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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Obama Aloha Boosts Dems

Little Hawaii, not exactly a mighty player on electoral college maps, has nonetheless made an impressively disproportionate contribution to the revitalization of the Democratic Party via the temperament of our leader. According to Philip Rucker’s article in today’s WaPo, “Hawaii’s Still Waters Run Deep for the President-Elect,” Hawaii’s contribution comes from the “aloha spirit,” as a defining element of President-elect Obama’s character. Rucker’s report on Obama’s just-concluded two weeks in his real home state begins with this description of the mellowest President-elect in memory:

In his two weeks in Hawaii, Barack Obama has oozed island cool: the black shades and khaki shorts, the breezy sandaled saunter that suggested he had not a care in the world. Who said anything about the presidency?
He strolled shirtless near the beach, enjoyed a shave ice and a local seaweed-wrapped delicacy called Spam musubi. One day, the president-elect flashed the friendly “shaka” sign, shaking his pinky and thumb in a local surfing gesture.
But for the BlackBerry clipped to his left hip, Obama appeared to be channeling the aloha spirit of his native Hawaii. Far more than a greeting, Hawaiians’ aloha — which has many meanings — often connotes a certain laid-back live-and-let-live attitude. Translated literally, it means the breath of life. But aloha is also sometimes interpreted as an acronym for five words meaning kindness (akahai), unity (lokahi), agreeability (olu’olu), humility (ha’aha’a) and patience (ahonui).

Rucker’s report is accompanied by Alex Brandon’s wonderful photo of Obama body surfing, maybe the coolest pic of any President yet taken. (The New York Times web version has brighter colors) You couldn’t ask for a better visual analogue for a leader riding the high tide of favorable public opinion, or even better, a leader who finds harmony in nature.
How does the aloha spirit inform Obama’s political style? Rucker nails it well:

Friends here say the country’s first island-born president-elect has long carried more than a touch of the aloha spirit in his temperament. During the campaign, many admirers questioned whether Obama was too passive in his battles against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. John McCain.
“That’s Hawaii,” declared Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), a contemporary of Obama’s parents who has known the president-elect since birth. “You take negative energy and you process it through you and it comes out as positive energy. . . . Every time Obama comes on television now, the collective blood pressure in the United States goes down 10 points. He cools the water. He’s sober and he speaks sensibly in a calm manner that breeds confidence.”
As Obama’s wife, Michelle, has said, “You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii.”

Or as Obama himself is quoted as saying in the caption of the aforementioned WaPo photo, “What’s best in me, and what’s best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawaii.”
Jeff Zeleny’s earlier New York Times report on Obama’s trip “Obama’s Zen State, Well, It’s Hawaiian,” reaches a similar conclusion:

The mood of Mr. Obama, to many observers here in Hawaii, embodies the Aloha Spirit, a peaceful state of mind and a friendly attitude of acceptance of a variety of ideas and cultures. More than simply a laid-back vibe, many Hawaiians believe in a divine and spiritual power that provides a sustaining life energy.
“When Obama gets on television, the national pulse goes down about 10 points,” said Representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii, who was close friends with Mr. Obama’s parents. “He has this incredibly calming effect. There’s no question in my mind it comes from Hawaii.”
…“He has more Hawaii in him than Chicago; he’s laid-back, cool and collected,” said Noel Kent, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who has lived on the island for three decades. “It’s hard to express anger here. It’s a very small, enclosed environment in which you have to live with other people.”

None of which is to argue that there are no racial tensions or other forms of social stress in Hawaii. But just from my visit to Hawaii a couple of years ago, I think Zeleny and Rucker are on to something about the aloha spirit informing Obama’s temperament. Let’s hope it’s contagious.

A Toast

No doubt you need some good excuses to drink very liberally tonight as we welcome the New Year. So hoist yer tankards, mateys with gratitude to:

