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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In the states Working America canvassed, a surprising number of white working-class voters who had backed Barack Obama chose Trump over Hillary Clinton, helping flip those states to the GOP. So after the election, [Working America director Karen] Nussbaum’s team went back into the field, surveying over 2,300 voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania to make sense of what had happened. Their conclusion, provided exclusively to The Nation today: Many Trump voters “are as up for grabs [to Democrats] now as they were before the election,” Nussbaum said. That may be of little comfort, two days before the inauguration, but it should remind Democrats that the defection of some of their voters to Trump wasn’t a lasting shift based on policy but a bad choice these voters nonetheless perceived as best for them. — from Joan Walsh’s article, “Post-Election Survey: Democrats Can Still Reach Trump Voters: The study by Working America, shared exclusively with The Nation, finds that many Trump voters are up for grabs—but also points to a lack of progressive infrastructure” in The Nation.

At The Washington Post Elise Viebeck reports that “More than 60 Democratic lawmakers now skipping Trump’s inauguration.” Actually it’s 65 and growing. “The number rose sharply after Trump tweeted Saturday that Lewis (D) is “all talk, talk, talk” and should “finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities.” One Democratic House member, Karen Bass, twitter-polled her constituents, and 84 percent of 12, 704 respondents urged her not to attend.

Jane C. Timm has a round-up at NBCnews.com, “Here’s Why Democrats Say They’re Skipping Trump’s Inauguration,” with short explainations, including “Because “Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street” (New York Rep. Lloyd Doggett); “Because “a real president doesn’t insult and bully celebrities or everyday Americans because they disagree with him,” (Rep. Raul Ruiz); “Trump is a unique threat to the Constitution and our country” (Pennsylvania’s Rep. Brendan Boyle); and “To keep a clear conscience” (Texas Rep. G.K. ButterfieldTexas Rep. Al Green).

From “An Emerging, and Very Pointed Democratic Resistance” by Benjamin Wallce-Wells at The New Yorker: “Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, had allowed each senator only five minutes to question [Trump Education Secretary-nomine Betsy] DeVos. In these short exchanges, the committee’s Democratic members did remarkable damage. Under questioning from Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, DeVos not only refused to say that guns had no place in schools but also advanced the ludicrous position that they might be needed to protect against “potential grizzlies.” Bernie Sanders got the nominee to admit that her family had spent as much as two hundred million dollars to elect Republicans. Elizabeth Warren’s prodding revealed that DeVos had little to say about the problem of student debt. Under Tim Kaine’s questioning, she repeatedly declined to say that she would hold charter or private schools to the same accountability standards as public schools. Maggie Hassan’s questioning showed that DeVos did not understand the federal government’s legal responsibility to protect students with disabilities. “I may have confused it,” DeVos said.”

Greg Sargent’s Plum Line post “Trump’s Obamacare replacement will be a scam. Here’s how Democrats can expose it” reveals the fradulent core of Trump’s ACA ‘replacement’: “While he reiterated that people without money will get coverage, he clarified that he’s considering a mechanism to do this: Medicaid block grants. “We’ll probably have block grants of Medicaid back into the states,” Trump told Fox…Progressives tend to oppose Medicaid block grants because they are all but certain to get cut, and because states would restrict eligibility requirements. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently put it, they “would likely eliminate the guarantee that everyone who’s eligible and applies for its benefits would receive them…this idea — which seems likely to be at the center of the Trump/GOP replacement plan — would dilute the guarantee of coverage that Obamacare is striving to make universal.”

