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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: February 2011

Walker Tanks in New Poll

Jon Terbush has a post up at Talking Points Memo, “Poll: Wisconsin Voters Wouldn’t Elect Gov. Walker In Do-Over,” which makes for a good addendum to Nate Silver’s post on union voters, which I flagged earlier today. Here are the nut graphs:

Wisconsin voters already have buyers remorse about electing Gov. Scott Walker (R).
In a PPP poll released Monday, a majority of registered Wisconsin voters say that in a hypothetical re-do of last year’s gubernatorial election, they would vote for Democrat Tom Barrett, whom Walker defeated in November. That finding comes as Walker continues to stand firm on his budget proposals that would strip most state public employees of long-held collective bargaining rights.
Fifty-two percent of respondents said they would vote for Barrett if the election were held today, while 45% said they would vote for Walker. That’s almost exactly the opposite of what happened in the election, when Walker won the governorship with 52% of the vote to Barrett’s 47%.

Terbush notes that almost all of the shift is in union households, which now favor Barrett by a 31 point margin, compared to 14 points in the November election. He also cites a poll by conservative Dick Morris indicating 54 percent of Wisconsin respondents oppose Walker’s plan to gut collective bargaining for public employees.
Walker clearly believes time is on his side in the Wisconsin conflict. But, It’s possible that the longer the protest goes on, the more Walker looks like a tiresome polarizing figure, a meme which could eventually take root among non-union households. And the more he refuses to compromise, the more reasonable the protestors will appear to non-union voters. It’s still early in his term, but his re-election is already in doubt.

