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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: November 2013

Challenge for Dems: How to Prevent Further GOP/NRA Recall Wins

At Daily Kos, David Nir spotlights a tough strategic challenge facing Democrats: GOP/NRA successes in recalling Democratic state legislators. Here’s Nir on the most recent incident in Colorado:

… In the face of a likely recall election, Democratic state Sen. Evie Hudak has opted to resign, a move that short-circuits the recall effort. A Hudak loss would have handed control of the Senate to Republicans, who are now just one seat shy of the majority following two successful recalls of other Democratic lawmakers earlier this year. Now, however, the recall won’t take place, and Democrats will be able to appoint a replacement (though that person will have to seek re-election in 2014, whereas Hudak would have served until 2016).
Hudak’s decision, while highly unusual, isn’t actually that surprising, and we discussed this very possibility when news of a new recall drive first emerged. Hudak’s seat is only light blue, and she won both of her prior races by very narrow margins, plus she was also term-limited. Given the ugly dropoff in Democratic turnout in the prior recalls, she’d have been looking at steep odds. Instead, she decided to truly take one for the team…But while Democrats will retain their majority, the gun activists who have forced and threatened all of these recalls can claim another victim….

Nir adds that there are many more vulnerable seats held by Dems in state legislatures, though it remains an open question, whether the Colorado recall template will work in less NRA-friendly purple districts. Nir concludes with a challenging question for Dems regarding 2014:

…This falloff in Democratic performance in non-presidential races is a deeply disturbing phenomenon, given that it’s now gone so far as to turn lawmakers out of office without even conducting an election! Who out there is working on fixing this?

There are lots of strategic possibilities worth discussing in answering the question, including more assertive opposition to the NRA, which functions a tool of the GOP and putting more resources into off-year turnout mobilization. Dems must also focus on getting a bigger share of the pivotal senior vote in non-presidential years, especially since polls indicate that they are turning off to the GOP.
Nir notes elsewhere that at least one Republican has voiced concern that the recall strategy could backfire, as it did on Dems in Wisconsin. That may be a concern. But so far the GOP has succeeded in dumping three Dem legislators in CO.
Control of the state legislatures has been key to GOP gerrymandering in recent years. It’s hard enough to get Democrats elected in swing districts. But now Dems must formulate a workable strategy to defeat GOP/NRA recall campaigns.

Getting Used to “Dems In Disarray” Reporting on Senate ’14

It should be safe to say that most analytically-oriented Democrats know that hanging onto the Senate in 2014 will be difficult, though hardly impossible. The landscape is bad in two respects: 20 of 33 seats up are Democratic; seven of those 20 are in states carried by Mitt Romney; and there were five Democratic retirements. Then there’s the turnout factor; as regular readers know, the normal “falloff’ in youth and minority voting in midterms has become especially damaging to the Donkey Party of late.
On the other hand, it will take six pickups for Republicans to gain control of the Senate. GOPers can’t afford many mistakes, and fractious primaries are on tap in KY, GA, SC, TN, WY, and perhaps other states.
Still, it is deeply annoying to see this pro-GOP tilted Senate landscape being touted in support of the latest conservative/MSM narrative of collapsing Democratic support-levels. I issued a protest and warning at Washington Monthly today:

We might as well get used to this sort of headline: “The Hotline‘s Senate Race Ratings: Democrats On Defense.”
Now such headlines promote the ever-popular “Democrats in Disarray” meme, at present all the rage in light of the widespread pundit belief that Obama’s popularity is in free fall, and that the midterm elections will be all about negative feelings towards Obamacare. The subheader of the National Journal piece–“thirteen of the 15 seats most likely to switch are Democratic-held”–certainly reinforce that impression.

But if you actually read the National Journal piece on the rate ratings, the main news is no news….The main changes in the Hotline ratings involve lifting four races (CO, MN, NH and OR) into the lowest tier of possible long-shot turnover possibilities just in case things generally get worse for Democrats. In some cases the odds of an upset have been marginally upgraded because GOPers have managed to recruit actual candidates, but that’s a long way from projecting a “wave.” And nothing’s happened lately to reduce the possibility of GOP primaries in KY and GA producing a general election nightmare.
Still, reproduction of the same difficult fundamentals for Democrats in Senate races will be exploited by Republicans, and by some sensation-seeking MSM folk, into scary new developments. Don’t buy it.

