washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

May 20, 2018

Dissing the Duopoly, Part II

Last night Fred Thompson skipped the Fox News candidate debate in New Hampshire in order to finally announce his presidential run on Jay Leno’s show. And today we learn, via Garance Franke-Ruta, that word’s getting around Iowa about a blog post penned last month for The Hill last month by the deputy communications director for Fred’s campaign, suggesting that the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses were, well, basically unpatriotic.
With the subtle title “Put America First: Make Iowa Go Last,” Karen Hanratty accurately says Iowa’s political power has helped preserve federal ethanol subsidies. But she goes on to argue that money currently spent on these subsidies might better be used for infrastructure construction and repairs. Given the date of the post (August 10), it’s pretty clear Hanratty is alluding to the Minnesota bridge disaster. So her message is really this: the Iowa Caucuses Kill.
Hanratty wasn’t officially aboard the Big Fred Machine when she wrote this toxic little love note to Iowans, but you have to wonder if it came up in her job interview. Here’s guessing she won’t be chowing down on corn dogs in Des Moines any time soon.


What If They Gave a Primary and No One Showed Up?

The Democratic candidate boycott of the outlaw Michigan and Florida presidential primaries that was negotiated last week theoretically takes those states off the table. But as Robert Novak notes in a column today, the vote will still be held in MI and FL, and the results are likely to reflect the national standing of the various candidates, absent any personal campaigning.
The Dark One, quoting Bob Shrum (who is also being boycotted by the presidential candidates, and thus gets plenty of exposure as a “neutral” pudit), goes on to suggest that could help Hillary Clinton offset possible losses in IA and NH, which are still certain to move their dates back to the first week of January, in part because there is at this point no Republican boycott of MI and FL.
What Novak and Shrum seem to miss, oddly enough, is the extraordinary impact that results in the first two states typically have on the national standing of presidential candidates, most notably in 2004, when John Kerry went from single digits in national polls to an overwhelming lead after NH. If Edwards or Obama or Richardson, or some combination of the three, beats Clinton in IA and NH, then her current big lead in national polls is likely to vanish, and the perfect mirror of the national race offered by a campaign-free Michigan will reflect that. FL is also likely to reflect the cumulative state of the race after SC.
The larger issue is whether anyone will care what happens in these two pariah states. It will be an interesting test for the chattering classes: if Republicans do compete for MI and FL, it will be impossible to simply ignore them, as unauthorized “beauty contest” primaries have sometimes been ignored in the past. And it’s also likely that the Democratic candidates will find some way to run surreptitious under-the-radar campaigns in IL and FL, even as the candidates themselves stay aloof.


Greening the Dems — to Win

To follow up on yesterday’s post on the need to build some bridges of cooperation between environmentalists and labor, can we have a lusty “Amen” to the point made in the concluding couple of sentences? For many years, not a few environmentalists seemed to be saying, in essence, to workers “The bad news is that your particular job would be toast as a result of the reforms we advocate. But take heart, good fellow, the good news is that there will be net job creation.” Tough sell, that one.
Jock Young’s Kos post touched on one such highly difficult conflict — between the advocates of tougher CAFE standards and auto workers. This conflict is especially troublesome because of the central importance of America’s auto industry in our economy, and also because stricter CAFE standards can help cut our addiction to mid-east oil and thereby reduce the propensity of knuckleheaded political leaders to get bogged down in military quagmires in oil-rich countries. Not incidently, it’s also one of the key reforms needed to reduce air pollution and global warming. This conflict HAS to be resolved in a way that both protects America’s auto industry and it’s workers and drastically reduces U.S. oil consumption. The science has arrived. Now it’s time for the best thinkers in the Democratic Party to do their part to resolve the conflict, and there isn’t a hell of a lot of time.
“Energy Independence” is a great rallying cry. But somebody’s got to take the lead. One possibility is Al Gore, who deserves a lot of credit for raising the level of environmental concern in the Democratic Party, as well as in America and worldwide. It’s bitterly ironic that the Green Party’s presidential candidate prevented Gore from winning the presidency, according to one popular analysis of the 2000 election. But as grown-ups, we have to face the fact that the Green’s constituency didn’t come from nowhere, and Nader’s Florida vote wasn’t all about Nader. The Democrats’ track record on environmental concerns has not always been impressive — that’s why there is a Green Party.
But Gore’s emergence as one of America’s preeminent environmentalists, along with his savvy as a seasoned political leader who understands Labor’s agenda and just grievances, affords an opportunity to strengthen the Dems’ claim on Green votes. Gore isn’t running for President, but he can nonetheless play a pivotal role in building a bridge of solidarity between unions and workers on the one hand and environmentalists on the other — all under the banner of the Democratic Party. Give Dems a sharper profile as protectors of the environment, as well as jobs, and we will win the votes of Americans concerned about environmental degradation, including many Green Party members, Independents, swing voters — and even some Republicans.


