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

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The Daily Strategist

September 24, 2017

Second-Tier Candidates Redux

With respect to yesterday’s post, we missed a good link, actually two good links. We refer you to Edward B. Colby’s “Stop the Winnowing Already!” in the Columbia Journalism Review‘s CJR Daily which has this to say about the MSM’s weak coverage of second-tier candidates:

It is way too early for…narrowing the field. In fact, as Time’s Karen Tumulty wrote in a recent blog post, “the media seem to be getting ahead of the voters” already: “What’s the hurry, ten months before the first caucus, to winnow the field to a few candidates deemed viable — say, three at most from each party?” While Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Richardson “are getting all but ignored by the national media,” Tumulty wrote, celebrity has defined the leading candidates in the press narrative, while “actual issues” have of course been shortchanged.
2008 is supposed to be the most “wide open” presidential race Americans have seen in eighty years. This election is of crucial importance — the winner will have to deal with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, massive environmental issues, a staggering deficit, etc. But the country will only get the kind of national debate it desperately needs if the political press resists the time-honored temptation to put the horserace above all else. Cast the media spotlight to the wider field of candidates and let them duke it out for a while. That just might give journalists on the campaign trail better stories, too.

Readers are encouraged to take up the cause and email the editors of the top rags, mags and tube news programs, urging them to report more on the whole field.


Media-Dissed Second-Tier Candidates Deserve a Look

With their perspective based on early polls of questionable relevance, the MSM does a lousy job of giving the “second-tier” presidential candidates fair coverage, and niether voters or the democratic process are well-served. As a result most voters probably know more about the most trifling details of the personal lives of “front-runners” Clinton, Obama and Edwards than the policy positions of second-tier candidates Biden, Dodd, Gravel, Kucinich or Richardson.
The Democrats have a strong field competing for the ’08 nomination, and the second-tier candidates more than match the front-runners in terms of experience and accomplishments. To find out more about the second tier, who get relatively little ink or face time on TV, voters have to do their own research. Google and Yahoo search engines are great resources for this quest. But time-challenged voters may prefer Wikipedia, which does a surprisingly good job of presenting link-rich political biographies that present both the positive and negative aspects of their respective careers. We’ll even save you some typing. Just click on the links below to get up to speed on the second-tier Dems running for President. In reverse alphabetical order:
Bill Richardson
Dennis Kucinich
Mike Gravel
Chris Dodd
Joe Biden
Yes, we know that there have been some problems with accuracy in some Wikipedia entries. But the links in each article provide a handy resource for double-checking controversial statements of fact.


How Frontloading, Electoral College Trash Democracy

Our March 23 post tried to provide a balanced perspective on the pro and con arguments with respect to the Feb 5 mega-primary and frontloading of primaries in general. Today we’ll just refer you to Hendrik Hertzberg’s New Yorker article “Pileup,” an exceptionally well-reasoned and well-articulated critique of primary frontloading. Hertzberg notes for example in this truncated excerpt:

This development has two aspects, both of which have been widely deplored. One is the bunching of primaries, which magnifies the need to raise very big money very early, pretty much guarantees that dark horses will stay dark, and makes it harder for someone to enter the race late….For all practical purposes, the primaries disenfranchise voters in “late” states and privilege voters in “early” states, while the general election disenfranchises voters in “spectator” states and privileges voters in “battleground” states. In both cases, the disenfranchised far outnumber the privileged…a schedule that (a) locks up both parties’ nominations in one fell swoop and (b) requires the country to devote two out of every four years to Presidential politicking is completely insane.

Hertzberg also takes a quick shot at an even greater injustice — the winner-take-all electoral college:

The primaries, of course, are only half the story, and not the more important half. Thanks to the winner-take-all allocation of each state’s electoral votes—another of those informal constitutional amendments nowhere to be found in the parchment—the only voters who count in November are the ones in the dozen or so battleground states.

Help is on the way, explains Hertzberg, in the form of a national movement to render this most archaic of our institutions irrelevant:

…the fledgling National Popular Vote plan—a proposed interstate compact…would confine the electoral college to a ceremonial role, like the Queen of England’s. The idea is that once enough states have signed on to put together a majority of electoral votes, those states agree that their electors will always vote for the winner of the popular vote in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. From that moment, for the first time, Presidential elections would be truly national. Every citizen’s vote would be worth casting, and worth campaigning for, no matter what state it happened to be cast in. Grassroots politics would be worth the trouble everywhere, not just in a dozen swing states. No more red states and blue states, just the red-white-and-blue United States, its Constitution unchanged but its constitution made worthy of a mature democracy.

