washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

October 18, 2017

Does Demonizing Adversaries Hurt Dems?

A writer with the handle ‘its simple IF you ignore the complexity’ has a thought-provoking post over at the Daily Kos, addressing one of the lessons of MLK’s example for conducting political discourse. ‘It’s simple..’ explains it this way in one part of the essay:

I don’t think anyone could seriously make the argument that Dr. King was a sellout…Nay, he stood strong – continuously willing to speak out and when necessary suffer for his beliefs. Expecting not exceptions, but real change in the laws and attitudes he challenged, realizing that neither would come lightly.
Yet, significantly Dr. King managed to do something that we too often overlook. He disagreed – strongly. He challenged injustice – but he did not divide.
He drew lines not to exclude others but to demand change. Recognizing change would not come instantly, he still refused to fall into the trap of hating and demeaning his adversaries.

This should not be considered a call to kumbaya for political writers. Their job is to illuminate truth, and tough analysis of personal character is fair game, provided it’s honest and well-measured.
But the way MLK derived credibilty from criticising policies, while refusing to demonize his adversaries is something campaign workers and candidates should ponder. They have a lot to lose by falling into the trap of ad hominem attacks. Name-calling and personal insults, for example, diminish the dignity of the perp more than the target. Voters want their leaders to be articulate enough to sharply criticize policies, and yet be above what Rev. Jesse Jackson called the “rat-a-tat-tat” of snarky political discourse.
There is a lovely moment in an occasionaly re-televised clip of MLK on the Mike Douglas Show back in the sixties. Douglas is interviewing MLK, and another guest chimes in, questioning one of King’s positions. King calmly, respectfully and eloquently answers the question without the barest hint of hostility. The lovely moment comes at the end of the clip as King sits there with luminous dignity, Douglas and his other guest, not only persuaded, but clearly awestruck by King’s spirit.
We can’t expect our politicians to measure up to MLK, but they have a lot to gain by emulating his way of winning hearts and minds.

How TPM, Bloggers Are Revolutionizing Political Reportage

Journalists and everyone interested in the political power of the internet have a must-read to clip over at the L.A. Times, Terry McDermott’s “Blogs Can Top the Presses.” McDermott’s article is part tribute to Josh Marshall’s cutting-edge political reporting and part meditation on the ways bloggers are transforming political journalism.
From McDermott’s profile of Marshall’s shop:

It’s 20 or so blocks up town to the heart of the media establishment, the Midtown towers that house the big newspaper, magazine and book publishers. And yet it was here in a neighborhood of bodegas and floral wholesalers that, over the last two months, one of the biggest news stories in the country — the Bush administration’s firing of a group of U.S. attorneys — was pieced together by the reporters of the blog Talking Points Memo.
The bloggers used the usual tools of good journalists everywhere — determination, insight, ingenuity — plus a powerful new force that was not available to reporters until blogging came along: the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with readers via the Internet and to deputize those readers as editorial researchers, in effect multiplying the reporting power by an order of magnitude.
In December, Josh Marshall, who owns and runs TPM , posted a short item linking to a news report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the firing of the U.S. attorney for that state. Marshall later followed up, adding that several U.S. attorneys were apparently being replaced and asked his 100,000 or so daily readers to write in if they knew anything about U.S. attorneys being fired in their areas.
For the two months that followed, Talking Points Memo and one of its sister sites, TPM Muckraker, accumulated evidence from around the country on who the axed prosecutors were, and why politics might be behind the firings. The cause was taken up among Democrats in Congress. One senior Justice Department official has resigned, and Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales is now in the media crosshairs.
This isn’t the first time Marshall and Talking Points have led coverage on national issues. In 2002, the site was the first to devote more than just passing mention to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s claim that the country would have been better off had the segregationist 1948 presidential campaign of Sen. Strom Thurmond succeeded. The subsequent furor cost Lott his leadership position.
Similarly, the TPM sites were leaders in chronicling the various scandals associated with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

And the punch line:

All of this from an enterprise whose annual budget probably wouldn’t cover the janitorial costs incurred by a metropolitan daily newspaper.

Kind of ironic that such an eloquent tribute to the power of a political blogger would appear in a newspaper, but there it is. Regretfully, nominees for Pulitzer Prizes for reporting excellence, which will be awarded in a month, must be newspaper employees under current rules. In a more just contest, Marshall and TPM would be a slam dunk for their influential reportage. It’s way past time for the Pulitzer Board to create a new category that reflects 21st century journalism.
There are more quotable insights about political blogging and related issues in McDermott’s excellent piece, but we’ve already excerpted a lot, so read the whole thing.