John and Jackie Norris, the Iowa power couple who engineered Obama’s winning strategy in the Iowa caucuses;
Will.I.am and Jesse Dylan for their mega-viral video, “Yes We Can,” a rallying cry for the hopes and dreams of millions of young voters;
Nate Silver for charting a more creative course for data-driven political journalism, as well as for nailing the presidential race outcome for both candidates within two tenths of a percent;
Legions of unheralded pro-Democratic lawyers in dozens of states, most of them volunteers, for doing a heroic job in preventing vote theft on Nov. 4;
The clueless Liddy Dole, for lacking the political acumen to see that attacking an opponent’s religious views is a really bad move;
Millions of Republicans who put America’s future before their party;
McCain strategist Steve Schmidt for first suggesting Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate and campaign manager Rick Davis for helping seal the deal;
David Axelrod, for designing and implementing the strategy needed to elect a candidate who was a state senator four years ago and for skillfully navigating a course to victory through the myriad snares and traps of racial and class politics in America;
MSNBC, for Maddow and Olbermann, and for emerging as the best alternative to FoxTV we are likely to see for a good while;
Obama wunderkind speechwriter Jon Favreau, for crafting the best political speeches of the 21st century (so far);
Hillary Clinton, for grace in defeat and for proving herself to be a valuable team player;
Tina Fey, no guys, not for being way smokin’ hot, but for using comedy to wake up a lot of Americans to what was at risk;
Michelle Obama, for doing a tough job with grace and class, and making it look easy;
Barack Obama, for artfully channeling a little Lincoln, FDR, JFK and MLK, for remaining calm and steady, for doing his homework and speaking brilliantly, for mastering the tone of a winner and providing a template for future Democratic victories; and
Madelyn Payne Dunham, Obama’s grandmother, who died two days before the election, credited with raising a 10-year-old boy into a man who today provides new hope for millions worldwide.

Shabby U.S. Infrastructure Offers Historic Opportunity for Dems

I hope the President-elect, and all Democratic members of congress for that matter, read Tom Friedman’s latest op-ed, “Time to Reboot America” in The New York Times. No one is better than Friedman in describing the general cheesiness and state of disrepair the U.S. infrastructure has fallen into, in stark contrast to the Far East cities of the future. Friedman’s entire article commands a thoughtful read from policy-makers, but I’ll just quote from a couple of nut graphs here:

….If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than us? What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity?…we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be.” We’ve indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can’t afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world’s best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.
…That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

Friedman is stone cold right that Bush’s “dumb as we wanna be” attitude has failed America miserably. And he is equally correct that the worst thing we could do now is to squander Obama’s hard-earned political capital on pork, golden parachutes, unwinnable wars and other non-productive investments. What Friedman is talking about here is making cost-effective investments in America’s future, not just our physical plant — transportation, energy efficiency, public utilities etc. — but also our intellectual capital, most specifically in education and training.
Yes, Obama needs a New Deal 2.0, but with a critical update, making damn sure the educational infrastructure is in place to modernize America to be competitive in the world marketplace for years to come. Without that clear commitment, any economic recovery will be short-lived.
The President-elect reportedly gets a lot of inspiration from President Lincoln and his ability to heal divisions and neutralize adversaries. But now it’s time for him to read up on another masterful leader, one who overcame fierce political opposition at every turn to put millions of Americans to work rebuilding America’s shabby infrastructure. Not to disparage Lincoln’s greatness as a genuine “uniter, not a divider,” but FDR provides the more instructive role model for a new President at this juncture.
FDR understood the power of building bipartisan consensus, where possible. But he also knew that sometimes a leader has to roll the opposition to win the day. Let the ideologues argue about whether Obama’s victory is a conservative or liberal mandate. Whatever it takes, The President-elect and the party he leads must take no prisoners in the struggle to rebuild America. Obama and all Democratic leaders have spoken eloquently about the urgency of rebuilding the infrastructure. What is now needed is a cast-iron Democratic will to get it done. It will be a brutal battle, but the pay-off will be huge — for Democrats, as well as for America.

Real Agenda of Auto Bailout Opponents: Gut the UAW, Weaken Unions

Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here, one of America’s largest trade unions, has a L.A. Times article, “UAW Busting, Southern Style,” that sheds light on the opposition of southern Republican Senators to the Auto industry bailout and really, unions in general. As Raynor explains:

Last week, Senate Republicans from some Southern states went to work trying to do just that, on the foreign car companies’ behalf. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Bob Corker ( R-Tenn.) and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) — representatives from states that subsidize companies such as Honda, Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan — first tried to force the UAW to take reductions in wages and benefits as a condition for supporting the auto industry bailout bill. When the UAW refused, those senators torpedoed the bill.
They claimed that they couldn’t support the bill without specifics about how wages would be “restructured.” They didn’t, however, require such specificity when it came to bailing out the financial sector. Their grandstanding, and the government’s generally lackluster response to the auto crisis, highlight many of the problems that have caused our current economic mess: the lack of concern about manufacturing, the privileged way our government treats the financial sector, and political support given to companies that attempt to slash worker’s wages.

