I’m about to do a series of posts about the YearlyKos conference in Chicago this weekend (having chosen against weekend blogging, which hardly anyone was going to read).
It was quite an event, aside from the presidential forum on Saturday. The most frequent comment I heard, uttered by confirmed Kossacks and more mainstream types alike, was that the conference reflected the maturing of the netroots from an anguished collection of self-conscious outsiders into an accepted constituency group (overlapping with many others) of the Democratic Party. The focus was less on intra-party disputes than on the question of how to win in 2008. And the atmosphere was more ecumenical and less left-triumphalist than I expected. These are all relative terms, and I’m not suggesting all or even most of the participants have lost their edge, for good or for ill. But the whole thing felt like a normal and healthy Democratic gathering–with about 800 laptops. (I’ll mention a few stranger moments as I go along).
As indicated in my Friday post, the first thing I attended in Chicago was a panel on public opinion. If you read the previous staff post about Democracy Corps’ latest strategy memo, you’ll get a sense of what Stan Greenberg had to say: the basic dynamics of public opinion going into 2008 are actually better than those Democrats enjoyed two years ago. Indeed, said Greenberg, the deterioration of Bush’s approval ratings and the intensification of “wrong track” sentiment has accelerated more since 2006 than it did between 2004 and 2006. All seven of the targeted Republican Senators up in 2008 have terrible “re-elect” numbers. And given the very strong position of the “Class of 2006” of House Democrats, and the persistent vulnerability of many Republicans, additional House gains look plausible as well.
On the same panel, Mark Blumenthal, a.k.a., the Mystery Pollster, focused on the Democratic presidential nominating contest, and stressed the exceptional volatility of public opinion in the pre-primary period, with John Kerry’s astonishing rise in 2004 being just one of many historical examples. One particularly interesting nugget he offered was the hypothesis that Iowa and New Hampshire’s impact represents an inchoate feeling that voters there have paid greater attention to the candidates than those in “later” states, and essentially serve a vetting process for the rest of the country.
In the Q&A after this panel, one audience member asked about the disconnect between Hillary Clinton’s popularity among rank and file Democrats, and her lack of support in the blogosphere. Chris Bowers jumped on the question with encyclopedic thoroughness, going through the demographic characteristics of progressive bloggers (disproportionately white, male, upper-income, self-identified liberal, and secular) and concluding: “If the Democratic electorate looked like the blogosphere, Hillary Clinton would be in big trouble.”
A new DCorps strategy memo by James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Ana Iparrraguirre, “2008 House Battle Moves Into Republican Territory,” discusses DCorps second battleground survey of the 70 most competitive congressional districts. The authors see class of ’06 Dems holding solid leads and Republican House members lagging by an average of 5 percent — for a net Democratic gain of 20 seats as a realistic goal. “There really could be another wave election,” say the authors.
As for the Senate. MyDD’s Todd Beeton has an interesting post, “How Realistic Is A 60 Seat Majority?” Beeton reports that MoveOn’s Washington Director Tom Mattzie sees a path to a 60-seat fillibuster-proof majority. Want a little icing on the cake? David Brooks, never unduly optimistic about Democratic prospects, said on the Chris Matthews show that the GOP is in such bad shape that Dems could run congress for a decade.
I’m in Chicago for the next three days, at the YearlyKos gathering of bloggers and other netroots folk. It’s quite an assemblage, with a massive, complex schedule of workshops, panels and roundtables, requiring a color-coded schedule that requires several moments to figure out. The big national news will be the appearance of presidential candidates at a forum tomorrow. But most of the candidates are also holding smaller, break-out sessions. When I registered, Obama’s and Edwards’ had already closed out.
I’ve just entered a panel discussion called Public Opinion Matters, featuring TDS Co-Editor Stan Greenberg, independent pollster Joel Wright, OpenLeft’s Chris Bowers, MoveOn.org’s Tom Mattzie, and Pollster.com’s Mark Blumenthal (a.k.a. The Mystery Pollster). It was (or at least seemed like) a mile walk up various escalators at McCormick Place to the appropriate meeting room, but there is a great view of Lake Michigan for those who tire of poll numbers.
