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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

June 7: Time To Stop Honoring Monuments To Jim Crow

As the taking down of monuments to Robert E. Lee continues to create controversy, I weighed in with some perspectives at New York:

While observing the brouhaha over Robert E. Lee’s legacy that has arisen again after certain cities (most famously New Orleans and Charlottesville, Virginia) have chosen to take down monuments to the general who surrendered at Appomattox, I had the frequent thought that the debate suffered under the misapprehension that these monuments were memorials to the Confederacy. They weren’t. They were monuments to the neo-Confederacy that dominated the South and national race relations up until and in some respect beyond the civil-rights movement. In his second eloquent take on why the monuments need to come down, Adam Serwer makes the key point:

“The Lee monument in New Orleans went up not in 1876 but in 1884, as racist paramilitaries like the White League helped the Democratic Party re-establish its political dominance over the city; these statues are commemorations of those victories, not politically neutral commemorations of fallen warriors. They were raised to, in the words of the historian David Blight, help ‘construct a story of noble sacrifice for a holy cause of home and independence, and especially in the service of a racial ideology that would sustain white supremacy.'”

This is true not just of monuments to Lee and other Confederate leaders, but of that other recent source of controversy, the maintenance of Confederate emblems (typically the Confederate battle flag) on southern state flags and at state capitals. For the most part, these emblems were adopted not immediately after the Civil War, but after the South had regained its “sovereignty” and proceeded to erect a Jim Crow society (in Mississippi, that was in 1894) — or even much later, in the 1950s, when Jim Crow was finally challenged in the courts and in civil protests (the Confederate battle flag appeared on the flag of my own home state of Georgia in 1956). As the preeminent political scientists who studied this issue concluded:

“The battle flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, never flew over any state capitols during the Confederacy, and was never officially used by Confederate veterans’ groups. The flag probably would have been relegated to Civil War museums if it had not been resurrected by the resurgent KKK and used by Southern Dixiecrats during the 1948 presidential election.”

Neo-Confederacy is in some respects even more consciously racist than the Confederacy itself. But however you assess its motives, it has been very clearly focused not on the personalities and sacrifices of the Civil War, but on the racist South’s long and amazingly successful struggle to maintain white supremacy despite the abolition (formally, at least) of slavery and the enactment of the Civil War amendments to the Constitution that were long in conflict with southern realities. As Serwer notes, Lee was a convenient symbol of the supposed “reconciliation” between North and South that made Jim Crow possible.

“The so-called ‘Redemption’ that ended Reconstruction did not come from weary Americans wanting to lay down the sword, it came from the champions of the white South reddening their swords with the blood of the emancipated, and the white North making a conscious decision that the cost of protecting the freedmen’s rights was not worth paying.”

By his surrender at Appamattox, and his much-honored postwar career, Robert E. Lee was very much a symbol of the idea that in losing the Civil War the white South had given up slavery but maintained its “honor,” its “states’ rights,” and its self-determination in choosing to subjugate ex-slaves and deny them the rights for which the war was allegedly fought, at least in northern eyes. The postwar white terror that afflicted the South until the United States wearily abandoned Reconstruction was invariably treated as a product of Reconstruction rather than what is actually was: a partial victory for the “lost cause” that lasted much longer than the Confederacy.

It’s this neo-Confederacy that must be acknowledged and finally repudiated by people in all parts of the country, in no small part because all parts of the country were complicit in the horrible betrayal of African-Americans (and the white people who died and sacrificed on their behalf) that occurred when Reconstruction was abandoned and white supremacy reigned supreme in the former Confederacy.


June 2: Even in GA-06, Post-Obama African-American Voter Drop-Off Is a Problem

In all the coverage of revived Democratic enthusiasm in 2017, Democrats are beginning to realize there is a problem in the party’s most loyal demographic group, African-Americans. I wrote about it this week at New York.