We’re stuck with the primary frontloading for 2008. But there is now a real chance to dump the electoral college and get rid of this rancid abomination forever — a cause tailor-made for blogosphere leadership and internet activism.


Public Opinion on Gun Control Tracks Crime Rates

Is it OK that a student whose professors and fellow students believed was potentially violent can walk into a store and walk out with a semi-automatic handgun after only a few minutes? Is this right really what “The Framers” meant to protect in the 2nd amendment? Should Dems try to do anything about it? Could any gun control law have stopped the massacre in Blacksburg? These and other tough question surrounding the tragedy at Virginia Tech are being addressed on editorial pages all across the nation.
It’s not hard to name presidential candidates of both parties who have staged silly photo-ops to portray themselves as The Great American Hunter. And there is no question that most national and statewide Democratic candidates have dodged the issue in recent years or just rolled over for the NRA. Rep. Jane Harman(D-CA) is not one of those politicians, as she makes clear in her post at TPM Cafe, supporting passage of the the Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act (HR 1022), which would re-enact the ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004.
Up until this latest tragedy, public opinion had turned very slightly against gun control. This CNN post features a video link, “Watch how crime rates affect public support for gun laws” which graphically demonstrates a strong relationship between crime rates and public opinion on gun control. It will be interesting to see where public opinion goes from here — and how Dems respond.


Tax Reform Can Add Leverage to Dem Agenda

For your tax day reading pleasure, Alternet features a trio of articles illuminating the partisan and gender bias that undergirds the tax game and the political spin that keeps it afloat. Start with Lucy Komisar’s “How Tax Cheats Are Using Your Money to Fund Republicans,” which spotlights the shenanigans of one of the ’04 swift boaters and includes such nuggets as:

Every major private banking department offers a product called the “private placement offshore of variable annuities.”…According to the IRS, business executives have used such shelters to evade taxes on $8 billion in income. Assume that means “at least.” And that’s just one swindle in the panoply of tax cheating which the IRS says contributes to the loss of $40 billion to $70 billion a year from individual use and $30 billion from corporate use of tax havens….16.2 percent of the private wealth of North Americans, $1.6 trillion, is held offshore. The overwhelming reason for that is tax evasion.

Komisar also discusses a promising tax reform proposal, Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act (S-681). Moving along, check out Martha Burk’s “How the Income Tax System Shortchanges Women,” reprinted from MS Magazine. There may be an angle here for Dems looking for ways to mine the gender gap. As Burk explains:

Taxes are something women and men face with unequal pain, let alone gain…For example, a married couple faces a “marriage penalty” if their two incomes are similar and they file a joint return, since the second income (usually the wife’s) is taxed at a significantly higher marginal rate than if she filed as an individual. But if a couple forgoes the wife’s second income (or if one person’s income is appreciably lower), they may pay less as joint filers than they would have as singles (the marriage “bonus”). Both situations can reduce the incentive for a married woman to work outside the home.

Interesting take, and Burk offers five corrective reforms that merit consideration. It takes a lot of spin to to keep an unfair system afloat and it’s going to take a lot of reframing to get it fixed. Who better to lay it out than George Lakoff and Bruce Budner, whose “Progressive Taxation: Some Hidden Truths” makes this distinction:

America’s government has at least two fundamental functions, protection and empowerment. Protection includes the police, firefighters, emergency services, public health, the military, and so on. Empowerment includes the infrastructure needed for business and everyday life: roads, communications systems, water supplies, public education, the banking system for loans and economic stability, the SEC for the stock market, the courts for enforcing contracts, air traffic control, support for basic science, our national parks and public buildings, and more. We are usually aware of protection. But the empowerment infrastructure, provided by taxes, is usually taken for granted, hidden, or ignored. Yet it is absolutely crucial, a fundamental truth about America and why America provides opportunity…This is a basic truth. That is what framing should be about: revealing truths and allowing us to reason using them.

A little wonky, but interesting nonetheless. Lakoff and Budner bring it home nicely:

Taxes provide and maintain the protecting and empowering infrastructure that makes our income possible.
Our tax forms hide this truth. They do not indicate the extent to which taxes have created and sustained the common wealth so you could earn what you have. They make it look like the empowering infrastructure was just put there by magic and that the government is taking money out of your pocket. The most likely truth is that, through the common wealth, America put more money in your pocket than it took out — by far.
But this situation is threatened by conservative tax policy. Through unfair cuts in taxes paid by the wealthy, through payment for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and through borrowing abroad to pay for the tax cuts and Iraq, the common wealth is being drained and the infrastructure allowed to fall apart. We need to return to a fair tax policy that recognizes financial responsibility incurred by the compound use of America’s empowering infrastructure.

