washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

August 18, 2017

Teixeira, Judis Dialogue on Prospects for Progressive Change

The following interview of Ruy Teixeira by John Judis, co-authors of The Emerging Democratic Majority and other books, is cross-posted from Talking Points Memo:

Ruy Teixeira (pronounced Tush-aira) and I have been friends since the early 1970s when we were members of a socialist group, the New American Movement, that was supposed to perpetuate the saner parts of the new left. (It merged later with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee to form the Democratic Socialists of America.) I didn’t see him for 15 years or so until we both turned up in Washington, D.C. In 2001, we co-authored “The Emerging Democratic Majority.”  Radio and television producers would sometimes call me to do interviews because, one TV person explained, they wanted someone who could speak English clearly. In fact, Ruy, the son of a Portuguese diplomat, was born and raised in Silver Spring. Ruy has worked with various think tanks in Washington and most recently has been a fellow at the Center for American Progress. His new book is titled “The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century will be Better Than You Think.” It’s a potentially tough subject, but Ruy writes clearly and persuasively, and it’s surprisingly easy to read. As readers will note from this interview, I don’t quite share Ruy’s optimism, but I certainly hope that he is right.

Judis:  In your book, you explain at several points that you are no longer a socialist and instead support a reformed capitalism. When we met many years ago, we were in a socialist organization. When did this transformation occur?

 Teixeira:  What happened is that I began to think a lot about how economies actually work. When I was a socialist, I didn’t think very carefully and long about what actually a socialist economy would look like. I had this general idea that the capitalist system was inefficient and prone to crisis and that one should somehow tamp down the profit motive and limit the freedom of action of capitalists. But the more I thought about how economies worked, it was hard to gainsay that the market was absolutely essential for the efficient delivery of goods and services. And  the more I read, the more I realized my viewpoint was closer to social democrats than to socialists. Capitalism needs to be regulated, it needs to be pointed in the right direction, you need to have a big safety net, but you can’t replace it.

Political Strategy Notes

William A. Galston notes at Brookings, “..A report released today by the Pew Research Center shows that for the first time ever, Millennial and Gen X voters outnumbered Boomers and older voters, 69.6 million to 67.9 million. This gap will only widen in future elections…In the long run, this is worrisome news for Republicans. As of last November, fully 55 percent of Millennials identified either as Democrats or as Independents who lean Democratic. Given their liberal attitudes on social issues and experience-based openness to immigrants from other cultures, the first six months of the Trump administration are unlikely to have shifted their preference toward the GOP. Within the next decade, as their numbers and participation rates swell, Millennials will be the single largest cohort in the electorate. And if history is any guide, their early voting patterns will likely persist into their mature years.”

In his Washington Post column, “There’s no such thing as a Trump Democrat,” Dana Milbank writes, “It has become an article of faith that an unusually large number of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012 switched sides and voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. It follows that Democrats, to win in the future, need to get these lost partisans to come home…But new data, and an analysis by AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer that he shared with me, puts all this into question. The number of Obama-to-Trump voters turns out to be smaller than thought. And those Obama voters who did switch to Trump were largely Republican voters to start with. The aberration wasn’t their votes for Trump but their votes for Obama. It follows for Democrats that most of these Obama-Trump voters aren’t going to be persuaded to vote Democratic in future; the party would do better to go after disaffected Democrats who didn’t vote in 2016 or who voted for third parties…Democrats don’t have to contort themselves to appeal to the mythical Trump Democrats by toughening their position on immigration, or weakening their support for universal health care, or embracing small government and low taxes. What Democrats have to do is be Democrats.”

Paul Krugman’s column “What’s Next for Progressives?” should crank up buzz among Democrats who are getting focused on the nuts and bolts of health care policy reforms. Krugman considers the British, Australian and Dutch health care systems, and suggests: “the Dutch have what we might call Obamacare done right: individuals are required to buy coverage from regulated private insurers, with subsidies to help them afford the premiums…And the Dutch system works, which suggests that a lot could be accomplished via incremental improvements in the A.C.A., rather than radical change…I’d enhance the A.C.A., not replace it, although I would strongly support reintroducing some form of public option — a way for people to buy into public insurance — that could eventually lead to single-payer.” Krugman also argues “So if it were up to me, I’d talk about improving the A.C.A., not ripping it up and starting over, while opening up a new progressive front on child care.”

