washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

What Democrats should keep in mind, however, is that whichever way he goes he is very likely going to betray his white working-class base — the people who put him into office — sooner or later. The “later” part is the most certain. Donald Trump does not have the power to bring back the Industrial Era economy he has so avidly embraced. He will not be able to reopen the coal mines, rebuild the manufacturing sector, or repeal the international economic trends that would exist with or without NAFTA or TPP. And for that matter, he has little ability to reverse the demographic and cultural trends most of his voters dislike.
–Ed Kilgore

The Optimistic Leftist

The Optimistic Leftist

“…The case he makes cogent and persuasive. If you’re anywhere on the left side of the political spectrum, you’re feeling pretty glum these days. Well, read this book.”
 —Michael Tomasky
E. J. Dionne Jr

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

Donald Trump cast himself as the champion of a besieged American working class and a defender of its interests. His early decisions tell us something very different: This could be the most anti-worker, anti-union crowd to run our government since the Gilded Age.
–E.J. Dionne Jr.

The Optimistic Leftist

Ruy Teixeira’s, “The Optimistic Leftist”

“…a powerful, provocative and persuasive case that progressives are in a better position than they realize to make our world better.”
—E.J. Dionne

The Daily Strategist

March 25, 2017

We Are Family?

by Scott Winship
The thought occurred to me today while pondering my place in the world that perhaps all of you were running out of patience waiting for me to finally reveal what I’m reading. Well, all that waiting has finally paid off, because today I’m going to reveal the answer:

McMahon: The Bare Truth About Chicago’s Brashest Bear
Who Moved My Cheese?
Everyone Poops