It does make you wonder if we’ll see equivalent treatment of the next Senate cycle:

In 2016, the Senate landscape will turn sharply in favor of Democrats, as will the turnout patterns. Will we read a ton of “GOP In Disarray” stories then? We’ll see, but I doubt it.

Lakoff: Why Dems must study ‘Republican brain change mechanism’

George Lakoff has a post up at Reader Supported News that students of political psychology should find engaging. He riffs on a John Harwood article in the New York Times, which Lakoff describes as “a blatant conservative attack on President Obama” published on the front page as if it were a news story instead of an op-ed. Lakoff explains further:

The Harwood column is illuminating in its attack mode, which is quite artful and an excellent example of conservative attacks. To appreciate it, we should begin by discussing some basic cognitive linguistics. As the great linguist Charles Fillmore discovered in 1975, all words are cognitively defined relative to conceptual “frames” – structures we all use to think all the time. Frames don’t float in the air; they are neural circuits in our brains. Frames in politics are not neutral; they reflect an underlying value system. That means that language in politics is not neutral. Political words do not just pick out something in the world. They reflect value-based frames. If you successfully frame public discourse, you win the debate.
A common neuroscience estimate is that about 98 percent of thought is unconscious and automatic, carried out by the neural system. Daniel Kahneman has since brought frame-based unconscious thought into the public arena in what he has called “System 1 thinking.” Since frames carry value-based inferences with them, successfully framing public discourse means getting the public to adopt your values, and hence winning over the public by unconscious brain change, not by open discussion of the values inherent in the frames and the values that undergird the frames.
I have always suggested to progressives to know their values and state their real values clearly, using frames they really believe. Values trump mere facts presented without the values that make them meaningful. Honest values-based framing is the opposite of spin – the deceptive use of language to avoid embarrassment.

In this context, Lakoff criticizes the framing Harwood deployed in “his manipulative NY Times column” and adds: “The word at issue is “redistribution.” The subject matter is the flow of wealth in the society and what it should be. This is a fundamentally moral issue, and the major political framings reflect two different moral views of democracy itself.” Further,

Conservatives have a very different view of democracy. They believe that democracy gives them the “liberty” to pursue their own interests without the government standing in their way or helping them. Their moral principle is individual responsibility, not social responsibility. If you haven’t developed the discipline to make it on your own, then you should fail – and if you can’t afford health care, so be it. Health care is seen as a “product” and citizens should not be paying for other citizens’ products. Rudy Giuliani, as a good conservative, likened health care to flat- screen TVs. Conservatives say that no one should be paying for anyone else (except their children and family members). Using public resources is seen as making you weak, taking away incentives for you to work for yourself. And they see it as making hard-working moral citizens pay for immoral slackers. This is the conservative frame for redistribution: it is taking away money that you hard-working Americans have earned and deserve, and “redistributing” it to those who haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. For conservatives, this happens whenever there are public resources paid for by taxpayers. Therefore they believe that all public resources should be banned – and the affordable Care Act is a major special case and just the start.
…Under this view of democracy, money previously made was made properly and using tax money for public resources is “redistribution.” “Using my money to pay for someone else” is inherently unfair in the conservative tradition. Conservatives over the past four decades have framed the word “redistribution” that way. Use of the word activates the conservative framing in general, not just the framing of the Affordable Care Act, but of the nature of democracy itself.
Because most liberals, including liberal economists, still believe in and use the inadequate Cartesian theory of reason, they do not comprehend that the word “redistribution” has been redefined in terms of a conservative frame, and to use the word is to help conservatives in their moral crusade to undermine progressive values and the traditional view of liberal democracy.

Lakoff provides more analysis of Harwood’s conservative framing, and concludes,

Here’s the take-away from these two pieces in the Times this week. First, there was a tiny glimpse of the huge conservative Republican communication system, with no account of its history, it’s extent, or how it works to change people’s brains. I hope the Times will go on to do more and better in the future. Second, the Times printed on its front page a classic example of how the conservative system works, naively presenting it at face value without any serious framing analysis. The Times missed the conservative reframing of the word “redistribution,” missed the difference in the views of morality and democracy that lie behind the framing difference, missed the use of the conservatively reframed word as neutral by liberal economists, missed what it means for a word to be “loaded,” and succumbed like other journalists trained on Cartesian reason in helping conservatism keep its hold on public discourse.
Harwood is a smart political operative. His technique is a classic example of the Republican message machine reported on in Thursday’s Times, and is well worth serious study. The Republican brain change mechanism is not only worth a front-page discussion of its own, but deserves itself to brought into public discourse and reported on regularly.