We’ll leave it to the politicians to boil it all down to manageable sound-bites and catchy slogans. Now, better get to the post office.


Centrist Gains in Evangelical Movement May Help Dems

Is the evangelical movement evolving into more of a bipartisan force? Frances Fitzgerald thinks so and presents a persuasive case for this viewpoint in her New York Review of Books article “The Evangelical Surprise.” This trend has been noted before, but Fitzgerald does a particularly good job of bringing it all together and up to date. Fitzgerald explains:

Statistically, the extreme conservatism of the traditionalists skews the picture of the community as a whole. In fact, “modernist” evangelicals—defined as those who go to church infrequently and don’t hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible—have more liberal views on all issues, including abortion and gay rights, than the American population as a whole, but there are relatively very few of them. “Centrists,” or those who fall somewhere in the theological middle and make up almost half of all evangelicals, are no more conservative than Americans generally except on abortion and gay rights, and even on these issues they are far more moderate than the traditionalists.[9] In other words, half of the evangelical population doesn’t see eye to eye with the other half. In the future the division may become more acute because while the Christian right leaders have become more ambitious and more aggressive as a result of their victories, centrist leaders have, for the first time, begun to assert themselves.

Fitzgerald discusses a number of surprisingly liberal initiatives launched by moderate evangelical leaders, including some that should make Republicans a little nervous about their base. One example:

In October 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization of denominations and churches that claims thirty million members, issued a position paper laying out ten principles for Christian political engagement. The document, “For the Health of the Nation,” called upon evangelicals to seek justice for the poor, to protect human rights, to seek peace, and to protect God’s creation—as well as to protect the sanctity of human life and nurture families. Carefully drawn up so as not to provoke right-wing opposition, the document gave official sanction to the efforts of the more progressive leaders to move, at a national level, beyond both the religious right agenda and the traditional evangelical approach to good works.

Fitzgerald quotes John Giles, president of Christian Action Alabama, in defining key wedge issues that can break the GOP’s leverage with evangelicals:

We can all unite around a few core issues, such as abortion, pornography and gambling,” he said. “But when you start talking about global warming, the minimum wage or the death penalty, the consensus breaks down.”…Dobson and Perkins have said much the same thing.

If Fitzgerald is right, the widening political fissures in the evangelical movement are an invitation to Democratic strategists looking to mine potential sources of new support.


Responding to GOP Diss of Dems As ‘Elitist’

Bill Maher has a Salon post on the Administration’s mediocrity/incompetence fetish that provides more belly laughs per column inch than anything you’re likely to find on the internet today. A sample (excerpted for brevity) from Maher’s riff on Monica Goodling’s educational qualifications for her post overseeing the job performance of 95 U.S. attorneys:

I’m not kidding, Pat Robertson, the man who said gay people at DisneyWorld would cause “earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor,” has a law school. It’s called Regent…U.S. News and World Report, which does the definitive ranking of colleges, lists Regent as a tier-four school, which is the lowest score it gives. It’s not a hard school to get into. You have to renounce Satan and draw a pirate on a matchbook.

Maher’s larger point is that the GOP is forever blasting Democrats for being ‘elitists,’ while they staff high-level government posts with empty suits. “The problem here in America,” notes Maher “isn’t that the country is being run by elites. It’s that it’s being run by a bunch of hayseeds.” Not a bad one-liner retort for progressives, when slimed with the GOP’s “elitist” critique in political debates, although it might be better to substitute “dimwits” for hayseeds, since these numbskulls come from everywhere. More chuckles await readers at Maher’s post. Go there and grin.


Suburban Poverty Growth May Alter Dem Strategy

Eyal Press has an article in The Nation, “The New Suburban Poverty,” noting a demographic milestone that should elicit the attention of Democratic campaign strategists:

For the first time ever, more poor Americans live in the suburbs than in all our cities combined.

The implications for political strategy in federal, state and local elections are substantial. In terms of policy, it means elected officials and political aspirants will have to rethink the delivery of needed social services to less dense areas. Funding those services adequately will be an increasing concern in the years ahead, especially for the growing number of middle class families who have fled the cities, expecting lower property taxes.
In terms of election strategy, Party leaders and candidates will have to rethink everthing from redistricting to GOTV logistics. It also requires some mental housecleaning regarding existing stereotypes of suburban life, as Press notes:

Stories of downward mobility in America’s suburbs have not exactly cluttered the headlines over the past decade. Gated communities of dream homes, mansions ringed by man-made lakes and glass-cube office parks: These are the images typically evoked by the posh, supersized subdivisions built during the 1990s technology boom. Low-wage jobs, houses under foreclosure, families unable to afford food and medical care are not. But venture beyond the city limits of any major metropolitan area today, and you will encounter these things, in forms less concentrated–and therefore less visible–than in the more blighted pockets of our cities perhaps, but with growing frequency all the same.