Kidding of course – those books are all crap….(rimshot)….is this mike on?….
I’m actually reading a history of the Democratic Leadership Council (Reinventing Democrats, by Kenneth Baer), a netroots manifesto (Crashing the Gate, by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas), and a triumphalist history of Republican strategy (One Party Country, by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten). I’m enjoying all three, but what’s interesting is how they complement each other in a number of ways. I’ll hopefully get to some more examples in future posts, but today I want to focus on one issue the books all examine in their own way: the inability of the Democratic coalition to unify around a common strategy.
Baer’s account describes how the moderate Democrats who would come to form the core of the New Democrats relentlessly try to overcome the power of liberal activists affiliated with the Party’s most powerful interest groups. They first attempt to insert their ideas into the Party platform but are rebuffed. Next they attempt to change Party rules so that elected officials – more moderate than activists, said the New Dems, because they must appeal to diverse constituents and better appreciate electoral realities – are better represented among convention delegates.
Meeting with limited success again, they form the DLC and become involved in efforts to front-load the 1988 primaries with southern contests, which they believe will advantage moderate candidates that appeal to the more conservative South. Instead, Jesse Jackson is the big winner, winning essentially all of the African American southern vote. Dukakis’s loss convinces the New Dems to abandon the Big Tent strategy they had been pursuing, to instead sharply contrast themselves with other Democrats, and to seek out a candidate they can run in the 1992 election. This is as far as I’ve gotten, but I can’t wait to see what happens next. (My understanding is that they recruit a gregarious southern governor…)
Armstrong and Moulitsas also finger interest groups as (one) problem blocking Democratic electoral success, but their diagnosis is rather different from that of the New Democrats. Instead of interest groups being too liberal, they find them too parochial. Environmental groups, minorities, feminists, GLBT organizations, civil rights activists, and even labor (they argue) pursue their own narrow interests at the expense of overall Democratic prospects. In the end, for instance, abortion rights groups do themselves no good by supporting pro-choice Republicans because they are just strengthening an anti-choice majority. Rather than pulling in different directions, Democratic constituencies need to cooperate in multi-issue coalitions to elect more Democrats. This is as far as I’ve gotten, but I can’t wait to see what happens next. (I understand that they recommend new information technology – some system of tubes? – as a way to return power to progressives…)
In contrast to this depressing picture of disunity, Hamburger and Wallsten document the remarkable achievement of Grover Norquist in unifying conservative constituencies around the “Wednesday meeting” at the American Enterprise Institute offices. Norquist drums into his colleagues’ heads the point that their shared goal is to build and maintain a conservative majority, which requires that everyone occasionally sacrifice in the short-term. He also has a canny gift for linking issues across interest groups. Making the case to social conservatives that they ought to oppose Democratic efforts to promote fuel-efficient vehicles, Norquist tells Phyllis Schlafly, “You can’t have a whole lot of kids in a tiny fuel-efficient car.”
Hamburger and Wallsten also recount the history of the early-‘90s congressional redistricting. The re-drawing of district boundaries was driven by an unholy alliance between Republicans and African Americans who wanted to maximize their representation in Congress in the wake of favorable court rulings requiring districts that were fairer to black candidates. As a consequence, blacks experienced gains in the 1992 elections, but so did Republicans, who sliced away right-leaning white voters from formerly Democratic districts in the course of giving African Americans districts that optimized their electoral opportunities. Once again, Democratic division and Republican unity strengthened the power of conservatives – the GOP would win back the House for the first time in 40 years in 1994, in large measure because of the redistricting. This is as far as I’ve gotten, but I can’t wait to see what happens next. (My understanding is that it involves one of the parties winning control of all three branches of government…)
What can we take away from these three books? My conclusion is that there is a critical need to sort through two questions. First, are the Democrats’ electoral problems due more to being out of synch with voters or to being divided? And relatedly, why have Democrats been unable to achieve the unity that Republicans have?
I can’t say that I have the answers to these questions, but I’ll speculate here and hopefully generate some discussion. Taking the second question first, I wonder whether there is something about the Democratic coalition that makes its constituent parts more difficult to bring together. The Republican coalition basically consists of economic conservatives, who want small government and low taxes; social conservatives who want to preserve traditional institutions and promote traditional morality; and neoconservatives who are mainly concerned about how to leverage American military power to promote the nationalist interest abroad.
These groups aren’t usually inherently in conflict. Social conservatives do not advocate heavy government spending or regulation, even if many of them are sympathetic toward the poor and environmental protection. Economic conservatives are willing to tolerate large military budgets, to a point. Neocons have historically been skeptical of government intervention in the economy and in personal lives and concerned with morality. Social conservatives tend to be patriotic and pro-military, if often isolationist. And economic conservatives are (usually) comfortable with the traditionalist agenda of social conservatives, so long as the courts are there to block its more illiberal components. The point is that – until the Iraq fiasco, and now the immigration debate – it was relatively easy for these three groups to live with each other so long as each of them won some of what they wanted some of the time. Sometimes a wedge issue such as stem cell research presents itself, but not often.
Contrast the Republicans with the Democratic coalition. Social liberals include feminists, GLBT groups, environmentalists and civil libertarians who are mainly concerned with higher-order needs such as fulfillment and quality of life. Professionals and the well-educated overlap with this category but add a significant concern about fiscal responsibility. Economic liberals include labor and minority groups who are primarily concerned about their economic wellbeing. Minority groups also have their own concerns around discrimination and civil rights.
This coalition is far more problematic. Professionals who are deficit hawks are in conflict with economic liberals who want more social spending and may oppose excessive redistribution or excessively progressive taxation. Social liberals are often foreign policy doves while economic liberals are often hawks. Environmentalists and labor often have opposing interests. Economic liberals are often social conservatives and reject the modernist agendas of the social liberals, such as gay marriage. To some extent, the perceived interests of whites and nonwhites have conflicted, as busing, neighborhood segregation, and affirmative action battles have demonstrated.
Prior to 1992, the Democratic Party managed these competing constituencies by accommodating those preferences in each group that were liberal – so fiscal moderates, social conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and working-class whites competing with minorities for resources had to look elsewhere if those non-liberal preferences trumped their liberal ones (social liberalism in the case of fiscal moderates, economic liberalism in the case of social conservatives, hawks, and working-class whites). The story of Republican realignment is the story of non-liberal values in these groups trumping liberal ones. The Clinton years were a period of moderation, but since 2000 the grassroots of the Party has drifted slowly back toward uniform accomodation of liberal preferences (in a new effort at unity).
To return to the other question raised by the books I’m reading, it may be that attributing Democratic decline to either excessive liberalism or to disunity obscures how these two are related. Toeing the liberal line on all or most policies may necessarily alienate significant numbers of Democratic coalition members, who will then find a home in the Republican coalition. While Norquist needs only to convince Republican constituencies that they cannot always win, achieving unity among Democratic groups may require a Norquist-like figure who can convince each constituency that they must sometimes lose. The rightward tilt of the country might make unity more difficult to achieve among Democrats. What do you think?


American Dream Initiative

by Scott Winship
When it was announced a year ago that Hillary Clinton had accepted the Democratic Leadership Council’s request to lead their agenda-setting efforts for the 2006 and 2008 elections, many critics were, shall we say, angry. David Sirota’s feelings toward the DLC – and toward Senator Clinton by association – summed up the prevailing attitude:

The fact is, the Democratic Party has to make a choice: Is it going to continue to follow the DLC, be a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America, and lose elections for the infinite future? Or is it going to go back to its roots of really representing the middle class and standing up for ordinary people’s economic rights?