Disagree if you must with those who see Lakoff’s assessment as a sort of Rosetta Stone of political linguistics. But credit him with an insightful exploration of the psychology of framing political messaging. There are also some interesting discussions in the comments section following Lakoff’s post.

Dems Collecting ACA Success Stories

In his Washington Post Politics post, “Democrats eagerly seeking signs of success with health-care law,” Ed O’Keefe discusses the new strategy to challenge the GOP’s last-ditch campaign to repeal Obamacare:

…Democratic senators are being asked to use social media — especially the Twitter call-out #GotCovered — new “Got Covered Today” sections of their Web sites and specialized e-mail addresses to highlight people who “had a positive experience” enrolling for new health plans.
Any new success stories “will provide us with the ammunition we need to rebut Republican claims that the law isn’t working,” the memo said.
The effectiveness of this approach is an open proposition and in some ways exposes the divisions among Democrats about how to deal with the problem.
One senior Democratic aide familiar with the plan said that new push was needed because the White House was failing to tout the law’s early successes. “Democrats expected the White House to be more aggressive in promoting positive stories surrounding the Affordable Care Act, but that effort hasn’t gotten off the ground,” said the aide, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the plan and requested anonymity. “Congressional Democrats are recognizing they need to fill that gap.”

A few of these Obamacare success stories are starting to pop up here and there. But a much broader counterpunch is needed. Twitter is great for making young people more aware and to help persuade them to enroll in the plan. But seniors and moderates should also be made more aware of the success stories, if Dems want to win the day.
Smart Republicans know that ACA repeal is not going to happen. They just want to shroud the reality with exaggerated horror stories so they can make it a campaign issue in 2014. Fortunately, by next summer Democrats should have amassed hundreds, perhaps thousands of impressive success stories — and they should use them in all media.

Mayer: Minimum Wage Hike Controversial Only with Republicans in Congress

The following article by Frederica Mayer is cross-posted from DCorps:
While most of the political class fixates on the botched Affordable Care Act rollout, Congress is gearing up for a vote on raising the minimum wage. There is almost no chance this Congress will pass this bill, but it’s important that Democrats – and others who care about safeguarding the opportunity to earn a living wage in America – call attention to the inequality that increasingly characterizes the nation, and has been institutionalized by a conservative political agenda.
In 2010, Democracy Corps launched the Economy Project: Our ongoing and in-depth study of how middle-class and working people adapt to the economy, and how progressives should address it on their terms.
What we have learned is that while people generally sense a macro recovery, and even notice job growth, they also feel that the jobs that are being created do not pay a living wage..
…In real dollars, the minimum wage was actually higher 40 years ago than it is today.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum wage was $1.60 in 1968. Had it kept up with inflation, it would be $10.74 today. Instead, it’s stagnant at $7.25 an hour. Working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, a minimum-wage employee can expect to earn $15,080 — below the federal poverty level for a family of two. This is not enough to live on, anywhere in the country.
We know that this is a crucial issue — not just one of fairness and opportunity, but of common sense and national economic stability.
When we looked at the national response to President Obama’s last State of the Union address, we found tremendous support for raising the minimum wage. When the president urged Congress to take up this issue and pass a living wage bill, the response was overwhelmingly favorable among all but Republicans.

This is simply not a controversial issue. In its November 11 survey, Gallup found that three-quarters of Americans are in favor of raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour — including majorities of Republicans (58 percent), Independents (76 percent), and Democrats (91 percent).
Meanwhile, 19 states — 12 of which are wholly controlled by Democrats — have a minimum wage higher than the national rate. Of the nine states with a minimum wage lower than the federal rate, or without any state minimum, all but one are wholly GOP-controlled. Despite overwhelming national support for setting a higher minimum, Congress has voted to raise it only three times in the last 30 years. And this Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to break the trend.