At Social Europe Oxford University professor Bo Rothstein addresses a question of interest not only in the U.S., but in industrialized nations world-wide: “Why Has The White Working Class Abandoned The Left?” Rothstein focuses on an issue that is too-often glossed over — corruption. “In several yearly polls, Gallup has reported that, since 2010, between 73 and 79 percent of Americans agree that “corruption is widespread throughout the government in this country.” These staggering figures are by no means unique but there is considerable variation between countries from Greece 99 percent to 26 percent in Denmark…Corruption is not an easy concept to define and the academic literature is, to say the least, not unified. Empirical research, however, gives a quite surprising answer to what “ordinary people” in general perceive as corruption. What they understand as corruption is much broader than bribes. Instead, it is various forms of favouritism in which money usually is not involved. This can be things like access to good schools, getting a building licence or a public contract where in many cases people feel that the decision has not been impartial and based on clear rules about merit. Instead, political, social or ethnic personal connections dominates who gets what…Instead of focusing on universal programs for all or very broad segments of the population, the Democrats and Clinton came to represent policies seen as favouritism (“corruption”) towards minority groups by the white male working class. Targeted programs are also very vulnerable to suspicion about malpractice in implementation processes because decisions about individual cases are often very complicated (who is eligible and how much preferential treatment is justified). Universal programs, once the hallmark of successful leftist policies, do not suffer from this problem usually.”

David Leonhardt’s NYT column “America’s Great Working-Class Colleges” merits a thoughtful read from all Democrats who are seeking ways to win more support from working-class voters of all races. Leonhardt observes, “Because the elite colleges aren’t fulfilling that responsibility, working-class colleges have become vastly larger engines of social mobility. The new data shows, for example, that the City University of New York system propelled almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and Chicago, combined.” However, adds Leonhardt, “The share of lower-income students at many public colleges has fallen somewhat over the last 15 years. The reason is clear. State funding for higher education has plummeted. It’s down 19 percent per student, adjusted for inflation, since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The financial crisis pinched state budgets, and facing a pinch, some states decided education wasn’t a top priority.” If Democrats can brand their party as the sole institutional advocate of broadening the lanes of access to college education for working families, it will not go unappreciated.

In his post at The Upshot, “Trump Shows How to Smother a Scandal: With a Bigger Story,”Brendan Nyhan has a revealing insight on the role of scandals in politics that Democrats better understand, particularly in dealing with the incoming Trump Administration: “Scandals need time and space to develop. When the news cycle is congested, potential scandals are deprived of attention, causing the media to move on to other stories and the political opposition to anticipate that any criticisms will probably have little effect…Many observers suspect that Mr. Trump seeks to exploit this dynamic by distracting the press and the public with stunts like meeting with Kanye West after delaying a news conference on conflicts of interest or tweetingabout Meryl Streep before hearings to consider his nominees on Capitol Hill. It’s impossible to determine his motivations, of course, but the effect is often to divert attention from less flattering issues…In this sense, the continuing reality show that Mr. Trump creates may help protect him from deep damage by any particular scandal. As in the campaign, he makes so much news every day that few stories ever generate sustained controversy. Instead, public attention lurches from one story to the next, never quite focusing on any particular controversy. He may prefer it that way.” Intentional or not, it’s as if Trump’s attention span deficit has become contagious, infecting the media and actually working in his interest by reducing the shelf-life of his ever-percolating scandals. What provoked outrage in years past, now engenders a few chuckles at the breakfast table, then off to work. Republicans were able to manufacture a fake ‘scandal’ regarding Clinton’s emails, without ever addressing specifics, through unrelenting message discipline, while Trump’s tax returns remain hidden on the eve of his inauguration.

For those who have wondered why America’s 57 million citizens with disabilities are not more of a unified political force, Jay Ruckelshaus’s New York Times op-ed explores “The Non-Politics of Disability,” and offers this provocative idea: “…I believe there is great potential for a new disability politics to provide a positive blueprint for dealing with our partisan divide and other identity issues that goes beyond the unhelpful political correctness frame. Thinking seriously about precisely why disability maintains a moral consensus might allow us to harness any advantages (e.g. a common moral vocabulary) while discarding what’s unhelpful. What if we could construct a model of politicization that doesn’t entail bitter partisanship, and rescue authentic disagreement from stultifying consensus? The resulting practices and mentalities could be revolutionary for disability politics, and for democracy itself.”


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