Raynor also cites a “staggering” double standard in the way southern Republicans treat workers in the auto industry, compared to employees in the financial sector, and notes,

In the financial sector, employee compensation makes up a huge percentage of costs. According to the New York state comptroller, it accounted for more than 60% of 2007 revenues for the seven largest financial firms in New York.
At Goldman Sachs, for example, employee compensation made up 71% of total operating expenses in 2007. In the auto industry, by contrast, autoworker compensation makes up less than 10% of the cost of manufacturing a car. Hundreds of billions were given to the financial-services industry with barely a question about compensation; the auto bailout, however, was sunk on this issue alone.

He explains that the UAW has already made major concessions:

Its 2007 contract introduced a two-tier contract to pay new hires $15 an hour (instead of $28) with no defined pension plan and dramatic cuts to their health insurance. In addition, the UAW agreed that healthcare benefits for existing retirees would be transferred from the auto companies to an independent trust. With the transferring of the healthcare costs, the labor cost gap between the Big Three and the foreign transplants will be almost eliminated by the end of the current contracts.
These concessions go some distance toward leveling the playing field (retiree costs are still a factor for the Big Three). But what the foreign car companies want is to level — which is to say, wipe out — the union. They currently discourage their workforce from organizing by paying wages comparable to the Big Three’s UAW contracts. In fact, Toyota’s per-hour wages are actually above UAW wages.
However, an internal Toyota report, leaked to the Detroit Free Press last year, reveals that the company wants to slash $300 million out of its rising labor costs by 2011. The report indicated that Toyota no longer wants to “tie [itself] so closely to the U.S. auto industry.” Instead, the company intends to benchmark the prevailing manufacturing wage in the state in which a plant is located. The Free Press reported that in Kentucky, where the company is headquartered, this wage is $12.64 an hour, according to federal labor statistics, less than half Toyota’s $30-an-hour wage.
If the companies, with the support of their senators, can wipe out or greatly weaken the UAW, they will be free to implement their plan.

The southern Republicans have long parroted the meme that the wage and benefits gains won by the UAW over the years have somehow “artificially” inflated wages of union workers, while non-union southern auto workers receive “fair” compensation. It’s all about blaming the workers, instead of Big Auto’s crappy management. They would like to keep millions of Americans ignorant of the UAW’s historic role as the nation’s cutting edge union in terms of wages, benefits and working conditions, which did more to expand the middle class than has any other institution in American life. As Harold Meyerson explaned in his recent WaPo op-ed, “Destroying What the UAW Built“:

In 1949, a pamphlet was published that argued that the American auto industry should pursue a different direction. Titled “A Small Car Named Desire,” the pamphlet suggested that Detroit not put all its bets on bigness, that a substantial share of American consumers would welcome smaller cars that cost less and burned fuel more efficiently.
The pamphlet’s author was the research department of the United Auto Workers.
By the standards of the postwar UAW, there was nothing exceptional about “A Small Car Named Desire.” In its glory days, under the leadership of Walter Reuther, the UAW was the most farsighted institution – not just the most farsighted union – in America. “We are the architects of America’s future,” Reuther told the delegates at the union’s 1947 convention, where his supporters won control of what was already the nation’s leading union.
Even before he became UAW president, Reuther and a team of brilliant lieutenants would drive the Big Three’s top executives crazy by producing a steady stream of proposals for management. In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Reuther, then head of the union’s General Motors division, came up with a detailed plan for converting auto plants to defense factories more quickly than the industry’s leaders did. At the end of the war, he led a strike at GM with a set of demands that included putting union and public representatives on GM’s board….by the early 1950s, the UAW had secured a number of contractual innovations – annual cost-of-living adjustments, for instance – that set a pattern for the rest of American industry and created the broadly shared prosperity enjoyed by the nation in the 30 years after World War II….The UAW not only built the American middle class but helped engender every movement at the center of American liberalism today – which is one reason that conservatives have always held the union in particular disdain.

