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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Ends and Means, Part II

What a buzzkill for the House GOP. Just when they were getting ready to pop the balloons and cut the cake in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of the Contract With America, word came in that a Texas Grand Jury had indicted three of Tom DeLay’s closest political associates for a variety of campaign law violations.
I don’t have any specific dirt on The Hammer, but the indictments strike pretty close to DeLay’s big homestate project back in 2002: getting enough Republicans elected to the Texas legislature to give the GOP control, thus paving the way for the Great Texas Power Grab of 2003. In case you missed it, that was the DeLay-driven re-redistricting of Texas Congressional seats aimed at ginning up as many as six new Republican House members in 2004. It took a lot of cash, a lot of long-distance phone calls from Washington to Austin, a lot of scrambling around by Texas Rangers to track down Democratic legislators seeking to block the Grab by deyning a quorum. But by God, the Hammer got his new Congressional map. And it turns out some of his buddies may have gotten too zealous in shaking down Texas business people to put the plot into motion.
Now, of course, DeLay and his House colleagues are denouncing the indictments as a Democratic conspiracy, even as they deny he had any idea what his friends were up to. I know it’s hard to believe that a guy like DeLay is a detail hound or a control freak when it comes to achieving his most cherished political goals. I know he’s never raised any suspicions that he expects business groups to join “our team” and pony up dough if they want to play ball. And clearly, the Texas investigation is a lot more blatantly trumped up and partisan than, say, a vast multi-year hunt, employing hundreds of federal agents and costing tens of millions in taxpayer dollars, to find something illegal about an old Arkansas land deal.
But hypocrisy is not an indictable offense. If DeLay’s really clean on this one, he should stick to that story and lay off the demonization of anybody who dares suggest he might have gone over the line. And Republicans should not be so hasty to accept that anyone who serves the holy cause of controlling Congress forever is by definition righteous, while his critics are by definition corrupt.
In their recent tendency to confuse ends and means, today’s Republicans call to mind a Georgia governor of my early youth in the Jim Crow south, Marvin Griffin, who invariably attacked anyone questioning his frequent ethical lapses as a secret agent of the NAACP. Charlie Pou, who was then political editor of the Atlanta Journal, referred to Griffin’s argument as: “If you ain’t for stealing, you ain’t for segregation.” Just goes to show that dubious means are most often found in the service of dubious ends.

Is It OK To Stop Panicking Yet?

The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Bush up 3 among RVs, up 4 among LVs, pretty much where they had the thing a month ago. A new Democracy Corps poll has the race tied. A new poll sponsored by The Economist has Kerry up 1. The latest poll from Investors’ Business Daily and the Christian Science Monitor has Kerry up 1. A new batch of state polls from ARG has Kerry up in states with a majority of the electoral votes.
I’m just wondering: is it okay to conclude that the race is pretty much even, which is where it’s been on average most of this year, and where just about everybody figured it would wind up? Or do we have to wait for the next CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll to finally concur with everyone else?
Look, I have plenty of respect for The Gallup Organization, but it’s been showing Bush doing better than other polls for months, and its most recent polls have been extreme outliers in suggesting a huge Bush lead. The reason is very clear: Gallup is showing that Republicans will make up a larger percentage of the electorate than they have in any recent cycle. I don’t buy it, and neither, apparently, does any other polling outfit.