I’ll file a report a bit later.
Rudy Giuliani’s loud if not very specific comments on health care policy yesterday pretty clearly signify an ever-greater polarization of the two parties on this subject, and perhaps a hightening of the issue’s importance in the 2008 presidential campaign. Giuliani’s hard-right position on health care also reinforces my earlier argument that Democrats need to make up their minds where to draw the lines between Ds and Rs on health care.
Over at The New Republic, Jonathan Cohn skillfully dissects RudyCare, and demolishes it as a serious effort towards universal health care. It’s really just a restatement of George W. Bush’s thoroughly discredited “thinking” on the subject, accompanied by massive demagoguery aimed at tapping conservative hatred of Michael Moore and of “Old Europe.”
The Progressive Policy Institute’s Dave Kendall has a piece up at the DLC’s Ideas Primary site going a bit further, stressing the Giuliani-Bush approach’s atavistic, Social Darwinist demands for individual health care purchasing.
So why is the supposed “centrist” Rudy Giuliani embracing this position, which he would undoubtedly have mocked as mayor of New York? Aside from the obvious fact that he wants to burnish his credentials for economic conservatism in order to obscure his less-than-conservative credentials on cultural issues, Rudy may be preparing a major Assault From the Right on Mitt Romney over the health care plan the Mittster signed in Massachussets, which heavily depends on “socialist” collective purchasing schemes. This could get tricky for Giuliani, complicating his efforts to get an endorsement from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed a health care plan similar to Romney’s. More generally, it would create the interesting spectacle of the two leading GOP “moderates” battling to outflank each other on the Right on different sets of issues.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d repeat that the GOP’s lurch to the Radical Right on health care forces Democrats to make a fundamental choice: Do we accept the universal/non-universal or government/private distinctions GOPers are seeking to make between their health care plans and ours? Or do we focus on exposing the GOP’s fundamental hostility to even the status quo’s efforts to encourage pooled purchasing and community rating?
The answer may depend on whether Mitt Romney or someone else is the Republican nominee, but it’s not too early to begin thinking about it now.
Good News for Democrats, as well as America’s kids. The U.S. House of Reps. has passed legislation providing health care coverage for 4+ million uninsured children in low-income families. The legislation which passed by a vote of 225-204 (10 Dems opposed, 5 Republicans supporting), also prevents cuts in Medicare payments to physicians and is partly financed by a 45 cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax (NYT coverage here).
Of course President Bush has threatened a veto, should similar legislation pass the Senate, which will provide a clear demonstration of which party gets it that health security — especially for all American children — is a cornerstone of true national security. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-MD) said it well: “If America is the greatest country in the world, then all of our children should have health insurance.”
Despite Bush’s threatened veto, the principles undergirding the legislation enjoy the support of the American people, explains Ruy Teixeira, in his recent post on the topic at The Century Foundation‘s web pages:
The public, on the other hand, seems very supportive of expanding health coverage for children and even thinks that we should make such coverage universal. A June Democracy Corps poll last month found that almost half the public—47 percent—chose “expand health coverage to every child in the U.S. through the existing State Children’s Health Insurance Program” as one of the top two priorities that Congress should focus on in the coming year. They chose this more than they chose any other option, including immigration reform (36 percent), promoting alternative energy and energy conservation (29 percent), reforming the alternative minimum tax (29 percent), reforming lobbying (15 percent), and putting labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (15 percent).
One objection that has been made to the proposed bills is that increased cigarette taxes would provide some of the funding for the program expansion. Would that faze the public? Not according to a May 2007 CNN poll. Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of the public surveyed said they would favor “a national health insurance program for all children under the age of 18, even if this would require higher taxes,” compared to just 25 percent who dissented.
Back in January, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, joined by a group of children of House members, called the House to order, “in the name of America’s children.” Predictably, the GOP accused her of grandstanding. Apparently she meant business.