Well, today the DLC unveiled its agenda, The American Dream Initiative [pdf]. It remains to be seen how DLC critics will react, but to my mind, there is far more here that they should embrace than reject. To begin with, the initiative was undertaken cooperatively not only with the moderate Third Way, but with the Center for American Progress and the Howard Dean- and labor-friendly NDN. What did this coalition recommend in the end?
The report of the initiative begins with a priority that will set off red flags with some DLC critics: fiscal responsibility. The report calls for caps on discretionary spending but it does not propose the repeal of any of the Bush tax cuts. Instead, it would raise over half a trillion dollars over 10 years by eliminating corporate tax subsidies, downsizing the federal consultantocracy, capturing capital gains taxes that are currently evaded, and other measures.
Given the difficulty of closing corporate tax loopholes and the fact that spending caps are likely to be relatively high in order to accommodate the new programs below, it is difficult to see how we can reduce the deficit without at least a partial roll-back of the Bush tax cuts. But strategically, the initiative is clever in that it proposes other ways to fund new spending, so that if deficit reduction remains necessary after these savings measures, a rollback of the Bush tax cuts could be justified on the grounds that the additional revenues will be for fiscal responsibility rather than additional spending. The new programs are “paid for”.
The American Dream Initiative’s revenue-generating measures would allow for substantial additional social spending. The plan calls for boosting the number of college graduates by one million by 2015. It would do so through a $150 billion block grant to states to make public colleges and universities more affordable and raise graduation rates, a $3,000 refundable tuition tax credit (which would replace and expand a number of existing tax credits), secondary education reform, and additional money for non-traditional college students.
In health care policy, the American Dream Initiative would allow small businesses to join together and create a bigger insurance pool (thereby making coverage for their employees more affordable), and it would seek to achieve universal coverage of children. The initiative would invest in health care information technology to reduce costs and the frequency of medical errors. Finally, it proposes an attack on obesity, anti-smoking campaigns directed at children, creation of a National Center for Cures to make health care research more efficient, more liberal stem cell research policy, and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with private insurers.
What else? How about a Baby Bonds program that would give interest-bearing $500 bonds to all children at birth and again at age 10? How about making the mortgage interest tax deduction available to taxpayers who don’t itemize? A $5,000 refundable tax credit for down payment costs? Tax incentives for the construction of affordable homes? Expanding FHA loans and creating tax incentives for employer-provided housing assistance? Done and done.
Want more? The initiative proposes employer-mandated retirement accounts for all but the smallest employers, with tax credits to help businesses pay for them. It would also make employees opt out of contributing to these accounts rather than depending on them opting in. And it would make the existing Saver’s Credit refundable, giving lower- and middle-income families a fifty percent match for savings of up to $2,000 a year.
Finally, the American Dream Initiative would expand the economy through fiscal responsibility, increasing international trade, and investing in technology and alternative energy. It would require companies to offer the capital-building benefits they give their executives to all their employees and would make them report to the SEC data on profitability, foreign vs. domestic employment, and CEO and average-worker compensation. And it would impose additional regulations on pension and mutual funds to protect investors.
Presumably, few of us support all of these ideas, but taken together, this agenda strikes me as “progressive” by just about anyone’s definition. Of course, by itself it won’t necessarily be enough to win in 2008. After all, it plays to the Party’s strengths in economic and social policy. The 2008 nominee will also need an equally promising strategy on national security and on values.
To my mind, the best way to frame the entire agenda – from domestic policy to foreign policy to values – is to emphasize a duality that is central to the American Dream Initiative: the linking of opportunity to responsibility. We need to join the American Dream to the social contract, requiring responsibility from parents (for enrolling their children in available health insurance and other programs), non-custodial dads (for paying child support), recipients of means-tested benefits (for becoming self-sufficient), and college students receiving federal aid (for giving back to their communities). Employers must be responsible in their relations with consumers and employees and accountable to them. And the commander-in-chief must be accountable when he or she deceives the citizenry, bungles wars or recovery efforts, and explodes the budget deficit.
Wooing values voters doesn’t require us to become anti-abortion or anti-gay. By embracing the social contract – the idea that in return for providing public aid, society rightly can make requirements of beneficiaries – Democrats can tap into responsibility, a value that is as deeply felt as opportunity in America. And appealing to responsibility can link the American Dream Initiative to our foreign policy critique of Republicans while partly inoculating us against a values-based attack.


Dems Need More Women Candidates

One of the great failures of American democracy is our inability to produce even a semblance of gender parity among elected officials in our federal, state and local political institutions. For example, the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) reports that women hold only 14 of 100 U.S. Senate seats (9 Democrats), 67 of 435 House of Reps. Seats (43 Democrats) and 8 of 50 governorships (6 Democrats). The shortfall raises an interesting question: Would women voters be more likely to vote for women candidates, and which party would benefit?
It’s a hugely complicated question and one of the subjects addressed in an interesting scholarly paper presented in April to the Midwest Political Science Association by Kathleen Dolan, a University of Wisconsin political scientist. While the aforementioned statistics suggest Democrats would likely derive the greater benefit from fielding more women candidates, the answer is more complex. As Dr. Dolan explains in her paper, “Women Candidates in American Politics: What We Know, What We Want to Know”:

Analyzing the NES data for congressional races from 1990-2000 indicates that there are some circumstances in which women voters more likely to choose women candidates than men voters do, but the relationship is not overwhelming. Here the effect seems to be conditioned by the office being sought – women voters were significantly more likely to choose women candidates for House races than were men, but there was no sex difference in voting for women candidates in Senate races (Dolan 2004). Too, the effect in House races was not overwhelming. Women’s probability of voting for a
woman candidate in these elections was .59, while for men the probability was .50. Clearly, this doesn’t signal a wholesale embracing or rejection of women candidates by either sex. So, while women may be more likely to vote for women than are men in some cases, this relationship does not hold in all circumstances. Nor does it hold true all of the time. When each election from 1990 to 2004 is analyzed separately, women were more likely to choose women candidates in House elections in only one year, 1992, the so-
called “year of the woman.” And, interestingly, in 1994, men voters were more likely to choose women candidates in Senate races than were women voters. These findings would cause us to conclude that the potential for women voters to favor women candidates is there, but may not be strong enough to determine a person’s vote in specific electoral situations and is rarely strong enough to overwhelm traditional influences like party identification and incumbency.
…But, as my work on vote choice indicates, party identification and incumbency drive voting for women. At the same time, some scholars suggest that some women will cross party lines to support women (Brians 2005; King and Matland 2003). So, it would be interesting to know more about what factors pull people away from their baseline preference and what it takes for that to happen.

Dolan has a lot more to say in her lengthy paper, and students of political strategy should find the entire paper of interest. For more on the gender gap with respect to political parties, see Anna Greenberg’s “Moving Beyond the gender Gap.”
Democrats may well have much to gain by fielding more women candidates, and the November elections offer an opportunity to increase women’s congressional representation substantially. Although filing deadlines for ’06 have passed in at least 46 states, CAWP reports that 13 Democratic women (and 6 Republicans) are running for U.S. Senate and 116 Democratic women are running for U.S. House seats (56 Republicans), with 8 Democratic women running for governorships (and 8 Republicans).
Democrats would do well to make a point of recruiting more women candidates, not only because we want to win more, but because it will make our democracy stronger and our society better. As the late Coretta Scott King said:

The lack of gender parity in government is not only unjust; it goes a long way to explain why children and families are being shortchanged by government policies. For improving the quality of our lives, where we really need some more assertive women is in the halls of congress, our state and local legislatures… Gender alone is no guarantee of effectiveness in leadership. But it is important that women achieve the full measure of opportunities guaranteed by all of the great democracies. Our world will never be in balance until women have a fair share in political decision-making.


New WaPo Election Guide Tracks Issues, ’06 Elections

The Washington Post today launches a new daily guide to the ’06 elections, “Bellwethers: Key Issues in the Battle for Congress.” The feature focuses on how voting may be affected by eight major “issues,” including: Iraq; immigration; President Bush; corruption; “pocketbook” concerns; GOP chances in the northeast; Democratic chances in the “upper south”; and ballot measures. The feature includes dozens of cross-links to useful data, including candidate bios, district and state demographic profiles, opinion polls, financial information and voting records — much of it nicely illustrated with clickable maps and jazzy graphics. WaPo says ‘Bellwethers’ will be an “organic” feature, which presumably means it will be updated and expanded with new developments. ‘Bellwethers’ offers substantially more easily-accessible content than the New York Times 2006 Election Guide and promises to be the best election tracking gateway offered by a daily newspaper


Round and Round

I’m proud to announce that new content is up on the magazine website. Over the next week or so, we will be hosting a roundtable discussion of a piece by Binghamton University political scientist Jonathan Krasno. Krasno argues that the decline in party competition in Congress is due not to redistricting, but to…well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. Also contributing to the conversation will be Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz, MyDD.com founder Jerome Armstrong, DLC Vice President for Policy Ed Kilgore, and New America Foundation’s Mark Schmitt. Responses will be posted as we receive them. Check it out, and look for more roundtables to come.


