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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: May 2010

A Headstone in Arlington

Well, if you only read one Memorial Day tribute, make it James Grady’s Politics Daily post “Pvt. Mike Mansfield: Just One Marine in Arlington Cemetery.” Grady has written a classic tribute to an American veteran, a veteran who also happened to be the longest serving majority leader of the U.S. Senate and an Ambassador to Japan, although none of that is on his tombstone, a simple slab in Arlington National Cemetery, which reads:

US Marine Corps
March 16 1903
Oct 5 2001

Grady does a beautiful job of putting the extraordinary humility and integrity of Mansfield — who never had a press secretary — in perspective, in stark contrast to the media-hound politicians of today.
To compress Grady’s moving account, Mansfield was a mine worker who wanted to be a public school teacher, but was prevented from doing so by the Ku Klux Klan, which wasn’t allowing Irish Catholics to become teachers at the time. So Mansfield figured out how to become a college professor, and then a congressman, who overcame McCarthy era smears and rose to majority leader of the U.S. Senate, the one who engineered the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And, as Grady explains, he did it “without backstabbing, name-calling, or self-congratulation.” Grady shares an anecdote to illustrate Mansfield’s style:

After a September 1962 congressional leadership breakfast at the White House, parading outside to the microphones for a classic meet the press/get some glory moment came Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Sens. Hubert H. Humphrey and George Smathers, plus Speaker John McCormack, Reps. Carl Albert and Hale Boggs. Mike dodged that photo op. A candid photo caught his back as he hurried away. President John F. Kennedy heard about the incident, had that picture blown up, autographed it: “To Mike, who knows when to stay and when to go.”
Name one politician today who would pass up a chance to blather on TV.

Grady also tells of Mansfield’s uncompromising stand for gun control, even as a senator from Montana and his equally-principled stance against the Vietnam War as a former U.S. Marine. Grady explains how Mansfield refused to allow an emotionally-shattered fellow Senator to quit after his wife and child were killed in a car crash, a Senator who now holds the office of Vice President of the United States.
Today’s Democrats should read Grady’s remembrance of Mike Mansfiled with both pride and an earnest determination to emulate his character. Pvt. Mike Mansfield, Democrat.

Memorial Day

So if you’ve made it this far through the various recreational activities of this Memorial Day weekend without spending a few moments thinking about the holiday, now’s a good time for some traditional, and perhaps untraditional meditations.
By all means, say a prayer (or simply have a moment of silence) for those Americans who gave up their lives for the blessings of peaceful life we enjoy–blessings which many of them, because they were so very young, scarcely enjoyed themselves.
But also say a word of thanks for all those who have put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf. Modern war is all too often a very random affair in which events over which no combatant has a bit of control, from the direction of a bullet or an explosion, to the wisdom or stupidity of military leaders and politicians, can make the difference between a life cut short and a life lived in gratitude for survival.
And finally, give a moment’s thought to the civilian victims of warfare, for which we do not have any particular day of remembrance. Their numbers are vast, and usually their innocence, if possible, exceeds even that of the fresh-faced young men and women who risk and lose their lives in uniformed service. War is an always-terrible if occasionally necessary thing, and those of us who have managed to escape its horrors owe those who didn’t some homage today–and every day when we reflect on life’s deeper realities.

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Dems Launch HCR Teach-In for Seniors

J. Taylor Rushing reports at The Hill that “Senate Democrats plan on using recess to win back seniors.” It’s an understandable strategy, given both the high proportion of mid term voters who are over 60 (29 percent in 2006) and lingering skepticism among seniors about the Democratic health care reforms. Rushing explains:

…Senate Democratic leaders want members to hold town hall forums at senior centers to promote how the recent Wall Street reform bill “will protect seniors from predatory lending programs and safeguard their retirement savings,” and to spread the word that the healthcare bill is bringing immediate benefits.
“Health insurance reform, particularly as it relates to seniors, is one of the most important things for senators to discuss when they are home for recess,” reads a packet distributed to Democratic members. “In order to get the message out ahead of talk of health reform repeal, senators should talk with seniors about the benefits they are going to see immediately and those they will be seeing over the coming months and years.”
…Elderly voters have been the most skeptical group on the healthcare reform bill. A Kaiser Foundation poll discovered that the 65-and-older age group was the most sizable age group that believes they will be “worse off” with the bill. Forty-seven percent of seniors gave that answer, compared with only 28 percent of respondents below 65 years old. The same poll found that 56 percent of the 65-plus age group was unfamiliar with the bill and its benefits.

