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

December 17, 2017

How Should Dems Meet SCOTUS Challenge?

Even under the most optimistic electoral scenarios for ’08, it appears that Democrats will be stuck with an extremely conservative Supreme Court, which will likely invalidate key reforms passed by the Congress. It could be similar in some respects to the frustration FDR experienced when hidebound SCOTUS reactionaries gutted a number of his New Deal reforms.
It’s actually worse in some respects today than the obstruction FDR confronted (read his “fireside chat” on the topic here). Six of nine SCOTUS justices FDR faced were over the age of 70. His efforts to “pack the court” failed, but, before too long the elderly SCOTUS justices were retired and Roosevelt appointed more liberal justices.
Today, however, the conservative majority is much younger, and will likely be around for decades. Some of them may become more moderate over time, but it would be a mistake to count on it.
Emily Bazelon’s SLATE article “Throw Restraint to the Wind” discusses the possibilities for changing the prevailing SCOTUS philosophy, but the article doesn’t really deal directly with the promise suggested by her subtitle: “And other ways for the legal left to rein in the Roberts Court.” Bazelon points out that the upcoming American Constitutional Society and the Yearly Kos Convention will address the future of the Supreme Court and she kicks around the idea circulating among some liberal scholars and legal writers that progressives should now take back the philosophy of ‘legal restraint’ and make it their own. In any case it’s hard to imagine Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy being much influenced by such a trend.
Bazelon also notes that even the “liberals” on today’s court are more like moderates. As Cass Sunstein, quoted by Bazelon put it “Something has gone badly wrong if the Court has a strong right-wing without any real left.” It is a High Court without liberal firebrands like Douglas, Brennan or Marshall.
Supreme Court Justices can be impeached by Congress, but none have ever been convicted and removed.
All of which leads one to wonder whether enlarging the court with just two more justices to restore some balance might be an idea that could fly, should Dems win the presidency and a filibuster-proof majority of congress. As Jean Edward Smith, author of “FDR,” points out in a NYT op-ed today, there is no constitutional provision for any precise number number of Supreme Court justices — It’s up to the Congress. Nothing particularly sacred about the number 9 — Congress has enacted laws establishing 5, 6, 7 and 10 Supreme Court justices in U.S. history. As FDR explained in his aforementioned ‘fireside chat,’

The number of justices has been changed several times before, in the administrations of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – both of them signers of the Declaration of Independence – in the administrations of Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant.

Of course there would be much whining, weeping and gnashing of teeth on the right and some opposition from ossified traditionalists. There would be a lot of belly-aching about “packing the court.” But if they want to invoke memory of FDR, a Democrat who knew how to win a war, save a devasted economy and provide hope for the nation and world, bring it on. Yes, it would take a huge fight to get it done. But, if the alternative is getting progressive legislation stuffed by Roberts and Co. time and again, where’s the downside?