Dixie Madison

This item is cross-posted from The New Republic.
As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tries to strip away the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions, many liberals have latched onto the idea that his real goal is to dismantle the labor movement and the infrastructure of the Democratic Party. That is almost certainly one of his aims, but it’s not the whole story.
Walker also has an economic vision for his state–one which is common currency in the Republican Party today, but hitherto alien in a historically progressive, unionist Midwestern state like Wisconsin. It is based on a theory of economic growth that is not only anti-statist but aggressively pro-corporate: relentlessly focused on breaking the backs of unions; slashing worker compensation and benefits; and subsidizing businesses in order to attract capital from elsewhere and avoid its flight to even more benighted locales. Students of economic development will recognize it as the “smokestack-chasing” model of growth adopted by desperate developing countries around the world, which have attempted to use their low costs and poor living conditions as leverage in the global economy. And students of American economic history will recognize it as the “Moonlight and Magnolias” model of development, which is native to the Deep South.
Just take a look at the broader policy context of the steps Walker is taking in Wisconsin. While simultaneously battling unions and calling for budget cuts, he’s made the state’s revenue quandary much worse by seeking to cut corporate taxes and boost “economic development incentives” (another term for tax subsidies and other public concessions) to businesses considering operations in Wisconsin. This is philosophically identical to the approach taken by new South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who hired a union-busting attorney to head up the state labor department and touted the state’s anti-union environment as a key to its prospects, explaining, “We’re going to fight the unions and I needed a partner to help me do it.” Despite large budget shortfalls, she’s also proposed to eliminate corporate income taxes and pay for it by restoring a sales tax on food. The common thread here is the quasi-religious belief that reducing business costs for corporations is the Holy Grail of economic development, while all other public and private goods should be measured strictly by their impact on the corporate bottom line.
Even before the arrival of Haley, this was the default model of economic growth in Southern states for decades–as the capital-starved, low-wage region concluded that the way it could compete economically with other states was to emphasize its comparative advantages: low costs, a large pool of relatively poor workers, “right to work” laws that discouraged unionization, and a small appetite for environmental or any other sort of regulation. So, like an eager Third-World country, the South sought to attract capital by touting and accentuating these attributes, rather than trying to build Silicon Valleys or seek broad-based improvements in the quality of life. Only during the last several decades, when Southern leaders like Arkansas’s Bill Clinton and North Carolina’s Jim Hunt called for economic strategies that revolved around improving public education and spawning home-grown industries was the hold of the “Moonlight and Magnolias” approach partially broken. And now it’s back with a vengeance, but no longer just in the South.
Members of the modern Republican Party, and the “Tea Party movement” in particular, gravitate naturally toward models of growth that treat public programs and investments as mere obstacles in the path of dynamic corporate “job creators.” Many look South in admiration: Just last week, Minnesota Tea Party heroine and possible presidential candidate Michele Bachmann visited South Carolina and told an audience that she was happy to join them in a “GOP paradise.” And Scott Walker is hardly alone among Midwestern Republican governors in pursuing an agenda that combines business-tax cuts and other incentives with attacks on public investments and Southern-style hostility to unions. That’s also the agenda of Ohio’s John Kasich, and while Michigan’s Rick Snyder and Indiana’s Mitch Daniels have stepped back from efforts to assault collective bargaining rights, they are devotees of the idea that low taxes and deregulation are essential to economic growth, regardless of the impact on public services and investments.
Why is this model of economic growth so appealing to the Tea Party? For one, it tends to jibe very well with the Ayn Randian belief in producerism: the idea that “job creators”–business owners–are the only source of economic growth in society, and that everyone else–the workers, government employees, and the poor–are just “useless eaters” shackling those who exercise individual initiative. While many Democrats are baffled by Scott Walker’s attack on the unions–shouldn’t he be focused on jobs rather than eliminating workers’ protections? they ask–the fact is that today’s conservatives believe this is the right and only way to create jobs. The same delusion is present at the federal level, where House Republicans insist that deregulation and spending cuts are the only ways to create jobs. That doesn’t sound like a formula for job growth, unless you account for the conviction that rolling back the public sector, and in the process impoverishing the middle-class families that depend on its services, is essential to keep any costs low enough for corporations to work their magic. The fact that the “beneficiaries” who get jobs as a result of this corporate development model will have to work for lower wages and fewer benefits, and suffer from poor schools and a violated environment, is beside the point.
The Tea Party’s love of “Moonlight and Magnolias” economics also fits with its disturbing affinity for other Old South concepts, which developed during Dixie’s long era of resistance to unionization, “big government” meddling with economic and social life, limits on natural resources exploitation, and judicial tampering with property rights and state’s rights. Most remarkable is the spread of “Tenther” interposition and nullification theories, which hold that the states should have special sovereign rights to thwart federal policies in ways not considered legitimate since the eras of Reconstruction and the civil rights movement. These have been widely touted by conservatives across the country (notably 2010 Senate candidates Sharron Angle of Nevada and Joe Miller of Alaska) and even by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (who has spoken warmly of the “Repeal Amendment” that would let states collectively kill federal laws).
The problem with this Southern theory of growth is that it won’t work: Economic development experts usually deride “Moonlight and Magnolias” approaches to job creation, noting that they track the outmoded first and second “waves” of basic economic development theory–which emphasized crude economic races to the bottom–as opposed to third and fourth “waves” that focus on worker skills, quality of life, public-private partnerships, innovation, and sustainability. If Wisconsin and other states–not to mention the country as a whole–end up adopting these atavistic economic ideals, they will simply begin to resemble the dysfunctional Old South societies that spawned them in the first place.
So what is at stake in Wisconsin, and across the country, is not just the pay and benefits of public employees, or their collective bargaining rights, or the specific programs facing the budgetary knife. We are contesting whether Americans who are not “job creators,” by virtue of wealth, should be considered anything more than cannon fodder in an endless war between states–and countries–over who can attract the most capital by slashing the most regulations. In this sense, standing up to Scott Walker is a truly worthy fight.

Wisconsin as a Good Thing

Ezra Klein has a short, but provocative Newsweek post “Do We Still Need Unions? Yes: Why they’re Worth Fighting For,” which opens up a long-overdue dialogue. I like Klein’s opening grabber, which presents the danger and opportunity:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s effort two weeks ago to end collective bargaining for public employees in his state was the worst thing to happen to the union movement in recent memory–until it unexpectedly became the best thing to happen to the union movement in recent memory. Give the man some credit: in seven days, Walker did what unions have been trying and failing to do for decades. He united the famously fractious movement, reknit its emotional connection with allies ranging from students to national Democratic leaders, and brought the decline of organized labor to the forefront of the national agenda. The question is: will it matter?