At The Fix, David Weigel muses over the failure of Democrats to respond effectively to questions about Nancy Pelosi: “…Democrats running in swing districts — including districts Hillary Clinton won last year — can rarely bring themselves to say whether they want Pelosi to be speaker again…I keep wondering why Democrats can’t find the escape hatch. Republicans have had similar problems with messaging very recently, and to a great extent, they’ve figured them out…In a word: They pivot. They start with the shared notion that the media’s questions are meant to hurt them, and they find ways to spin the question around…It baffles me that no 2018 Democrat can do something similar. Pelosi is unpopular; they can acknowledge right away that they disagree with her. But they never pivot to say that their opponents back Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), whose favorable numbers have tumbled to Pelosian levels, or Donald Trump, who’s tumbled even further. Seriously, I’ve never heard a Democrat do this — they’ve just internalized that Pelosi is unpopular, so they curl up as if hiding from a hungry bear.”

Weigel also provides some amusing insights, sitting in for James Hohman at the Daily 202: Noting that the Democratic Socialists of America voted to reject an exodus from the Democratic Party, Weigel writes, “The resolution failed — easily so. While the judgment of 697 delegates to a socialist convention might not seen like a major Democratic Party development, it was telling of something that frequently gets lost. Democrats, for whom self-flagellation starts at birth and continues after death, have been moving as steadily left as Republicans moved right in 2009, when they last lost power…The Better Deal, predictably denounced as thin, actually reflected how regulatory godmother Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and $15-or-fight godfather Sanders now steer the party.” As for the possible downside of Democrats moving left, Weigel concludes, “Would any of this backfire on Democrats?…Democrats lost in 2010, 2014 and 2016 to a Republican Party that had been through waves of purity battles; one that had, in 2016, appeared to be breaking apart. The ongoing Democratic argument, over the long run, is moving it left without doing notable political damage.”

“As a communications professional, I understand that the meaning of a message resides more in what’s received than what’s transmitted. Yes, Democrats need better messaging of our values…Democrats aren’t skilled at fitting our ideas onto the front of a cap…But we have metric tons of Republican misinformation, extreme gerrymandering and Trumpitude to battle, so messaging isn’t easy. I’ll keep shouting our platform with my increasingly hoarse voice and keep hoping the party’s bigwigs are working on strategies to connect with enough voters to win Congress in 2018 and the Electoral College (not just the popular vote) in 2020…As much as I resist Trump and his enablers with my full patriotic spirit, that’s not the only reason I’m a Democrat who works for Democratic causes and candidates. Our party has a better vision for the country than the regression, corporatism, corruption, incivility and oligarchy that Trump and the Republican Party offer.” — from John Sheirer’s latest column at The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

WaPo syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson urges Dems to think a little bigger than ‘A Beter Deal’: “I’m still waiting to hear the “bold solutions” that Democrats promise. I can think of one possibility: Why not propose some version of truly universal single-payer health care?…Yes, that would be risky. But it might generate real excitement among the Democratic base — and also grab the attention of some of the GOP’s working-class supporters. Incrementalism is not the answer. Democrats need to go big or go home.”

Focusing on the issue of afformative action, The Upshot’s Nate Cohn chews on the reasons why “polls can mislead,” including the difficulties in measuring enthusiasm, focusing on “the public” instead of swing constituencies, the effects of messaging and the reality that “elections aren’t simply about policy.” Cohn concluders, “Issue polling has its place. A government in a democracy should be aware of the views of the public. But if you’re strictly interested in electoral consequences, you’re probably a lot better off focusing on the president’s approval rating than the popularity of the president’s policy agenda.”

Since the Trump Administration has so many associations and flirtations with racist and’alt-right’ groups and leaders, Dems should be on high alert for ‘dog-whistles’ that try to gin up animosity toward pro-Democratic constituencies.Media Matters’ Cristina López explains how the White House uses dog whistles to appeal to the “alt-right,” and observes:  “it’s very hard to know what was going through the mind, and that’s why dog whistles are so insidious, because they can be used innocuously and they kind of give an out to whoever is using them to be able to say that’s not what I meant. The thing is that they are not meant for the general population — you’re throwing red meat for the well-attuned ear that has the context — the larger context where you want it to land. So dog whistles in that sense allow you to appeal to a certain part of the population that it wouldn’t be OK to appeal in a general speech, like the White House press briefing. But these groups are attune and they are listening. And, Stephen Miller is right now being celebrated in the corners of the alt-right, white nationalistic internet as a hero — as a hero for keeping the purity of the population of America by kind of trying to curtail immigration.”