Gonzales Mess Part of Venerable GOP Tradition

Those looking for an article to put the purge of federal prosecutors scandal in historical perspective are directed to Paul Rogat Loeb’s post at TomPaine.com. In three well-documented nut graphs, Loeb lays it out thusly:

…the administration and its allies have a long history of using the specter of election fraud to justify reprehensible actions. In 2000, Jeb Bush claimed to be fighting potential fraud when he purged over 55,000 voters from the Florida rolls for felony convictions that under law should have had their voting rights restored—or that never had them revoked to begin with. Some simply had names similar to that of a convicted felon. Staffers of ChoicePoint, the Republican-tied data-collection firm that handled this effort, acknowledged that they disproportionately targeted low-income Democrats, particularly African Americans. A follow-up by BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast found that 90 percent of those scrubbed were legitimate voters, enough by far to have made Al Gore the winner. And the Supreme Court that handed Bush the presidency was led by William Rehnquist, who got his start harassing black and Hispanic voters in South Phoenix as part of a Republican effort called Operation Eagle Eye.
Election fraud was also the watchword in 2004. Ohio Secretary of State (and Bush campaign chair) Ken Blackwell claimed he was just protecting the legitimacy of the vote when he knocked 300,000 voters off the rolls in key Democratic cities like Cleveland, far exceeding Bush’s margin of victory. Blackwell also tried to reject new Democratic registrations because an arcane law said they were supposed to be on 80-pound paper stock (presumably more secure), then had to back off when his own official forms failed the same criterion. And he went to court to ensure that provisional ballots would be considered only if cast in the right precinct, defeating their key purpose, even as he sowed voter confusion by pulling machines and closing down polling stations in longstanding Democratic neighborhoods.
But maybe voting integrity really is the issue in the current wave of firings. In the same 2004 election, Karl Rove aide Timothy Griffin, just named the new U.S. Attorney for eastern Arkansas, originated a strategy to send 70,000 letters challenging the addresses of black and Hispanic voters in places like Florida’s Jacksonville Naval Air Station, a local homeless shelter and the historically black Edward Waters College. As Palast writes in another BBC report, Republicans sent the letters out with do-not-forward instructions. When they came back undeliverable, as when soldiers were deployed overseas, Florida then struck the voters from the rolls so even absentee ballots no longer counted…

Loeb has more to say about why the Administration’s supposed ‘concern’ about voter fraud is awash in hypocricy. His article scratches the surface of the GOP’s long and sorry history of voter suppression through “ballot security” scams, felon disenfranchisement and other initiatives to thwart pro-Democratic voters, particularly African Americans — and shows why it takes a lot of nerve for Republicans to even mention the subject of voter fraud.

Fed Prosecutors Purge Driven by Voter Suppression?

Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall reports that GOP suppression of Democratic votes may be a leading motive behind the white house/Gonzales purge of federal prosecutors:

The story emerging is that at least some of these US Attorneys were fired because they weren’t aggressive enough in investigating Democratic ‘voter fraud’. Like I said last night, I’ve been reporting on this stuff for years. And this is a horse that shouldn’t even be let out of the gate. It’s become standard operating procedure for Republican operatives to whip up charges of ‘voter fraud’. And some of them even believe it. But the claims are almost universally bogus. And the real intent in most cases is to stymie get out the vote efforts or shut down voter registration drives — mainly, though not exclusively, in minority voting precincts.

Marshall provides a gateway link to his extensive reportage on the topic here.
Perhaps the Republicans were hoping that trumped up voter fraud charges against Dems would strengthen the case for the voter identification bills being hyped by the GOP in the states. As Christopher Drew reported in Feb 21 New York Times on the findings of a recent study by the federal Election Assistance Administration:

States that imposed identification requirements on voters reduced turnout at the polls in the 2004 presidential election by about 3 percent, and by two to three times as much for minorities…

In the unlikely event that the Republicans want to open up an honest dialogue about voter fraud and suppression, Dems will have more than enough to talk about given the GOP’s long, embarrassing history. For a pretty good introduction to voter fraud issues, click here. Note also that a Yahoo search of “GOP voter suppression” and “Republican Voter Suppression” each brings up more than 1,000 hits, compared to 78 for “Democratic voter suppression.”