Progressivism + ‘Nonzero’ism = Realism

by Scott Winship
All I have to say today is T.G.I. freakin’ F.
Well, that’s not all I have to say. What I really want to tell you is that last Sunday’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Robert Wright on a new foreign policy doctrine he proposes. I also want to describe it to you. I also want to finish my beer first….
……
……
…OK, progressive realism. First the realism part. Like traditional realists, Wright would put American interests first, but would think more broadly (more realistically?) about the costs and benefits of different policy options. Globalization creates non-military threats such as viruses and pollution, and there may be developments within states that threaten our interests even in the absence of immediate military threats. Failing states, for instance. Hence, it is in our interest to promote stability and democracy in a country, even where there is little immediate threat to America.
As Wright notes, this part of his formula may as well have been pulled from The Neoconservative Bible – the neocons have always combined self-interest with their idealistic vision of democracy promotion. But Wright adds to his philosophy a strong faith in the power of markets to promote freedom – rendering forceful democracy promotion unnecessary – and a willingness to submit to the constraints of international institutions in order to get other nations to submit to the same. This is the progressivism.
Wright’s is actually a program that I would support in principle, though of course the details of any implementation of it matter. But it strikes me as the worst of all worlds strategically. I can already picture those parts of the Democratic coalition who oppose the neoliberal consensus of managed international trade building their giant Wright puppets. And the right will wail about acquiescence to the demands of “foreigners” who want to erode our national sovereignty. Maybe they’ll make puppets too.
Wright would counter the objections of the anti-globalization puppet people by arguing that economic interdependence has a pacifying effect on nations, making war more costly. This seems to me one of the best and most honest frames I’ve seen for winning over those who are unmoved by appeals to the theoretical win-win nature of trade, though I’m not sure how persuasive it would ultimately be to the puppet people.
To the nationalists, Wright would make two different appeals. Unfortunately, one is a quasi-isolationist framing in support of multilateralism – arguing that the United States should not bear as much of the costs of fighting terrorism as it does. He asks why we should let the rest of the world free-ride on our military. The neocons would clearly reply that we should do so in order that we are not constrained in our pursuit of American interests.
But the U.S. can’t simply pursue its goals unilaterally without any thought to how its actions will play in other nations, and this is Wright’s second appeal to nationalists. He gravely makes the case for paying attention to how the world sees us:

when you consider the various ways information technology helps terrorists — not just to recruit more fighters to the cause, but to orchestrate attacks and spread recipes for munitions — and you throw in advances in munitions technology, an alarming principle suggests itself: In coming years, grass-roots hatred and resentment of America may be converted into the death of Americans with growing efficiency

There is undoubtedly a tension here between constraint in service of long-term interests and unilateralism in service of our short-term interests. This tension is nowhere clearer than in our dealings with the United Nations, which Wright would utilize heavily. But even if one accepts Wright’s argument for multilateralism, there are good reasons for relying on alternative new or existing institutions instead of the U.N. If we are to be serious about advancing our values, we ought not to put the values of authoritarian leaders and illiberal peoples on an equal footing as those of our liberal allies. What is more, the membership of the Security Council is anachronistic, and the Council more often than not blocks our ability to advance our interests. I’m with Fukuyama on this one – better to use the nascent Community of Democracies or regional alliances [subscr.].
Wright does not shy away from acknowledging the trade-offs that are necessary in any foreign policy, noting that we must prioritize helping nations that are greater threats to us over struggling nations that are strategically unimportant. He also counsels trying to understand our enemies, advice that shouldn’t make him brave but sadly does in our current world.
When it come right down to it, Wright’s program really doesn’t need the “progressive” half of its name – it is realism with a different understanding of costs, benefits, and American interests. Either progressive realism and traditional realism define American interests differently or one of them is wrong about the best way to advance them. Considering that neither really bothers to define American interests, the appropriate strategy depends on which version of realism is the more accurate one. As for the relationship between progressive realism and neoconservatism, given Wright’s willingness to let the trajectory of history expand freedom on its own time, his proposal amounts to democracy promotion…slowly.