Meyerson concludes,

In a narrow sense, what the Republicans are proposing would gut the benefits of roughly a million retirees. In a broad sense, they want to destroy the institution that did more than any other to raise American living standards, and they want to do it by using the power of government to lower American living standards – in the middle of the most severe recession since the 1930s. The auto workers deserve better, and so does the nation they did so much to build.

With the nomination of Hilda Solis to head the Department of Labor, the incoming Obama Administration has sent a clear signal to the southern Republicans that their plan to gut the UAW and weaken trade unions will be blocked. Solis is a strong champion of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) needed to get more workers union representation and an unflinching advocate of trade union growth. If the Obama Administration — along with a coalition of congressional Democrats and a few moderate Republicans — give Solis the support she needs, a strengthened trade union movement could serve as the engine that drives economic recovery and expanded prosperity.
American progressives and the blogosphere in particular have a critical role in building this coalition. It starts with more effectively debunking, in simple, cogent terms, the GOP’s bogus meme that EFCA is a threat to our national tradition of “secret ballots.” With that accomplished, we can help revitalize the trade union movement and light the path forward to a new era of hope and broadly-shared opportunities.

Pin the Appointment on the Republican

In the midst of Blagogate, it seems a smidge unseemly to be encouraging deal-making in political appointments. But Democrats are clearly not getting a filibuster-proof majority through the ’08 elections, so perhaps it’s time to turn our attention to other measures to get to 60 Senators. Toward that end, Jonathan Singer’s MyDD post “Make Olympia Snowe Cabinet-Level SBA Chief,” and the comments following his post explore ensuing ramifications, should Snowe accept a cabinet post, and Maine’s Democratic Governor John Baldacci appoint Snowe’s Democratic replacement.
Singer riffs on a post in Politico‘s The Crypt, noting Snowe’s advocacy of making the Small Business Administration a cabinet-level post, as it was during the Clinton Administration. The idea is to do so, and make her the Secretary. It’s unclear whether she would be interested, but it’s certainly worth a try
It seems like a fairly plausible scenario. Snowe has been a Senator since 1994. She always shows up atop the list of liberal Republicans. She is hugely popular in her state and influential in the Senate as a swing vote on progressive legislative reforms. She is consistently rated one of the better U.S. Senators.
There has been talk over the years of Snowe switching parties, but it just hasn’t happened. Perhaps it has been an unappealing prospect, with the Democrats’ tendency to form circular firing squads during many of her 14 years in the Senate. True, she will have additional leverage in the new Senate. Now, however, she has to look at her career ahead in light of a strong possibility that she may never be in a Republican majority again, which means no committee chairmanships. She can continue as a swing voter, deciding the fate of bills here and there, but with dimmer prospects for sponsoring and enacting major legislation, especially given her party’s knee-jerk obstruction of meaningful reforms. You couldn’t blame her for thinking it’s time for a change. Possible solutions might include switching parties or accepting an appointment in the Obama Administration.
Other “liberal” Senate Republicans in states with Democratic governors, like Collins (ME) and Voinovich (OH) could also be approached. Specter (PA) is occasionally mentioned as a switch-or-cabinet worthy Rino. If they can’t be enticed by the remaining cabinet-level positions, perhaps committee chairmanships as Democrats, where possible, would have some appeal. If we could get one or two Republicans to cross over, it could make a great difference for the better in enacting a progressive agenda, although even if they don’t switch and just vote with Dems, it will help a great deal. No doubt Sens. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer have thought about it, and perhaps under-the-radar overtures have been made.
Most of the high-level Party-switching in recent decades has been in the wrong direction, from the Democratic point of view. (Wikipedia has a fascinating chronology on the topic). But the pendulum has swung to the left now, and it is time for Democrats to take more vigorous advantage, recruiting Republicans who are tiring of their party’s shrinking tent. Granted, the list of acceptable Republicans for Obama’s cabinet-level posts is a short one, as is the list of remaining positions that have appeal for political horse-trading. They include the Departments of Labor, Interior, Education and Transportation, CIA Director, Director of National Intelligence. Call it a long shot, but maybe it would be good if a Senate Republican who fills the bill is approached before all the positions are gone.