Does Character Trump Issues with Voters?

Ezra Klein has a riff by Neil the Ethical Werewolf on a new Associated Press/Ipsos poll which found that:

55 percent of those surveyed consider honesty, integrity and other values of character the most important qualities they look for in a presidential candidate…Just one-third look first to candidates’ stances on issues; even fewer focus foremost on leadership traits, experience or intelligence.

Is this a bad thing for Dems? Neil thinks so:

The result of this poll is a sad truth that I long ago made my peace with — voters care more about a candidate’s character than the candidate’s issue positions, and least of all about experience and other leadership qualities. Character, unfortunately, is something that voters are in a very weak position to judge. Our information about the personal qualities of candidates is subject to much more media distortion than our information about the candidates’ issue positions…getting yourself portrayed as a person of honesty and integrity is largely a matter of being able to effectively manipulate the more touchy-feely side of media coverage.

One commenter on Neil’s article, Karl Radek adds a couple of interesting insights to the character vs. issues choices made by voters:

For many such voters, it’s not so much “character” as “personality” that matters…the personality of candidates tends to be emphasized in part because the two parties are actually pretty evenly matched, and have to fight over the portion of the electorate that we call “swing” voters. People who have strong preferences on the issues tend to be already attached to one side or the other, and are a lot harder to shake loose. A considerable fraction of the “swing” vote, I suspect, is made up of the most frivolous voters, those most easily swayed by considerations of personality. The parties are clawing for the slightest edge to get to 50 percent plus one, so they emphasize the winning personal traits of their guy in order to draw in the clueless and the light-minded… The GOP has been a lot better at this for the past 25 years…The decline of party identification has a lot to do with it too…

Undoubtedly, most voters mix the two considerations in varying measures in making their choice. Yet, on one level, it is disturbing that policy is a primary concern of only a third of voters. Even for progressives, however, character is important. How many times, for example, have we seen progressive candidates dishonor campaign policy promises? (for example, candidates who urged getting tough with China on trade and then caved on the issue after being elected). But Neil’s point about media manipulation of character image is hard to deny in light of recent history.
Paul Waldman, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, believes voter choice is more about “identity,” than “character” per se, and in his TomPaine.com article, he emphasizes the importance of Dem candidates demonstrating courage:

When Democrats start demonstrating courage, voters stop thinking of them as weaklings….To use just one tough progressive as an example, no one ever called Martin Luther King, Jr. weak, and he was a pacifist. His courage was evident in his words and actions—he didn’t need to advocate war to be considered strong.
In order for a fundamental statement of belief to do its political work, it has to be stated with conviction. When you stand up for what you believe in without fear and show how you’re different from your opponents, Americans come to see you as principled and strong. That’s what conservatives have been doing for decades, and as a result they’ve achieved success after success at the ballot box despite the fact that the public has been opposed to most of the policies they want to enact. If progressives can join their popular agenda to an identity based in courage, conviction and contrast with conservatives, there are few limits to what they can accomplish.

All good points for Democratic campaigns to keep in mind on the road to an ’08 landslide.
(Note: the original version of this article incorrectly attributed the article to Ezra Klein instead of Neil the Ethical Werewolf)

Perception of Dems Depends on Iraq Message

Amid all of the congressional maneuvering on Iraq legislation, Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis takes a step back to consider the big picture. In his article “Almost There,” Scher cites four things Dems must convey to win public support:

1. They have a plan to stabilize Iraq by disengaging militarily, and re-engaging diplomatically and economically.
2. They are doing all they can to implement that plan.
3. If the plan is blocked, it’s because Dubya and his Republican backers never want to leave.
4. A new Oval Office occupant is needed to change course.

Scher sees both the House and Senate initiatives as significant steps toward making credible arguments for the above perceptions. And the perception is what’s important here because,

The public is seeing Dems unifying around an exit strategy, and GOPers not wanting to exit. And that’s what is most important. Because these bills are never becoming law. Bush will veto, or the Senate GOP minority will filibuster. (Or Bush could sign it into law, then ignore the law.)Yet either way, Dems have the ability to show they did what they constitutionally could to end the war, but Bush keep it going and therefore, is the sole problem.

