what you eat for lunch. And there are basically two options — the newcomer adapts to us, or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there’s a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.

Lord-a-mercy. Is there anything connected with the Age of Obama that does not denote the collapse of Western Civilization for people like Krikorian?
If Krikorian is offended by the prounciation of the judge’s surname as her parents gave it to her (not in some foreign land, but in the Bronx), he’d probably be genuinely outraged by the pronunciation of the name of her father, Juan, which Latino (the word itself being offensive, says Krikorian, because English dropped gender in nouns a thousand years ago) multiculturalists insist upon. What’s wrong with “John?”
I do hope Krikorian will show some consistency by insisting that we all begin pronouncing the name of Justice Antonin Scalia in the most natural way for English-speakers, which would be “SCALE-ya” (and what’s wrong with “Anthony?”)
I’m reminded of a friend of mine back in the 1980s who insisted on pronouncing the last name of the 40th president of the United States as “REE-gun,” as a sort of permanent insult. At least he thought he was being funny. I doubt that’s Krikorian’s motive, given his general commitment to the cause of resisting immigration. More likely, despite his highfalutin language, he’s interested in stimulating some Heartland resentment towards these godless foreigners who come in and expect us to kowtow to their strange and unnatural ways. So what if Sonia Sotomayor, a native-born American, rose from poverty and childhood illness to excel at those great Anglo-American institutions of Princeton and Yale, before ascending steadily through that most traditionalist institution, the judiciary? So long as she doesn’t encourage us to mangle the pronunciation of her own name, she’s just another multiculturalist determined to drown America in an immigrant tide.
Populist demagoguery, indeed.