State of the Democratic Debate On Iraq

Despite congressional Democrats’ efforts to draw sharp lines between Ds and Rs on Iraq, the intra-Democratic debate on Iraq rages on, as illustrated by several sharp candidate exchanges during Monday’s CNN/YouTube debate. And it’s as good a time as any to take stock of where that debate stands, and where it might soon go.
One issue that used to divide Democrats–the advisability and winnability of the Iraq misadventure–has obviously been resolved, assuming you exclude Joe Lieberman from the discussion.
A second issue–whether to impose a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq–has also largely been resolved, given broad Democratic support for language establishing a deadline in the suppmemental appropriations bill that Bush vetoed earlier this year, though some antiwar Democrats opposed it as insufficiently mandatory. The exact deadline date, however, still hangs fire, particularly in the presidential contest, mainly because of Bill Richardson’s efforts to distinguish himself by halfing the withdrawal timetable. During Monday’s debates, Richardson’s “six months and out” position gave Joe Biden the opening he sought to angrily claim that it’s logistically impossible to withdraw that quickly without dire danger for U.S. troops and/or civilians.
The third issue, which is steadily emerging as a dividing line among Democrats even though most Americans probably haven’t heard or thought much about it, is the question of residual troops commitments to Iraq once “combat brigades” (defined rather hazily) are withdrawn. Many antiwar activists, especially in the blogosphere, have made this a virtual litmus test, arguing that any sizeable residual military force in Iraq represents a continuation of the war, not a post-war safeguard. Among the presidential candidates, Biden, Clinton and Obama have embraced Iraq plans that include a significant residual force. Richardson, Dodd and Kucinich have explicitly opposed residuals. Edwards, best I can tell, hasn’t completely ruled it out or in, though it appears he would oppose the kind of robust residual force that Hillary Clinton is talking about, and would probably limit it to embassy security. (For an unusually explicit pro-residual argument, contemplating a lengthy if smaller troop commitment, check out PPI president Will Marshall’s post today at the DLC’s new-and-improved Ideas Primary site).
And the fourth issue, which flared up sharply during the spring, and is almost certain to return in the fall, is the question of whether congressional Democrats should take the dramatic step of cutting off funding for the war to force the administration to start withdrawing troops. As was nicely articulated by Dennis Kucinich in the Monday debate, this is the one step that Democrats, theoretically at least, could take in Congress that does not require Republican support. Ironically, this issue is highly emotional precisely because it is essentially tactical. The reluctance of Democratic congressional leaders to pursue a funding cutoff to the bitter end reflects, in the eyes of many netroots activists in particular, the timidity or even cowardice that “DC Democrats” have exhibited throughout the Bush administration.
There’s still another tactical-but-contentious issue lurking in the background of all the intra-Democratic debates over Iraq: the fear that Democrats will enable Republicans to blur partisan differences on the war, reducing its salience in the 2008 elections. This is clearly the thinking behind Harry Reid’s determined efforts to oppose any bipartisan resolution in the Senate endorsing the Iraq Study Group approach, which many observers believe Bush himself will ultimately embrace, however insincerely.
And finally, there’s significant disagreement among Democrats about how, exactly, to judge public opinion on Iraq. Pollsters have not done much to shed light on the insider “residuals” debate, and public opinion on the impact of a protracted funding cutoff debate remains murky, though support for that strategy has clearly grown this year as Bush’s intransigence on Iraq has become more obvious.
Moreover, as Chris Cillizza points out today in a fascinating glimpse at the internals of the recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, support for “immediate” as opposed to “gradual” withdrawal from Iraq among Democrats doesn’t follow any predictable pattern of ideological self-identification, age, or candidate preference (though region does seem to have an impact, with support for immediate withdrawal strongest in the West and weakest in the South). Most notably, the Post found that those favoring immediate withdrawal are a larger percentage of Hillary Clinton’s base of support than of Barack Obama’s. This finding alone is one that will almost certainly contribute to an escalation of efforts by Clinton’s rivals to make Democratic differences over Iraq front and center in the nomination fight. Where that leaves the ultimate nominee going into the general election is a question that all Democrats should begin to ponder.
UPCATEGORY: Democratic Strategist

YouTube/CNN Debate: Was the Medium the Message?

