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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

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

Netroots Eclipsing Nader’s Influence on Dems

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


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

Dems Prep for GOP Senate Blitz

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

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

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

Echoes of ’68

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

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

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

How MSM Word Choices Promote Bias

Glenn W. Smith, a Senior Fellow at George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute, has a post up about the MSM use of the term “firm” to describe President Bush’s refusal to compromise on his Iraq policy. Smith provides examples of recent Grey Lady and WaPo headlines using the terms “firm” and “unbowed” respectively to describe Bush’s rigid Iraq policy.
As Smith explains it:

Why does the national media insist on characterizing President Bush’s refusal to alter his Iraq policy as firmness, rather than stubbornness? Because, in the strict father morality that emphasizes authority and obedience, presidents are strict fathers. They are firm. Only children can be stubborn. Reporters, probably unconscious of the worldview that limits their expressions, simply don’t want to characterize the President with a term like “stubborn,” even when it is more appropriate to the circumstance.
The New York Times headline on July 13 said, “A Firm Bush Tells Congress Not To Dictate War Policy.” The front-page online grabber at the Washington Post’s web site said, “Despite Failures in Iraq, President Holds Firm.” The story headline read, “President Unbowed as Benchmarks Aren’t Met.” Firm, unbowed. Father knows best.
This simple word, “firm,” communicates much more than reporters know. Firmness implies courage, conviction, leadership, while stubbornness means recalcitrance, childishness, refusal to face facts. We are tempted to accuse the media of political bias, and ideological bias often exists. Frequently, however, moral worldviews dominate media thinking without their knowledge. What seems like common sense to reporters is actually the unconscious employment of language that their brain produces reflexively, or without conscious intention.

In all fairness, some headline writers may chose “firm” more because it is a shorter word than some of the less biased alternatives, such as “stubborn,” “inflexible,” “obstinate” or even “rigid,” particularly when a story is formatted in a single, narrow column. Regardless of the intent, however, the effect is the same — distortion. Whether or not you buy into the framologists’ strict daddy/nurturing mommy take, Smith has nailed a serious problem here. When biased terms are used by journalists who are supposed to be even-handed, it shouldn’t be allowed to pass without a vigorous protest.
It’s not just about Bush and Iraq. No doubt federal, state and local Democratic candidates across the nation can recount similar experiences with the MSM’s choice of words that flatter their opponent’s motives, policies and actions in supposedly objective reportage.
Perhaps every Democratic campaign should have a “Truth in Language” squad assigned to raise hell with media that uses biased terminology masquerading as objective reporting. Let repeat offenders be forced to deal with an avalanche of email, faxes and phone call complaints. If that doesn’t work, ask to meet with the editors — whatever it takes to get the MSM to pick their words more carefully.