Dems will be reminding seniors that ‘donut hole’ payments will be mailed to seniors beginning in June, to help offset a ‘medicine reimbursement gap’ many seniors are expecting. “…$250 rebate checks are on the way to cover medication expenses, and a 50 percent drug discount starts next year.” In addition, co-payments for preventive care procedures, including check-ups and mamograms will be eliminated. To help check American Medical Association attacks against the HCR reform legislation, House Democrats just passed a ‘Doc Fix’ bill, which provides a 2.2 percent pay raise this year for physicians, followed by a one percent hike next year, and the Senate will take up the legislation after the recess.
Another Kaiser poll indicates that Dems have much to gain by clarifying the benefits of HCR to the public, as TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira reports:

…There are a wide variety of changes that will take effect this year as a result of the law. Kaiser tested favorability to 11 of these changes, including “allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26” (74 percent favorable), “providing tax credits to businesses with fewer than 25 workers that provide health insurance to their employees” (86 percent favorable), and “making it harder for insurance companies to drop someone’s coverage when that person has a major health problem” (81 percent favorable). The average across the 11 changes was 73 percent favorable, with no change lower than 57 percent favorable.

Rushing notes that the Republicans also have a recess packet for their candidates:

The Senate Republican packet is only a single page, focusing solely on “Jobs — Debt — Terror” and urging GOP senators to spread word that Democratic congressional leaders are focused on “Too many taxes… Too much debt… Too much spending… And too many Washington takeovers.” The GOP packet also zeroes in on healthcare, calling it “Exhibit A” of a “Runaway Washington Government.”

It’s clear Dems must promote the hard-won short-term benefits of HCR for seniors, in particular. But it’s equally-important for Dems, to not focus all of their energies on being defensive, and to vigorously attack the GOP, which has failed to support any legislation that benefits seniors, obstructed pension reform and wants to weaken Social Security. There are many seniors who won’t vote Democratic in November, but who might stay at home when reminded that Republicans offer seniors nothing but tax cuts and reduced services.

A Special TDS-Demos Online Forum: Progressive Politics and The Meaning of American Freedom

In collaboration with the major progressive intellectual center DEMOS, TDS presents a special online forum.
Participants include:
John E. Schwarz
Lew Daly
Matt Yglesias
John Halpin
Ruy Teixeira
Will Marshall
Mark Schmitt
Hilary Bok
Ed Kilgore

Read the entire memo here.

Progressivism, Freedom and the Role of Government

The online forum “Progressive Politics and the Meaning of American Freedom” that Demos and TDS recently cosponsored (see a pdf version of the forum’s nine essays here, and a summary here) illustrated a variety of views on the political salience of “freedom” rhetoric by conservatives, the proper definition of “freedom” from a progressive perspective, and the relationship between freedom and government as an instrument for promoting it.
A broad area of consensus among our essayists was the observation that progressive politics are persistently–and right now, urgently–undermined by popular mistrust of government, regardless of the motive: the fear that government inherently constricts freedom, the conviction that government is corrupt or incompetent, or the suspicion that government is aligned with forces inimical to freedom.
As a result, those who believe freedom is the quintessential American value that progressives must embrace, those who believe freedom is properly defined as a publicly-guaranteed right to a decent living and the opportunity to succeed, and those who believe freedom should be consistent with collective responsibilities for common needs and aspirations–all have a vital stake in rehabilitating the public sector as an effective vehicle for vindicating democracy and those individual rights.
How to do that–by reforming the public sector, explaining it, defending it, aiming it more sharply at corporate abuses, or fundamentally changing it–will be the next subject that Demos and TDS will tackle with an online forum. It is obviously an overriding issue in the 2010 elections, but more importantly, it represents an enduring challenge to progressives who seek to make government work for broadly- shared freedom and other common goals.