Last night’s Democratic presidential debate, sponsored by YouTube and CNN, has become an instant legend, with the most frequent comment being that future debates will never be the same. In case you missed it, the debate was organized around thirty-nine YouTube videos posing questions (culled from over 3,000 submissions) to particular or all candidates, with moderator Anderson Cooper occasionally supplying follow-ups.
The most obviously different thing about the format was that the questions were not framed in the ostensibly objective voice of journalism. While a few questioners adopted the Concerned Citizen tone of pre-selected Real People at campaign events, most took a very personal approach. There was lots of humor (singing questions, faux rednecks, and one representative of the “snowman community”) and drama (a man sitting in front of the burial flags of three family members, a cancer victim removing her wig, a question sent from a refugee camp in Darfur). And more generally, the questioners were as complicated as the electorate itself, reflecting very different political perspectives (frustrated base voter, disengaged cynic, earnest swing voter) and levels of knowledge.
You do have to wonder, however, if the positive reaction to the debate among journalists and bloggers is mainly about its sheer entertainment value, particularly for political junkie viewers who have come to loath candidate debates. I mean, it’s nice if this debate was a lot more fun to watch, and maybe that will eventually help engage voters, but it’s not necessarily grounds for widespread civic celebration. Moreoever, the apparent spontaneity of the event was partially artificial, given CNN’s role in selecting and ordering questions. And as in all recent debates, the need to spread questions among the candidates produced some serious distortions and reduced opportunities for candidate interaction. (I’m sure I’m not the only Democrat who’s fed up with the endless whining for equal time by Mike Gravel, whose Potemkin Village campaign is entirely composed of his opportunities to be the Angry Man of the debates).
With these reservations, however, the YouTube format did have some important and arguably positive effects on the informational value of the debate. For one thing, the personalization of the questions made them harder to dodge or deflect. One of the most dramatic moments of the debate came when John Edwards had to explain his position of “personally” opposing gay marriage on religious grounds while supporting civil unions. I’ve heard him do this many times, very fluidly. But last night, his answer was preceded by videos of two lesbians plaintively asking if the candidates would let them get married, and then an African-American minister specificially asking Edwards if religion is ever a legitimate reason for tolerating discrimination. Whatever you think of Edwards’ response–and some observers thought it was very effective–it was telling that the Joe DiMaggio of Trial Lawyers visibly struggled with the question.
More generally, the video questions, whether earnest or humorous, inevitably made it more noticable when candidates utilized their decades of “flag-and-bridge” training to quickly shift into their pre-ordained campaign messages. In traditional debates, the dynamic is often one of the men-in-suits on the stage trying to outwit the men-in-suits asking questions; it sounds and feels quite different when the questions are framed by wary citizens seeking a straight answer. For the same reason, candidate use of insider and legislative language was more jarring and unappealing in this format, which I’m sure the handlers of Senators Biden and Dodd noticed to their chagrin.
Yet another unusual feature of the debate was CNN’s decision to let each campaign screen its own YouTube video. Some simply cut-and-pasted campaign ads; others tried hard to get edgy, reflecting different levels of commitment to the New Social Media trend. (HRC’s campaign actually posted a video on YouTube during the debate, featuring her exchange with Obama over presidential negotiations with famous dictators).
One of the imponderables is whether the format leads to different assessments of candidate performances by junkies and pundits on the one hand and actual voters on the other. I’ve certainly read enough Drew Westen by now to understand that the College Debate Model of “scoring” candidate interactions may have little to do with their actual impact. And we got a glimpse of that disconnect last night. Immediately after the debate ended, and even before the self-congratulatory talk about CNN’s genius in partnering with YouTube, CNN’s commentators highlighted the Clinton-Obama negotiations exchange as the Big Moment (reflecting the belief that it showed HRC’s savvy and Obama’s inexperience, a big campaign talking point for Hillaryland). Seconds later, a CNN analyst called the debate’s real story “Gladys Knight and the Pips,” reflecting HRC’s total domination. Then next thing you knew, a CNN-sponsored focus group of undecided Democrats in New Hampshire declared Obama the overall debate winner.
MSM perceptions, of course, do influence public perceptions, so we may have to wait a while to see who was right. And we’ll also have to wait til September to watch the Republican candidates deal with the same format.
But for now, it looks like the Medium was the Message last night, with the candidates learning another lesson in the difficulty of holding onto the stage in the New Media era.

‘Class Warfare’…Neocon Style

Opinion polls have indicated for a while now that increasing numbers of Republicans have soured on the U.S. role in the Iraq war (see for example TDS’s post here). Among GOP activists, however — especially young Republicans who have been indoctrinated by the neocons who started this mess — it’s a different story. Max Blumenthal ventures into the College Republican National Convention, overlooking Arlington National Cemetery no less, to videotape their testimony in support of the Iraq disaster. You can not only read about it, but watch the video clip at Blumenthal’s HuffPo post “Generation Chickenhawk: the Unauthorized College Republican Convention Tour.” Blumenthal describes the experience thusly:

In conversations with at least twenty College Republicans about the war in Iraq, I listened as they lip-synched discredited cant about “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” Many of the young GOP cadres I met described the so-called “war on terror” as nothing less than the cause of their time.
Yet when I asked these College Republicans why they were not participating in this historical cause, they immediately went into contortions. Asthma. Bad knees from playing catcher in high school. “Medical reasons.” “It’s not for me.” These were some of the excuses College Republicans offered for why they could not fight them “over there.” Like the current Republican leaders who skipped out on Vietnam, the GOP’s next generation would rather cheerlead from the sidelines for the war in Iraq while other, less privileged young men and women fight and die.

Don’t take his word for it. Go to his HuffPo post and see for yourself.