The appearances by Democratic presidential candidates at the YearlyKos conference (which begins tomorrow) will undoubtedly intensify the “Dems rush to the left” story-line beloved of MSM pundits and conservative bloggers.
At this point, It’s worth following Kevin Drum’s example by asking if the presidentials really reflect, on a substantive level, an abandonment of Clintonian “centrism.” Here’s Kevin’s take:
if YearlyKos were genuinely more substantively powerful than the DLC, you’d see the big three candidates taking public positions considerably to the left of the party’s positions ten years ago. If that’s the case, though, I’ve missed it. No one’s talking about rolling back welfare reform. No one’s proposed a healthcare initiative even half as comprehensive as the 1994 Clinton plan. All three candidates continue to claim they’re personally opposed to gay marriage. Their rhetoric on guns and abortion is much more muted than in the past. They mostly agree that some of the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire, but not much more. They want to get out of Iraq, but that’s a thoroughly mainstream position, and none of them are willing to commit to a complete withdrawal in any case.
I’d add a few flourishes here. A year and a half ago, when the editors of The New Republic followed Al Gore in endorsing a single-payer health care system, I’d have bet serious money that at least one if not more of the major Democratic candidates for president in 2008 would support the same idea. But they didn’t.
The same trend, or lack thereof, is visible on an issue that matched welfare reform in signifying the “centrist” credentials of Democrats in the Clinton years: fiscal discipline. Despite quibbles over exactly how high this candidate or that ranks deficit reduction in his or her hierarchy of priorities, the fact remains that most Democrats are more committed to fiscal discipline–and can prove it–than most Republicans. That would not be true in a party “rushing to the left.”
More immediately, where are the candidates on the intra-party disputes that are most animating the progressive blogosphere at present? One is definitely the “residual troop commitment” issue with respect to Iraq; yet the two leading Democratic candidates persist in supporting residuals, despite netroots arguments that this represent a desire to continue the war indefinitely. And another is impeachment. If any of the major Democratic candidates is going to go to Chicago for YearlyKos and thrill the audience with support for impeachment, it’s a closely held secret.
Kevin doesn’t mention trade policy or education policy, where the case for an abandonment of Clintonism is strongest. But both issues are hard to pigeon-hole ideologically; globaphobia comes from the Right and Center as much as from the Left, and the same is true of deep hostility to No Child Left Behind.
The whole effort to use the DLC and YearlyKos conferences, and who attends one or the other, to show a vast ideological shift in the Democratic Party is misbegotten on several levels. The “Left” nature of the Kos-centered netroots has been grossly exaggerated; and the DLC’s reputation for willingness to support Bush policies has never been well-earned. We’re in a political context right now where Bush’s extremism has simultaneously made virtually all Democrats much more partisan and combative, while opening up the political “‘center” in ways that tend to unite rather than divide progressives on most policy issues. Let’s don’t get too distracted by the “rush to the left” argument.
One of the most contentious issues dividing political observers at present is how to interpret the partisan implications of the public’s exceptionally sour mood, which extends to the Democratic-controlled Congress as well as the Bush administration.
The reigning theme among Beltway pundits is that Americans are sick of gridlock and partisanship in Washington, and blame both parties equally. There’s a variant of this theme that’s popular in some precincts on the Left: that the Democratic Congress’s support is collapsing because it has been insufficiently confrontational towards Bush, particularly on Iraq; according to this analysis, cutting off funds for the war, or perhaps even moving towards impeachment of Bush and Cheney, is the only way to save Democrats from complicity with a hated status quo.
The other side of the argument has been carefully presented in the latest Democracy Corps strategy memo by Stan Greenberg, James Carville, and Anna Iparraguirre. Relying on polling on both congressional and presidential preferences, including its ongoing “battleground district” research, the DCorps trio concludes that the partisan conflict in Washington is not eroding, and may actually be enhancing, a strong Democratic advantage going into 2008.