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Down the Rabbit Hole in South Cackalacky

Earlier this week I did a brief post on the madness that’s consumed the South Carolina Republican gubernatorial contest.
Long story short, a conservative blogger and former staffer to both Gov. Mark Sanford and state Rep. Nikki Haley “admitted” he had once had an “inappropriate physical relationship” with Haley, a former Sanford protege (and the beneficiary of an endorsement from Sanford’s ex-wife) who has recently rocketed into first place in polls for the primary that will take place on June 8. Haley’s denied everything, and the blogger, name of Will Folks (a somewhat shady dude whose departure from Sanford’s staff was immediately caused by his conviction on domestic violence charges) has been trickling out highly circumstantial bits of data about his relationship with Haley and her campaign, but nothing that really proves an illicit affair, all the while hinting the real goods were still to come.
Haley’s legion of very conservative supporters in and beyond South Carolina, including Sarah Palin and RedState blogger Erick Erickson, have treated the whole thing as a certain smear, with lots of innuendo that someone more powerful than Folks–perhaps one of her GOP gubernatorial rivals, perhaps satanic socialists fearful of Haley’s wrathful righteousness–was behind it. And yesterday the saga seemed to take a new turn when Erickson put up a red-siren post saying that he had evidence Folks had accepted six-figure money to make the allegations, and that RedState would “name names” today.
Turns out that was sort some of joke by Erickson, meant to parody Folks’ own media manipulation tactics, but that didn’t keep ol’ Erick from retailing some vague conjectures about the possible involvement of Lt. Gov. Andre “Stray Animals” Bauer in Folks’ conspiracy (maybe that was part of the joke, too, though if I were Erick I’d have a libel lawyer close at hand).
Meanwhile, Haley says she’ll deal with the allegations after the election’s over, and everything’s back to square one, with South Carolinians waiting to see if Folks has any real dirt. His last gambit was to release cell phone records showing that he and Haley seemed to spend a lot more time talking late at night than you’d normally expect from a politician and a part-time speechwriter, but it still proves nothing. Assuming Haley’s innocent, you have to feel sympathy for her for having to endure suspicion for so long, but at least she’s leading in the polls (and in fact, her campaign may benefit a great deal if Folks doesn’t produce anything decisive). How about her primary rivals, whose campaigns have been totally robbed of oxygen by the furor? And then there are the citizens of the state, who aren’t exactly witnessing a calm exchange of the candidates’ pithy views on public policy (though the whole primary campaign has basically been a more-conservative-than-thou competition).
Certainly the entire episode is a reminder of the Palmetto State GOP’s rich traditon of sex scandals and skullduggery. I will agree with Erickson on one thing: in his front-page teaser for his “joke” post pointing fingers at Andre Bauer, he said: “Let’s go below the fold and down the rabbit hole.” That’s exactly where this campaign has taken us all.

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Are Vicious Primaries Hurting the GOP?

A lot of the political chatter of late has sort of assumed that this is the Year of the Elephant, and that the many fractious GOP primaries around the country may well represent a Struggle for the Soul of the Republican Party, but shouldn’t have too much general election impact, particularly if the correct (e.g., less rabid) candidates wind up winning.
But I dunno. Evidence is beginning to accumulate that voters aren’t real crazy about vicious primaries.
Exhibit A is in Calfornia, where the extremely visible (i.e., can’t possibly miss it if you watch television at all) hatefest between Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner has been accompanied by a quiet but steady rise in general election polls by Jerry Brown. A PPP survey released yesterday shows Brown ahead of Whitman 48-36, the first double-digit lead either candidate has held in a poll this year. The same survey shows Whitman’s favorable/unfavorable ratio at an unsavory 24-44, and Poizner’s at 19-43 (Brown’s is 37-39), which makes sense in view of what the two GOP candidates have been saying about each other in the 70-80 million dollars in ads they’ve run.
Exhibit B is in Nevada, where the CW until recently was that Harry Reid had become un-reelectable, and the next Senator would be be longtime GOP frontrunner Sue Lowden. Instead, the GOP primary has turned into an increasingly intense three-way fight involving Lowden, the recently surging Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, and Danny Tarkanian. Meanwhile, the left-for-dead Reid has crept back into general-election contention, and actually leads Angle in the latest poll.
In other states, internal GOP fighting could redound to the benefit of Democrats if the “wrong” candidate wins Republican primaries. In the Georgia governor’s race, for example, state insurance commissioner John Oxendine has led every single poll of the GOP race, and seems almost certain to win a runoff spot. But none other than RedState proprietor Erick Erickson, who is a local elected official in Georgia, has said he’d vote for Democrat Roy Barnes if Oxendine is the Republican nominee.
And there’s no telling what sort of general election fallout could be produced by the current saga in the South Carolina governor’s race. If, as has been rumored, a rival Republican campaign is implicated in the allegations of marital infidelity against right-wing favorite Nikki Haley, all hell could break lose.
UPDATE: Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic has had similar thoughts, but with a wrinkle: he argues that the Tea Party movement hasn’t really done much positive for the GOP, and could be helping make previously pro-GOP elections competitive for Democrats.