Klein goes on to limn some of the specific benefits of unions — higher wages, safety, addressing workplace grievances and the weekend. He could have added the 40-hour work week, overtime, workman’s comp, holidays, health insurance and pensions, to name a few others we take for granted — none of which would be a reality today for millions of workers without the leadership of organized labor. I’m sometimes amazed how many presumably intelligent people I meet who diss unions in a knee-jerk way seem unaware of this important history — apparently it’s not well-taught in public schools, nor even colleges nowadays.
Klein also notes the important socio-political benefits of unions in the U.S. — checking corporate economic domination, lobbying for working people instead of corporate profits, fighting for a broad range of legislative reforms that benefit even unorganized workers and serving as the largest source of support for progressive candidates. Any further weakening of unions would be disastrous for America in this regard.
As part of the Change to Win movement a few years ago, there was an ongoing discussion about the kinds of reforms needed to modernize trade unions and broaden their membership options, as critical to increasing labor’s numbers and strength. I was looking forward to this dialogue eventually bearing some fruit. But it seems instead to have withered on the vine. Hopefully the Wisconsin protests will encourage invigorating this discussion in a more pro-active direction.
There’s a chance Klein is right that Walker may have inadvertently done a good thing for unions, by rallying them and their supporters and awakening progressives to the reality that organized labor’s survival is at stake. The law of unintended consequences occasionally works for the good.
But the trade union movement’s weak public relations outreach is puzzling. In this age of streaming video, where is Labor’s television station, or even nation-wide radio programs? Where are the academy-award nominated documentaries about labor’s pivotal contributions to American society? How about some public service ads educating people about union contributions to social and economic progress in America?
It’s no longer enough have labor leaders do guest spots on news programs and talk shows. a much more aggressively pro-active p.r. and educational effort is needed. That commitment, coupled with an effort to modernize union recruitment and membership could help insure that union-busting politicians like Walker don’t get the chance to do their worst.

Union Voters Have Clout or How Walker May Win the Battle But Lose the War

For an interesting slant on what’s at stake for Democrats in the Wisconsin demonstrations, read Nate Silver’s “The Effects of Union Membership on Democratic Voting” at his Five Thirty Eight blog at The New York Times. Silver mines exit poll data and considers the propensity of union voters and households to vote for Democratic presidential and congressional candidates, noting:

In 2008, for instance, 59 percent of people in union households voted for Barack Obama, as compared to 51 percent of people in non-union households — a difference of 8 percentage points, according to the national exit poll. An extremely simple analysis might conclude, then, that the presence of the labor union vote boosted Mr. Obama’s share of the vote by slightly under 2 points overall: the 8 percentage point “bonus” that he received among union voters, multiplied by the 21 percent of the sample that was in labor union households, which is 1.68 percent.
The potential problem with this is that labor union voters are not distributed randomly throughout the population. Instead, virtually every other demographic variable — age, income, geography, occupation, gender, race, and so forth — is correlated in some with the likelihood of being in a union.
It could be, for instance, that because labor unions are concentrated in blue states, especially those in the Northeast and the industrial Midwest, the apparent influence of union membership on voting is really just a matter of geography. Alternatively, it could be that union members tend to vote Democratic despite having certain other characteristics that are ordinarily harmful to Democrats: for instance, union members tend to skew a bit older than the rest of the population and older voters normally tend to vote Republican. If so, the quick-and-dirty estimate from the exit poll might understate the effect of union membership on voting behavior.

Silver runs a logistic regression analysis on a large data sample from the National Annenberg Election Survey to help isolate the various factors. He presents a couple of bar charts which provide graphic depiction of the influence of 23 demographic variables on voters for president and congressional representatives, respectively. Silver calculates that members of unions and “union households” provided a 1.7 percent net advantage to Obama in ’08. However, if the National Exit Poll accurately reflected the union percentage of the turnout, Silver explains, the union member and household edge goes up to 2.4 percent. The figures were similar for congressional elections.
Further, in Silver’s analysis:

…Any votes that did not go to Mr. Obama instead went to Senator John McCain. Therefore, the impact on the margin between the two candidates was twice as large: not 2.4 points, but 4.8 points.
This is fairly meaningful. Of the last 10 elections in which the Democratic candidate won the popular vote (counting 2000, when Al Gore lost in the Electoral College), he did so by 4.8 points or fewer on 4 occasions (2000, 1976, 1960, 1948). So, while the impact of union voting is not gigantic in the abstract, it has the potential to sway quite a few presidential elections, since presidential elections are usually fairly close.