As Ron Brownstein observes after looking at now-available census- and voter-file-based evidence — which is more accurate than the initial exit polls — African-American turnout took a big hit in 2016:

“In 2012, African Americans holding at least a four-year college degree voted at a slightly higher rate than whites with advanced education, and African Americans without degrees turned out at notably higher rates than blue-collar whites. But in 2016, turnout in both categories dropped so sharply that it fell below the levels of college-educated and working-class whites…. In 2016, turnout sagged to about 73 percent among college-educated African Americans (down from nearly 80 percent in 2012) and to about 56 percent among those without degrees (down from over 63 percent in 2016). Overall, the Census data showed turnout among eligible African Americans dropped fully 7 percentage points from 2012 to 2016, the biggest drop over a single election for the group since at least 1980. In the battlegrounds that tipped the election to Trump, state-level Census data show black turnout plummeting in Wisconsin; skidding in North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio; and declining more modestly in Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

The big question is whether this drop-off in African-American voting is the “new normal” — at least until such time, if ever, that a figure as magnetic as Barack Obama is heading up a party ticket. Or was it a temporary phenomenon attributable in part to Hillary Clinton’s alleged problems in connecting to voters?

Writing at FiveThirtyEight, conservative analyst Patrick Ruffini offers some evidence that the black voter drop-off could be with us for a while, as shown by turnout patterns in the very hot special election in Georgia’s sixth district:

“[O]n April 18th in Georgia, black voters did not necessarily join their white counterparts in a surge of Democratic enthusiasm against Trump. Compared to turnout levels in the 2014 midterms — which, like this special election, was an off-year election where Democratic enthusiasm was low and Obama was not on the ballot — black Democratic turnout in Georgia’s 6th lagged around 10 points behind that of white Democrats, though black voters still turned out at a higher rate than Republicans as a whole did.”

This did not matter all that much, and may not matter in the June 20 runoff in Georgia’s sixth, because of the suburban district’s demographics: The African-American share of the vote is about the same as the Hispanic share, and barely above the Asian-American share. And as Ruffini noted, even the depressed African-American turnout in the primary was higher than that among self-identified Republicans.

Down the road, in 2018, these trends could matter a great deal, particularly in elections where Democrats are more heavily dependent on African-American voters. Perhaps Republicans will help the donkey party with this problem by aggressively pursuing the kind of voter suppression and mass-incarceration policies to which the GOP is already prone. But it won’t be automatic. Democrats will have to earn the kind of black turnout that seemed to come so easily when Barack Obama was running for president.


May 24: Trump Base Not Enough For GOP in 2018

With all the insane twists of the news cycle in the Trump Era, it is often hard to keep perspective. I tried to look ahead to the shape of the electorate in 2018 in a post this week at New York.

An awful lot of what the Trump administration and most congressional Republicans seem preoccupied with doing this year revolves around keeping the president’s “base” happy. And it’s worked pretty well, as multiple polls showing Trump voters generally satisfied would tend to indicate. But although paying attention to one’s own past voters is typically a good idea, it’s not enough to guarantee a winning Republican performance in 2018. As Harry Enten demonstrates via some standard history and arithmetic, the Trump base is too small to overwhelm the majority of Americans who are not happy with his performance unless turnout patterns are very strange. Here’s his key argument:

“The president’s party has lost at least 83 percent of voters who disapprove of the president’s job in every midterm since 1994. In none did the president’s party win more than 87 percent of those who approved of the president’s job. These statistics are not good news for Republicans if Trump’s current approval rating (40 percent among voters) and current disapproval rating (55 percent) holds through the midterm. Even if Trump’s Republican Party wins the recent high water mark of 87 percent of those who approve of the job the president is doing and loses only 83 percent of those who disapprove, Republicans would still lose the House popular vote by 7 percentage points. That could be enough for them to lose the House.”

Now there are some qualifiers for that analysis. At Enten himself notes, House Republicans did marginally better than Trump in 2016, so they might do marginally better than a breakdown of voters who do and don’t approve of Trump’s job performance would suggest. Just as importantly, we have no idea yet whether the apparent “enthusiasm gap” benefiting Democrats right now will offset the traditionally poor midterm turnout patterns of demographic groups currently leaning Democratic. Similarly, most polls measuring early assessments of Trump’s job performance do not include screening for likelihood to vote; many do not even screen for voter registration. So they may understate Trump’s popularity among the people who are actually going to show up at the polls next year.

Having said all that….Presidential job approval is highly correlated with midterm elections results; the only two times since World War II when the White House party has gained House seats in a midterm (the back-to-back elections of 1998 and 2002), the president had very high job approval ratings. It’s a lead-pipe cinch Republicans will lose seats next year, and the only question is how many. So they’d best find a way to make nice with voters who have not and will never wear those red MAGA hats.