A Huge 2020 Presidential Field Might Not Be Ideal For Democrats

It’s awfully early to be thinking about the 2020 election, but potential candidates are already seeing the next president of the United States in their bathroom mirrors, so observers must take notice, as I did at New York:

[T]here’s nothing unusual about speculation surrounding two fairly obscure Democratic House members, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Tim Ryan of Ohio. Compadres in an unsuccessful revolt against Speaker Nancy Pelosi last November (Ryan was the alternative candidate, Moulton a vocal supporter), they are both already being mentioned in connection with 2020…. They will join another colleague who has attracted some national attention, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, as featured speakers at September’s Polk County Steak Fry, in Des Moines. This event is an effort to revive the annual Steak Fry event former senator Tom Harkin used to host in his home town of Indianola, which was a big-time magnet for future Democratic presidential candidates.

Everybody should get used to the idea of a putative 2020 Democratic field the size of an Iowa cornfield. There are three potential candidates who would each become front-runners in the 2020 race if they decide to run: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren. There are questions as to whether any or all of them are too old, particularly for a party looking to show it’s shed the barnacles exposed by the 2016 Clinton campaign. Sanders will be 78 when the 2020 Iowa Caucuses are held; Biden will be 77, and Warren will be 71 (for that matter, Donald Trump will be 73). But none of them has any particular reason to diminish their influence by declining interest in 2020. Their long shadows will make it harder for little-known alternatives to emerge. But the possibility of retirement or illness among the Big Three keeps open the gate to dark-horse fantasies.

If Sanders, Biden, and Warren do fall by the wayside, Democrats may suddenly find themselves with a presidential field that resembles the mob that ran for the GOP nomination in 2016. And as National Review’s Jim Geraghty reminds us, that did not work out to well for those Republicans who kept expecting someone to emerge to knock off Donald Trump, right up to the moment he was nominated:

“One chunk of the field convinced itself there was an ‘establishment lane,’ leaving Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie all elbowing each other for the same base of support that proved insufficiently influential. On the other side, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker tried to occupy the ‘conservative lane.’ Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina competed with Trump for an ‘outsider lane.’ But in the end, it turned out there were no real lanes, just a traffic jam. Every non-Trump candidate’s determination to be the last one standing against Trump was the strategic miscalculation of the cycle.”

There is no Donald Trump analogue gearing up for a presidential run on the Democratic side in 2020, so far as we know. But if one emerges, she or he will be helped enormously if there is a large field against which to pose as Gulliver among the Lilliputians. Geraghty counts 18 possible candidates right now, and while some will certainly not run, others may come out of the woodwork if the Big Three give the race a pass. Indeed, the Trump precedent has made the narcissism of long shots seem a lot more reasonable.

There are some things about the Donkey Party’s procedures that might help mitigate the risk of an accidental nominee. Most importantly, Democrats award delegates on a strictly proportional basis, making the occasional sweeps that helped Trump win in 2016 impossible. The Democratic practice of awarding nonelected “superdelegates”— if they preserve it — is also a hedge against a hostile-candidate takeover of the party.

But even if they have no reason to fear the fate that befell the GOP in 2016, Democrats should begin to think through the practical consequences of a very large presidential field. If nothing else, the two-tier debates Republicans were forced to undertake would be very controversial in a party where last year’s debate scheduling and formatting were a huge bone of contention. And an undifferentiated glut of candidates might be good for party unity but not so hot for voter interest.

Maybe one or two of the Big Three (it’s hard to envision all of them running) will enter the 2020 race and either lock up the nomination early or at least cull the field of electoral weaklings. If not, then just two short years from now, at the Iowa State Fair, the candidates may be so thick on the ground that you won’t be able to stir ’em with a stick.

GQR Swing District Poll: Strong Opposition To Firing Mueller, Pardons

The following article by Jeremy Rosner and Anna Greenberg is cross-posted from a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Memo:

A new Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll of the top 99 battleground congressional districts for 2018 shows voters in these swing districts strongly oppose any move by President Donald Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and even stronger majorities oppose the idea of the President pardoning either himself or his top aides and family members.

