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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Sympathy for the Devil

Sometimes you just have to hate it when you’re right. I went a little over the top a few days ago, and predicted that Republicans would respond to Democratic and civil rights attorneys’ efforts to stop their voter suppression campaign by “pretending their goons are being intimidated and harassed.”
Sure enough, Josh Marshall reports that robo-calls in the Philly suburbs are telling voters that Democratic “trial lawyers” are trying to intimidate Republican campaign workers through lawsuits and such.
The “campaign workers” we are talking about are, of course, trying to intimidate and harass Democratic, and especially minority, voters.
Part of Karl Rove’s M.O. is to pull deliberately outrageous stunts and then use the opposition’s outrage to suggest moral equivalency between the two parties.
But this is even worse: arguing that those poor, bedraggled GOP vote suppressors are actually victims whose plight should command sympathy.
Unbelievable, but it’s happening.


Bush’s Big Gamble

If I might stand back for a moment from all the last-minute hysteria and offer a big picture observation, it seems clear that both the photo finish in this presidential election, and the incredibly savage tone of so much of the campaign, go back to a momentous decision that George W. Bush and his handlers made not once, but twice, since he took office.
Upon becoming president in the most controversial decision since 1876, and having lost the popular vote, Bush could have governed in a way that reflected a genuine commitment to bipartisanship, and a genuine humility about the lack of any real mandate for the conservative ideology that, after all, he mostly hid during the 2000 campaign. But he chose otherwise, and on September 10, 2001, looked well on his way to being a one-term president.
After 9/11, Bush had a second opportunity to unite the country, move beyond his conservative base, and maybe even get a few important things done outside a right-wing agenda of perennial tax cuts for the wealthy. But instead, he saw in the understandable preoccupation of the electorate with national security a path to re-election based on even greater partisanship, suppemented by an audacious effort to reward powerful constituencies and use the prerogatives of office to entrench himself and his party through any means possible.
From beginning to end, Bush has sought to do something which no major party presidential candidate in living memory has succesfully done: win by abandoning the political center altogether.
Now, many people on the Right, and even some on the Left, will tell you this supreme gamble is admirable because it shows Bush, Cheney and Rove would rather stick to their principles than compromise. But Bush’s re-election tactics show otherwise: they have heavily depended on things that have nothing to do with conservative principle, including relentless efforts to smear his opponent and distort his record and platform; appropriation of religious and patriotic symbols; deliberate promotion of divisive and phony cultural controversies; scare tactics that warn voters that a change of administration could lead to their fiery deaths; and construction of a cult of personality aimed not simply at mobilizing conservative voters, but at whipping them and their opponents into a frenzy of passion and hate. They’ve done this because it’s the only way they have a chance of winning without compromise or quarter–of elevating “our team” over “their team” as though this was the Thirty Years War rather than a democratic election. And the Republican leadership of Congress, and increasingly, Republicans around the country, have adopted the same savage approach.
These thoughts occur to me because part of my day job is to think beyond the election to what Democrats and the country as a whole can do to deal with two immediate crises–in Iraq and in the federal budget–and innumerable long-range challenges ranging from the global economy to climate change to the baby boom retirement, in an atmosphere of anger and mistrust that exceeds anything I’ve ever seen.
If there is a purgatory, lots of us will be doing some hard time to cleanse our souls of the nastiness of this campaign. Lord knows I haven’t felt this partisan in my life, and I’ve been an obsessive political junkie since 1960. But if anyone should be fearing actual hellfire for political sins, it’s the president and his people, who have deliberately, with malice aforethought, engineered this situation, in the pursuit of raw power.
Should Bush win his big gamble, there’s absolutely no reason to believe it will lead to anything other than more of the same.


Straws in the Wind

I just did a large conference call with DLC elected officals from around the country, and picked up a couple of interesting tidbits:
(1) One influential Iowa Dem said Democrats”absolutely cleaned their clocks” in early voting in that state.
(2) Another influential Dem from South Florida reported that minorities weren’t the only ones to heavily participate in early voting there; the “condo vote”–strongly pro-Democratic elderly voters in places like Broward County–also heavily voted early, with Dem operatives on hand with chairs and bottled water to help participants deal with long waiting lines.


A Second Shoe Drops in Ohio

Now there are two federal court rulings in Ohio declaring the state’s law allowing party reps to challenge voter eligibility at the polls unconstitutional, as a judge in Akron echoed a Cincinnati judge’s ruling late last night. GOPers are still trying to get a federal appeals court to intervene and overturn the rulings, but now they won’t have the excuse of divergent decisions at the district court level.
For once, maybe the good guys will be able to run out the clock.


Up-to-the-Minute Coverage of Ohio Hijinks

If you’ve gotten as obsessed as I am about the legal and political maneuverings over voter suppression in the Buckeye State, you should be aware there’s now a blog up totally devoted to the topic.


Quote of the Day

Political scientist Bill Binning of Youngstown State University told USA Today that Kerry has a good chance to win Ohio, but then said: “I don’t know if it’s going to be within the margin of litigation.”
Pretty funny, eh? Funny like Moe hitting Larry in the head with a mallet.


High Noon on Voter Intimidation

The legal situation with respect to GOP plans to challenge Democratic and/or minority voters in Ohio and elsewhere has gotten as frenzied as the election itself.
In the wee hours of this morning, Ohio federal district judge Susan Dlott ruled that the state’s law allowing party representatives to challenge voter eligibility at the polls is unconstitutional. Even though the suit only involved voter challenges in Hamilton County (Cincinatti), the constitutional ruling would, if it stands, ban such challenges statewide. A separate ruling by a different federal judge is expect today, involving Summit County (Akron). The state GOP, natch, is asking the federal court of appeals to reverse Dlott’s ruling, and could be aided in the appeal if there’s a different outcome in the Summit case.
Meanwhile, in a separate case with potential national impact, a federal judge in New Jersey will hold a hearing today on a Democratic suit alleging that the GOP’s voter challenges in Ohio and other states violate a 1981 consent order by the national Republican Party agreeing to abandon such efforts in the future, after evidence the GOP had engaged in minority voter intimidation in the Garden State.
Litigation this close to election day is obviously unusual, but better now than on November 3.


Another Vote Suppression Update

It’s no secret that many people in both campaigns think that Wisconsin could turn out to be the ballgame, and that’s probably why the GOP is becoming most brazen in the Cheese State in voter supression strategies.
Having been slam-dunked by Milwaukee officials who ruled against their effort to challenge thousands of mainly-minority voters in that city, Republicans have ramped up their claims to argue that 37,000 Milwaukee voters are registered with erroneous or non-existent addresses.
Their case, like the one they lost last week, is based on the very questionable tactic–the one that led to a judicial consent agreement ruling this out back in the 1980s–of sending mail to targeted minority voters and representing undeliverable mail as indicating voter fraud.
In other words, having lost the legal case, the Wisconsin GOP is resorting in a big way to a political case that it’s justified in challenging minority voters in Wisconsin, and in tainting any adverse result in the state.


Spin Update

Want another piece of evidence that Republicans believe pre-election spinning is important? Check out WaPo’s “crystal ball” feature today, providing projections from “experts” about what’s going to happen on Tuesday.
Republican spinmeisters Tony Snow, Bill Kristol and Ann Coulter all predicted historic GOP landslides: Bush by five percent, and well over 300 in electoral votes, supplemented by big Republican gains in Senate, House and gubernatorial contests. Democratic pundit Donna Brazile, by contrast, predicted a narrow Kerry win, and small Democratic gains elsewhere.
Brazile’s being honest if optimistic. Snow, Kristol and Coulter are just spinning.