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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

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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

April 24, 2018

Iraq and Democrats: Now What?

With the failure in the Senate of a long series of amendments aimed at forcing a change of strategy on Iraq, we’re on the cusp of what looks likely to be a fractious intraparty debate among Democrats about what to do now. Though many antiwar activists have long feared that congressional Democrats will retreat to some sort of toothless bipartisan resolution urging Bush to change his unchangeable mind on Iraq, there’s actually little or no sentiment on either side of the partisan aisle for such an approach. But on the other hand, there’s no particular reason to think that repeating the maneuvering Congress went through with Bush in May–passing a war appropriations bill with a deadline, and inviting a presidential veto without the votes to override it–would turn out differently in the end.
Still, as a new post from McJoan at DailyKos makes clear, it looks like a netroots-based campaign to demand a return to a no-appropriations-without-a-binding-deadline strategy is about to get fully underway, with a lot of the pressure coming not only from rank-and-file Democrats but from presidential candidates. Dodd, Richardson and Edwards have been demanding this approach for months; Barack Obama signed on to such an effort last week; and with Hillary Clinton still to be heard from (though she voted against the post-veto funding bill earlier in the year), only Joe Biden has rejected it.
Moreover, advocacy of this harder-line strategy overlaps significantly, in the netroots and among the candidates,with efforts to get Democrats to abandon any commitment to a residual troop presence in Iraq (with Obama and Clinton, and to a lesser extent Edwards, the targets of that effort).
While it’s important not to completely conflate the no-funding and no-residuals campaigns (I am sure there are other Dems beyond Obama who favor one but not the other), advocates of both do tend to make the same political argument: that Democrats must more sharply distinguish themselves from Republican on the war to maintain confidence–in the Democratic “base,” among antiwar independents, or in the electorate generally–that they represent “change” on Iraq as on other issues. This dovetails with a less political argument that Democrats have a moral obligation to make every effort to stop the war prior to the 2008 elections, and to ensure if they win that the war is ended firmly, finally and quickly. And both sets of arguments, political and moral, on funding and residuals, coincide with a widely held belief–articulated this week by Dr. Drew Westen at of all places The New Republic–that taking a hard line on the war in all its aspects is the only “emotionally compelling” approach that will excorcise the ghosts of past Democratic surrenders to Bush.
There are a lot of assumptions about public opinion on Iraq and on the Democratic Party underlying the maximum-confrontation point of view, and I’ll address them in a later post. Suffice it to say that today three-fifths to two-thirds of Americans continue to oppose Bush’s war policies, even after the Petraeus Week shenanigans, while support for a no-funding or no-residuals position is clearly lower, but very difficult to measure.
But there are two fundamental questions Democrats need to ask themselves before falling on each other in anger on the subject of what to do now about Iraq. Are no-funding or no-residuals hardliners ready to deal with the consequences of the Democratic divisions likely to emerge from such internal fights, including “Bush beats Democrats again” and “Democrats in disarray” headlines? And do those Democrats who oppose them have a better idea other than praying that election day gets here fast?


Green Tide Rising?

Kos has a nice little upper for Dems bummed out by the Petraeus ad vote. He points out that eight of the League of Conservation Voters’ “dirty dozen” pollution supporters got whipped in the last election. Two of the four survivors were the only Dems on the list, and both GOP survivors were elected “by a sliver.” May ’08 bring even better news for the defenders of Mother Earth.


Health Care Convergence

Amidst a lot of general recriminations among Democrats over their inability to force a fundamental change in the Iraq war, and a specific, white-hot controversy over Republican efforts to demonize MoveOn.org, there’s also a growing realization that on one issue, health care, there’s an impressive convergence of views.
With the release of the “coverage” piece of Hillary Clinton’s health care plan earlier this week, it’s now clear the “big three” Democratic candidates for president have very similar approaches, with Edwards’ and Clinton’s plans being notably congruent. And for the most part, Democrats of all stripes are applauding.
Some progressives–e.g., Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times–credit Edwards for helping pressure his rivals into abandoning a timid, incremental approach to health care. Some centrists–e.g., the DLC–praise the Clinton-Edwards-Obama consensus as representing a sensible alternative to an unworkable status quo and to single-payer approaches. Everyone seems to agree that the vast gap between Democratic plans for universal health coverage and Republican advocacy of atavistic efforts to force Americans into individual health insurance or medical services purchasing will give voters an unmistakable choice in 2008.
E.J. Dionne suggests today that the Democratic health care convergence represents a broader Democratic agreement on domestic issues that resolves many of the intraparty arguments of the 1990s. He concludes that “the Democrats’ 2008 struggle is not about how to shape a new consensus but over who can take charge of the one that already exists.”
That’s worth pondering as the nominating contest heats up over the coming weeks.