These findings are especially notable since the survey is based only on voters in battleground House districts – with 79 of the 99 districts now represented by Republican House members. That means the sample, and the results, lean more Republican than a full nationwide survey.

By a two-to-one margin, 60-29%, respondents say they would disapprove if President Trump and his team fire Special Counsel Mueller in the coming weeks; this includes 44% who strongly disapprove. Even in the 79 districts that are now Republican-held, the margin is essentially the same, 59-30%. Disapproval is even stronger among Independents, 66-23%.

A 64-33% majority already favors creating an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate issues linked to Russia and the 2016 election, and to report to the public. If the President were to fire Mueller, support for such a commission rises even higher, to a 72-22% majority. Again, the figure is essentially the same, 73-22%, among respondents in the 79 Republican-held districts. If Trump were to fire Mueller, a 67-26% majority across the full sample would also support having Congress establish a Special Prosecutor that President Trump could not fire.

An overwhelming 86-10% majority says Trump should not be allowed to pardon himself from criminal prosecution – a possibility the President and his team reportedly examined. Even among self-identified Republicans, an overwhelming 74-19% majority objects to the idea of the President pardoning himself. Respondents also oppose the President pardoning his aides and family members by a strong 69-27% margin.

Even with the Russia investigation in its early days and the election more than a year off, there is already a notable enthusiasm edge among Democrats in these battleground districts. Across all these districts, 61% of self-identified Democratic voters say they are extremely enthusiastic about voting for Congress in 2018 (10, on a 0-10 scale), compared to only 48% of self-identified Republicans.

These results are based on a survey of 1,000 telephone interviews with likely 2018 voters in the country’s 99 most competitive congressional battleground districts (79 currently Republican held; 20 Democratic held), conducted July 27 to August 1, 2017. Half of the interviews were conducted by landline, and half by cell phone. The results are subject to a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. The survey was designed and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and funded by a coalition including: American Bridge; End Citizens United; MoveOn; and Stand Up America.

Teixeira: Why Rural Areas Really Are Different

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of  The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think and other works of political analysis, is cross posted from his blog, “The Optimistic Leftist”:

I don’t think you can understand the resolute Trump support in much of rural America without taking into account the absolutely appalling economic and social trends in these areas. Janet Adamy at the Wall Street Journal has been doing some great work exploring these trends, both generally and in particular rural places (here and here). In the first of these articles, Adamy notes:

Starting in the 1980s, the nation’s basket cases were its urban areas—where a toxic stew of crime, drugs and suburban flight conspired to make large cities the slowest-growing and most troubled places.
Today, however, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows that by many key measures of socioeconomic well-being, those charts have flipped. In terms of poverty, college attainment, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, reliance on federal disability insurance and male labor-force participation, rural counties now rank the worst among the four major U.S. population groupings (the others are big cities, suburbs and medium or small metro areas).
In fact, the total rural population—accounting for births, deaths and migration—has declined for five straight years.

Is it any wonder these folks aren’t in a good mood and are inclined to lash out? They are particularly sour on the situation with jobs and job opportunities where they live. A recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll allows for direct comparisons of the views of rural, suburban and urban residents.

  • 21 percent of rural residents say jobs/unemployment is the biggest problem facing their community, compared to 7 percent of suburban residents and 6 percent of urban residents.
  • 34 percent in rural areas describe the job situation in their community as “poor” compared to 18 percent in suburbs and 14 percent in cities.
  • 31 percent of rural residents say the availability of jobs in their area is worse than it was 10 years ago, compared to 22 percent of suburban residents and 17 percent of urban residents.
  • 59 percent in rural areas would encourage young people to leave their community for more opportunity elsewhere, compared to 47 percent in suburbs and 41 percent in cities.
  • 53 percent of rural residents say their area has lost manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years; 38 percent say farming jobs have been lost; and 31 percent say natural resources jobs like coal or lumber have been lost.
  • 56 percent of those who report these job losses say their community has not yet recovered from these job losses.
Interestingly, by far the most effective policy fix for the job situation in rural areas, according to rural residents, would be for the federal government to invest in infrastructure projects like fixing roads, bridges and schools. This easily beats out better trade deals, cracking down on illegal immigrants and decreasing regulations on business.

Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Forecast Model Suggests Democratic Gains Likely in 2018 Gubernatorial Contests” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, political analyst Alan I. Abramowitz deploys a “A forecasting model that has produced accurate predictions of the results of midterm U.S. House elections” to assess prospects for Democratic candidates for governor in 36 states. Among his observations: “The president’s party typically loses gubernatorial seats in midterm elections — this has been true in 14 of 18 midterm elections since World War II. The average loss for the president’s party has been just over three seats. However, these elections have produced a wide range of outcomes for the president’s party, from a gain of eight seats in 1986 to a loss of 11 seats in 1970. Noting that “Republicans will be defending 26 of the 36 seats that are up for election in 2018,” Abaramowitz crunches the data in his forecasting model along with “FiveThirtyEight weighted average of recent polling results,” and envisions “a net Democratic gain of around nine governorships with a two-thirds probability that the gain would be between six and 12 seats.”

At The Fix, “Want to know if Democrats can take back the House? Keep an eye on this Orange County race” By Amber Phillips spotlights a Republican-held district (CA-39), “a typical, affluent suburban Republican district that went for Clinton over President Trump by nearly nine points.” that has drawn a number of impressive Democratic challengers, and notes “If House Democrats are going to ride an anti-Trump wave to power, California could be where it starts. Across the nation, there are 23 House Republicans sitting in districts that Hillary Clinton won. Seven are in California…House Democrats’ campaign arm has set up a team in Irvine, its first headquarters in the state since 2000, to try to knock out at least nine California Republicans in their efforts to take back the House…“There are Republicans who represent the Orange County that existed 20 years ago,” said Drew Godinich, the Western press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Godinich spoke to The Fix fresh off the plane from Washington to move to California. “The area has diversified, gotten younger and has gotten more socially progressive, and these Republicans don’t represent Orange County.”

Writing at CNN Politics, Ronald Brownstein exposes Trump’s strategy to distract the press and public with cultural controversies from his already broken promises to defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Citing Trump’s “gamble” that “that cultural affinity can trump economic self-interest for the older and blue-collar white voters central to the coalition that elected him,” Brownstein observes, “The key economic signal that Trump offered last week was his unreserved embrace of the stalled Senate effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite abundant evidence those older and working-class white voters would be among the biggest losers in all of the Republican replacement plans. That decision underscored Trump’s conversion to the long-standing drive by the Congressional GOP — especially House Republicans allied with Speaker Paul Ryan — to systematically retrench the social safety net, despite Trump’s conspicuous campaign promises to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid…One day before the vote, the administration issued a flurry of decisions rolling back transgender and gay rights. Speaking just hours after the vote, Trump braided a blistering attack on undocumented immigrant gang members (who he repeatedly labeled “animals”) with a plea for unshackling law enforcement from what he called “pathetic” big city mayors…Those twin initiatives marked an escalation of cultural conservatism aimed directly at many of those same older and blue-collar whites’ fears that they are being eclipsed by the hurtling demographic and social changes remaking American society.”

PowerPost’s David Weigel reports on the new Democratic initiative to reclaim fair trade as a major component of the party’s agenda: “Trade is at the core of our economic agenda,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement, ahead of a planned 11:30 a.m. launch of the trade policies. “We’re going to propose a better deal for American workers — one that puts their well-being at the center of our trade laws, not just the bottom line of huge corporations. Our trade laws have shortchanged American workers for far too long, and we Democrats are aiming to change that.” The initiative includes an “independent trade prosecutor,” an “American Jobs Council,” pean;ties for ourtsourcing and preferential federal funding for American companies and jobs.

“Extreme candidates for the House of Representatives do worse than moderates because they mobilize the opposing party to turn out to vote, according to new research from Andrew Hall and Daniel Thompson of Stanford University.mPolitical scientists and campaign experts have been divided for decades about whether candidates are successful when they win over swing voters — those who aren’t loyal to any party — or when they encourage members of their own party to show up at the polls. The research suggests that when it comes to ideologically extreme candidates, the deciding factor might be the other party’s turnout…The researchers considered elections for the House from 2006 to 2014 in which an extreme candidate and a moderate faced off in the primary. But, because districts where extreme candidates win handily are probably very different from districts where moderates win with ease, they examined only close races (in which the winner had less than a 10 percent margin of victory). They found that when the more extreme candidate won the primary, the party did far worse in the general election: Its share of votes fell by between 7 and 15 percentage points…In addition, a greater proportion of the people who turned out to vote were members of the opposite party.” — from Sahil Chony’s “Extreme candidates lose because they boost the other party’s turnout, research finds” at The Fix.