Silver then offers this interesting conclusion about the possible reverberations of Governor Walker’s and the GOP’s escalation of the political war against unions:

More tangibly, Republican efforts to decrease the influence of unions — while potentially worthwhile to their electoral prospects in the long-term — could contribute to a backlash in the near-term, making union members even more likely to vote Democratic and even more likely to turn out. If, for instance, the share of union households voting for Democrats was not 60 percent but closer to 70 percent, Republicans would have difficulty winning presidential elections for a couple of cycles until the number of union voters diminished further.

They could also energize union participation in campaign volunteer efforts. In the worst case scenario, Governor Walker may win his battle to eradicate most public employee unions. Even then, however, he may insure that it costs his party the presidency, and perhaps some other offices, in 2012.

Culture Shock

This item by Ed Kilgore is cross-posted from The New Republic, where it was originally published on February 21, 2011.
Many Beltway insiders seem to have convinced themselves that abortion doesn’t matter anymore. Just look at the press clippings from CPAC, where Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels wowed his D.C. cheerleaders with a speech doubling down on his earlier call for a “truce” over culture-war issues like abortion. Chris Christie came into town a few days later, and excited a lot of the same people with a speech focused almost exclusively on the idea that entitlement-spending cuts are the nation’s top priority. Big-time conservative strategists like Michael Barone have opined that a truce over abortion policy–as reflected in a structure of legalized abortion with “reasonable” state restrictions–is already in place. And we are told incessantly that the driving force in Republican politics, the Tea Party movement, is basically libertarian in its orientation and wildly uninterested in cultural issues.
How out of touch could they be? It’s rare to see the Washington zeitgeist so disconnected from the reality of what conservative activists and their representatives are doing and saying on the ground in Iowa, in state capitals across the country, and next door in the House of Representatives. Far from being a sideshow, the Right-to-Life movement’s priorities have been front-and-center for conservatives across the country.
Take the incoming “Tea Party Congress”: This January, House Republicans made restricting abortions an immediate goal, pushing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3) as a top priority right after their vote on Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law (H.R. 2). The abortion legislation, which has 209 co-sponsors (199 of them Republicans), is advertised as simply codifying the Hyde Amendment that’s been attached to appropriations bills since 1977; but it would actually go much further, denying employers a tax exemption for private health policies that include coverage of abortion services. Originally, H.R. 3 also sought to redefine “rape”–for purposes of the longstanding “rape and incest” exception to the Hyde Amendment–to include only “forcible” acts, presumably to remove pregnancies resulting from acts of statutory rape from the exception. The House also appears poised to pass appropriations measures that would eliminate funds for the Title X program, which provides contraceptive services for low-income women, and ban any federal funding for Planned Parenthood. And it is working to keep participants in the Affordable Care Act’s health-insurance exchanges from purchasing policies that cover abortions, even with their own money. If there’s a “truce” in place, it’s being violated daily.
At the state level, newly empowered Republicans are also promoting anti-abortion measures. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has designated a bill to require pre-abortion sonograms an “emergency” measure, giving it legislative priority. In South Carolina, a bill is moving toward passage that would create an unusually broad “conscience clause” to protect health care workers and pharmacists from disciplinary actions prompted by a refusal to administer birth control or emergency contraception, to take part in medical research that destroys an in vitro human embryo, or to halt care of a dying person in a hospital. In Ohio, Republican legislators are pushing a blizzard of anti-abortion bills, including one that would fine doctors for performing abortions when a fetal heartbeat is discerned. A South Dakota legislator just made national headlines by introducing a bill that would classify as “justifiable homicide” a death caused with the aim of protecting the unborn. He withdrew it after critics called it a license to kill abortion providers, but a separate bill in the same state, headed for a floor vote, would require women to attend a lecture at a crisis pregnancy center (code for an anti-abortion advocacy office) before getting an abortion. Even Mr. Focus-on-the-Fiscal-Crisis, Chris Christie, opted to eliminate state contraceptive services in the interest of “fiscal restraint,” and made the cuts stick with a gubernatorial veto. One could go on and on; there’s clearly no “truce” in the state legislatures.
And there will be no truce on the presidential campaign trail. Daniels’s statements about dialing down the culture wars have already been vocally rejected by potential presidential rivals Mike Huckabee, John Thune, and Rick Santorum. Rush Limbaugh has said that Daniels’s position reflects the interests of a Republican “ruling class” that wants to rein in social conservatives and the Tea Party movement. In his CPAC speech, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour framed his anti-abortion record as a core element of his conservative credentials, and repudiated his own past remarks urging support for pro-choice Republicans. Mitt Romney, whose previous support for abortion rights is a major problem for him politically, isn’t about to soft-pedal the issue. It’s likely that either Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann, two the Right-to-Life movement’s very favorite pols, will be running for president later this year. In fact, in the vast field of Republicans considering a presidential campaign, there’s not a single figure who is publicly identified as pro-choice; even Donald Trump has gone out of his way to reassure the anti-abortion crowd he’s now on their side.

