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

January 19, 2018

New Kids Health Care Bill Has Public Support

Good News for Democrats, as well as America’s kids. The U.S. House of Reps. has passed legislation providing health care coverage for 4+ million uninsured children in low-income families. The legislation which passed by a vote of 225-204 (10 Dems opposed, 5 Republicans supporting), also prevents cuts in Medicare payments to physicians and is partly financed by a 45 cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax (NYT coverage here).
Of course President Bush has threatened a veto, should similar legislation pass the Senate, which will provide a clear demonstration of which party gets it that health security — especially for all American children — is a cornerstone of true national security. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-MD) said it well: “If America is the greatest country in the world, then all of our children should have health insurance.”
Despite Bush’s threatened veto, the principles undergirding the legislation enjoy the support of the American people, explains Ruy Teixeira, in his recent post on the topic at The Century Foundation‘s web pages:

The public, on the other hand, seems very supportive of expanding health coverage for children and even thinks that we should make such coverage universal. A June Democracy Corps poll last month found that almost half the public—47 percent—chose “expand health coverage to every child in the U.S. through the existing State Children’s Health Insurance Program” as one of the top two priorities that Congress should focus on in the coming year. They chose this more than they chose any other option, including immigration reform (36 percent), promoting alternative energy and energy conservation (29 percent), reforming the alternative minimum tax (29 percent), reforming lobbying (15 percent), and putting labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (15 percent).
One objection that has been made to the proposed bills is that increased cigarette taxes would provide some of the funding for the program expansion. Would that faze the public? Not according to a May 2007 CNN poll. Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of the public surveyed said they would favor “a national health insurance program for all children under the age of 18, even if this would require higher taxes,” compared to just 25 percent who dissented.

Back in January, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, joined by a group of children of House members, called the House to order, “in the name of America’s children.” Predictably, the GOP accused her of grandstanding. Apparently she meant business.

Rush To the Left?

The appearances by Democratic presidential candidates at the YearlyKos conference (which begins tomorrow) will undoubtedly intensify the “Dems rush to the left” story-line beloved of MSM pundits and conservative bloggers.
At this point, It’s worth following Kevin Drum’s example by asking if the presidentials really reflect, on a substantive level, an abandonment of Clintonian “centrism.” Here’s Kevin’s take:

if YearlyKos were genuinely more substantively powerful than the DLC, you’d see the big three candidates taking public positions considerably to the left of the party’s positions ten years ago. If that’s the case, though, I’ve missed it. No one’s talking about rolling back welfare reform. No one’s proposed a healthcare initiative even half as comprehensive as the 1994 Clinton plan. All three candidates continue to claim they’re personally opposed to gay marriage. Their rhetoric on guns and abortion is much more muted than in the past. They mostly agree that some of the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire, but not much more. They want to get out of Iraq, but that’s a thoroughly mainstream position, and none of them are willing to commit to a complete withdrawal in any case.

I’d add a few flourishes here. A year and a half ago, when the editors of The New Republic followed Al Gore in endorsing a single-payer health care system, I’d have bet serious money that at least one if not more of the major Democratic candidates for president in 2008 would support the same idea. But they didn’t.
The same trend, or lack thereof, is visible on an issue that matched welfare reform in signifying the “centrist” credentials of Democrats in the Clinton years: fiscal discipline. Despite quibbles over exactly how high this candidate or that ranks deficit reduction in his or her hierarchy of priorities, the fact remains that most Democrats are more committed to fiscal discipline–and can prove it–than most Republicans. That would not be true in a party “rushing to the left.”
More immediately, where are the candidates on the intra-party disputes that are most animating the progressive blogosphere at present? One is definitely the “residual troop commitment” issue with respect to Iraq; yet the two leading Democratic candidates persist in supporting residuals, despite netroots arguments that this represent a desire to continue the war indefinitely. And another is impeachment. If any of the major Democratic candidates is going to go to Chicago for YearlyKos and thrill the audience with support for impeachment, it’s a closely held secret.
Kevin doesn’t mention trade policy or education policy, where the case for an abandonment of Clintonism is strongest. But both issues are hard to pigeon-hole ideologically; globaphobia comes from the Right and Center as much as from the Left, and the same is true of deep hostility to No Child Left Behind.
The whole effort to use the DLC and YearlyKos conferences, and who attends one or the other, to show a vast ideological shift in the Democratic Party is misbegotten on several levels. The “Left” nature of the Kos-centered netroots has been grossly exaggerated; and the DLC’s reputation for willingness to support Bush policies has never been well-earned. We’re in a political context right now where Bush’s extremism has simultaneously made virtually all Democrats much more partisan and combative, while opening up the political “‘center” in ways that tend to unite rather than divide progressives on most policy issues. Let’s don’t get too distracted by the “rush to the left” argument.