Mark Schmitt offers this cogent insight at Vox: “How did Medicaid prove to be so important in the debate over repeal? The story is more complex than just public opinion, since the key constituency was governors, not Medicaid recipients themselves. For governors, Medicaid is the single largest stream of federal funding into their budgets, which most are required to balance. While the legislation promised flexibility with federal Medicaid funds, flexibility is no substitute for predictable, adequate funding…Still, plenty of Republican governors passed up these funds between 2011 and 2017, and there was no reason to expect that governors would suddenly care. But the constituency is now large enough to matter, the opioid crisis has made the need for Medicaid funding particularly acute, and just a few key governors were enough to swing the handful of senators necessary to kill the bill.”

TNR’s Clio Chang has a tough question for Dems: “Where Are the Single-Payer Wonks? The political momentum on the left for Medicare-for-All is gaining steam. But the policy is lagging behind.” Chang writes “Among Democrats, support for single-payer has increased by 19 percentage points over the past three years. And for the first time in history, a majority of Democrats in the House have signed on as co-sponsors to Representative John Conyers’s Medicare-for-All bill…But it’s hard to deny that single-payer is an area where progressive politics has outstripped policy. Conyers’s bill is largely seen as a symbolic piece of legislation, and not only because Democrats would first have to win back Congress and the White House to even begin passing it. As Joshua Holland wrote on Wednesday in The Nation, the momentum for single-payer is “tempered by the fact that the activist left, which has a ton of energy at the moment, has for the most part failed to grapple with the difficulties of transitioning to a single-payer system…As Harold Pollack, a health policy researcher at the University of Chicago, told Holland, “There has not yet been a detailed, single-payer bill that’s laid out the transitional issues about how to get from here to there…”

Ann Jones probes a related question at The Nation, “Is State-Level Single Payer Within Reach? Scandinavian-style health care is part of at least one candidate’s platform for 2018.” Jones argues that “applying Medicare for All at the state level should be easier. And of all the states, only eight have a population greater than that of Scandinavia’s biggest country, Sweden (9 million), while 30 states have fewer residents, most far fewer, than either Denmark (5.5 million) or Norway (5.3 million). In short, the most popular argument against single-payer health care for the nation—the contention that we’re way too big for such a system—simply vanishes if you start at the state level.” Despite formidabe obstacles, “a single program launched by a single state is better than none. And it just might work. If it does, states can look to the Scandinavian toolbox for other projects. What’s more, a good idea in one state may prove contagious…”

“Democrats should make fighting monopolies the central organizing principle of their economic agenda,” Martin Longman writes in is post, “How to Win Rural Voters Without Losing Liberal Values” at The Washington Monthly. “This approach holds the promise of bringing together groups that seem inherently at odds: nativists and cosmopolitans, fundamentalists and secularists, urbanites and rural dwellers…The strongest reason to think this could work is, quite simply, that it has worked before. A century ago, agrarian populists and big-city progressives united around a common opposition to monopoly, forming a movement that dominated American politics for decades and helped deliver a broadly shared prosperity. Because the economic landscape today is strikingly similar to what it was a hundred years ago, there’s every reason to believe that the conditions are right for a similar alliance to arise again.”

“Trust Women” Is the Only Principle Democrats Need on Abortion Policy

One strategic conflict that Democrats can’t seem to shake involves abortion policy. I addressed this controversy at some length at New York:

Earlier this week Ben Ray Luján, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the fundraising wing of the House Democratic Caucus) touched a chronically sore point with the vast majority of Democrats who are pro-choice:

“Democrats will not withhold financial support for candidates who oppose abortion rights, the chairman of the party’s campaign arm in the House said in an interview with The Hill

“‘There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,’ said Luján, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. ‘As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.'”

Luján’s initial mistake, I would argue, was in framing the question as a matter of “litmus tests.” Unlike their counterparts in many other countries, America’s major political parties don’t have formal membership protocols, much less binding “tests” of what is or isn’t a common position on controversial topics. When it comes to candidates, the national party — and for that matter, state parties, in most cases — has no control over who calls her- or himself a “Democrat”; that’s the job of party primary voters.