Challenging the ‘Bush Kept Us Safe’ Meme

It’s reflection time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When the inhabitants of the white house and their minions are not milking their fading authority to smash and grab as much as they can, they are busy spinning history to describe their positive accomplishments. All they have is the fact that we have not had a major terrorist incident “on U.S. soil” since 9-11. For this, they figure, Americans should be expansively grateful to the lamest duck.
And a very weak hand it is. It’s sort of a perverse variation on “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” Other than 9-11, we have been pretty safe during the Bush years, huh?
Challenging the “Bush made us safe” meme is not merely a matter of partisan squabbling. The meme is intended as cover for an astoundingly broad range of failed policies, arguably the worst of any presidency. If the GOP revisionists have their way, it would become the common wisdom that justifies a mind-boggling array of bad decisions, encompassing letting the neo-cons define our mid-east policy, trashing our cred abroad, drowning the federal budget in red ink, the disastrous deregulating of the financial sector, etc. etc. ad nauseum.
The meme collapses quickly when we ask how safe we are when the head perp is still not apprehended, and that fact alone has encouraged wanna-be terrorist groups. America has never had so many enemies willing to do us harm, thanks to the Bush Administration. And the “on U.S. soil” qualification evades the troublesome facts that thousands of Americans have been killed in Iraq and American civilians have rarely been in more danger abroad.
Digby has a good response to Peggy Noonan’s parroting of the GOP meme “At least Bush Kept us Safe.”

Can someone explain to me how it is that Peggy Noonan can claim that Bush kept us safe? Didn’t we have the worst terrorist attack in US history while he was president? Didn’t his team brush off warnings ahead of time and didn’t the president himself tell tell the CIA briefer on August 6th, 2001 that he had “covered his ass” by telling him that Bin laden was planning to attack inside the United States? Why should he get credit for “keeping us safe.” (I won’t even go into Katrina or the financial meltdown as measures of how well he did at other measures of security.)
Noonan and her friends are searching madly for some kind of bright spot in Bush’s otherwise epically failed administration. This is the best they can come up with. But while the government certainly did tighten security after 9/11 — as any president would have done, by the way — his foreign policy and military exacerbated the threat many times over.

And, as Blue Texan asks at Firedoglake,

But anyway, why does Bush get a total freaking pass on the first worst attack in US history that killed 3,000 people on his watch, especially since the 9/11 Commission concluded that 6 of the 10 major missed opportunities to prevent 9/11 occurred under Mr. Kept Us Safe’s watch?…We’re just supposed to give him a mulligan on that?

David Neiwert, also reacting to Noonan’s screed, has a post at Crooks and Liars on the topic of pre-9-11 negligence on the part of the Bush Administration. Says Neiwert:

What was never excusable was that Bush and Co. were asleep at the wheel on 9/11 regarding their duty to “keep us safe” — and no amount of historical revisionism by wistful dolphin ladies will erase that fact…In other words, Bush botched the job of keeping us safe, both during his tenure and for the foreseeable future.

Safe indeed. As Mark Mazetti wrote about the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate in his New York Times article (flagged by Neiwert) “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,”

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe…. An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology…The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

The Obama and subsequent administrations will be dealing with the fallout from Bush’s Iraq war for many years to come. Digby also writes about how U.S. torture policies helped to multiply the number of terrorists willing to do harm to the U.S. and our soldiers.
Noonan says Dems are afraid that two words will be added to the “President Bush Kept Us Safe” meme: “unlike Obama.” The GOP would have us blame Bush’s predecessor, President Clinton for setting the stage that lead to 9-11 (there was one foreign terrorist attack ‘on U.S. soil’ during the Clinton administration, also on the World Trade Center — see correction in comments). But should a terrorist attack happen during the Obama Administration, they will attribute none of the blame to the Bush gang. “It’s your fault when it happened on our watch, and it will be your fault when it happens on your watch.” But they can’t make a convincing argument that President Clinton encouraged terrorism, “unlike Bush.”
There is a tendency to let bygones be bygones when government changes hands, and to try and say something nice about the old regime. But I would urge Dems everywhere to not let the “Bush kept us safe” meme pass unchallenged, even in a casual conversation. Unchallenged bullshit has a way of snowballing, which is how we got stuck in the Iraq quagmire, as well as the economic meltdown — at a cost of trillions of taxpayer dollars.