May 19: From Virginia, Signs That Whistling Dixie No Longer Works

Something good for Democrats is happening in, of all places, the Republican Party of Virginia: a gubernatorial candidate playing the old neo-Confederate game is not doing well, as I explained at New York:

With all the recent controversy about Confederate memorials being pulled down, you might think Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart was being shrewd by exploiting old-white-voter resentment over the issue in Civil War–drenched Virginia. But at present, it doesn’t seem to be doing much for the exurban local-government figure who’s tried to make himself into a Trump-like vehicle for protests against a GOP Establishment that is fully behind his opponent Ed Gillespie. According to a new Washington Post/George Mason poll, Stewart is trailing Gillespie by 20 points (38–18, with 15 percent going to State Senator Frank Wagner), and does not have a lot of money to catch up before the June 13 primary.

Virginia does not require receiving a majority of the primary vote to win a nomination, so Stewart can’t count on a second chance if Gillespie beats him but falls short of 50 percent.

He must be given credit for persistence, though. Stewart has pursued his argument that taking down Confederate memorials reflects the kind of p.c. culture that Trump opposes up to and beyond the gates of political prudence, as Politico noted:

“’No Robert E. Lee monument should come down. That man is a hero & an honorable man. It is shameful what they are doing with these monuments,’” he wrote in one Twitter missive, following up a few hours later: ‘After they tear down Lee & Beauregard, they are coming for Washington & Jefferson.’ He added the hashtag #HistoricalVandalism.

“When he hasn’t lamented the shoddy treatment of Southern heritage, he has compared the politicians who support removing statues to ISIS, the murderous Islamic extremists who have destroyed historic artifacts and religious sites throughout Syria. Or suggested that George Soros “needs to be tried for sedition, stripped of his citizenship or deported.” Or labeling his main opponent a “cuckservative,” the disdainful epithet of choice among the alt-right.”

His particular focus on the City of Charlottesville’s decision to remove a Lee memorial has brought Stewart into uncomfortably close proximity to white supremacists, as became apparent when Richard Spencer led a torchlit march to the memorial last weekend.

Virtually every political figure in Virginia, including Gillespie and Wagner, condemned the marchers — except for Stewart, who remained silent. He then announced a “Facebook Live event” for Monday during which, after speculation that he might be dropping out of the race, he instead attacked his enemies and rivals again:

“During the brief video stream from a tea party event in Northern Virginia, Stewart blasted “fake news,” GOP rival Ed Gillespie, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Dominion Energy and sanctuary cities. The video’s title was ‘It’s Time to Denounce.'”

That is certainly something Stewart is ever-ready to do.

But his Trump-Heavy campaign does not seem to be working at all. The WaPo/GMU poll shows him only winning 15 percent of the likely GOP primary voters who “strongly approve” of Trump’s job performance….

Assuming Gillespie wins on June 13, Stewart’s campaign may be remembered as showing the limits of race-tinged attacks on “political correctness,” even among a very conservative electorate. Racist dog whistles are one thing. Howling at the moon while defending the Lost Cause is another thing altogether.


May 18: Miller To Write, Trump To Deliver, Speech Lecturing Saudis on Islam

There was so much going on in Washington this week that it was missed by many observers that Donald Trump’s impending overseas trip will include a “major speech” on Islam in–wait for it–Saudi Arabia. And the news just kept getting worse, as I noted at New York:

Trump will be making a speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia, before an audience of representatives of more than 50 Muslim countries.

Yes, that’s right: The president, a man who has espoused openly Islamophobic views and is known for his less-than-subtle thinking and speaking, will go to the birthplace of the religion, as a guest of a regime whose entire legitimacy derives from its role as the guardian of Islam’s Holy Places, and presume to lecture Muslims on their obligation to fight “radical Islam.”

What could possibly go wrong?

Before answering, one should be aware of another fact about this speech: It is reportedly being written by Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller, who has a record of Muslim-baiting as long as your arm. He is the close White House ally of former Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon and former Breitbart writer Julia Hahn, two people who appear to believe Muslim refugees are an existential threat to America. Miller did not let his lack of legal training get in the way of drafting the Trump travel-ban order that caused horrific chaos before being stopped by the courts. His own casual words identifying the travel ban with Trump’s call for an unconstitutional “Muslim ban” during the campaign became a central part of the rationale for said judicial intervention.