Dionne: Dems Nuked Denial Along With Filibuster

In his latest Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. sheds light on why the Dems had to nuke the filibuster (or part of it, anyway):

…With their dramatic decision, Senate Democrats have frankly acknowledged that the power struggle over the judiciary has reached a crisis point and that the nature of conservative opposition to President Obama is genuinely without precedent…This era’s conservatives will use any means at their disposal to win control of the courts. Their goal is to do all they can to limit Congress’s ability to enact social reforms. At the same time, they are pushing for measures — notably restrictions on the right to vote — that alter the electoral terrain in their favor.
And it is simply undeniable that in the Obama years, conservatives have abused the filibuster in ways that liberals never dreamed of. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cited the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) finding that in our history, there have been 168 cloture motions filed on presidential nominations. Nearly half of them — 82 — happened under Obama. According to CRS, of the 67 cloture motions on judicial nominees since 1967, 31 occurred under Obama. Faced with this escalation, senators long opposed to going nuclear, among them Reid and California’s Dianne Feinstein, concluded it was the only alternative to surrender.
Republicans gave the game away when all but a few of them opposed Obama’s three most recent appointments to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit not on the merits but by accusing the president of trying to “pack the court.” In fact, Obama was simply making appointments he was constitutionally and legislatively authorized to make. His nominees were being filibustered because they might alter the circuit court’s philosophical balance. The GOP thus demonstrated beyond any doubt that it cares far more about maintaining conservative influence on the nation’s second most important judicial body than in observing the rules and customs of the Senate.

As Dionne concludes, “This is why the Senate Democrats’ action will, in the end, be constructive. The first step toward resolving a power struggle is to recognize it for what it is. The era of denial is finally over.”

Political Strategy Notes

At Talking Points Memo, TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore’s “It’s The Fundamentals, Stupid: Elections Aren’t Determined By Short-Term ‘Game Changes’” puts some needed perspective on all of the jockeying for ’14 and ’16: “…a lot of the breathless and widely gyrating prognosticating we’ve been hearing lately really revolves around whether a lame-duck president is dealing with a Republican Senate or with a Democratic Senate in which Republicans hold an effective veto power via the filibuster (barring a full “nuking” of minority obstruction by Democrats, which remains highly unlikely). And as for the 2016 presidential contest, you’d be better advised to watch those boring “fundamentals” for clues to the outcome than any short-term changes in a game that has barely even begun. You know: fundamentals like the economy, and what the Affordable Care Act looks like this time two years from now.”
Matthew O’Brien’s post, “The Singular Waste of America’s Healthcare System in 1 Remarkable Chart” at The Atlantic has a good graphic to show people who are undecided about the need for health care reform how inefficient the current U.S. system is, compared to other health care systems in developed nations.
You go to YouTube and type “Obamacare ads” in the search window, and you get about 98K hits. My quickie scan suggests that 90 percent of them are negative, thanks most likely to the Koch brothers and other hidden funding sources. Obamacare supporters need more and better ads, which ought to be doable, considering all of the people who have benefitted by the ACA.
In similar vein, Media Matters for America’s “How The GOP Uses Network News To Discredit Obama” by Tyler Hansen, Olivia Marshall and Samantha Wyatt provides an instructive read for Democratic media strategists.
Esquire’s political ace Charles Pierce has another great post, this one on “The Nuclear Fallout” (via Reader Supported News), which notes “There are no moderate Republicans any more. There is no bipartisan solution because one party is not interested in governing the country if the people are silly enough to vote for a president that party doesn’t like. (This, it should be said, is something that the newly feisty Harry Reid should explain to “moderate” Democrats like Joe Manchin and Mark Pryor, of whom it already is being said will hold the “balance of power” in the new Senate order. You will do what the leadership tells you on the big-ticket items — which include judges — or you will find out what life is like on the Post Office Commitee.) In almost every poll, the American public is crying out for solutions, and most of them are solutions supported by this president and by the Democratic majority in the Senate. This is what the Republicans determined to block. Now, it’s harder for them to do it. If they don’t act to wring the crazy out of their party, then the president and his party should use every legal means available to do it for them. It’s time for constituent services in the districts that elect the crazy people to suddenly feel the pinch of reduced resources. It’s time to get very tough on voting rights.”
In his excellent msnbc.com round-up, “With eye on 2014, GOP ramps up war on voting,” Zachary Roth observes that “In the 10 months since President Obama created a bipartisan panel to address voting difficulties, 90 restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 33 states. So far, nine have become law, according to a recent comprehensive roundup by the Brennan Center for Justice – but others are moving quickly through statehouses.”
Conservative columnist Diana West argues that Republicans should ignore distractions like the gender gap and focus on turning out their strongest demographic, married, middle income voters. West crunches numbers in the recent Virginia elections and 2012 and concludes, “In other words, middle-income and married Americans are Republican strongholds. Eureka! Here is where Republicans can find winning margins by turning out more of these traditional voters — as many as humanly possible.” If Dems can keep up their current fund-raising edge, perhaps their best tactic to bust this GOP strategy is to buy up ad time/space on media popular with this demographic.
Nonetheless, Hotline on Call’s Alex Roarty’s “Why Democrats Are Accusing Mitch McConnell of Sexism” has Dems anchoring their Kentucky strategy for taking Mitch McConnel’s seat to his opposition to the Violence Against Women Act.
The Michigan Republican Party will launch its new African American Engagement Office in Detroit on December 6 to improve on the two percent of the vote their presidential nominee received in the city in 2012. Sen. Rand Paul, critic of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the 50th anniversary of which which will be feted extensively over the next year) and son of a U.S. congressmen who has allowed overt racism in his newsletter, will reportedly headline the grand opening. What could go wrong?