Once More on the Netroots

by Scott Winship
Debate-by-blog definitely has its downsides and pitfalls. All too often it is all too easy for debates between faceless strangers hundreds of miles from each other to turn ugly. This tendency is really a shame, because blogs are in many ways conducive to debating issues efficiently compared with other media.
Yesterday, Chris Bowers of MyDD.com calmly responded to the last of my posts on the netroots by citing some evidence from a poll he conducted – which I mentioned in passing – that contradicts the conclusions I made about the pragmatism of the netroots. I’m going to follow his lead and work to keep this elevated debate going a bit longer. He and I ultimately both want accurate conclusions about the netroots, so it’s worth seeing where we agree, where consensus breaks down, and why.
First, the areas of agreement. We both agree that the data says the netroots are frustrated, though as Chris notes, that’s not exactly a news flash. We also agree that the community is liberal. This claim is sometimes contested by the occasional defensive blogger, but most wouldn’t dispute this characterization.
Where we disagree is on the question of the netroots’ pragmatism. I argued that the Pew data on the “Dean netroots”, as I called them, implied that the netroots believes its views are shared by enough voters to constitute a majority. Therefore they see no need for pragmatism – their ideals should be voiced loudly and proudly by Democrats, and those who insist on making craven moves to the center hurt themselves once on an ideological level and again on a character level.
Chris argues that the netroots prefers candidates that can clearly and passionately articulate their views (even if they are moderate on some issues) over candidates that are down-the-line liberals. They see the need for pragmatism in red states, and the politicians they favor nearly span the ideological spectrum of the Democratic Party, having in common only the extent to which they inspire people.
In what follows, I’ll treat the Blogpac survey as one that represents the netroots accurately, though as I noted in an earlier post, with a 7 percent response rate, that is to some extent a leap of faith. (The Dean survey had a low response rate too, but Pew did some checks to see how biased their results might be.) In particular, given Chris’s (not inappropriate) advocacy of a more complex view of the netroots, I’d also be concerned that this could have affected the kinds of people who responded to his request to participate.
We’re also using different definitions of “the netroots”, with Chris using a sample of MoveOn.org members and me using a sample of Democracy for America activists who regularly relied on blogs for news. Note that one need not have much interaction with the blogging world to be included in Chris’s MoveOn.org sample. In fact, according to the figures on his “50-State Strategy” chart, those who “regularly” read “blogs such as Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, or MyDD” amount to just 19 percent of the sample. Nearly 4 in 10 said they never read blogs. So my preference might be to restrict Chris’s sample and have a more apples-to-apples comparison.
I’d like to frame my argument around the Iraq war, clearly the most important issue that has driven the netroots. As I noted in my last post, 80 percent of the netroots believed that Democratic leaders in Congress supported the war not because they “thought it was the right thing to do”, but because they “were afraid to stand up and oppose the president.” Unpack that and it says that the vast majority of the netroots believes that “most of the Democratic leaders in Congress” were against the war but voted for the congressional resolution anyway.
But this may be too convenient a position to take. At the time, two-thirds of Americans – and two-thirds of Independents – approved of going to war [p. 25]. Add up the number of Democrats (roughly one-third of the country) and one-third of the one-third of Americans who identify as Independent, and that gets you to 44 percent – not nearly a majority. Nor were key states on the side of progressives. Consider how the two senators from “purple states” who were facing a tough reelection challenge voted. Presumably, these votes strongly reflected the preference of constituents. Democrat Tom Harkin (IA) voted for the resolution (as did Iowa’s other senator, Charles Grassley). Republican Wayne Allard (CO) also voted for the resolution, and Colorado’s other senator, Ben Nighthorse Campbell did too. All six red-state Democratic senators up for re-election (Mary Landrieu, Max Baucus, Max Cleland, Tim Johnson, Jean Carnahan, and Jay Rockefeller) voted for the resolution. All of the senators listed here except Cleland and Carnahan won.
The point is that any Democratic senator with presidential aspirations – indeed, any Democratic voter who wanted to see the Party retain control of the Senate in 2002 or see Bush defeated in 2004 – had to contend with the consequences of a vote against the resolution. Of course, casually voting to send American sons and daughters into war on the basis of selfish concerns about reelection or presidential aspirations would be unforgivable. But Democrats needed to also think about what would happen if they lost their (as it turns out brief) majority or if their own individual seat was filled by a hawkish Republican. Even a selfless progressive Democrat could very well have reasonably concluded at the time that the least worst option for the country and for one’s constituents was to vote for the resolution. In retrospect, that conclusion seems obviously wrong, but at the time, no one really knew.
If one accepts the netroots’ disenchanted view of Democratic leaders’ motives on the vote then one has to conclude either that ideology was more important in this case than pragmatism or inspiration, that the netroots believed that a majority of the country was with them on the Iraq vote (i.e., that a majority was as liberal as they were), or that it believed the country could be brought around by an inspirational Democratic leader. I think a case could be made for the first interpretation, beginning with the fact that many more of the Dean netroots said they were liberal than said they were Democrats and proceeding through the evidence in my last piece. The second interpretation, if true, would be a problem because the evidence indicates that the country – and swing voters – lies to the right of the netroots.
The problem with the third interpretation is that what is inspirational to the netroots generally elicits their liberalism or populism (see Governor Schweitzer), and it is assumed that these liberal positions or populist attitudes will inspire other voters. Heterodox views are often difficult to explain to voters, and moderate views are not as exciting as extreme ones (or appear disingenuous), making it less likely that a politician will inspire. So while it may be, as Chris’s poll finds, that in the abstract the netroots prefers inspiration to (uniformly) liberal positions, in practice it is not likely to find inspirational candidates who do not meet most of its litmus tests.
It seems fair to say that all of the politicians for which the Blogpac survey requested favorability ratings met most relevant litmus tests. Chris notes that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Barack Obama are moderates and have high favorability ratings, but what is likely more relevant is that they don’t have Iraq resolution votes. Of the top six politicians – going by the number rating them “very” favorably – none voted for the Iraq resolution. Furthermore I think the two most relevant findings are that the unelectable Russ Feingold leads all potential presidential candidates except Gore and Obama in the number of people giving him a “very favorable” rating (and Jack Murtha and Barbara Boxer out-poll him), and that less than four in ten of the people in Chris’s sample gave very favorable ratings to any candidate, save Gore and Obama.
As further evidence of the netroots’ pragmatism, Chris and others point to the netroots’ willingness to give red-state Democrats a pass or to accept moderate candidates when the situation calls for it. I would speculate instead that the netroots is relatively unfamiliar with red America and so defers to conventional wisdom about politics in those places. In the Pew survey I cited here, for instance, just 10 percent of adults who regularly get their news from blogs were from rural areas. On the other hand, because of the closeness of recent presidential elections and relative parity in Congress between the parties, the netroots feels that at the national level liberals and conservatives are essentially at parity. Netroots activists ultimately tried pragmatism in 2004 when the stakes could not be higher, but their dislike of Hillary Clinton and embrace of Russ Feingold shows an increasing skepticism of this strategy.
In the end, I am arguing, it’s not so much that netroots activists reject pragmatism, it’s that they see less of a need for it in presidential elections because they believe that the country “looks like them”, that skeptical swing voters can be won over by the people who win the netroots’ hearts, or both. They will take what they can get in red states, but because of their perceptions of the electorate, they will lead with their liberalism elsewhere rather than worrying about pragmatic considerations. Furthermore, with the growing popularity of the fifty-state strategy, I predict that pragmatic willingness to give red-state politicians a pass is going to decline as local activism increases and expectations rise.
And all this might be OK. But it might not.