Unlocking the Grid

One of the most contentious issues dividing political observers at present is how to interpret the partisan implications of the public’s exceptionally sour mood, which extends to the Democratic-controlled Congress as well as the Bush administration.
The reigning theme among Beltway pundits is that Americans are sick of gridlock and partisanship in Washington, and blame both parties equally. There’s a variant of this theme that’s popular in some precincts on the Left: that the Democratic Congress’s support is collapsing because it has been insufficiently confrontational towards Bush, particularly on Iraq; according to this analysis, cutting off funds for the war, or perhaps even moving towards impeachment of Bush and Cheney, is the only way to save Democrats from complicity with a hated status quo.
The other side of the argument has been carefully presented in the latest Democracy Corps strategy memo by Stan Greenberg, James Carville, and Anna Iparraguirre. Relying on polling on both congressional and presidential preferences, including its ongoing “battleground district” research, the DCorps trio concludes that the partisan conflict in Washington is not eroding, and may actually be enhancing, a strong Democratic advantage going into 2008.
Here’s their key conclusion:

Right now, Republicans own everything, including the gridlock, the direction of the
country and Iraq. There is no other way to understand the rock solid stability of the Democrats’
current leads. We went to the bottom line and asked this question, ‘The gridlock in Washington
leads me to want to see’ — ‘more Democrats elected to the Congress’ or ‘more Republicans
elected to the Congress.’ We asked the same question but in the context of the vote for President.
In both cases, the margin for the Democrats is at least equal to the current advantage in the vote.
Rather than pulling down the margin, the current battle is confirming the desire for change in
who leads in Washington.

Unsurprisingly, DCorps suggests that individual Democratic members of Congress–and a fortiori Democratic challengers of Republican incumbents–should not identify themselves too closely with Congress as an institution, since there’s not much evidence at present that they are being held accountable for the alleged shortcomings of the congressional leadership. Indeed, it’s interesting that the class of ’06 of Democratic House members elected from previously Republican districts (as measured by “named” polling) seems, according to DCorps’ findings, to be in significantly better shape than the Democratic presidential field (as measured by generic preferences). If that’s right, then it reinforces the argument that the most important challenge facing Democrats in ’08 is to ensure the presidential contest remains a referendum on the Bush administration as a reflection of what the GOP stands for, past, present and future.

Finding Consensus on Health Care Reform

Doug Usher, sr, v.p.and director of research and polling at D.C.-based Widmeyer Communications, has a keeper for Dems interested in forging a consensus for health care reform. Usher’s article in The Politico, Are voters ready for health care reform?, explores the the latest opinion data on health care reform and finds it complex and and somewhat paradoxical:

On its face, revamping our health care system should be a political winner. Voters see two fundamental problems with health care. First, it costs too much: 74 percent in a recent Democracy Corps poll say they are dissatisfied with the cost of health care, a number matched in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from 2006 (80 percent). Second, 70 percent of voters believe the number of uninsured people is a very serious problem, according to a recent New York Times poll.
A strong majority believes health care is a top domestic priority — 55 percent, according to the Times poll — and 64 percent believe the federal government should guarantee health care for all Americans.
All of this appears to create an environment for sweeping reform; indeed, 90 percent of Americans say the health care system as a whole needs change — 54 percent say “fundamental change” is necessary, and 36 percent say the system should be “completely (rebuilt).” Just 8 percent believe the system needs “minor changes.”