A sobering assessment. And if he is right, winning Dem candidates should create a high profile as vocal, active opponents of deepening U.S. involvement in Iraq and supporters of disengagement. When ’08 rolls around the public should have a clear, strong impression that the Democrats are the party that tried to end the quagmire, while the GOP advocated open-ended, ever-deepening entanglement. So far, the GOP is cooperating nicely.
Scher sees “message coordination” as the key:

It’s not enough to unify on the bill. You have to unify on the argument. And unify in a manner that helps voters understand what the Dem foreign policy vision is, increasing the comfort level in their ability to manage world affairs.

As the big tent party, Dems will never completely unified on specifics of disengagement/withdrawall from Iraq. But there should be enough common ground developing in the months ahead to create a message that meets this challenge.

Blue Dogs Have Key Role in Forging Dem Consensus

Keeping track of the various factions in the Democratic Party’s Big Tent can be a full-time job, and sorting out their different positions on the issues can lead to brain-lock in short order. To add a little clarity, R. Neal has an informative riff, “Will That Blue Dog Hunt in the South?” at Facing South. Neal quotes Julie Hirschfield Davis’s Associated Press article on the role the Blue Dogs are playing in the latest efforts to forge a Dem consensus on Iraq:

With Democrats in charge again, the Blue Dogs have played a key role in halting an emerging plan to place strict conditions on war funding. Their revolt helped beat back that proposal, by Pelosi ally John Murtha, D-Pa. Leaders are now considering a watered-down version.

And Neal provides this explanation from the Blue Dogs website:

The Coalition was formed in the 104th Congress as a policy-oriented group to give moderate and conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives a common sense, bridge-building voice within the institution. Most agree that, since then, the Blue Dogs have successfully injected a moderate viewpoint into the Democratic Caucus, where group members now find greater receptiveness to their opinions.

Blue Dogs are not all southern, as Neal explains:

They come from all over, and as you might expect the South is well represented among their membership with Representatives from Alabama, Arkansas (2), Florida (2), Georgia (4), Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina (2), and Tennessee (3). (They’re not all from Red States, though. California and New York are represented as well.)

Wikipedia‘s entry on the Blue Dogs cautions readers not to assume that the Blue Dogs embrace the same agenda as the Democratic Leadership Council, particulalry on issues of trade, although there is considerable overlap in their membership rolls and on many policy positions:

Blue Dog Democrats tend to differ ideologically from another coalition of moderate Democrats, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). The DLC describes itself as new Democrat and positions itself as centrist while taking moderate or liberal positions on social issues and moderate positions on economic issues and trade. Democrats who identify with the Blue Dogs, on the other hand, tend to be social conservatives, but have differing positions on economic issues ranging from fiscal conservatism to economic populism…On economic issues, Blue Dogs span the spectrum from fiscal conservatives to supporters of labor unions, protectionism, and other populist measures, while the DLC tends to favor free trade.

Neal offers a balanced view of the role of the Blue Dogs in the southern states:

So are the Blue Dogs a good thing for progressive politics in the South? It’s hard to say. Some might say they more faithfully represent their constituency and that it’s the constituency — not the politicians — in need of enlightenment to overcome generations of “conventional wisdom” that keeps the South last in education and first in poverty. Others may take a more pragmatic approach and say that the moderate centrist approach is the only way a Democrat can get elected in the South.

The Wikipedia entry offers an up-to-date list identifying current Blue Dogs, which should be accompanied by the usual warnings about Wikipedia’s limitations as a source. All of the articles linked in this post are recommended for a better understanding of the role and positions of the Blue Dogs.

GOP Implodes on All Fronts

If only the ’08 election could be held tommorow. As Jo-Ann Mort notes in her TPM Cafe’s Coffee House post:

Just a quick look at the Washington Post homepage says it all — three stories, one after another: the Libby convictions, the growing scandal at Walter Reed (and VA hospitals across the country), the juicy tidbits about the political maneuvering to force out federal prosecutors across the country, and of course, the endless and tragic war in Iraq.