Reed Defeat Shows Corruption Issue Resonates

In today’s WaPo, Jim VandeHei addresses the national political ramifications of Ralph Reed’s defeat in the Georgia GOP Lt. Governor primary. VandeHei’s article hones in on the nut question for political strategists: Does the corruption issue have legs after all? A strong possibility in several races, suggests VandeHei.

Republicans worry that more than six candidates for the House and Senate could be hurt by Justice Department investigations, the courts and revelations in the Abramoff affair. Topping the list are Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), both bruised by Abramoff connections and facing tough races.
…Other members threatened by corruption charges include Republican Reps. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), John T. Doolittle (Calif.) and Richard W. Pombo (Calif.). A court ruling could force former majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) back into the race in Texas’s 22nd District, a potential boon for Democrats.

Hotline‘s Jonathan Martin credits an aggressive campaign by GOP State Senator Casey Cagle, as well as strong media reporting on Reed’s ethics issues. Martin explains:

…Metro Atlanta Republicans decided they could not take the risk of supporting a tarnished candidate. Cagle won the four big counties (Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb) in and around Atlanta by a combined 19K votes. Add in the further afield exurbs (including Cagle’s native Hall Co) and over half of Cagle’s margin came from just the Metro area.

Alternet‘s David Donnelly shares this take:

This spells trouble for scandal-ridden members of Congress…it also should put every vulnerable member of Congress on notice. Those who have voted in the interests of their contributors on issues critical to voters on prescription drug costs, renewable energy, and others should have to answer for their actions…voters are in a throw-the-bums-out kind of mood, and candidates who capitalize on this by showing how they’re going to clean up Congress (like by signing the Voters First Pledge supported by Common Cause, Public Campaign Action Fund, Public Citizen, and US PIRG can tap into voter discontent.

The Reed defeat indicates that corruption and scandal clearly affect the votes and perhaps the turnout of Republicans concerned about ethics. With six Republican candidates mired in scandals, compared to two Democrats, it looks like a net gain in House seats for Dems in November.


Hispanic Vote — A Deepening Shade of Blue

New Democratic Network‘s Hispanic Strategy Center has just released a new poll of Spanish-speaking voters, and the news is quite good for Dems. There’s lots to chew in the poll, and MyDD‘s Chris Bowers takes it for a spin here, while Kos mulls it over here. We’ll just offer the following juicy nugget and encourage readers to check out the poll and Travis Valentine’s summary at NDN.

In the 2004 cycle, Bush regularly received a 60% favorable rating from Hispanics. In our survey this was reversed, as 38% see him favorably, 58% unfavorably, with 40% very unfavorable. When asked how they would vote if the Presidential election were held today, this group gives Democrats a remarkable 36-point advantage (59% – 23%). For Republicans this is a dramatic drop from the 52% – 48% Kerry-Bush result with the Spanish-speaking sub-group in 2004.

Another poll, the National Survey of Latinos of the Pew Hispanic Center (conducted (6/5 to 7/3), reports that “the share of Latinos who believe the Republican Party has the best position on immigration has dropped from 25% to 16%.” The effect of the GOP’s immigrant bashing on non-Hispanic voters may still be in flux, but a growing number of Latinos have clearly had enough.