Sounds like a mandate for far-reaching reforms. But not so fast, argues Usher:

But the picture changes dramatically when questions shift from the systemic to the personal. Despite concern about the broader health system, Americans are generally satisfied with the care they currently receive. In the Times poll, 77 percent of Americans are satisfied with the quality of their care; 82 percent say the same in the Democracy Corps poll, compared with 89 percent in the Kaiser poll. Indeed, the Kaiser poll finds high satisfaction across a broad range of health care dimensions: communication with the doctor (87 percent), availability of emergency care (83 percent), availability of appointments (82 percent), specialists (79 percent), getting the latest treatments (78 percent) and getting treatment without waiting (73 percent).

Usher notes further:

The 64 percent majority in the Times poll that believes the government should guarantee health insurance for all shrinks to 48 percent when asked their support if a universal program were to raise their own health insurance cost. The 60 percent in the same poll who say that they would be willing to pay higher taxes to insure everybody shrinks to 49 percent when a $500 price tag is attached to it.

If health care reform advocates fail to adequately take such satisfaction levels of currently insured voters into account, Usher believes it could backfire on election day. He concedes that “the hypotheticals posed by these questions may be misleading.” An important point. Indeed, most advocates of both fundamental and incremental health care reforms argue, often convincingly, that their reform plans would actually save taxpayers money, compared to the plans that most insured Americans have. Certainly, no political candidate is saying “My plan will only take an extra $500 per year out of your pocket.”
Usher sees hope in the reform plans being pioneered at the state level, and notes that Canada’s much-praised health care system emanated from the provincial, not federal, level of government. No doubt there is much more the states could do, such as the reforms being explored by Massachusetts and California. But most Americans would surely agree that a nation as prosperous as the U.S. can find a way to provide a health care plan that covers every illness and every person.

Uniters and Dividers

Driving out of Nashville yesterday, I surfed the radio, looking for something other than bad music or right-wing political commentary, and happened on a syndicated BBC show discussing the death of the great Swedish filmaker Ingmar Bergman (his Winter Light, the tale of a Luthern minister losing his faith, is one of my very favorite movies). Some film critic came on, and suggeseted that Bergman’s period of popularity peaked in the 1960s because his bleak and emotional themes tapped anxieties spurred by the nuclear arms race, the war in Vietnam, and battles over gender and sexual issues.
Hmmm. A disastrous war. Nuclear fears. Culture wars. Sounds like it’s high time for a Bergman revival.
I soon tired of the next BBC story, having to do with horse carts creating traffic congestion in Bogota, and started listening to sports talk stations. Despite the efforts of hosts to get callers talking about the death of–no, not Ingmar Bergman–former pro coaching genius Bill Walsh, most of the gabbing revolved around the perennial sagas of Barry Bonds’ ascent towards the major league home run record, and Michael Vick’s descent towards disgrace and perhaps the slammer (the latter story is on the front pages of the Atlanta newspapers just about every day). As you may know, public reactions to both controversies have largely broken along racial lines, much like the O.J. Simpson case.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that the longstanding racial disparity in assessments of George W. Bush’s presidency is steadily being healed, with black and white Americans coming together in disdain for the man. In this one sense, and perhaps only in this one sense, he’s redeeming his pledge to be a “uniter, not a divider.”

Concluding Thoughts On the DLC Meeting

The DLC meeting in Nashville didn’t get a lot of press, but Richard Locker of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal did a pretty good general review of the event, and Southern Political Report’s Tom Baxter wrote extensively about President Clinton’s speech.
Speaking of that speech, I happened to be sitting next to Dr. Drew Westen during the Clinton address, and afterwards he noted Clinton’s particular ability to measure any given audience’s interest-level in policy detail. The audience in Nashville had a very high tolerance level for wonkitude. (BTW, I interviewed Westen after the event, and will be posting it here soon).
One of the underlying buzz elements of this conference was the possibiilty that some of the governors speaking in Nashville might be “auditioning” in this and similar forums for the vice-presidential nomination–most notably Governors Sebelius, Schweitzer and Bredesen, who often appear on Veep “lists” along with New Mexico’s Bill Richardson (assuming he’s not at the top of the ticket) and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.
Bredesen delivered a speech that was put together in a very interesting way. He bagan by talking about Tonnessee’s frontier heritage, segueing to his and his wife’s “twentieth-century pioneers” move to Tennessee from the northeast in the 1970s. He then discussed “barnraising” as part of the frontier legacy, and described the process wherein parts of a barn were built on the ground separately, and then literally “raised” into place. . Suddenly, but very smoothly, he started talking about incremental health care reform using the metaphor, suggesting that piecemeal reforms that addressed costs, improved quality, and covered kids, could be “raised” quickly into a universal system.
Given the complex and sometimes soporific nature of most discussions of incremental health care reform, it struck me as a brave and interesting effort to give the subject some vision and poetry. But you definitely had to hear the whole thing.
On the other hand, Bredesen’s stock was probably not improved by Rep. Jim Cooper’s introductory remarks. Trying to emphasize Bredesen’s popularity in Tennessee, Cooper noted that the Governor won all 95 counties in his re-election bid, “even though he’d just cut 400,000 people from Medicaid coverage.”
To borrow the punch line from a profane old joke about several men in a church who are competing with ever-more-lurid accounts of their pre-salvation depravity: “Don’t b’lieve I’d a told that, brother!”