Perhaps there are wiser advisers looking over Miller’s shoulder and keeping him constantly aware of the extreme sensitivity of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Muslims toward pronouncements on Islam by infidels, even the most well-intentioned, and tutoring him on the intricacies of intra-Muslim affairs, and the constant risk of blundering into deadly insults that would take decades to erase. Maybe Trump will stay close to a cautious shift, and avoid setting back U.S.-Middle Eastern relations decisively. But this is the Trump White House we are talking about, where even the most basic guidelines are often ignored for reasons ranging from understaffing to byzantine rivalries to paranoia.

Trump is already, according to Politico, in danger of blundering into what it calls a “Saudi Game of Thrones” between two princely aspirants to the succession of aging King Salman. Tossing pronouncements on religion into that tinderbox could be a very bad idea.

Isn’t there a domestic-policy issue (supposedly his specialty) Miller should be attending to? Or perhaps a pro-Trump rally where he could be shouting and cavorting and whipping up the crowds like he did during the campaign? Trump should stay a thousand miles away from pontificating on Islam, and Miller a thousand miles beyond that.


May 11: Possible Obstruction of Justice Makes Impeachment Talk Inevitable

As the potential implications of the Comey firing, aggravated by the wildly varying accounts of how and why it occurred, begin to sink in, so, too are the remote but tangible chances of really serious consequences, as I discussed at New York:

The timing and manner of Donald Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey raise an inevitable suspicion — not proof, but a suspicion — of presidential obstruction of justice. And the only real remedy for presidential obstruction of justice, if it is stubborn, is impeachment, or at least the threat of impeachment — as we learned during the Nixon administration. Because presidents have the power to gum up every other path to the revelation and reversal of serious patterns of administration misconduct, there’s a pretty low threshold for talk of the “I-word,” once said gumming up appears to be happening.

As Matthew Yglesias notes, the Republicans who control Congress can head off an impeachment crisis by un-gumming the path to justice via some investigative entity beyond Donald Trump’s control. But that will require a break with Trump that most of them do not want to make.

If the situation we are in right now gets worse for the White House, and the rest of 2017 unfolds under the shadow of unresolved allegations about Russian collusion, then serious impeachment talk will become unavoidable. One might assume that the talk would go nowhere, since the president’s party controls the congressional levers that would have to be used to formally begin proceedings. But what could ensue, though, is the realization that Republicans might privately crave impeachment more than Democrats.

Why? Absent normal legal proceedings and without the safety valve of impeachment, the only way for an aroused public to hold Trump accountable is by spanking his political party in the 2018 midterms, an election in which the White House party is almost certain to lose ground even in normal conditions. And after that, if Trump stubbornly resists any independent scrutiny of his past and present behavior, Republicans could have a nightmarish 2020 cycle in which efforts to retire Trump after one term collide with his hard kernel of GOP grassroots support, strongest among people who know little and care less about their hero’s compliance with legal and political traditions for presidential accountability. You could definitely envision a vicious primary fight followed by a difficult general election.

In those circumstances, how many conventional conservative Republicans would resist the temptation to fantasize about a deus ex machina procedure that could remove the troublesome Trump and replace him with the extremely well-known quantity of Mike Pence, perhaps just in time to change the dynamics of 2018 — or certainly 2020 — in the GOP’s favor? Conversely, Democrats might prefer to keep Donald Trump around as long as possible to indelibly stain the GOP with his misdeeds and his alarming demeanor.

This is not to say that political considerations will determine the course of events more than the facts that eventually emerge; if it turns out there is no evidence of collusion in the Russia-Trump investigation, then the president is not going to be hounded out of office for acting as though there was.

But the fact remains that the politics of impeachment or a coerced resignation are hard to predict and impossible to dismiss. In all the talk since Comey’s firing of the parallels with Nixon’s 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre” it has been largely forgotten that Nixon’s brash action was preceded just ten days earlier by the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew, as part of a plea deal over bribery charges. Agnew, in some ways a precursor of Trump in his “politically incorrect” rhetoric, had been what Nixon not-so-jokingly called his “insurance policy” against impeachment. His replacement by the ever-genial Gerald Ford had a definite if hard-to-measure impact on the willingness of Democrats and Republicans alike to send the Tricky One packing.

All in all, Mike Pence resembles Gerald Ford more than Spiro Agnew. Just sayin.’


May 10: Trump Fires Comey To Curb Russia Investigation as GOP Stands By

As pols began to choose up sides after Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey, I made this initial assessment of the partisan politics for New York.