Welcoming the ‘New Center’

On Tuesday Ed Kilgore made a case that the “center-right nation” meme is “ridiculous.” In a good companion piece posted the same day in his Blog for Our Future post (via Alternet), “Clues Obama Won’t Govern Center-Right“, Robert Creamer called it “complete baloney”. Creamer adds:

Should progressives beware? Has Barack Obama suckered them into supporting a President who will really govern from the “center-right”? The short answer is no….Right wing pundits can comfort themselves with the fantasy that America is a “center-right” nation but it just ain’t so. In fact, all of the polls show that the November election represented a complete repudiation of right wing Bush-Cheney top-down economics and their Neo-Con foreign policy. Over 80% of voters indicated they wanted fundamental change. The polling shows massive majorities in favor of policies that would guarantee health care for all. It shows overwhelming support for policies that give tax relief to middle income Americans and increase taxes on the wealthy. Polls show complete rejection of neocon notions about “preemptive” war and unilateralism. And Americans strongly favor bold government action to stimulate the economy – not the failed laissez-faire economics that have lead to the current economic meltdown.

And echoing one of the points James Vega had some fun with in his Sunday TDS post “A New Slogan for a New Day,” Creamer continues:

…How many more bailouts does someone need before he stops believing that the unfettered “free market” will always lead the “private sector” (meaning those who control giant corporations and Wall Street Bankers) to act in the public interest. How many times can corporate CEO’s emerge from their private jets with tin cups in Washington before people begin to question the “center-right’s” claim that the private sector is inherently more efficient that the public sector. Let’s face it, it’s getting pretty tough to justify why Wall Street’s “masters of the universe” deserve to be paid hundreds of millions of dollars while middle class incomes tank; or why a CEO should make more money before lunch on the first day of the year than his minimum wage worker makes all year long.

Creamer explains that Obama’s cabinet picks

…do not in any way diminish the fact that America is demanding — and Obama intends to enact — a sweeping progressive program the likes of which we have not seen since the New Deal…Barack Obama will not govern from the “center right”, but he will govern from the “center”. That’s not because he is “moving to the center”. It’s because the center of American politics has changed. It has moved where the American people are. It once again resides in the traditional progressive center that has defined America’s promise since Thomas Jefferson penned its founding document over 200 years ago.

Fair enough. It’s well and good for Dems to root for their preferred cabinet choices and rail against the ones we don’t like as they come up. That’s part of the fun of being Democrats. Before uncritically embracing the “personnel is policy” argument being bandied about, however, Dems might be wiser to wait for the policies to appear before we start wholesale trashing of our team.

Some Lessons from the GA Run-Off

Absent exit polling data, any broad-brush lessons of the Georgia run-off are a little dicey. But here are a few conclusions which merit some discussion:
1. Money helps. Yes, maybe Chambliss would have won, even if he and his supporters didn’t grossly outspend Martin. But, clearly you can’t have too much money.
2. GA Dems have not figured out how to maximize African American turnout without Black candidates.
As Perry Bacon, Jr. noted in his WaPo post-mortem on the Georgia run-off,

Fewer than a quarter of people who cast ballots early in the runoff were black, compared with more than a third in the November vote. Black voters overwhelmingly favored Obama and Martin.

Nate Silver echos and amplifies the point in his fivethirtyeight.com post on the run-off:

Unfortunately, nobody conducted an exit poll of this race, which makes the postmortem a little bit more difficult to conduct. From early voting statistics, it appears that African-American turnout was substantially lower, which no doubt was a significant factor in Martin’s defeat, as roughly 55 percent of his vote on November 4 came from black voters. If black turnout was closer to the 25 percent of the electorate that it was in 2004 rather than the 28 percent of the electorate that it was on November 4, that would cost Martin a net of about 4 points, implying a loss of about 7 points. If it was closer to the 22 percent of the electorate that turned out to vote early, that would have cost Martin a net of 8-9 points, implying a loss of 11-12 points

3. Conservatives can push the limits of negative campaigning in GA and get away with it.
This one did get ugly with some shameless sliming of Martin as ‘soft on child molesters’ and other unsubstantiated ‘soft on crime’ allegations. Not quite as outrageous as Liddy Dole’s “Godless’ slam of Kay Hagan, her opponent in NC, but getting pretty close.
4. Saxby Chambliss is a shrewd campaigner.
You have to give it to Chambliss. He used all of his advantages to the max. Brought in the heavy hitters of his party and, despite being morally challenged, he displayed an impressive command of facts and arguments in his debates with Martin. Even trotted out warm and fuzzy ads in the closing days to create the impression that he was jiust a nice grandfatherly guy, after all.
Chambliss at least matched Martin’s out of state support, thanks no doubt to the RSCC and other conservative groups. Atlanta Journal-Constitution ‘Political Insider’ Jim Galloway reports that, in his victory statement, Chambliss revealed that “volunteers” from 43 states came to Georgia to work on his campaign.
5. GA has not arrived as a purple state yet. (For a good county map of the GA Senate run-off vote, click here, and then click on GA) With Repubicans holding the governorship, both houses of the state legislature, two US Senators and McCain taking the EV’s, GA has a ways to go before Dems are competitive in state-wide races
On that topic, the last word in this post-mortem collage goes to Dr. Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University and one of Georgia’s most astute political observers. As Abramowitz said in an email (See also here) to TDS:

Before the Obama campaign moved into Georgia this was not a race that Democrats were hopeful about winning. Not only is Georgia a difficult state for Democrats but the party was unable to recruit a top-tier candidate to run against Saxby Chambliss. Jim Martin was recruited by the state party at the last minute to prevent DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, a highly controversial figure who had bragged about voting twice for George Bush, from winning the nomination by default. By registering and turning out huge numbers of African-American voters, the Obama campaign turned the senate race from a yawner into a nail-biter. In the runoff election, though, without the pull of Obama at the top of the ticket, there was a dramatic fall-off in turnout especially among African-American voters.

But Abramowitz, who came closer than any pundit to predicting the electoral vote totals before the November presidential election, also makes the case that the future for GA Dems is not as bleak as some say:

Despite the disappointing results on Tuesday, however, the long-term demographic trends in the state favor Democrats. The nonwhite share of the electorate should continue to increase for the forseeable future and metro Atlanta continues to grow rapidly. In the presidential election, Barack Obama won 57 percent of the vote in the 10-county Atlanta metro area, a huge improvement over John Kerry’s 48 percent in 2004. Moreover, the state’s feuding Republicans are likely to have a contentioius gubernatorial primary in two years. If Georgia Democrats can unite behind a strong candidate for governor and mobilize the state’s growing Democratic base, the party should have a good chance of retaking the statehouse in 2010. And don’t be surprised to see Georgia in the blue column in the 2012 presidential election.

Georgia Senate Run-Off Tests Voters’ Tolerance for Sleaze

Tomorrow’s Senate run-off election in Georgia is getting national attention because of the implications for the Democrats’ quest for a filibuster-proof Senate majority. All bets are off, since polls for run-off elections are notoriously unreliable. There is a temptation to say that this one is all about African American turnout — if the percentage of eligible Black voters casting ballots exceeds the percentage of eligible white voters who do so, then Martin has a chance.
It’s as plausible a supposition as any. As a Georgia resident, however, I have to add that this election also provides an instructive lesson about negative campaigning. I don’t believe I’m being overly partisan in observing that the quantity of nasty, even vicious television ads being aired on Chambliss’s behalf has probably set a record for state-wide campaigns, perhaps nation-wide. One after the other, making outrageous charges, one even suggesting that Martin is soft on child molesters. Martin’s attack ads are quite tame in comparison.
Tomorrow’s vote in Georgia will also be an instructive test of how much character assassination fair-minded Republican voters can stomach. If decency prevails, many of them will vote for Martin or stay home. And, If Martin wins, I suspect some of the credit should go to Chambliss’s ad-makers, who have set a new standard for sleazy attack ads. If Chambliss wins, on the other hand, it will be a disturbing affirmation of the power of relentless, mean-spirited attack ads.

How Should Obama Confront Terror?

Between the economic meltdown and the uplifting election, Americans have had something of a respite for a few months from dispiriting headlines concerning wars and terrorism. But now the horrific atrocities in Mumbai bring a sobering reminder that the Obama administration will face a continuing, if not growing, threat of global terror, much of it directed against Americans.
As a presidential candidate, Senator Obama had to talk tough about confronting terrorists with military force. He wasn’t just overcompensating because of his opponent’s impressive military record. The cold, hard reality is that we do need enhanced military and intelligence capabilities to deal with the threat of terrorism. But our policy must be a lot smarter, with more precision in targeting military action when it’s really necessary and much stronger on-the-ground intelligence. It will require a major reformulation of our strategic goals at DOD, State, and intelligence agencies.
But the greatest challenge facing the Obama administration in confronting the threat of global terror is creating a more effective strategy for winning the struggle for hearts and minds.