Leveraging the Latino Vote in ’12

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on February 21, 2011.

Baltimore Sun columnist Thomas Schaller has a post up at Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “The Latino Threshold: Where the GOP Needs Latino Votes and Why” mulling over different scenarios for allocation of the Hispanic vote for President in ’12. In assessing Republican prospects with Hispanics in the upcoming presidential election, Schaller cites three key considerations:

First, as the white share of the electorate shrinks, the share of the Latino vote Republicans need to remain competitive will gradually inch higher. It is axiomatic that if one party attracts a minority share of votes from any group or subset, if that subset is growing as a share of the electorate these losses are magnified. Republicans get roughly the same share of the vote from Asian Americans as Latinos. But GOP losses among Asian Americans are less punitive overall because the Asian American vote is smaller and growing less fast as a share of the electorate than are Latino voters.
Second, whatever threshold the GOP needs to maintain–40 percent, 45 percent–will zigzag up and down a bit between midterm and presidential elections. Because midterm electorates trend older, whiter and more affluent, until and unless the Democrats can find ways to mobilize presidential-cycle voters in off years, the GOP’s Latino competitiveness threshold drops slightly in midterms before rising again in presidential years.
Finally, the Latino vote is of course not uniformly distributed across districts and states. So the calculus varies depending upon geography. In states where Latino voters are paired with significant African American populations–such as Florida, New York or Texas–the Republican cutoff is higher; where Latinos represent the bulk of non-white voters–such as Colorado or Nevada–the threshold is easier to reach.

Schaller doesn’t discuss a worrisome scenario for Dems, in which the Republicans nominate Sen. Marco Rubio for vice president, which would likely ice Florida for the GOP presidential candidate and maybe even help them get a bigger bite of the Latino vote elsewhere. Rubio only got 55 percent of the Latino vote in Florida’s Senate contest. I say only, because I would have expected a higher figure. But even assuming he would be a big asset on the GOP ticket, and assuming Dems lose NC and VA, Dems would likely have to win Ohio, or all of the remaining three swing states with large Latino populations, NM, NV and CO.
In terms of public opinion, Schaller explains:

…Is Obama’s Latino support holding steady?
On Monday, impreMedia and Latino Decisions released a new survey showing a strangely bifurcated answer to this question: Although 70 percent of Latinos approve of Obama’s performance as president, only 43 percent say they will for certain vote for him in 2012. Of the poll results, impreMedia pollster Pilar Marrero writes that “doubts about the president and the Democrats are not turning into support for the Republicans.”
To win re-election, President Obama must close the sale again with Latinos during the next two years. But if recent numbers from Public Policy Polling in key swing states are any indication, at least in potential head-to-head matchups against Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and (most especially) Sarah Palin, Obama is in as good a shape if not better in all four of Latino-pivotal swing states.

Regarding the Latino Decisions poll, Ed Kilgore’s take is a little different:

The president’s job approval rating in this poll is at 70%, up from 57% in the last LD survey in September. The percentage of respondents saying they are “certain” they will vote to re-elect Obama is at a relatively soft 43%; but with “probables” and leaners, his “re-elect” number rises to 61%. Meanwhile, the total percentage of Latinos inclined to vote for a Republican candidate in 2012 is at 21%, with only 9% certain to vote that way. It’s worth noting that in most polls, a “generic” Republican presidential candidate has been doing a lot better than named candidates in trial heats against Obama. And the 61-21 margin he enjoys among Latinos in this survey compares favorably with the 67-31 margin he won in 2008 against John McCain.
With the Republican presidential nominating process more than likely pushing the candidates towards immigrant-baiting statements, and with Latinos having relatively positive attitudes towards the kind of federal health care and education policies the GOP will be going after with big clawhammers, it’s hard to see exactly how the GOP makes gains among Latinos between now and Election Day…