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TDS Co-Editor William Galston: How Bad Is It Really for the Unemployed? My ‘Aha’ Moment

This item, by TDS Co-Editor William Galston, is cross-posted from The New Republic.
On some level, we all know that times are really tough for the millions of people the Great Recession threw out of work–and for the millions of others who are looking for their first job. Many of us have read that long-term unemployment (26 weeks or more) is at a record high. But sometimes it takes a new angle of vision to make you see just how difficult things are. My “aha” moment came over the weekend, when I read a recent survey that tracked the fate of a large sample of individuals who were unemployed as of last August. Here a summary:
Of the 908-person sample, 67 percent remained unemployed but were still looking for work, and an additional 12 percent had given up and dropped out of the labor force. Only 21 percent had found jobs (only 13 percent full-time) and were currently employed. A stunning 28 percent of the newly reemployed had been looking for work for more than one year, and 6 percent for more than two years. Fifty-five percent accepted a pay cut in their new jobs; 13 percent took a cut larger than one-third of their previous salary.
Women (26 percent newly employed) did somewhat better than men (18 percent). Surprisingly, young adults (29 percent newly employed) did better than 30 to 49-year olds (21 percent). Not surprisingly, this is a terrible time to be over 50 and out of work: Only 12 percent of these older workers had managed to find jobs.
Blacks or Hispanics (22 percent newly employed) got jobs at a similar clip to whites (21 percent). Education and income mattered, but not as much as one might expect. Individuals with some college training were no more successful than those with a high school diploma or less, and only 28 percent of college graduates who were unemployed last August had found work in the interim. And while only 19 percent of those making less than $30,000 were newly employed, the numbers weren’t much better for those making $30-60,000 (22 percent) or $60,000 and over (26 percent).
In short, there has been no place to hide from the Great Recession, and the traditional formula–get a good education and be persistent–is not reliably producing the right outcomes. The American people know that something out of the ordinary is taking place: 63 percent believe that the economy is undergoing “fundamental and lasting changes,” versus only 37 percent who think it is experiencing a temporary downturn. This shift has consequences that go well beyond the economic. For many Americans, the old verities have been cast aside, with nothing to take their place. As far as they can see, they’ve done everything right, but their expectations have been upended and their life-plans disrupted. In these circumstances, people are bound to think that the country is on the wrong path, and they are bound to feel a combination of confusion and anger toward a political system that they see as having let them down.
President Obama has pledged to rebuild the U.S. economy on a new and more solid foundation. That’s vital. But so is restoring the belief that there is some relation between effort and reward. If the old rules are obsolete, we not only need new rules–a 21st century unemployment insurance system, say, or infrastructure investment and employment, or hours-reductions and job-sharing as an alternative to outright job loss–but also a political system that is prepared to back them up. It’s hard to see how we can make the hard choices needed to build our future unless ordinary Americans come once more to believe that there’s something in it for them.

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Does Liberalism Hurt Democrats?