Not to pile on, but to this we can add record lows in Bush’s approval ratings, dozens of Vermont towns passing impeachment resolutions and Eric at Pollster.com reports that the GOP’s top Senate target Mary Landrieu is up 15 points in a head-to-head match-up with Louisiana Sec’y of State Jay Dardenne. Also, Kos reports that John Edwards has decided not to take part in the Fox News Debate, and it would be a great demonstration of Democratic solidarity if Senator Clinton and other candidates would join Edwards and Obama in this boycott. And will the last self-respecting Gay or Lesbian person leaving the GOP please turn out the lights?
Want some icing on the cake? Savor Ed Kilgore’s eloquent explanation why the GOP can kiss goodbye any hope of getting votes from Democratic centrists:

For all the talk of the “Bush-hating Left” in the Democratic Party, it’s us “centrists” who really have reason to loathe the Bush-Cheney administration and its conservative allies with a special intensity. They’ve ruined everything they’ve touched, including some previously “liberal” causes like democracy-promotion, open trade, education reform, and market-based approaches to solving public problems. They’ve made the very concept of bipartisanship suspect. And they’ve deliberately, aggressively, consciously poisoned the ground of the political center.

It’s hard to see how any of this could improve much for the Republicans, and it’s easy to see it getting a lot worse. Heady days for Donkeys, and it appears that the outlines of an ’08 landslide are taking shape.

New Book Teaches Kids Democratic Values

On the theory that it’s never too early for kids to become good Democrats, political writer Jeremy Zilber has written a nifty picture book for younger children, “Why Mommy Is A Democrat,” nicely illustrated by Yuliya Fursova. In the book, a mother squirrel explains why she is a Dem to her children in simple language. On one page she looks on from her tree house window and says “Democrats make sure we all share our toys just like Mommy does,” while the little squirrels play with blocks. On another she says ‘Democrats make sure we are always safe, just like Mommy does,” while she shields the little ones from a big, fat elephant walking by. The book is reasonably priced at $10, with further discounts for Democratic organizations and candidates (t-shirts, handbags and teddy bears available also). If your little ones still don’t get it after reading the book, just show them a picture of Ann Coulter, preferably not right before bedtime.

Study Ranks Dems on Left-Right Continuum

The National Journal‘s 2006 congressional vote ratings provide a tool for measuring the political leanings of House and Senate Dems. A panel of the magazine’s editors and reporters selected 84 Senate votes and 103 House votes in 2006 designating “yes” or “no” voters as “liberal” or “conservative.” The percentile rankings of the members help identify the most liberal and conservative members.
According to the rankings, the five most liberal Democratic senators, along with their respective percentile scores in the total Senate are: Dick Durbin (IL) 95.2; Barbara Boxer (CA) 95; Ted Kennedy (MA) 93.7; Leahy (VT) 92.5; and Tom Harkin (IA) 92. The five most conservative Democratic Senators are: Ben Nelson (NB) 45.3; Mary Landrieu (LA) 57.5; Mark Pryor (AR) 59.5; Bill Nelson FL) 62.3; Blanch Lincoln 62.3. Based on these scores, the numerical average for Dems would be a rating of 70.2, which only one U.S. Senator hit on the nose — Hillary Clinton (NY). However, this measure is somewhat distorted by Ben Nelson’s score — 8 Republicans ranked higher on the liberalism scale than did Nelson. Subtracting Nelson and Durbin as the highest and lowest-ranking, the new numerical average score for the ideological center of the Senate Dems is 76.25, and the closest Dem Senator is Diane Feinstein with a 76.5 liberalism rating. Independent Senator Lieberman (CT), who caucuses with Dems, scored a more liberal rating, 67.5, than 8 Dem Senators.
In the House, the five most liberal Dem members were: Diane Watson (CA) 97.7; George Miller (CA) 96.5; Raul Grijalva (AZ) 96.2; Hilda Solis (CA) 96.0; and tied for 5th with a 95.5 score were Sam Farr (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), Lynn Woolsey (CA) and Edward Markey (MA). Interestingly, seven of the top ten Dem House liberals were Californians. The five most conservative Dem House members were: Dan Boren (OK) 50.8; Jim Marshall (GA) 50; Gene Taylor (MS) 50; and tied at 49 were Collin Peterson (MN) and Henry Cuellar (TX). The numerical average for House Dems was 69.25, and the closest Dem House members to that score were Brian Higgins 69.2 and Norman Dicks (WA), Brian Baird (WA) and Joe Baca (CA) all with 69.3 “liberal” ratings.
The National Journal study also breaks down votes into economic, social and foreign policy votes with numerical ratings for members of congress based in each category. For a fuller picture of political leanings of congressional Dems, other organizations, including the Americans for Democratic Action, also provide ratings, which calculate evaluations based on some of the same and some different votes.