Democrats received 64 percent of the Latino vote in the mid-terms, with Republican candidates winning 34 percent. After crunching all of the numbers, Schaller concludes “Republicans don’t need to carry the Latino vote–yet–but in the near term, and particularly in presidential cycles, they need to stay reasonably competitive, whereas Kilgore concludes of GOP hopes for ’12, in light of Hispanic opinion trends, “They’d better hope their 2010 margins among white voters hold up.”
In between those two perspectives, there are lots of variables that can influence Hispanic turnout and voter choices in different directions. But it’s certain that Democrats stand to benefit, perhaps decisively, from a greater investment in Latino naturalization, voter education and turnout.

Roots of Reaganolatry

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on February 7, 2011.
I’m coming a bit late to the 100th birthday party of Ronald Reagan. But the amazing extent to which he serves as the sole secular saint of Republican and conservative-movement politics these days demands some comment.
As J.P. Green documented last Friday, the mythology of St. Ronald ignores an awful lot of inconvenient facts about the man and his actual presidency. And as Jonathan Chait explained today, the conservative refutation of these facts is a bit threadbare.
But I’m interested in why conservatives still hold so fiercely to Reaganolatry 22 years after he left office. I’d offer three reasons:
First and most important, particularly to older conservatives, was his status as de facto leader of the conservative movement long before his presidency. From the moment he was elected governor of California in 1966, he displaced Barry Goldwater as the conservative movement’s political leader, and sustained its hopes through the craziness and ultimate disaster of the Nixon administration. Indeed, Reagan’s only momentary rival for the affection of conservatives, Spiro T. Agnew, resigned in disgrace, making the Californian more than ever the True Leader as the Right washed its hands of complicity in the presidency that launched wage and price controls, recognized China, pursued detente, and signed the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. Later Reagan fulfilled a generation of conservative fantasies by challenging a “moderate Republican” incumbent president, and nearly pulled it off. Said “moderate” proceded to lose against a relatively conservative Democrat, reinforcing the “A Choice Not An Echo” prescriptions of the Goldwater insurgency.
Second and equally important, Reagan won in 1980 as an outspokenly conservative Republican nominee–the first time, ever, that had happened, after a long series of defeats that dated back to the Taft candidacy of 1940, which was crushed, as was his 1952 candidacy, at the Republican National Convention. Remember that as of 1980, the last three elected Republican presidents had been Richard Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Herbert Hoover. Reagan killed off the assumption, which was very powerful in Republican Establishment circles, that you could not move Right and win. This is an empirical data point that is particularly important to today’s right-bent Republicans, who have successfully defeated the argument that after 2006 and 2008, the GOP needed to moderate its conservative ideology to reclaim power. The Republican nominees after Reagan–Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush and McCain–were either heretics or losers, from the conservative ideological point of view.
Third and finally, Reagan’s talking points have more historical resonance than his governing record. He was the president who proclaimed that “government isn’t the solution to our problems; government is the problem,” a line that defines today’s conservatives better than anything they are saying. He was the president who first suggested that cutting taxes was compatible with fiscal discipline, another contemporary GOP axiom. He was the president who seriously tried to slash domestic programs, even if he soon gave up on the project.
Until such time as Republicans find another idol (and we should remember that George W. Bush briefly auditioned for the role, particularly when the initial invasion of Iraq succeeded and he was hailed as a world-historical figure), Reagan remains the only available icon.
And so they continue to worship at his altar, until such time as a new leader emerges who can cleanse them of the failures of the Bush administration much as Reagan seemed to cleanse them of Nixon’s.

Are Republicans Trying To Hurt the Economy For Political Reasons?