DCorps Focus Group Targets GOP-Held Districts

The broad-based focus groups that appear on television late in the election cycle rarely offer much in the way of useful insights for political strategy. But focus groups composed of specific ‘swing voter’ demographic groups can shine valuable light on strategy choices for political campaigns.
Toward that end, Democracy Corps has just issued a report sharing the findings of their latest focus group project, targeting likely 2008 voters in two congressional districts held by GOP moderates who won close elections in 2006. All of the focus group participants were political Independents or “weak partisans” who had voted for both Democrats and Republicans over the last two elections. One focus group (conducted July 18), based in Rochester, NY, included two sub-groups, each with annual household income below $50K, older non-college educated men and non-college educated young women. The second group (conducted July 19), based in Arlington Heights, IL, was composed of older, college-educated women and younger, college-educated men, with each group earning a household income above $50K.
The focus group analysis, published as a memo by DCorps’ Karl Agne, tried to find out if GOP moderate incumbents had separated themselves from President Bush and to evaluate whether they could be defeated by Democrats next year. The analysis found a strong trend of deepening voter frustrations, a “poisonous” political environment driven by the Iraq quagmire with rising anger about the loss of life, lack of mission, wasted resources and consequent neglect of America’s domestic problems (topped by health care). Worse still for the GOP, “Positives that we used to hear on strength, commitment to the military, values and fiscal discipline have simply disappeared.”
The cautionary note sounded for Democrats is that “Optimism for the new Congress is quickly waning.” Focus group respondents credited Democrats with good intentions, wanting change and ending Bush’s ‘blank check’ in Congress. But they felt that “things simply haven’t changed under Democratic control.”
The focus group tested some pro-Democratic ads, and the analysis found that the most effective one of the lot by far nailed Bush for his vetoes of: legislation to withdraw troops from Iraq; implement homeland security recommendations; lower student loan rates; expand health coverage for uninsured children; stem cell research; and allow Medicaid to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.
With respect to Iraq, focus group participants support a carefully-calibrated withdrawal, but oppose measures to de-fund the Iraq War. However, they do want congress to overturn Bush’s vetoes. One particular catch-phrase, “Simple choice – ‘stick with Bush or get with the people” resonated with the groups.
The analysis also helped clarify the focus groups’ attitudes toward immigration. The participants generally supported both denying government benefits to non-citizens, while providing “a path to citizenship.” Concerns about “fairness” seemed to provide some common ground for a consensus on immigration reform.
Such focus groups can help discern workable strategies for winning the support of targeted swing constituencies. A lot can happen in 15 months. But, If the DCorps analysis is correct, Dems are in a strong position for a big win next year.

Still the One

Just watched Bill Clinton’s speech at the annual meeting, and as always, was amazed at his ability to combine passion and wonkiness, and at how revered he remains in this and most other Democratic audiences.
Listening to him, I couldn’t help but think: is there any chance that when George W. Bush is seven years past his presidency, much of anyone would want to hear him speak? Hard to imagine.
The speech itself combined a very direct defense of the DLC from its current critics, and then a powerful talk focusing on globalization, energy, and health care. His accustomed rap on the accomplishments of his administration vis a vis that of his successor has been expanded and refined. And in defending the DLC, he basically suggested that the challenges faces the country, and Democrats, right now are not completely dissimilar from those of 1992, when the DLC had a lot to do with formulating his campaign platform and his initial agenda in office. He also did a good job of maintaining his role as ex-president, only referring to his wife in passing on very specific issues.
I’ll have more to say about his speech, and the entire event, a bit later.