This item is by Alan Abramowitz, who is Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University and a member of the TDS advisory board.
In a recent article posted at The Democratic Strategist I presented evidence that conservatism had a negative influence on the performance of Republican incumbents in recent U.S. Senate elections. In this article I examine whether liberalism had a similar effect on the performance of Democratic incumbents. I collected data on all contested Senate races involving incumbents in five elections between 2000 and 2008. A total of 69 races involving Republican incumbents and 61 races involving Democratic incumbents were included in the analysis.
Overall, Democratic incumbents were much more successful than Republican incumbents in these five elections. Only 6% of Democratic incumbents (4 of 61) were defeated compared with 25% of Republican incumbents (17 of 69). This occurred despite the fact that Republican incumbents generally represented states that more strongly supported their party’s presidential candidates than did Democratic incumbents. On average, Republican presidential candidates received 54% of the vote in Republican incumbents’ states while Democratic presidential candidates received an average of only 50% of the vote in Democratic incumbents’ states.
The difference between the success rates of Democratic and Republican incumbents was especially striking in states in which the incumbent’s party was at a disadvantage or enjoyed only a marginal advantage based on the presidential vote. In strongly Democratic and Republican states, those in which the vote for a party’s presidential candidate was at least five points above the party’s national vote share, almost no incumbents lost: 94% of Republican incumbents (33 of 35) and 100% of Democratic incumbents (23 of 23) were reelected. However, in high risk or marginal states, those in which the vote for a party’s presidential candidate was below or less than five points above the party’s national vote share, 44% of Republican incumbents (15 of 34) were defeated compared with only 11% of Democratic incumbents (4 of 38).
In order to explain the difference in the performance of Republican and Democratic incumbents, I performed separate multiple regression analyses of the results of elections involving each party’s incumbents. The dependent variable in each regression analysis is the incumbent’s share of the major party vote. The independent variables are the vote share for the presidential candidate of the incumbent’s party in the state and the ideology of the incumbent, as measured on the DW-NOMINATE scale, as conservatism for Republicans and liberalism for Democrats. (Dummy variables for each election year were also included to control for the national political climate at the time of each election but the coefficients for these variables are not included in the table). The results of the regression analyses are displayed in Table 1.
The findings in Table 1 once again show that among Republican incumbents, conservatism had a substantial and statistically significant negative influence on vote share after controlling for the strength of the Republican Party in each incumbent’s state and the national political climate at the time of each election. In contrast, among Democratic incumbents, liberalism had only a small and statistically insignificant influence on vote share.
These results suggest that one of the reasons why Republican incumbents from marginal and Democratic leaning states suffered an exceptionally high rate of defeat is that some of them were too conservative for the states that they represented. In these five elections, 58% (7 of 12) of strongly conservative Republican incumbents (those with above average conservatism scores) from marginal or Democratic leaning states were defeated compared with only 36% (8 of 22) of less conservative Republican incumbents from these states.

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Private Failure and Public Responsibility

E.J. Dionne’s column today is a valuable meditation on the irony of the “socialist” Obama administration being stuck with BP as a partner in trying to mitigate the Gulf oil spill disaster, while the staunchly conservative Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, is begging for more intervention from Washington. As he also notes, the problem of sorting out government and private-sector roles is vastly complicated by contradictions in public sentiments:

“Do something!” citizens shout to a government charged with protecting the environment in and around a Gulf of Mexico that is nobody’s private property. Yet the government, it seems, can’t do much of anything because the means of containing this unprecedented anomalous event are entirely in the hands of a private company. It was trusted to know what it was doing with complicated equipment that, it turns out, BP either didn’t understand very well or was willing to use recklessly.
Belatedly, the Obama Administration has realized that citizens can never accept the idea that their government is powerless. It’s making moves to show that it’s in charge, even when it’s not.

It’s worth remembering that this is the second huge crisis where the Obama administration has been forced to rely on broken private-sector systems to head off total disaster, with the first being the financial crisis. The president paid a very large political price for doing what he probably had to do in that situation, and while the Gulf oil spill is a somewhat less pervasive crisis, again, the choices are not good.
In the longer run, it may finally begin to sink in among government-hating citizens that unfettered market capitalism is a very dangerous thing. As Dionne concludes:
“Deregulation” is wonderful until we discover what happens when regulations aren’t issued or enforced. Everyone is a capitalist until a private company blunders. Then everyone starts talking like a socialist, presuming that the government can put things right because they see it as being just as big and powerful as its tea party critics claim.
But the truth is that we have disempowered government and handed vast responsibilities over to a private sector that will never see protecting the public interest as its primary task. The sludge in the Gulf is, finally, the product of our own contradictions.

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