Gender Bending

The “gender gap” is such an enduring factor in American politics that for a long time it became one of those things people don’t even bother to think about. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus; Men care about money and guns; women care about health care and education; Republicans are the Daddy Party, Democrats are the Mommy Party, bark bark woof woof.
That started to change after the 2002 elections, when analysts noted the gender gap had dramatically shrunk, with Democrats winning women by a slender 2 percent. Thence was born the legend of “security moms”–married women with kids whose voting priorities were profoundly altered by the trauma of 9/11.
After the 9/11-haunted and security-saturated Republican National Convention gave George W. Bush a much-improved showing among women in several polls, “security moms” quickly pulled ahead of “NASCAR dads” in the Winston Cup standings for the dominant political cliche of the 2004 electoral cycle.
The New York Times’ Katharine Seelye summarized the current Democratic anxiety about “security moms,” but may have missed a crucial distinction about the kinds of security issues that are driving these women back and forth between the candidates and the parties.
The best analysis of what makes “security moms” tick remains Garance Franke-Ruta’s April 2003 Washington Monthly essay, “Homeland Security Is For Girls.” In a masterpiece of the-personal-is-the-political analysis, Franke-Ruta began by observing that the duct-tape shoppers that surrounded her in the crowded Home Depot checkout lines during the first big Code Orange terrorism scare were overwhelmingly women. She went on to suggest that protection of the home against potential terrorist attacks–homeland security in the literal sense–is not a distraction from the traditional priorities of women, but an extension of them at a time when when war has become a domestic issue.
Franke-Ruta digressed a bit to take a few choice shots at the men who delegated Code Orange responsibilities to “the little woman at home,” while staying glued to SportsCenter. But her analysis still makes intuitive sense, and also helps explain some of the high-stakes partisan maneuvering this year to frame this or that issue as part of or separate from the war begun on 9/11.
Viewed from a gender perspective, the Kerry-Edwards “A Stronger America Begins At Home” slogan suggests that “security moms” don’t really have to choose between health care, jobs and personal safety. The Bush-Cheney effort to re-brand the Iraq war as an integral part of the immediate response to 9/11, rather than as a “war of choice” aimed at deposing a tyrant, was clearly targeted to voters, and especially women, who otherwise might be nearly as alarmed at the vision of Americans dying in Iraq as the memory of Americans dying in New York or at the Pentagon. And Kerry’s latest decision to focus on a critique of conditions in Iraq is arguably an effort to isolate “Bush’s war” from the war on terrorism, and perhaps even label it as a contributor to the terrorist risk.
My personal recommendation to Kerry’s wizards is that there is a rich lode to mine in Bush’s overall stewardship of national security, including the war on terror itself, and his incompetent management of the chaos in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the end, shredding the president’s claim that we’re safe and secure–not to mention prosperous and united–is his hands is the trump card, for “security moms,” and for everyone else.

Split Decision

With growing signs that the presidential race is beginning to tighten up again, you can expect the punditocracy to get back into the ol’ 2000 mindframe of looking at small factors in individual states that might be decisive in a nailbiter, instead of all the Big Trends that have dominated the news over the last few weeks. One of the more fascinating small factors is the ballot initiative in Colorado that would split the state’s nine electoral votes proportionately according to the popular vote.
On the assumption that Bush is likely to win Colorado (not an unreasonable assumption since Democrats have carried the state just once since 1964), the reaction to the initiative has generally broken down along party lines, with Republicans screeching against it as a nefarious plot to steal 4 EVs for Kerry. Indeed, CO Republican governor Bill Owens has been leading the charge against the initiative.
But so far Colorado voters seem to be evaluating the initiative on its merits rather than its potential impact this year. A poll released today by the Pueblo Chieftain showed the initiative ahead among likely voters by a 51-31 margin. If that’s the baseline, GOPers are going to have to decide exactly how much time and money they want to spend explaining and attacking an eminently reasonable-sounding initiative at a time when their presidential, Senate, and House candidates in the state are not exactly kicking ass.
Their fallback position is a legal challenge to the initiative on grounds that it would “retroactively” apply to an election held the same day. But as we were all reminded in 2000, electoral votes are not actually cast until December. Stay tuned.

Grover the Top

Every time I think that conservative super-lobbyist and “starve the beast” theoretician Grover Norquist has finally reached the maximum feasible level of provocative craziness, he finds a way to ratchet his rhetoric up another notch. Last year’s “bipartisanship is another name for date rape” quip was pretty far off the charts. But thanks to Daily Kos (who posted a translation of the piece), Grover’s outdone himself again in an op-ed for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. Why is he upbeat about the political future of “our team” as against the hated Democratic opposition? Let him explain.