Let the Rudy-Bashing Begin

At the risk of reading too much into a single newspaper column, I recommend Mike Gerson’s Washington Post entry today as an example of what Rudy Giuliani’s going to be facing during the remainder of the presidential nomination contest. Entitled “R. Milhous Giuliani,” the column’s comparison of Rudy to Tricky Dick is just part of Gerson’s indictment. He also describes Giuliani as a guy whose policy positions–pro-choice, pro-death penalty, pro-torture (he could have added pro-war)–are guaranteed to make him a target for the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, to which he is already hanging by his fingernails due to his second divorce and remarriage (his first marriage was annulled).
As you may know, Mike Gerson’s not just some random conservative columnist. Aside from his cult status as the speechwriter who managed to occasionally make George W. Bush sound eloquent, Gerson is a longstanding leadership figure in Washington’s tight-knit conservative evangelical community. (Alongside Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, he’s a parishioner at The Falls Church, one of two evangelical Episcopal congregations in suburban Washington that recently left the national denomination to protest its ordination of a gay bishop). He’s also got a reputation as a very genial man, so there’s no question his knee-capping of Rudy was entirely premeditated.
Gerson’s use of the Nixon analogy is quite interesting. A lot of Democrats are either too young or too old to remember that Nixon was loathed as heartily by some conservatives as he was by liberals, well before he destroyed his presidency and inflicted serious short-term damage on the GOP. Gerson mentions Nixon’s imposition of wage and price controls, and his nomination of Harry Blackmun–author of Roe v. Wade–to the Supreme Court as examples of his heresies. But conservative unhappiness with Nixon extended into foreign policy, where he and Henry Kissinger (whose retention by Gerald Ford was a significant issue in Reagan’s 1976 nomination challenge) were blamed for losing the Vietnam War and for allegedly excessive coziness towards the Soviet Union.
In Gerson’s eyes, the root of the Nixon problem was the man’s “secular” nature; his conservativism, such as it was, was not rooted in moral or religious views but in cynical opportunism and an adversarial character. He seduced “real” conservatives into supporting him mainly by attacking their enemies relentlessly. That is one theory (notably promulgated by Tom Edsall in a New Republic article in May) about Giuliani’s appeal to conservatives today. Gerson is clearly warning conservatives that Rudy, like Nixon, is “a talented man without an ideological compass, mainly concerned with the accumulation of power.”
Interestingly, despite his focus on Giuliani’s “secularism” and questionable character, Gerson doesn’t get into Rudy’s marital history. But he probably doesn’t need to: the celebrity media and the late-night comics will soon take care of that, feasting on all the sordid-sounding details once the possibility of a Giuliani presidency becomes more proximate.
I strongly suspect that Gerson’s assault on Giuliani is the opening shot in what will soon develop into a highly concerted Cultural Right effort to take Rudy down. There’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about the declining power of the Cultural Right. And without question, if social conservatives can’t veto someone with Rudy’s background as a presidential nominee, then they ain’t what they used to be. But I wouldn’t bet the farm on their failure in blocking Giuliani. In fact, I wouldn’t be a dime on it.

Why ‘Narrative’ Matters

Ever felt clueless when the pundits carry on about a campaign’s or candidate’s “narrative?” Well, help is on the way, in the form of Paul Waldman’s American Prospect article “The Power of the Campaign Narrative.” Waldman explains the thing with some concrete examples, and, turns out it actually is a helpful concept:

Look at past presidential campaigns, and you see this pattern over and over: the winner tells a coherent, appealing story, while the loser tells a bad story, or more often, no story at all.
Successful presidential candidate stories have three parts. Part one of the story describes the state of the country and its government, clearly defining what is wrong. Part two describes the place the candidate wants to take us, the better day being promised. Part three explains why the candidate is the one and only person who can deliver us from where we are to that better day.

According to Waldman, incumbents use the ‘narrative’ a little differently:

…Successful incumbents use a mirror image of the three-part narrative, presenting the current good times as fragile and tenuous, threatened to be dragged down if the challenger is elected.

One can think of exceptions. Was Nixon’s campaign narrative really all that great? And Waldman’s citing the Bush 2000 campaign is not such a good example for his argument, considering Gore got over a half-million more popular votes. But, on the whole, it does seem like the winners of various presidential campaigns tended to have a more interesting story.
Of course, everyone and every campaign has a story, and some are more inspiring than others. But candidates do need to learn how to tell their stories in the most compelling way. The narrative may not be everything to a campaign, or even the most important thing, but Waldman does show how a good one can provide an advantage.