The morning after the president’s abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey, an account of what was really going on is beginning to emerge in which the official explanation of steadily mounting, retroactive bipartisan dismay with Comey’s handling of the Clinton email case is but a flimsy pretext. Politico boils down the background story succinctly:

“[Trump] had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.”

And so he decided to drop the hammer on Comey at the first convenient opportunity. A screwup in Comey’s description of the emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop that were the subject of the FBI director’s famous October surprise provided the immediate excuse. It seems clear that Team Trump believed Democrats would be thrown into disarray by the clever use of the Clinton emails as the rationale for a firing that was really about something else.

That calculation was clearly wrong, but the fact remains that if Trump’s move was intended to curb the Russia investigation, his enemies have limited means of stopping him.

Yes, the FBI can and probably will formally continue the investigation, but the odds are pretty good that whoever Trump chooses as Comey’s immediate successor will treat it as a very low priority.

The Justice Department can — and given the recusal of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, on matters related to the Russia-Trump connection, almost certainly should — appoint a special counsel to take over the investigation and clear the air. But why would a White House determined to shut it all down accept that course of action? It’s implausible unless the administration winds up with no other good options.

Congress could create a special committee, or even a congressionally constituted commission, to delve into the various issues involving the Russians. The latter course is what conservative House gadfly Justin Amash talked about doing in the immediate wake of the Comey firing.

But a lot of Republicans would have to go along with that approach, and most significantly in the wall of noise that rose across Washington after the firing was announced, the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees — Representative Bob Goodlatte and Senator Chuck Grassley — seemed to be buying the White House/DOJ explanation of the matter. If their posture is that Comey had to go for cumulative sins in the Clinton email case, why would they want to waste taxpayer money on some special investigation of that Russian thingy Democrats insist on talking about? You could see any drive for a congressionally authorized investigation running into some real obstacles. For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is arguing against any new investigation of Trump and Russia at all, suggesting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s inquiries are sufficient.

Once upon a time, there might have been a wellspring of support for the appointment of an independent prosecutor that would not report to Congress or to the administration. But the law authorizing that institution was allowed quietly to expire in 1999 after its generally conceded abuse in seven separate investigations of the Clinton administration.

As veteran journalist Jeff Greenfield points out, the disarray of Congress is the single most important problem with treating this situation as analogous to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” despite the obvious parallels of an angry president trying to dispose of an underling who might be getting too close to securing dangerous information. Nixon was dealing with a Democratic Congress and a much smaller and more uniformly hostile news media; he was quickly forced to replace the fired special counsel Archibald Cox instead of shutting down the Watergate investigation altogether. The 37th president was also laboring under the ultimately fatal existence of massive evidence of wrongdoing documented by his own White House recording system; Cox was fired for trying to secure some of the relevant tapes. If the Trump White House is harboring a “smoking gun” in the Russia case, we don’t know of it at present.

The bottom line is that Trump has a much better chance of getting through this “crisis” than Nixon did when he “massacred” a special counsel and the Justice Department officials defending him. The key thing to watch is whether congressional Republicans decide in large numbers that Trump’s stonewalling over Russia and his generally imperious habits are endangering their grip on the Legislative branch in 2018.


May 4: Trumpcare Will Also Do Damage In Blue States That Don’t Seek Exemptions From Obamacare Requirements

After today’s narrow House passage of the American Health Care Act, it really began to bug me that so any people were focused to the exclusion of everything else on the effect of the bill in conservative states that seek waivers from Obamacare regulations. That was, in fact, the key issue that seemed to separate House Republicans. But as I explained at New York, damage from the bill would be severe in blue states, too.

Trumpcare, at least in its current form, will allow states to decide whether to carry on with something resembling the systems in place under Obamacare, or to opt out of various key requirements under current law — including the one protecting people with preexisting conditions. It seems safe to assume that most blue states will not even consider applying for waivers to screw over their own most vulnerable citizens. But at the same time, there are many provisions in the revised American Health Care Act that will affect people everywhere, often not in a good way.

States like New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — states with Democratic governors and/or legislatures — are not going to seek exemptions from Obamacare requirements affecting the essential benefits health plans must offer, or prohibiting discrimination on the basis of health conditions. And there may be other states that don’t accept the poisoned chalice of health-policy autonomy. One of the House Republicans who seems to be coming around to a vote for Trumpcare, Carlos Curbelo, offered that excuse, even for his own red state of Florida:

“I would highly doubt that any governor, especially the governor of a large state like Florida, would seek a waiver. I just don’t think that any state would want to carry the burden of managing health care more than they already do, through Medicaid.”