The DCCC does make decisions every day about how to use its financial resources to maximize the number of House Democrats, and would probably cheerfully funnel money to a Koch brother if it added a vote to Nancy Pelosi’s column in the next House balloting for Speaker. Confusing that hammer-headed perspective with some sort of official pronouncement on the relative importance — or nonimportance — of reproductive rights is a bad idea from the get-go.

But as some of Luján’s critics immediately noted, it is not a good thing that a commitment to reproductive rights is often so high on the list of progressive principles Democratic officials seem willing to throw over the side in the pursuit of electoral victory — or as Luján put it, creating a “big family in order to win the House back.” Would anyone go out of their way to suggest, for example, that Democrats are happy to find and back candidates who oppose progressive taxation or want to radically reduce immigration? How about opponents of Social Security or of civil rights? Why is the right to choose so disposable?

It’s not a matter of intra-party democracy. According to the most recent Pew survey of how Americans feel on the basic matter of whether abortion should be mostly legal or mostly illegal, self-identified Democrats are pro-choice by a 79/18 margin. Pew also finds that Democrats oppose overturning a constitutional right to choose by an even larger 84/14 margin — an opposition that has been in every Democratic national platform since 1976, just as overturning Roe v. Wade has been a staple in Republican national platforms since the same year. No one is stopping individual Democrats, including candidates, from dissenting from that long-established consensus position. But the implicit encouragement of heterodoxy on abortion policy that Luján (like other party leaders) offers cannot help to be maddening to the many millions of Democratic women for whom this is a question of basic personal rights, not some policy preference. That this suggestion came from a man makes it even worse.

Political parties inevitably encompass multiple views on multiple things. But some are more fundamental than others, touching on values and mutual respect…. The conviction that women should have control of their reproductive health is clearly a value; protecting it is also clearly a policy goal. Exactly how to do that is another matter, and I don’t think any pro-choice Democrats are insisting on uniformity as to the details of abortion policy.

If Democrats continue, as they probably will, to argue about this topic, there is another level of self-discipline that Democratic men should exercise. The most appropriate slogan for progressive men is the one the late Dr. George Tiller adhered to, right up until the time he was murdered during Sunday services at his own church: “Trust women.” And if you can’t bring yourself to trust them with decisions over their own bodies, Democratic men, at least respect them enough to keep your own counsel about it.

Dem House Candidate’s Ad Rocks KY Politics

The following ad for Democratic House of Reps. (KY-6) candidate Lt. Colonel Amy McGrath, created by Mark Putnam, who also helped develop ads for President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, is generating considerable buzz in Kentucky politcs — and the nation:

Great ad that it is, Mcgrath faces a tough challenge in a heavily-red district. Those who want to help Mcgrath can contribute at her ActBlue page.

New Johns Hopkins Study Probes Social Class and Shifting Political Identity

Jill Rosen previews a Journal of Sociological Science report, which presents the results of a study of 30,000 eligible voters, exploring “how social class affected political identity in the run up to the 2016 presidential election.” According to Rosen’s article, “Shift away from party loyalty among working-class voters set stage for Trump’s victory” in Johns Hopkins University Magazine:

On the cusp of last year’s presidential election, many working-class voters who were once staunch Democrats had gone independent, opening the door for a non-traditional Republican candidate…”A substantial proportion of eligible voters within the working class turned away from solid identification with either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party during the Obama presidency,” wrote lead author Stephen L. Morgan, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Education. “Even before the 2016 election cycle commenced, conditions were uncharacteristically propitious for a Republican candidate who could appeal to prospective voters in the working class, especially those who had not voted in recent presidential elections but could be mobilized to vote.”

Morgan and graduate student Jiwon Lee studied data from the 1994 through 2016 editions of the General Social Survey, to model how party identification has evolved over the past 24 years…They focused on more than 30,000 eligible voters. The survey asks respondents which political party they identify with, as well as questions about their occupation and education, which allowed the researchers to determine how working-class voters aligned themselves politically over time.

“We found substantial change in party identification across the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama, particularly during Obama’s tenure,” Morgan said. “Many eligible working-class voters were becoming less attached to the Democratic Party, but their loyalties weren’t shifting to the Republican Party.”

Many of these voters—lower-paid, lower-skilled workers often in blue-collar jobs—had begun to consider themselves independent, Morgan found.