Netroots….Revealed!

by Scott Winship
Last data dump for a little while, so hope you enjoy. Actually, this one is probably the most interesting one I’ve done from my perspective. Avid readers will remember that yesterday’s post ended with the teaser argument that the netroots is more ideological than partisan. Today I’ll see whether this conclusion holds up under a closer look at the netroots’ positions. Remember, I’m using Dean supporters who were active in the primary campaign and regularly used blogs for news to proxy “the netroots”. The data is publicly available from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
To quote the bard Perry Farrell, Here We Go…..
The portrait the Pew data paints of the netroots is one of strong political frustration. The Pew survey asked respondents, “How good a job is the Democratic Party doing these days in standing up for its traditional positions on such things as protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy, and representing working people?” Half of the netroots members said it was doing only a fair job, and another 28 percent said a poor job. When asked how well the Party was doing defending “progressive/liberal positions”, 41 percent said fair and 43 percent said poor. Over half said they wanted the U.S. to have a third party.
Getting at the question of pragmatism versus idealism, while 39 percent of the netroots said that the most important reason – other than the issues – for supporting Dean was that he was willing to take unpopular positions, just 7 percent cited his electability. That’s a pretty remarkable contrast. It’s true that half the netroots said that the most important reason for supporting Dean was that he would change the direction of the Democratic Party, and these respondents likely thought this was entirely consistent with Dean being electable. But given the option of picking electability explicitly, they instead chose a response that is ambiguous in that regard. The implication is that changing the direction of the Party is actually more important that short-term electability for the netroots, a conclusion that accords with the importance of taking unpopular stands among them.
Fully 70 percent of the netroots said they wanted the Party to become more liberal, while the number who wanted it to become more centrist was no different than the number wanting the Party to “die off and be replaced”. Their policy positions reinforce the view of the netroots as strongly liberal. Fully 88 percent support immigration rather than feeling threatened by it, whereas Americans and Democrats specifically are split on the question. (All the figures for Americans and Democrats are from other 2004 Pew studies that are publicly available.) Nearly all members of the netroots accept homosexuality, compared with half of Americans and 60 percent of Democrats. Nine in ten respect conscientious objection to fighting in a war. This compares with six in ten Democrats and less than half of Americans. And while minorities of Americans and Democrats said free trade agreements were bad for Americans, two-thirds of the netroots thought so.
So the netroots is strongly liberal and frustrated with the Democratic Party for not representing them. The clear interpretation to this point is that the netroots believes that they are representative of the country and so Democratic candidates and officials should be promoting their policy preferences. If they were to do so – by this logic – they would win. Instead, professional Democrats are timid and transparently calculating.
Essentially all members of the netroots agreed at least somewhat that Howard Dean was the only candidate in the primaries who spoke for them. Dean’s governorship was more moderate than the preferences of the netroots, but he emphasized progressive themes in his campaign – particularly opposition to the Iraq war – and he strongly defended these themes. Indeed, 90 percent of the netroots said he was the only primary candidate who stood up to President Bush.
On the other hand, over four in five members of the netroots thought that most Democratic leaders voted for the Iraq resolution because they were afraid to stand up to the President rather than because they supported it. If one believes that one’s views are in step with those of the public and that the leadership of one’s party is rejecting those positions on the basis of a crass – and misguided! – pragmatism, then it is no wonder that one would look to an outsider who stridently defends not only one’s positions, but one’s diagnosis of the party’s problems.
Despite the fact that he dropped out of the race early on in the primary calendar, half the netroots voted for Dean in the primary election. When those who didn’t vote but would have voted for Dean are added, the total rises to 63 percent. Among those who did vote for Dean, the most popular second choice was John Edwards (31 percent), followed by…Dennis Kucinich (21 percent). The number preferring Carol Mosley Braun was not statistically different than the number preferring John Kerry or Wes Clark. Again, the interpretation most consistent with the evidence is that pragmatism is devalued because having progressive views is a greater signal of electability to the netroots than pragmatic positioning that isn’t even consistent with public preferences.
Also supporting this conclusion is the fact that 57 percent of the netroots said Hillary Clinton should not run in 2008, 60 percent said Kerry shouldn’t, and 63 percent said Gore shouldn’t. To the netroots, these are the most prominent symbols of crass Democratic pragmatism today, though Gore’s reputation has been rehabilitated notably since late 2004. On the other hand, 82 percent said Dean should run and 68 percent said Edwards should, reflecting their perceived lack of positioning and their more vocal embrace of liberalism (as reflected, for instance, in Edwards’s populist “Two Americas” critique).
One final factoid reinforcing the interpretation I have put forth here. The most common reasons the netroots gave as to why Bush won in 2004 were that Bush scared voters on security issues and that he misrepresented Kerry’s positions. Nevertheless, 41 percent said one reason Kerry lost was because his positions were too conservative, compared with 16 percent who said it was because his positions were too liberal. For a substantial segment of the netroots, there is no tension between one’s views and those of the public, and so centrist impulses are doubly disastrous.