False Choices on the Economy

In the Editorial Philosophy section of this web site, The Democratic Strategist pledges to “actively seek to be a meeting ground for both centrists and populists, readers of The Nation and The New Republic, professional political consultants, grassroots activists and every significant candidate and perspective within the Democratic Party.”
So it was with a sense of foreboding that I read yesterday’s front-page New York Times article by Robin Toner on Democratic economic policy and message. Though her tone is mild and it takes her a while to get to the main point, Toner suggests a state of irrepressible conflict between “populists” and “centrists” based on rejection or championship of Bill Clinton’s legacy, with “populists” currently in the ascendancy.
It’s certainly no surprise that all Democrats are highly critical of the current administration’s stewardship of the economy, which ranges from indifference to an aggressive promotion of concentrations of wealth and privilege. But by implicitly conflating the (Bill) Clinton and Bush economic strategies, Toner creates a false choice between robust attacks on Bushonomics and use of the Clinton legacy to demonstrate the superiority of Democratic approaches to the economy. And in doing so, she exaggerates Democratic disagreements on economic policy on virtually every issue other than trade.
Two particular issues stand out in this distorted picture of Democrats: the role of investments in education and training, and of fiscal discipline, in creating long-term economic growth and economic security.
Toner quotes Barack Obama as mocking the idea that training in high-skill fields will enable Americans to cope with global competition, given the outsourcing of tech and services jobs. But I don’t know of any Democrats who (a) think education and training alone will make individual Americans or the economy as a whole competitive, or (b) oppose strong efforts to create better schools or provide genuine access to lifelong learning. Since Republicans do, by and large, reject major new public investments in education and training as an illegitimate expansion of government, the differences between Democrats and Republicans on this topic are much larger than those between Democrats.
As for fiscal discipline, Toner twice cites Robert Rubin’s focus on deficit reduction and its impact on interest rates as part of the Clinton legacy that’s come under fire from Democrats. But think about this: when John Edwards, in launching his health care plan, announced that a balanced budget was not his highest priority, it made news. Why? Because Democrats, including Edwards, have become the unquestioned party of fiscal discipline, and will continue to make that a point of differentiation with Republicans with or without the economically trivial commitment to an actually balanced budget. Indeed, that’s one, though not the only, reason that virtually all Democrats favor a rollback in the Bush tax cuts, leaving Republicans with the politically perilous choice of continuing to ignore deficit spending, advocating drastic scalebacks in popular government programs, or resuscitating discredited supply-side theories about the self-financing nature of tax cuts.
There is, of course, one issue where divisions among Democrats are real: trade policy. But even there, the divisions are not as stark as is often assumed. For one thing, Democratic “free traders” have long conceded that labor and environmental standards are a desirable element of trade agreements, where they can actually be negotiated; that the U.S. government has a responsibility to deal with trade scofflaws like China; and that we are morally obligated to provide more than training vouchers to workers whose jobs are displaced by trade. Moreover, many pro-trade Democrats have vociferously opposed Bush’s trade agenda, most notably when a large majority of the House New Democratic Coalition voted against CAFTA.
Meanwhile, it’s simply not accurate to typecast Democrats as pro- or anti-trade. Yes, there are some highly visible “populists” who believe trade agreements are the single largest factor creating economic inequality and insecurity, and advocate repeal of past agreements along with systemic opposition to new ones. But as Will Marshall and Ed Gresser usefully pointed out in these pages recently, another Democratic faction, which they call “social democratic,” favors an aggressive international economic strategy focused on emulating the high-wage, high-benefit policies of European nations, instead of reflexive opposition to trade and globalization. And in practice, many Democratic politicians and voters combine elements of all three of the “pro-trade,” “populist,” and “social democratic” philosophies.
There are obviously very large omissions in Toner’s picture of Democratic economic policy preferences. Democrats are united as never before in making universal access to health care; universal access to college; and a serious assault on global climate change, major goals for the party and for the country. They are equally committed to a broad and progressive income tax (not unimportant at a time when Republicans continue to flirt not only with regressive tax cuts, but with “flat tax” and national sales tax schemes); to reductions in corporate subsides and measure to insure corporate accountability; to a strengthening the social safety net; and to a restoration of the endangered right of workers to organize unions. On all these issues, most Republicans, and most Republican leaders, are far on the other side of the battle-lines.
And that leads me to what may be the mother of all false choices for Democrats on the economy: “optimism” versus “pessimism.” There’s plenty of room for empirical debate among progressives about the exact extent of income inequality, or the current economic condition of the middle class, with all its political implications, including the advisability of “class warfare” rhetoric. But at a time when two-thirds of voters consistently say the country is on “the wrong track,” I hope no Democrats would counsel a sunny, positive feeling about the current trajectory of the U.S. economy. And I hope no Democrats would fail to understand the importance of conveying confidence in the country’s economic prospects under a future Democratic administration, with the success of the last Democratic administration being a significant if not dispositive talking point.
Indeed, while maintaining an open atmosphere of intraparty debate, Democrats need to remember two fundamental facts that transcend factions: we are all “populists” now in opposing and seeking to reverse Republican policies aimed at entrenching wealth and privilege in every aspect of economic policy. And we are all “centrists” now in seeking to explain to the American people that their interests and the national interest have been subordinated to an ideological and partisan-power-building agenda which is far out of the mainstream of economic thought and practice.