“Philosophical Differences” On Health Care

In case you’ve missed it, George W. Bush has picked a major fight with Democrats, many Republicans, virtually all of the governors, and most health care advocacy groups from left to right, over health care policy.
The context is the about-to-expire SCHIP program, the ten-year-old initiative, which has enjoyed strong bipartisan support, that helps states provide health coverage to children whose parents don’t qualify for the restrictive low-income Medicaid program. SCHIP is currently struggling to meet its original goals; more than 3 million eligible kids aren’t being covered, and thanks to rising health care costs, the current level of federal SCHIP funding is certain to create a serious erosion of past coverage.
The Senate Finance Committee has reported, on a 17-4 vote (with ranking Republicans Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch strongly in support) a SCHIP reauthorization bill that strikes a compromise between the funding levels supported by most Democrats, and those necessary just to maintain current coverage. The cost of the bill would be paid for by a substantial increase in the federal tobacco tax.
And now Bush has clearly signalled he’d veto this bill, not, as you might expect, on grounds of its cost, but on “philosophical grounds,” because he views SCHIP as a threat to private insurance coverage and sort of a Trojan Horse for “government-run health care.” Instead, he’s demanding congressional action on his own proposal to replace the employer tax break for health insurance with an individual deduction for purchase of health insurance in the chaotic and expensive individual market.
This, my friends, offers Democrats a heaven-sent opportunity to wedge Republican on health care and expose the extraordinary radicalism of Bush’s (and by extension, that of many of the GOP candidates seeking to replace him) approach to health care. The government/private distinction Bush is trying to draw here is completely specious. The vast majority of those covered by SCHIP (and for that matter, by Medicaid) are actually participating in private health plans that contract with the states. The government’s role is simply to finance and organize coverage. Since Bush’s own plan would obviously continue the federal role in financing coverage for those without employer-sponsored coverage, the real “philosophical difference”‘ is over government’s role in creating an insurance pool that holds down premiums, prevents discrimination, and spreads the cost of health risks.
But it gets worse. Bush’s proposal is for a tax deduction for health insurance purchasing, which is highly regressive to begin with (since deductions have a greater value to those in higher tax brackets) and useless to poorer families with little or no tax liability. Since the proposal is explicitly designed to undermine employer-sponsored health insurance, it represents a radical attack on the very idea of pooled purchasing, and would send the U.S. health care system back towards the 1950s, when individual plans, and/or non-insured direct payment of health care costs, was the norm. With the exception of Mitt Romney, who appears reluctant to talk about the Massachussets coverage expansion initiative he signed, the Republican presidential candidates have generally embraced the same sort of “thinking” tilting towards tax-driven individual insurance purchasing.
Will Democrats effectively expose this retrograde GOP approach to health care? They should, but some will be tempted to reinforce Bush’s government/private distinction, to the extent that they support a single-payer system that would radically reduce or eliminate the public role of private insurers and/or providers. It’s a classic dilemma: do you hold the GOP responsible for the evils of the status quo, and propose a decisive break with it, or focus on the GOP’s intentions to make a decisive break with the status quo in precisely the wrong direction?
The entire subject may well offer a fateful decision for both parties.

Large Zogby Poll: Public Blames GOP for Major Maladies

Mark Nickolas at davidsirota.com flags a Zogby poll released today that is surely giving GOP leaders a mess of worry. What makes the poll especially interesting is the size of the survey sample, 10,387, which translates into a +/- 1 percent margin of error. As Nickolas lays it out:

– War: 62% blamed Republicans vs. 14% Democrats
– Global Warming: 56% blamed Republicans vs. 10% Democrats
– Prejudice: 52% blamed Republicans vs. 22% for Democrats
– Poverty: 49% held Republicans accountable; 29% Democrats
– Corruption: 47% blamed Republicans vs. 31% Democrats

The only problem the public blamed Dems more for was crime, by a margin of 42 to 23 percent. All in all, “Not exactly the branding the GOP was hoping for as they head into the 2008 presidential and congressional elections,” as Nickolas puts it.

Netroots Eclipsing Nader’s Influence on Dems

Is Ralph Nader over? Or is he still a force for reform? How much damage can he do to Democrats in 2008? Democratic strategists need to give some thought to such questions if Nader runs again.
Todd Gitlin has a thought-provoking L.A. Times op-ed that adds perspective in answering these questions. Gitlin argues that the emergence of the netroots as a strong progressive force inside the Democratic Party has rendered Ralph Nader largely irrelevant. As Gitlin explains:


If watching a couple of white guys talking politics for an hour appeals to you, check out the bloggingheadstv “diavlog” I did with Dan Dentzler earlier this week. We cover the Senate “sleepover,” Cheney’s nefarious intentions towards Iran, the populist-versus-centrist debate among Democrats, various developments in the presidential campaign, and a strange new group of global celebrities that’s calling itself “The Elders.”