This item by TDS Contributor Robert Creamer, author of Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, is cross-posted from Huffington Post.
Yesterday, ABC News leaked a confidential report from investment bank Goldman Sachs warning that the spending cuts proposed by the Republicans to take effect this year would slow the economy by 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product. It also found that even compromise cuts of $25 billion would cut growth by 1 percent.
This report would not be surprising if it came from the progressive Economic Policy Institute (EPI) — or even someone at the Brookings Institution. Instead it comes from Wall Street — which is, after all — the principal base of the GOP.
Of course, their conclusions are not surprising. Virtually everyone with an ounce of economic literacy understands that cutting federal spending right now — just as the economy is clawing its way out of the worst recession in 60 years — will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Right now, the government projects about a 2.7 percent rate of growth in the economy this year. So according to Goldman Sachs, if the Republicans have their way, most of that growth would be wiped out and we would be perilously close to a double-dip recession.
It’s time to stop treating proposals for immediate cuts in spending as “reasonable” policy alternatives. These proposals are dangerous to the economy and the welfare of everyday Americans.
You have to ask yourself, why would the Republicans propose a policy that even Wall Street thinks would be suicidal for the economy? Here are two options:
Reason 1: To Damage the Economy for Political Purposes
Mitch McConnell — the Republican Senate Leader — made it very clear at the end of last year that their major goal for this session of Congress is to defeat Barack Obama in 2012 and take over both Houses of Congress. And there is no question that the most important key to President Obama’s reelection is an improving economy.
The Republicans have absolutely no political interest in the creation of jobs in the American economy. The more unemployed Americans there are next November, the better for them. The more incomes have stagnated, the better for them.
As much as they blather on about how they will create jobs in the private sector by cutting government spending, even most Republicans understand that as you recover from a recession, that is simply not true.
As much as they wish it were not so, recessions are never caused by too much government spending, they are caused by an deficit of demand in the economy for goods and services that could be produced if the economy were operating at full capacity. The virtuous cycle that is behind economic growth requires that demand be jumpstarted by government — that enough people be put back to work with incomes to buy new products, that the private sector is enticed to invest and hire.
Right now private corporations are sitting on almost two trillion dollars in cash. The fact that they are not hiring or investing heavily in new plant and equipment has nothing to do with a need for more tax breaks or a shortage of capital. It has everything to do (as they will tell you) with the fact that they aren’t confident there will be enough demand in the economy — enough people with money to buy their products and services.
The time to cut deficits is not as you are recovering from a recession, but in periods of long-term economic growth — in the same way that President Clinton did during the 1990’s. Some people act like the deficit is an intractable problem of many generations. It was just over 10 years ago that we had no deficit. The way to deal with the deficit in the future is essentially the way it was eliminated in the 1990’s — tax increases on the wealthiest taxpayers and robust economic growth.
If you cut $61 billion of spending out of the economy over the next six months, you make the “demand deficit” larger, not smaller. In the process you destroy jobs. It’s that simple. Or as Republican Leader John Boehner might say, “So be it.”
Most thoughtful Republicans actually understand that. But one reason they continue to support these cuts is that by hurting the economy, it will benefit them politically.
Reason 2: Because the Inmates Have Taken Over the Asylum
A second reason that the Republicans are supporting these damaging policies is that the crazy relatives they used to try to keep out of sight have burst into the living room.
For many years, the interests of Wall Street and the biggest corporations have completely dominated the economic policymaking of the Republican Party. While this wing of the party pays appropriate tribute to “restraining spending” and “smaller government,” their ideology is not really about principle. They adhere to only one core ideological premise: They favor whatever is in their own economic interest.
Wall Street and big corporations are generally advocates of “smaller government” because they want to cut their taxes and reduce government regulations that prevent them from injuring consumers, fouling the air or engaging in the kind of reckless speculation that sunk the economy in 2008 and cost 8 million Americans their jobs.
But the Wall Street crowd is perfectly capable of abandoning any talk of “small government” when it comes to huge government contracts. And you don’t hear much about the deficit when it comes time to ask for tax breaks for the rich or oil company subsidies. Remember it was former Vice President Dick Cheney who famously said: “deficits don’t matter” — a view that he used to justify the fact that he and President Bush rolled up more deficits in their eight years than all of the previous presidents in American history combined.
However, there is another wing of the Republican Party that has traditionally talked a lot, but didn’t have a lot of power. They are the libertarian ideologues who actually believe that the economy would be better off with a tiny government. This gang mainly has appeal to the “non-Wall Street” base of the Republican Party — the Republican “foot soldiers.”
The “foot-soldier” wing has traditionally been concerned more with social issues and has been heavily populated with right-wing religious activists. But the Wall Street-induced economic disaster — and overall decline of the American middle class — has made this group a prime target for libertarian economic narratives that include a conviction that government spending is the root of all economic evil.
Libertarian economic nostrums infused the Tea Party Movement, and that helped propel many new Republicans into Congress last fall. Suddenly this wing of the party is no longer relegated to the role of campaign season political fodder. They actually have some power in the Republican Caucus.