Crisis of the Christian Right

One of the more interesting back-stories of the 2008 presidential campaign is the palpable state of crisis within the leadership of the Christian Right, whose “marriage of convenience” with the GOP isn’t working out too well. Divided internally on political strategy and specific issues (e.g., the environment, poverty and Iraq); chronically disappointed with the payoff from its alliance with Republicans; and struggling with generational challenges to its aging leadership, the politicized Christian Right is now facing the additional burden of having no consensus candidate for president to illustrate its residual power.
There has been some talk that Fred Thompson might be the solution to this last problem. But not according to Christian Right warhorse James Dobson, whose leaked emails blasting Fred as unacceptable on a variety of personal and ideological grounds have been making news this week.
Via Jason Zingerle, we have this pungent take on the story from Christian Broadcasting News blogger David Brody:

So for those scoring at home, let’s keep track shall we? Dr. Dobson says no to Thompson, no to Giuliani, no to McCain. Who does that leave? Oh, wait…who’s raising their hand and jumping up and down in the back of the room? Hey, that’s Mitt Romney! He says “what about me?”. It may be very hard for Dr. Dobson to come out and support Romney because many of his devoted listeners have a problem with Mormonism. Sorry, hate to bring that topic up again but I’m just “keeping it real” Now, as for Huckabee, that’s a possibility but can he win and is he only thought of as VP material? Maybe Dobson will put his individual support behind Huckabee but everybody wants to back the eventual winner so there’s a gamble there. I’m told that Dobson likes Newt Gingrich but Newt doesn’t look like he’s running.

Brody goes on to make the obvious point that this division of opinion about various candidates mainly benefits the one candidate with virtually no support among Christian Right elites, Rudy Giuliani. And Giuliani’s nomination, if it occurs, would create tensions in the GOP/Christian Right “marriage” as severe as those in Rudy’s own nuptial history.
If, God forbid, I were in the leadership of the Christian Right, I’d try to organize an effort to raise some serious jack for Huckabee, who’s the one theoretically viable Republican candidate with none of his competitors’ handicaps. (I’d also work the phones to get Iowa religious conservatives to abandon Sam Brownback, whose hopeless campaign is hampering Huckabee’s bid). Huckabee might not make it in the long run, but he’d serve as a convenient place-holder for theocons until they are forced to make a Decision for Christ between his flawed rivals.
While we are on this topic, I’m happy to report that The American Prospect has a new weekly feature up online called The FundamantaList, by Sarah Posner, reporting on political developments within the Christian Right. You might want to check out an earlier Posner piece on growing pentecostal support for Huckabee.


Obama and the Old Folks

The buzz in Iowa Democratic circles today is over Barack Obama’s decision, made about a month ago, to skip tonight’s AARP candidate forum in Davenport. TAPPED’s Garance Franke-Ruta, who’s been covering Iowa closely, refers to it as “Obama’s big mistake.”
The timing is interesting, since earlier this week Obama unveiled a tax reform plan that included, among other things, a provision eliminating federal income taxation entirely for seniors earning less than $50,000 annually. You’d think he’d want to talk about it in front of an especially receptive audience. Maybe he’ll get lucky and the questioners at the AARP forum will ask the other candidates about it.


Polls and Primaries

Chris Bowers at OpenLeft has a very useful post up analyzing the various factors that might boost and limit post-IA/NH “bounces” in national polls for presidential candidates in 2008. Be sure to follow the link to Mark Blumenthal’s more general discussion at pollster.com of the relevance of primary polling.
It’s worth remembering as an additional note that advance polling in the one “unbounceable” state, Iowa, is notoriously difficult, since it’s hard to really establish an accurate “screen” for likely caucus-goers. Iowa’s complex caucus rules, which can produce results significantly out of line with statewide opinion, present another problem for pollsters.


GOP Diss of Troops Overshadows MoveOn Ad

Whatever traction the GOP had in sliming Democrats as troop-bashers because of MoveOn’s General Petraeus ad has been replaced by spinning wheels as a result of the Senate Republicans’ vote against the Webb amendment. Webb’s proposal would have provided American soldiers serving in Iraq with guaranteed time at home at least equal to their length of service in Iraq, before being sent back into battle. (For complete vote tally, click here).
The MoveOn ad was a non-issue even before the Webb amendment vote, based on the GOP’s trying to equate the organization with the Democratic Party. It’s one thing for an independent liberal organization to criticize one general, rightly or wrongly. It’s quite another for all but six Republican Senators to vote against giving our soldiers in Iraq a much needed break. Every Democratic Senator voted for the Webb amendment, which was supported by veterans’ organizations. The inescapable conclusion is that when it comes to providing substantive support and relief for our troops, only one Party shows up, and it sure ain’t the GOP.
Republicans will still try to trot out the MoveOn ad as somehow indicative of Democratic disrespect for our soldiers serving in Iraq. But it will have a very hollow ring from now on, since the GOP blew its best chance to show meaningful support of our men and women in battle.
Outgoing Republican Senator John Warner, performed the ultimate flip-flop on the Webb Amendment, saying “I endorsed it…I intend now to cast a vote against it.” He isn’t running for re-election next year, but the Republican running for his seat will likely reap a bitter whirlwind. As WaPo’s Dana Milbank noted in his report on the Webb amendment vote, “Pro-war Republicans, who had been grumbling about Warner’s perfidy for weeks, suddenly celebrated him as an American hero.”
As one commenter on Milbank’s article, SarahBB, put it “The tolerance for hypocrisy in the Republican party, the art of saying one thing and doing the opposite, or projecting that which you do onto others, is truly staggering.” Another, Joy2, said it this way:

Shame on Senator Warner! I certainly thought he held the best interests of the troops in the foremost. But, alas, loyalty to the Bush administration and their continued bungling took precedence. He will have to live with the consequences as our troops burn-out and die in greater numbers.