Dems Prep for GOP Senate Blitz

If there is one safe prediction to be made about the ’08 elections, it is that the Republicans will throw everything they have into ending the Dems’ one-seat majority in the U.S. Senate. You can also bet the ranch that they will spend record amounts of money on attack ads that set a new standard of vicious innuendo and factual distortion. Expect one of the most grueling Senate campaigns ever.
In his RealClearPolitics article “Shifting Populations Will Impact ’08 Senate Races,” Reid Wilson says the hardest-fought Senate campaigns will probably be in Louisiana, where a GOP pick-up is most likely as a result of the Katrina-driven exodus of African Americans and in Colorado, where Dems are favored to add a seat, thanks to a rapid increase in Latinos and California progressives.
It’s early yet to be making numerical predictions. But so far Dems are in good shape to cope with the GOP onslaught to take back the Senate, according to Larry J. Sabato’s latest Crystal Ball round-up. Sabato shares his inside skinny on all the key races, and offers a cautiously optimistic prediction:

The Crystal Ball’s brutal bottom line is that Republicans will be playing much more defense than Democrats, and so the early betting line favors continued, perhaps enhanced, Democratic control of the Senate.

Seems a little conservative, considering the overall tilt of Sabato’s race by race rundown, but we’ll take it. For a more optimistic assessment of the Dems ’08 Senate chances, check out Senate 2008 Guru, who also provides a lot of insider detail.
Let’s be clear, however, that it’s going to take a lot of dough to offset the spending blitz the GOP willl unleash into the Senate campaign. So don’t put all your political contributions into the presidential race. Save a little for a close Senate race, so Dems can hold the line.

Echoes of ’68

A very unexpected thing has happened this week in the Democratic presidential nominating contest: something of a debate broke out between John Edwards and Barack Obama on the subject of how to deal with entrenched inner-city poverty.
Edwards was concluding his eight-state “poverty tour,” an emulation of a similar effort by Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, while unveiling his comprehensive anti-poverty agenda.
Obama delivered a speech in the hyper-poor Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC (picking up an endorsement by Mayor Adrian Fenty), and offered his own prescription for reducing inner-city poverty.
As an excellent analysis by the Washington Post‘s Alec MacGillis explains, Edwards and Obama are offering sharply different approaches to what might be called the geography of inner-city poverty, with the former arguing that some poor and isolated urban neighborhoods need to be broken up, and the latter arguing that they can be revitalized. This difference is most dramatically reflected in Edwards’ proposal for dispersed low-income housing through rental vouchers, and Obama’s proposal for a new inner-city housing Trust Fund. On a more personal note, Edwards is touting his long-standing work on poverty issues, dating back to the 2004 campaign, while Obama’s speech is full of references to his own work as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago.
The dispersal-versus-revitalization debate is an ancient one. Low-income housing dispersal, while popular among urban policy wonks, has always been politically perilous for the obvious reason that it simultaneously offends the community sentiment of inner-city dwellers while threatening those whose neighborhoods would be the target of relocation efforts. On the other hand, national inner-city revitalization plans (the most recent being the Clinton-era Empowerment Zone initiative, headed up by Andrew Cuomo), have at best a very checkered history. Obama appears to be distinguishing his own approach from its predecessors by emphasizing small, locally-driven and field-tested programs, though his emphasis on community-based non-governmental organizations was also an emblem of the Johnson-era War on Poverty, which deliberately bypassed state and local governments.
There is more than a bit of historical irony in Edwards’ invocation of RFK’s 1968 campaign. One of the most famous moments in that campaign was during the debate between RFK and Gene McCarthy on the eve of the California primary, just prior to Kennedy’s assassination. Asked about inner-city housing, McCarthy, much like Edwards today, called for public housing dispersal. And Kennedy responded by saying:

We have 10 million Negroes who are in the ghettos at the present time. . . You say you are going to take 10,000 black people and move them into Orange County. It is just going to be catastrophic.

This incident has always been a favorite of Bobby-haters, who view it as reflecting at best political opportunism, and at worst a willingness to exploit racial fears (a bit implausible, since RFK won California by sweeping the minority vote).
The other irony, of course, is that John Edwards’ presidential hopes completely depend on his ability to win the caucuses in Iowa, a place where efforts to deal with entrenched inner-city poverty is considerably less important than three or four different questions involving ethanol subsidies. Meanwhile, Edwards is by universal assessment not doing very well among low-income and minority voters (Garance Franke-Ruta has a provocative commentary on that subject over at The American Prospect).
Obama’s decision to contest Edwards’ mantle as a poverty-fighter does make some basic political sense. Aside from the fact that the subject enables him to tout his own experience–and highlight a biographical credential that predates his political career–Obama really needs to improve his narrow lead over Hillary Clinton among African-American voters.
However it all turns out for Edwards or Obama, you don’t have to be an inner-city resident, or a nostalgic baby boomer, to be happy about the growing visibility of this issue in the 2008 campaign.