Ruling Upholding ACA Gets Buried by MSM

Few TDS readers will be shocked by Political Animal Steve Benen’s Washington Monthly post, “How the Media Covers health Care Rulings, Cont’d,” which shows that unfavorable court rulings on the legality of the Affordable Care Act are getting a lot more ink than favorable decisions. What is a little surprising, however, is that the rule of thumb holds true even for top liberal rags that supported the legislation in their editorials, including the Washington Post and the New York Times (nifty chart here).
Benen does a content analysis of the word counts, page placement and mentions in the news reports, showing a clear pattern of decisions upholding the ACA getting the short end of the stick for the Post, Times, Politico and the Associated Press. “…the discrepancy is overwhelming. In every instance, conservative rulings get more coverage, longer articles, and better placement,” says Benen.
Benen acknowledges that it may not be entirely because of political bias in each case, because conflict generally gets more coverage than agreement. He expresses some puzzlement about WaPo’s lack of any coverage for the most recent (Kessler) decision, especially since the courthouse is right around the corner from The Post’s offices.
All of the understandable reasons for the discrepancy acknowledged, however, Benen is right to fault the media outlets for failing to provide anything resembling balanced reporting on how legislation as important as the ACA is faring in the courts. While Politico may not be technically “MSM,” the huge word count discrepancy does raise a serious question about its coverage objectivity. The Times, Post and AP are critically-important, because so many editors of smaller papers read their coverage. If you had to give a letter grade to these four outlets for their coverage of the ACA rulings thus far, a “D” would be generous.
MSNBC, at least, ran a video clip of Sen. Richard Durbin, which could be instructive for reporters in putting the various rulings in a more balanced perspective. Here’s what Durbin said:

This law has been challenged in 16 different federal courts. Twelve judges have dismissed the challenges. Four have considered it. Two ruled that it was constitutional, two unconstitutional. So it isn’t exactly a wave of sentiment against the law.

And that was before the Kessler ruling. You can watch the video here, at the bottom of the page.

You Can’t Create Jobs With Spending Cuts

At first glance, this response to Senate Democratic offers to kill several billion dollars in earmarks seems bland and formulaic:

“It sounds like Senate Democrats are making progress towards our goal of cutting government spending to help the private sector create jobs,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “Hopefully, that means they will support the [bill] with spending cuts that we will pass next week, rather than shutting down the government.”

But stare at that first sentence for a minute, and ask yourself when, if ever, Republicans have made any sort of case that “cutting government spending” will “help the private sector create jobs.”
The government spending cuts at the state and local level that have been underway for two years now certainly haven’t done anything to “help the private sector create jobs.” Indeed, a new Commerce Department report suggests that state and local spending cuts had a lot to do with lowering GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2010 from a projected 3.2 percent to 2.8 percent.
But what’s remarkable is that the “spending cuts equal jobs” claims of Republicans rarely involve any sort of coherent argument for this counter-intuitive assertion. Yes, there is a point at which public debt could get to levels that boost interest rates and thus dry up capital for private-sector investment. But that’s not happening at all right now. Maybe some government regulations add to business costs (often for very good reasons, if you value the environment, safe food, or safe working conditions, or fear another financial meltdown), but Republicans have made no effort at all to correlate its budget cut proposals with specific examples of alleged excessive regulation. Occasionally you hear conservatives suggest that the entire social safety net, and particularly unemployment compensation, has somehow made it impossible for employers to find anyone to fill job openings. But no serious person believes, particularly at a time of 9% employment, that the private sector is suffering from a labor shortage.
Democrats need to challenge the “spending cuts equal jobs” nonsense whenever it appears. If the Republican agenda is actually to cut spending on programs it doesn’t like for various ideological reasons (e.g., family planning), or to reduce government as an end in itself, then its advocates should be forced to say so, instead of pretending they are pursuing some sort of strategy for economic recovery, jobs or long-term growth. As New York Times economic columnist David Leonhardt explained the other day, that cuts against everything we know about recessions.