Greetings From Nashville

I’m blogging from somewhere inside the massive Opryland complex in Nashville, where I’m attending the Democratic Leadership Council’s annual meeting, styled as the “National Conversation.”
At the moment, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is delivering a smart and very funny speech on renewable energy. Here a sample. After discussing the long history of our “four billion barrel problem” with oil dependence, he said:

[Last year] George W. Bush looked straight into the teleprompter, and read Karl’s five words: “We are addicted to oil.”
I’ll be damned! Who knew?

Two other governors–Phil Bredesen and Kathleen Sebelius–have already spoken, and Martin O’Malley’s up next.
The meeting actually began yesterday, with twenty separate workshops. The three I participated in–on election reform, “values voter” trends, and new social media, were SRO, and had some unexpected twists. In the first, a farily routine if fact-filled series of presentations of redistricting reform and state-level public financing of campaigns veered into a discussion of out-of-the-box ways to deal with uncompetitive legislative seats and disengaged voters, including cumulative voting, multi-post districts, and Instant Runoff Voting (Oregon, I learned, recently authorized IRV as an option for local governments, and is building a positive precedent for the innovation).
In the “values” discussion (which began with an analysis of some of the recent trends in public opinion on hot-button cultural issues). Tennessee Senator Roy Herron delivered what I can only describe as a sermon on Republican moral perfidy. At one point, he got into rhyming couplets worthy of Jesse Jackson at his best.
And in the social media workshop, which focused on YouTube, MySpace, and FaceBook, I was a bit surprised to discover how hep many state legislators and mayors seem to be about the political and civic implications of these innovations. Some, of course, seem to be relying on their kids as “new media” consultants. I got a good round of applause for suggesting that the era of politics dominated by paid broadcast media may be coming to an end.
Now most of the very limited national coverage of this event has revolved around the non-presence of presidential candidates (though a rather famous husband of one of them is showing up later today). You can read Noam Scheiber’s piece on this that appeared in the New York Times on Saturday, and the DLC’s response, and judge for yourself if presidential cattle calls are an accurate measure of an organization’s political relevance.
But as someone who used to be involved in planning these events, I do know that for at least the last ten years, they’ve been focused on state and local elected officials, no matter who else materializes at the podium, and by that measure, the 350 or so attending is the DLC’s biggest crowd ever.
Last week Markos Moulitsas, who it’s safe to say has some personal issues with the DLC, said this meeting was going to be nothing more than “a cocktail party for Liebercrats.” Well, I have to report that the only person I’ve heard mention the name of the junior senator from Connecticut was a reporter. And most of the rhetoric about Iraq, Bush, and Republicans generally wouldn’t at all sound out of place at YearlyKos. In a lunch break during yesterdays workshops, Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain, spoke, and his presentation of the need for passionate, principled partisanship from Democrats had the crowd cheering.
But you can’t take the politics out of politics, eh?
I’ll do a post later today after President Clinton’s speech.

‘Progressive’ Rebranding a Big Winner for Dems

From his new blog Open Left, Chris Bowers comments on a recent Rasmussen Poll indicating a plurality of Americans “now consider it a positive description to call a candidate politically progressive” and the implications for Democrats. Bowers cites the figures from the poll as 35% favoring ‘progressive’, 32% for ‘conservative’, 29% ‘moderate’ and 20% ‘liberal’.
Bowers calls the poll “a reality check for those ‘serious’ pundits who think they have their finger on the pulse of America,” and says:

Progressivism is winning the day in American politics. That it is more net favorable than the term “conservative” is a major finding about American politics, and a serious blow to the conservative notion that they are a natural plurality. That progressive is even viewed more favorably than “moderate” is utterly stunning…

In a way, it’s a victory for re-framing. For Dems the refusal to let the opposition define the terms of identity has paid off. The Republicans will continue to demonize Democrats as “liberals.” But they are preaching to their shrinking choir. America has moved on, and it appears that a healthy majority — 35 % progressive +20% liberals +some moderates — now embrace social reforms for a better society, placing a higher value on progress than simply being “conservative.”