Closing the Black Voter Turnout Gap

As the Democrats’ most supportive electoral demographic, African Americans have voted close to 90 percent Democratic in recent elections. But the benefit to the Democrats is offset to some extent by the lower turnout rate of African Americans.
Pollster.com‘s Mark Blumenthal reported recently that data compiled by Michael McDonald indicated a non-Hispanic white voter turnout rate of 51.6 percent in 2006, compared to 41.2 percent for Black Non-Hispanic and 32.3 for Hispanic respondents.
However, all groups “over-report” their voting. And a study by Benjamin J. Deufel and Orit Kadar “Race and Turnout in U.S. Elections: Exposing Hidden Effects” found that “African Americans turned out almost 20 percent less than whites in the 1992 and 1996 Presidential elections, almost double what use of self-reported data indicates.”
Even with a 10 to 20 percent lower turnout, African American voters have provided the margin of victory for the Democrats in a number of important elections in recent years. Imagine how Dems could benefit if the gap could be halved.
It’s not hard to imagine a package of initiatives that could help reduce or eliminate the gap. More African American and Hispanic Democratic candidates is an obvious goal that could help close the gap. Certainly Democrats should launch a full-court press to eradicate “caging” and other so-called ‘ballot security’ initiatives used by the GOP to obstruct Black voters.
The Democratic Party should organize an all-out campaign against felon disenfranchisement laws, which have a devastating effect on the African American turnout in states that still deny voting rights to Black citizens who have been convicted of felonies, some even after they have served their time. The Party could also make a point of training candidates of all races to better understand the legislative and policy concerns of Black voters and ways to more effectively share their message with the Black community. Most importantly, Democrats should solicit the ideas of African American and Latino community grass roots activists and leaders for more effective street-level voter education, registration and GOTV programs to increase turnout.
There must be a Party-wide commitment that such a large gap in voter turnout between voters of different races is no longer acceptable. Such a commitment would not only help Democrats — it would strengthen our democracy.

Burned Up

Today’s Washington Post provides a little clarity in the over-reported but under-analyzed story of where the various presidential candidates stand in the money-grubbing competition. In particular, there’s a chart that summarzes second-quarter and total fundraising; second-quarter spending; cash-on-hand as of June 30; and the second-quarter “burn rate” (the ratio of spending to new money), for all D and R candidates.
The top-line story for the Post is that early spending–and thus the burn rate–is proceeding at a uniquely high pace this cycle, and particularly in the second quarter. Interestingly enough, Barack Obama, whose first-quarter 26% burn rate was the highest among Democrats, had the lowest in the second quarter–but it was 50%.
It’s also obvious that different candidates are getting highly variable bangs for their buck. The second-quarter spending champ, Mitt Romney ($20.5 million), has invested in early-state television ads that have clearly helped catapult him into the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire. John McCain spent more ($13 million) in the second quarter than any other Republican besides Romney, and more than Hillary Clinton, for that matter, and all he got for it was an imploding candidacy.
The cross-party comparisons continue to show the Democratic money edge. There’s already been a lot of talk about the (roughly) two-to-one overall Democratic fundraising advantage for the second quarter. But Democrats have nearly a three-to-one advantage ($93 million to $32 million) in cash-on-hand. John Edwards, often depicted as a fundraising under-achiever in this cycle’s environment, actually has as much money in the bank ($12 million) as Mitt Romney, even after the latter’s $9 million “loan” of personal wealth to his campaign.
Edwards’ situation raises the larger question of whether money requirements in this campaign are comparative or absolute. Edwards’ campaign consistently answers all questions about its finances by saying it needs to raise and spend $40 million before the Iowa caucuses, regardless of what others have. One of the odder features of the Post article is an assertion by lowa political bigfoot Gerald Crawford (whom the Post failed to identify as an HRC backer) that $30 million is “an absolute floor” for pre-Iowa fundraising. This probably didn’t endear him to Chris Dodd’s campaign, which is saying its total budget is $20-25 million.
As for Republicans, the two candidates hoping to earn media designation as “the dark horse to watch,” Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, have, respectively, $500,000 and $400,000 on hand going into the very expensive Iowa Republican Straw Poll in August. In terms of the insanely high financial demands of this cycle, that’s enough to buy a meal deal, but not enough to supersize it.