Actually, it’s not clear that most of the people priced out of the individual health-care market by preexisting conditions would qualify for Medicaid, particularly in non-expansion states like Florida. But it is true that applying for the waivers that the House Freedom Caucus demanded will at least be controversial in the states that consider it.

For many of Trumpcare’s provisions, however, there’s not really much state flexibility at all. Indeed, blue states — most of which took advantage of Obamacare’s optional expansion of Medicaid — will be most affected by the bill’s abrupt termination of enhanced federal funds for the expanded population. Indeed, of the 24 million Americans the Congressional Budget Office estimated would lose health coverage under the original Trumpcare bill, 14 million would lose Medicaid coverage.

Some of the Obamacare regulations Trumpcare seeks to revoke and/or replace also are not optional, including the expansion of allowable price discrimination based on age and the elimination of the individual purchasing mandate (to be replaced by a surcharge on people who wait to buy insurance until they are sick).

Trumpcare also gets rid of the tax subsidies set up by Obamacare, and creates its own tax-credit system, with arguably very insufficient credit amounts, especially for low-income and older people. None of this can be waived for any states.

And the cost-sharing-reduction subsidies that have been critical in keeping insurers offering coverage under the Obamacare exchanges — the subsidies the administration has been threatening off and on to withhold — would be formally killed as well.

Finally, there are all sorts of little-recognized side effects of Trumpcare — such as the unraveling of benefit requirements for employer-sponsored health insurance — that do not discriminate by geography. And there is one big national provision that could do vast damage to women’s health care, especially in rural areas: the prohibition on any federal funds for Planned Parenthood.

It is worth watching closely the special provisions cooked into this legislation that affect certain states exclusively. The original AHCA (and hence its successors) included a deal to secure votes from upstate New York GOP House members that shifted Medicaid costs from county to state taxpayers. More of that sort of home cooking could be tucked into the legislation later.

We have no way of knowing what the Senate will do to the “state flexibility” provisions that have been so important to Trumpcare’s struggle towards House passage. On the one hand, there may be some “moderate” GOP resistance to how far conservative states will be allowed and encouraged to go in messing with poorer and sicker people who have benefited from Obamacare. On the other hand, some Republican senators—notably Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins—want to go much further in allowing states to go their own way, to the point of letting blue states keep most of Obamacare in place.

For blue-state progressives, this may be a tempting approach insofar as it insulates them from much of the damage wrought by an Obamacare replacement. But they need to ask themselves if they are willing to sell vulnerable red-state people down the river and accept a sort of health-policy apartheid. Republicans may not actually give them a lot of choice, but it’s important for everyone to understand the trade-offs involved in getting this unwieldy beast of a health-care bill to Donald Trump’s desk.


May 3: GOP Congressman Says Sick People Whose States Kill Coverage Should Move

The latest in many a revealing quote from GOP Members of Congress on health care policy came from North Carolina’s Rep. Robert Pittenger. I wrote about it at New York with some real anger.

It is not quite down there in the hall of shame with his Alabama colleague Mo Brooks’s suggestion that sick people often don’t deserve health coverage because they’ve brought it all down on themselves with bad habits. But North Carolina Republican representative Robert Pittenger was similarly cavalier about people with preexisting conditions who might lose affordable coverage if their state chose to waive protections for them under the terms of the revised American Health Care Act that the White House and Republican congressional leaders are trying to get through the House this week.

Quoth Pittenger: “People can go to the state that they want to live in. States have all kinds of different policies and there are disparities among states for many things: driving restrictions, alcohol, whatever,” he continued. “We’re putting choices back in the hands of the states. That’s what Jeffersonian democracy provides for.”

Seems Pittenger thinks the sick should vote with their feet, or their other afflicted parts, to live in a place that doesn’t view their health as a disposable asset.

I do believe we had a civil war over the proposition that states can do any damn thing they want with people, and the proponents of the states’-rights version of “Jeffersonian democracy” lost. It’s true that the victims back then did not always have the option to move elsewhere (there was this thing called the Fugitive Slave Act), but it should be beyond argument now that some rights and privileges of citizenship ought to be national in scope. Maybe health insurance is one of them, and maybe it’s not, but Pittenger’s glib assertion that the theoretical option of flight for poor, sick people makes it okay to discriminate against them is morally and politically obtuse.