Each year, 2 million people who fought in the Second World War and lived through the Great Depression die. This generation has been an exeception in American history, because it has defended anti-American policies. They voted for the creation of the welfare state and obligatory military service. They are the base of the Democratic Party. And they are dying. And, at the same time, all the time more Americans have stocks. That makes them defend the interests of business, because it is their own interest. Because of that, it’s impossible to bring to the fore policies of social hate, of class warfare.

Now it’s no secret that Grover’s one of those people who not only wants to win elections against Democrats, but would just as soon see us all dead. But it’s uncharacteristic of him to rely on Demographic Destiny to kill off the Greatest Generation and destroy the Democratic Party base. I figure Grover wants to be the angry executioner, not just the cheerful pallbearer.
It would all be pretty funny if it weren’t for the fact that Norquist is a close friend of Karl Rove, an important ally of George W. Bush, the evil genius behind the K Street Strategy, and perhaps the biggest dog in the conservative activist kennel.

Two Plus Two Equals–Democrats!

With Capitol Hill so listless that staffers are sneaking out of Washington to work in campaigns “instead of miming the motions of work in a Congress that’s on legislative autopilot,” as Hans Nichols put it in The Hill newspaper today, Republican House Members are occupying themselves with an effort to supress or perhaps just pre-spin an impending CBO report showing more bad news on the budget if the president’s policies are implemented.
According to a Ben Pershing report in (subscription-only) Roll Call today, an aide to House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) sent around a memo warning that the new report, which was requested by Committee Democrats, “will be immediately used solely for political purposes.” But here’s the interesting part of Mead’s whine: “The majority or minority staff can easily calculate these deficit projections on their own using CBO’s data provided to us. However, I suspect the reason CBO is being asked to do the math is to lend the all-important seal of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to their partisan calculations.”
Hmmmm. It’s just a matter of doing the math, but doing the math means a “partisan calculation.” I know Republicans tend to think that scientists are biased towards the views of godless liberals; that’s why the Bush administration is stacking federal science panels with conservative ideologues. But now, it appears, they have to do something to deal with the Democratic conspiracy that suffuses mathematics as well. No wonder they don’t care about fiscal arithmetic.

You Don’t Have To Be Christian To Be a Deacon

In my post on Zell Miller’s latest ukase against the Georgia Democrats he’s abandoned, I failed to note that the zany senator referred to former president Jimmy Carter, former U.S. representative Ben Jones, and current state Democratic Party chairman Bobby Kahn as “a Board of Deacons for Democratic Disaster.”
Kahn informed me by email that “my rabbi has congratulated me on becoming a Deacon.”

You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Leon

If you’ve been reading The New Republic as long as I have, you’re probably aware that the magazine has gone through a lot of changes in editorial and political direction over the last two decades. But one of the constants, since 1983, has been TNR’s “back of the book”–its literary and cultural commentary, edited by Leon Wieseltier.
Like many TNR regulars, I sometimes find Wieseltier’s editorial decisions a bit esoteric. I’m frankly not interested in modern dance, sculpture, or the latest developments in the echo chambers of literary criticism or neo-Freudian psychology. But hey, you can’t please or stimulate everybody.
Leon’s own writing is often difficult and occasionally too self-consciously ironic. But when he’s on, he’s on, and no one in the world of quasi-political analysis is his equal in exposing the moral hazards of political rhetoric. He provides another fine example in the current TNR, in a brief, elegant, and passionate essay about the settler-driven backlash on the Israeli Right against Ariel Sharon’s effort to withdraw from Gaza.
Here’s a sample:

It is certainly the case that the right to Nablus and the right to Tel Aviv is the same right–a right, after all, pertains to the whole; but Palestinians have this right too, which is why partition of the land, territorial compromise, the widom of the founders of the Jewish state who prevailed over the ideological ancestors of the indignant irredentists of today, remains the only answer, because it signifies an agreement to suspend the rhetoric of rights, which is the rhetoric of war.