Graphic charting affiliations of working class voters as independent (black line), Democrats (blue line), and Republicans (red line)

Image caption:A graphic of working-class party identification from 1994-2016 shows that most identify as independents.

The report likely won’t suprise political observers who have been studying white working-class party identification. But the large size of the study adds some weight to its conclusions. As for the reasons behind the trend, Rosen writes,

The survey didn’t explore why voters who changed party affiliation did so, but Morgan suspects a number of causes: a slow economic recovery after the recession, a failure by those in office to prosecute the individuals responsible for the collapse of financial institutions, and the continuing erosion of real wages for semi-skilled and unskilled workers…Rejection of the civil rights agenda, however defined, appears fashionable again..Morgan estimates that between 6 and 10 percent of working-class voters shifted allegiances, not enough for the Democratic Party to entirely lose its overall working-class advantage.

Whatever advantage Democrats still have with the working-class surely rests on the political preferences of African-American working-class voters, who remain the Dems’ most reliable supporters. Increasing Black voter turnout is still a critical chalenge for Democrats, regardless of white working-class voting trends.

Rosen notes “A silver lining for Democrats, Morgan said, is that some of these lost working-class voters didn’t support a traditional Republican, but someone who appealed to their economic interests.” Democratic candidates who figure out how to project themselves as serving working-class economic interests will find themselves in a good position to win in 2018.

Don’t Forget to Thank Democrats, But War Against ACA Will Go On

It’s well and good that Sens. McCain, Collins and Murkowski are receiving widespread tributes for their pivotal opposition to ‘skinny repeal’ of the Affordable Care Act. But let’s also thank the Senate Democrats, whose unanimous rejection of the measure lead the way. David Leonhardt does a good job of it in his New York Times column, “The Americans Who Saved Health Insurance“:

I know it’s unfashionable to praise a political party, and I have plenty of complaints about the Democrats. But the fact is, many Americans would soon lack health insurance were it not for the unity of elected Democrats.

Not a single one wavered in recent months. On the left, Bernie Sanders, who’s technically an independent, worked to poke procedural holes in the bills. Every red-state Democrat stood firm, too. Why? They thought their Senate leader, Chuck Schumer, was listening to them and their concerns. They had also held their own town halls, and they knew the bills were deeply unpopular.

The unity was a fitting echo of 2010, when Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid kept their party together to pass the most important social policy in decades. Today, it remains the law of the land.

Democrats can be rightly proud of their leadership in protecting the Affordable Care Act. But let’s also affirm the pivotal leadership of citizens and human rights organizations who supported Democrats in winning this battle. In his HuffPo post, “Thanks to the millions who fought to save our health care,” Mike Lux points out that citizen activism was the key to defeating ‘skinny repeal’:

It should not be forgotten that it was all those actions by regular people fighting their hearts out for this cause that won this fight. The people demonstrating, the town hall meetings, the letters, the petitions, the phone calls, the social media postings. Everything all of you did made the difference. You not only terrified the Republicans, but you bolstered and fired up the Democrats to fight back— and fight back they did, to their enormous credit…We have so many battles yet to fight. You activists have shown you can pull off miracles and we are going to need some more of them in the years to come. But last night gives me faith we can do it— again and again and again.

Leonhardt also acknowledges the critical role of “thousands of citizens who took time to attend meetings, visit congressional offices and call those offices, often repeatedly. This sustained action worked better than any poll to show Congress how unpopular the bills were. It was a reminder of how democracy can work.”

It’s important, however, to see the defeat of ‘skinny repeal,’ not as a war that has been won, but a battle victory, or really just one of many skirmishes in the decades of struggle for health security for all Americans.  As Leonhardt cautions, “No one should think the fight is over. Murphy, the Connecticut senator, says he wakes up every day fearful of a new repeal effort. Even without one, Obamacare needs to be improved, and defended from Trump’s sabotage. There’s much more work to do.”

For now, however, let’s give the Democrats in congress due credit for their unified defense of health security for all Americans. Too often, the public takes Democratic support for needed reforms for granted. But the impressive unity Democrats demonstrated in this battle should not be shrugged off. It took courage and vision to hold the line against relentless opposition that controlled the rules and agenda. Countless lives have been saved and million more will get needed health care because of Democratic unity in this most central of struggles for a decent society.