This is not Pittenger’s first or worst comment of this nature. Last year, after protests broke out in Charlotte (a city partially represented by Pittenger) when an African-American man (Keith Lamont Scott) was fatally shot by police, here’s what he had to say:

“The grievance in their minds — the animus, the anger — they hate white people, because white people are successful and they’re not,” Pittenger told BBC Newsnight when he was asked about what is driving heated protests in Charlotte.

He later apologized for the nasty racist slur, but perhaps he should have moved to a different state.


April 28: The “Ten Commandments Judge” Now Wants to Go To Washington To Lend Trump a Hand

An old, notorious name returned to the news today, and I wrote it up for New York:

Robert Bentley recently resigned the governorship of Alabama in a plea deal after years of fighting a losing battle against heavy evidence of an extramarital affair with a staffer that went over the line into misappropriation of state funds and attempted intimidation of witnesses. But before he left office the septuagenarian “Love Gov” had the opportunity to appoint a temporary U.S. Senate replacement for new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He chose state Attorney General Luther Strange, ignoring rumors the new senator had given the Bentley scandal a wide berth in exchange for this supreme favor. Now the voters of Alabama will get to weigh in via a special election (the primary is in August and the general election is in December), and thanks to his Bentley connection, Strange is far from being a shoo-in.

This week the Alabama Senate race went from being overshadowed by peculiar things to being a peculiar thing in itself when Roy Moore, the twice-elected, once-removed, and once-suspended chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and perhaps America’s most prominent theocrat, declared his candidacy. Moore pledged to help Donald Trump “make America great again” by first returning the country to fidelity to God and the traditional family. In case this left anyone in doubt that the man once called “the Ten Commandments Judge” had not changed, he offered this pithy observation:

“I know and I think you do too that the foundations of the fabric of our country are being shaken tremendously….Our families are being crippled by divorce and abortion. Our sacred institution of marriage has been destroyed by the Supreme Court, and our rights and liberties are in jeopardy.”

So Moore is not running on what you’d call an upbeat, “right track” message.

But he never really has. After a West Point education and some odd experiences as a kickboxer and an Australian cowboy, Moore settled into a reasonably quiet legal and judicial career in eastern Alabama. He first came to national attention in the 1990s as a state circuit court judge who was sued by the ACLU for posting the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and holding pretrial prayers. He eventually prevailed on appeal, but more important, was able to use his attempted martyrdom by godless liberals to get himself elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000 after winning a highly competitive Republican primary. In an early concurring opinion on a case involving a lesbian mother who was trying to win custody of her children from an allegedly abusive ex-husband, Moore threw down the gauntlet to the tyranny of sodomites everywhere:

“Homosexual behavior is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it. That is enough under the law to allow a court to consider such activity harmful to a child. To declare that homosexuality is harmful is not to make new law but to reaffirm the old; to say that it is not harmful is to experiment with people’s lives, particularly the lives of children.”

Soon Moore became embroiled in a dispute with a federal judge over his continued display of the Ten Commandments — this time via a large monument he commissioned — and after defying the judge’s orders and arguing the “Judeo-Christian God” reigned over church and state alike, he was finally removed from his position by a state commission and became a national conservative evangelical martyr for real.

Moore inevitably entered electoral politics, but in part because of his poor fundraising skills, he fell short in two gubernatorial elections in 2006 and 2010. In 2012, though, after a brief feint toward a Republican presidential run, he made a triumphal return to the state Supreme Court, being elected chief justice again. True to form, by 2016 Moore managed to get himself suspended (a sanction just short of removal) for fighting implementation of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

Quite a career, eh? And now Moore will take his virtually universal name recognition and his hard-core Christian-right base of support into a low-turnout multicandidate Senate race where almost anything can happen. At least one Alabama political observer, John Archibald of the Birmingham News, thinks Moore will at least make a runoff.

If he does even better than that, Moore would become a figure who might even stand out in Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

The one sure thing is that if Moore fails in his third statewide non-judicial race, he cannot follow it up with a third run for the Supreme Court and perhaps a third effort to get himself tossed off the bench. At the age of 70, Moore is under Alabama law too old to run for that position. So this Senate race could be his last hurrah, praise the Lord.