Wieseltier’s detractors would undoubtedly observe that this is a very, very long sentence, which would take half a chalkboard to diagram. But it’s worth unpacking, because it’s packed with important and inter-related insights. And in the end, if you understand each phrase, you understand a lot more about the Zionist case for the recognition of a Palestinian State. And you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate that.

The Harrowing of Zell

Okay, I admit it: my inability to ignore Zell Miller’s continual ravings is in part because of the bottomless opportunities he provides for catchy titles playing off the Zell/Hell pun. And I haven’t even resorted to “Zell’s Bells,” “To Zell in a Handbasket,” or even “Zell No, We Won’t Go.”
Today’s installment of “Come Zell or High Water” was provoked by another logic-defying Miller statement, this time in a open letter to “All Georgia Democratic Candidates” essentially urging them to follow his lead in abandoning the party to save the party. No kidding.
The nut of Zell’s argument is to analogize this election to that of 1972, when George McGovern was the presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia, Sam Nunn was running for the Senate, and Miller himself was state party executive director. “We cautiously and carefully worked to avoid any connection between the far-left presidential candidate and our centrist state and local candidates.” As a result, “Nunn received 54 percent and Georgia Democrats continued to dominate the state Legislature and local offices,” and then four years later Carter was elected president.
Gee, Senator, I was a Georgia Democrat who watched the 1972 election pretty closely, and I somehow missed that part where Jimmy Carter or Sam Nunn endorsed Nixon, praised all his domestic and international policies, went to the Republican convention and made a fist-shaking attack on the Democratic nominee, and then went barnstorming around the country with Tricky Dick. Georgia Democrats managed somehow to avoid supporting Nixon at all, even though a lot of them back then were George Wallace supporters who probably thought “centrist” was a synonym for “communist.”
Miller can’t seem to get his mind around the reality that he is not a Democrat anymore in any meaningful sense of the term. He didn’t just endorse Bush or smear Kerry; he’s become one of the most reliable votes in the U.S. Senate for the Republican Party line. His very first step down this slippery slope was to cosponsor Bush’s original tax cut proposal. In doing so, he deeply undercut the very “centrist and conservative” Democrats he claims to represent, who were either opposing the whole mess (like the DLC did) or trying to force Bush into a compromise that wouldn’t break the bank and might give poor and middle-class folks a few scraps from the table. And now he’s accusing Georgia Democrats of cowardice for failing to make total surrender to the opposition their highest principle.
Before his New York tirade, part of Miller’s rap was that he intended to help “rebuild” the Democratic Party after helping beat Kerry in November. That was a laugh. Now in his open letter he continues to say: “I still care deeply about the Georgia Democratic Party.” The joke’s over.

Is Coburn OK?

One of the most interesting Senate races this year is in OK, where New Dem Rep. Brad Carson is fighting to take away a Red State seat being vacated by Don Nickles. His Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Dr. Tom Coburn, makes Nickles look like Rudy Guiliani. Today’s NYT profiles Coburn as a hero of the national Right. But the question is whether the Mad Doctor from Muscogee has managed to become too conservative for Oklahoma.
As the Times notes, Coburn is renowned for taking unusually extreme positions on cultural issues, attacking the promotion of condom use to prevent AIDS as a pro-gay position; calling for capital punishment for abortion providers; and referring to his contest with the moderate-to-conservative Carson as a battle between “good and evil.” But oddly enough, Coburn spends most of his time on the campaign trail blasting Congress for letting the federal budget deficit get out of control. Last time we checked, Republicans controlled Congress and the budget process. Coburn appears to be demanding cognitive dissonance from Bush voters in OK, who have repeatedly heard the president alternate between dismissals of budget deficits as irrelevant, and claims that everything’s getting better.
The last few polls have shown Carson pulling ahead of Coburn, who had a sizeable lead after his win in the GOP primary. If his history is any indicator, Coburn will respond by moving even farther to the Right. We’ll soon see if the center can hold in Oklahoma.