Here’s their key conclusion:
Right now, Republicans own everything, including the gridlock, the direction of the
country and Iraq. There is no other way to understand the rock solid stability of the Democrats’
current leads. We went to the bottom line and asked this question, ‘The gridlock in Washington
leads me to want to see’ — ‘more Democrats elected to the Congress’ or ‘more Republicans
elected to the Congress.’ We asked the same question but in the context of the vote for President.
In both cases, the margin for the Democrats is at least equal to the current advantage in the vote.
Rather than pulling down the margin, the current battle is confirming the desire for change in
who leads in Washington.
Unsurprisingly, DCorps suggests that individual Democratic members of Congress–and a fortiori Democratic challengers of Republican incumbents–should not identify themselves too closely with Congress as an institution, since there’s not much evidence at present that they are being held accountable for the alleged shortcomings of the congressional leadership. Indeed, it’s interesting that the class of ’06 of Democratic House members elected from previously Republican districts (as measured by “named” polling) seems, according to DCorps’ findings, to be in significantly better shape than the Democratic presidential field (as measured by generic preferences). If that’s right, then it reinforces the argument that the most important challenge facing Democrats in ’08 is to ensure the presidential contest remains a referendum on the Bush administration as a reflection of what the GOP stands for, past, present and future.
Doug Usher, sr, v.p.and director of research and polling at D.C.-based Widmeyer Communications, has a keeper for Dems interested in forging a consensus for health care reform. Usher’s article in The Politico, Are voters ready for health care reform?, explores the the latest opinion data on health care reform and finds it complex and and somewhat paradoxical:
On its face, revamping our health care system should be a political winner. Voters see two fundamental problems with health care. First, it costs too much: 74 percent in a recent Democracy Corps poll say they are dissatisfied with the cost of health care, a number matched in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from 2006 (80 percent). Second, 70 percent of voters believe the number of uninsured people is a very serious problem, according to a recent New York Times poll.
A strong majority believes health care is a top domestic priority — 55 percent, according to the Times poll — and 64 percent believe the federal government should guarantee health care for all Americans.
All of this appears to create an environment for sweeping reform; indeed, 90 percent of Americans say the health care system as a whole needs change — 54 percent say “fundamental change” is necessary, and 36 percent say the system should be “completely (rebuilt).” Just 8 percent believe the system needs “minor changes.”
Sounds like a mandate for far-reaching reforms. But not so fast, argues Usher:
But the picture changes dramatically when questions shift from the systemic to the personal. Despite concern about the broader health system, Americans are generally satisfied with the care they currently receive. In the Times poll, 77 percent of Americans are satisfied with the quality of their care; 82 percent say the same in the Democracy Corps poll, compared with 89 percent in the Kaiser poll. Indeed, the Kaiser poll finds high satisfaction across a broad range of health care dimensions: communication with the doctor (87 percent), availability of emergency care (83 percent), availability of appointments (82 percent), specialists (79 percent), getting the latest treatments (78 percent) and getting treatment without waiting (73 percent).
Usher notes further:
The 64 percent majority in the Times poll that believes the government should guarantee health insurance for all shrinks to 48 percent when asked their support if a universal program were to raise their own health insurance cost. The 60 percent in the same poll who say that they would be willing to pay higher taxes to insure everybody shrinks to 49 percent when a $500 price tag is attached to it.
If health care reform advocates fail to adequately take such satisfaction levels of currently insured voters into account, Usher believes it could backfire on election day. He concedes that “the hypotheticals posed by these questions may be misleading.” An important point. Indeed, most advocates of both fundamental and incremental health care reforms argue, often convincingly, that their reform plans would actually save taxpayers money, compared to the plans that most insured Americans have. Certainly, no political candidate is saying “My plan will only take an extra $500 per year out of your pocket.”
Usher sees hope in the reform plans being pioneered at the state level, and notes that Canada’s much-praised health care system emanated from the provincial, not federal, level of government. No doubt there is much more the states could do, such as the reforms being explored by Massachusetts and California. But most Americans would surely agree that a nation as prosperous as the U.S. can find a way to provide a health care plan that covers every illness and every person.