Clawson: New York Times awakes from coma … worried about ‘rank partisan warfare’

The following article by Laura Clawson is cross-posted from Daily Kos:
The New York Times channels Senate Republicans to let us know: Thursday’s use of the nuclear option “could usher in an era of rank partisan warfare beyond even what Americans have seen in the past five years.” In translation, now that Republicans can’t obstruct quite as much in one of their favored ways, they’re going to find new ways to harm the function of the nation’s government.

Republicans, wounded and eager to show they have not been stripped of all power, are far more likely to unify against the Democrats who humiliated them in such dramatic fashion.

These are people who were arguing there should be fewer judges on the nation’s second most important court simply to prevent President Barack Obama from filling vacancies. Frankly, there’s not that much more they can unify against Democrats. Oh, sure, occasionally a few Republicans helped break the filibuster on legislation and now they might refuse to do the part of their jobs that involves passing laws–Sen. Susan Collins is making noises about how the nasty partisanship involved in preventing Republicans from keeping the judiciary desperately understaffed might cause her to take her ball and go home join in filibusters of things like the Violence Against Women Act.
That’s the story: Republicans are committed to obstruction and to destruction of the government’s function. One tool of obstruction has been taken from them, so they’re going to wield the others with more fury–possibly even in cases where they think legislation like VAWA is necessary. But that’s not about Democrats somehow ushering in a new age of partisanship. It’s about Democrats forcing Republicans to shift tactics in the age of Republican extremism we’re already living through.

Carville: Kennedy A Conservative? Only If We’re Feeling Charitable

The following post is by James Carville of Democracy Corps:
One of the things Pope Francis teaches us is that we should share, and that those of us who have more should be willing to give to those who are less fortunate. Those of us who are Democrats follow proudly in the footsteps of real champions of this idea — individuals who have fought for progress, economic justice, and equity. People we can be proud to call Democrats: FDR, JFK, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.
By contrast, our Republican friends have pathetically little in their past to honor. That’s why you cannot listen to a Republican speech without every other word being “Reagan.” They simply don’t have anyone else, except Lincoln, of course, but he would not recognize this Republican Party as his own. So they have to find someone new to talk about — after all, they cannot talk about Sarah Palin. And in their quest to find a new hero, they have decided to claim John F. Kennedy as their own. They have determined, apparently, that underneath it all he was really a conservative Republican.
I know your first inclination is to think, “How can they say this?” But I think we Democrats should take our cue from Pope Francis, and be charitable. As the holidays approach, we should actually feel sorry for the sparsity of gifts they have under their holiday tree and share.
Oh, and to the question of whether John F. Kennedy was really a conservative? Perhaps we should ask Kennedy himself, because he actually had something to say about that:

If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people–their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties–someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say “I’m a Liberal.”

If you are still wondering, ask yourself if this sounds more like Bill Clinton or Sarah Palin.
So, my dear friends in the GOP, I’m in a giving mood. And in the spirit of Pope Francis, we will let you use Kennedy for the holidays — and then we’re gonna take him back.