And it’s not just the inner ‘burbs, as Press explains:

Last December the Brookings Institution published a report showing that from Las Vegas to Boise to Houston, suburban poverty has been growing over the past seven years, in some places slowly, in others by as much as 33 percent. “The enduring social and fiscal challenges for cities that stem from high poverty are increasingly shared by their suburbs,” the report concludes. It’s a problem some may assume is confined to the ragged fringes of so-called “inner ring” suburbs that directly border cities, places where the housing stock is older and from which many wealthier residents long ago departed. But this isn’t the case. “Overall…first suburbs did not bear the brunt of increasing suburban poverty in the early 2000s,” notes the Brookings report, which found that economic distress has spread to “second-tier suburbs and ‘exurbs'” as well.

Savvy demographic and polical analysts have seen this trend coming for a while. Still, the milestone should ring a few bells in the war rooms of Democratic political campaigns. We’ll resist the temptation to quote more of Press’s excelent article — a must-read for those who want a more realistic vision of America’s political geography.


Dems Gain in ’08 Congressional Vote, Security Image

Republicans hoping that their long slide into public disfavor had hit rock bottom have been sorely disappointed by a DCorps survey of LV’s conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner 3/20-25. The DCorps poll found that Dems now enjoy a 14 point advantage among LV’s asked to state their preference “if the election were held today” for a named Dem congressional candidate vs. a generic GOP opponent. This is the highest margin recorded since November and double the margin reported in 2006. And, in districts that switched parties in ’06, the margin favoring Dems was an astounding 35 percent.
The GOP’s image as the best party for “keeping people safe” is looking a little ragged as well. Asked which party “you associate more” with “security and keeping people safe,” respondents chose the GOP by a margin of 6 percent — down from 17 percent.
The DCorps survey, which was conducted between the House of Reps passage of the Iraq Supplemental Spending Bill and the Senate’s version, also found strong support for troop reductions. But respondents were “fairly divided” on the pace of withdrawall, with 49 percent concerned that Republicans will “wait too long” and 45 percent worried that “Democrats will leave Iraq too quickly.”


Will ‘Identity Voters’ Decide ’08 Outcome?

Jeffrey Feldman’s post “Frameshop: The Identity Voter” at his website frameshopisopen.com sheds light on an elusive group Democratic campaigns may need to consider in developing strategy. Feldman defines the identity voter thusly:

A person who chooses to support a political candidate primarily for the social and cultural aspects of the person (e.g., gender, race, geography, class, etc.), and only secondarily if at all for the policies of the politician.

It would be difficult to come up with a meaningful estimate of how many identity voters there are in the U.S., since many would not like to admit that issues and policy are not their top priorities. Yet we probably all know a few identity voters.
It’s not as simple as supporting candidates who have the voter’s background, as Feldman explains:

Being an identity voter does not mean, of course, voting for a candidate who is the same identity as oneself. Blacks vote for blacks, women for women, whites for whites–this would be more a form of mechanistic political tribalism than identity voting.
…There are, in other words, plenty of white identity voters, for example, who will support Barack Obama “because he is African-America” and plenty of male identity voters who will support Hillary Clinton “because she is a woman.”

Feldman could have added middle class liberals who support Edwards because they like his working class background, or WASPs who like Richards because they want to see more Hispanic leadership. Feldman sees both good and bad sides to identity voting — good that more Democratic voters are open to greater diversity of candidates, but bad that issues and policy are subordinate or worse, distant priorities.
Because of the diversity of the field of Democratic presidential candidates, Feldman believes that identity voters may play an unprecedented role in determining the ’08 outcome. If he’s right, the Democratic ticket will be challenged to craft an appeal to identity voters that doesn’t alienate those who vote for different reasons — not an easy task. (The first chapter of Feldman’s new book “Framing the Debate,” appears in today’s New York Times Sunday Book Review and a review of the book appears here.)
Meanwhile, Dems should vigorously deploy a grand strategy directed at all voters. In his book “Being Right Is Not Enough,” Democratic strategist Paul Waldman argues, for example, that Dem candidates must above all communicate character and values to voters, with policy and “framing” serving as tools to support this greater goal. Candidates who master this challenge will likely win the support of most identity voters, since good character and values are respected in all cultures.