Virginia veterans and their families will certainly remember which Senator — and which Party — was there for them when it counted. The Republicans stopped Senator Webb from getting a fillibuster-proof majority. But in so doing, they handed Webb — and all Democratic candidates — a potent example of GOP hypocrisy when it comes to supporting our women and men in uniform.
Meanwhile, Democrats can be proud of Senator Webb, and our troops have no greater champion.


Straw (White) Men

We published a staff post earlier this week briefly discussing Dr. Tom Schaller’s Salon piece suggesting that Democrats should stop “pandering” to white male voters, especially in the South. Schaller’s essay is continuing to draw attention, probably because Salon chose to give it a provocative title (“So Long, White Boy”), and also because conservatives are predictably beginning to pick up on Schaller’s rhetoric to suggest that Democrats hate Bubba.
A closer look at the Salon piece reveals a well-written article using impeccable empirical data in the service of an intraparty argument against a position that hardly anyone actually takes.
Schaller’s absolutely right to point out that the white male working-class preference for Republican presidential candidates can no long be written off as a temporary aberration. He’s also correct that white men are a declining percentage of the electorate, albeit a rather large one for the foreseeabe future. And he’s right as well that “Super-Bubba” Bill Clinton didn’t win in 1992 or 1996 by working any particular magic with white male voters north or south.
So who, exactly, is Schaller arguing with? Apparently, with “centrist Democrats [who] continue to urge the party to find new ways to lure white male voters back into the fold. Bill Galston, former domestic policy advisor to Bill Clinton and one of Washington’s sharpest analysts, is a proponent of a Democratic reinvestment in white male voters.”
Schaller then takes a brief look at a six-year-old article by Galston (a co-editor here at TDS) from Blueprint Magazine analyzing the collapse of Democratic support among white male voters in elections through 2000, mainly in order to turn Galston’s numbers on their head. But he doesn’t seem to have noticed that Galston’s main point was to suggest a conflict between progressive moral commitments and major gains among white male voters that simply couldn’t be wished away. Here’s the money quote from Galston’s piece:

In sum, the most realistic strategic objective is to diminish the intensity of white male opposition to the national Democratic Party while retaining the support of key minority groups and bolstering suburban gains, especially among white women. To execute this strategy, embracing moderate positions on cultural issues based on mainstream values is a necessity. But for today’s Democratic Party, neither cultural conservatism nor an anti-government stance is an option. If that is what it takes to regain full competitiveness among white men, the price is too high.

As in much of Schaller’s writing about Democrats and the South, he seems eager to suggest that anyone interested in cutting disastrous Democratic losing margins in certain segments of the electorate is arguing for “pandering,” the abandonment of Democratic constituencies, or a “turn to the right” on key issues. The only choices on the table are to lust after Bubba or spurn him.
There’s actually plenty of variation among Democrats, centrist or non-centrist, in their assessment of whether and if so how Democrats can do a bit better among white men. The only notable Democratic figure who actually seems to match Schaller’s account of “centrists” demanding a Bubba-centric political message is Mudcat Sanders, who often serves the same straw man function in Schaller’s writings about the South.
And that’s why it’s interesting to note that Schaller considers John Edwards’ refusal to engage in Bubba-lust one of the leading indicators that Democrats are finally wising up about the political incorrigibility of white men. Edwards’ campaign often suggests that its candidate might do better among white men than his leading female, African-American, and Latino rivals, particularly in the South. And the Edwards spokesman most often making this argument is none other than Mudcat Sanders.
Maybe Schaller and Sanders should just take their argument outside.


SEIU’s Decision

Today one of the big prizes in the presidential candidate bid for labor support will be up for grabs, as the Service Employees International Union board is meeting to consider an endorsement. By all accounts, John Edwards is the front-runner, but given SEIU’s unhappy experience with an early 2004 endorsement of Howard Dean, there’s some sentiment for delaying any nod.
At SEIU’s candidate forum earlier this week, Barack Obama’s speech was generally rated as the best, with Edwards’ a close second. And Bill Richardson, whose own speech drew strong applause, had the worst moment when he said to the crowd, “Thank you, AFSCME,” an unfortunate reference to SEIU’s main union rival for public employee members.
UPCATEGORY: Democratic Strategist


Another Seasoned Voice

Today we’ll be publishing a post from guest blogger James Vega, who will probably appear here now and then in the future. Vega is is a strategic marketing consultant whose clients have included some of America’s leading nonprofit institutions and high-tech firms.