The Political Blogosphere: An American Animal?

Anyone paying much attention to comparative politics has probably noticed that organized bloggers and their readership–i.e., the core of the “netroots”–has played a much more prominent role in U.S. politics, especially on the left side of the spectrum, than in other highly “wired” countries. There are numerous possible explanations for this example of “American exceptionalism,” including the relative weakness of institutional parties in the U.S., which creates a more decentralized political environment.
One explanation may be derived from differences in the legal regimens affecting the blogosphere. While there have been plenty of political efforts to marginalize bloggers in the U.S. (most recently by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who tried unsuccessfully to make the YearlyKos event radioactive), the one truly significant action restricting blogospheric expression has been the U.S. military’s decision to block service members’ social networking sites and blogs due to security and bandwidth concerns
This relative freedom from regulation may be the exception rather than the rule.
Allison Hayward, a Professor of Law at George Mason University, has posted an unpublished manuscript of her research on government regulation of political blogs. Hayward compares the regulatory regimes of the United States and Germany for clues as to how the legal foundations of political speech may affect the development of internet advocacy. She sees this cross-national study as essential to understanding the present and future of the internet as a political tool because of enormous growth in foreign web traffic ( almost 70% of all content is now written in a language other than English), as well as the international nature of the web as a medium that transcends geographic and political boundaries.


Building Unity Between Green Dems and Labor

As one of the more enduring conflicts within the Democratic Party, environmentalists and unions have been mired in polarizing disagreements over the employment effects of proposed environmental reforms for decades. Timber workers, auto unions and oil industry employees, to name a few, have all butted heads with greens over environmental policy reforms, and sometimes the fallout has had negative political consequences for Democrats.
Jock Young has a post on “Labor and Climate Change” over at The Daily Kos, discussing some of the sources of the conflict in the 21st century and a possible approach for healing the brach. Says Young:

As an environmentalist, I am keenly aware of the need for making Common Cause with Labor, and with the attempts by business and free-market idealogues to drive a wedge between our groups with the “jobs vs. envirnoment” trade-off myth. At no time will the need to bridge this gap be greater than in the coming debate over climate change policy.
To start with a simple example, auto workers (and the Michigan politicians they elect) are convinvced that raising fuel-economy standards will cost jobs. On the surface it seems ridiculous that building better cars that more people want to buy should require fewer jobs. But apparently the assumption is that raising CAFE standards will increase the price of cars and people will buy fewer of them, even though there seems to be little evidence for either part of that equation. Nevertheless, we can’t just wave off such concerns and claim everything will be fine. We need to work through the problem together and work out policies to mitigate any costs that do actually turn up.
…A more fundamental, economy-wide concern is that reducing carbon emissions will require reducing energy use, and this will translate directly into lower economic productivity in all sectors. This is a much more complex concern to address, and may require some careful framing along with thorough research and information sharing. We need to really sell the fact that if we “do it smart” through increased energy efficiency and the use of only the most cost-effective renewable energy sources, the long-term effect will be a streamlined economy and increased competitiveness. Renew the faith in American Ingenuity, and the fact that American Ingenuity requires American jobs.
…The more we can sit down with Labor groups and go through specific calculations showing the expected net result on job creation from these policies, the faster we can build a strong coalition. Even better if Labor is included in the coalitions writing up these policy packages in the first place.

Young rolls out some basic principles of environmental reform he feels can win Labor’s support, and quotes from Eban Goodstein’s book, The Trade-Off Myth: Fact and Fiction About Jobs and the Environment about the importance of guaranteeing job security as a prerequisite for meaningful environmental reforms. All well and good to know that environmental reforms produce net job creation. But it is critically important that workers know that their employment will be secure when reforms kick in.


Bush the Strategerist

With Congress on the cusp of a major fight over Iraq policy, in which an important data point will be whether or not any action short of a funding cutoff can convince the Bush administration to change course, there appears today in Slate an excerpt from a book by Robert Draper based on a series of recent interviews with the Decider himself. Today’s piece features an interview just after the 2006 elections.
It’s a chilling interview, frankly. We’ve all known for years that George W. Bush is unreflective, stubborn, and unwilling to admit mistakes. But what comes across in the exchange with Draper is something far more dangerous; a conviction that policy failures and repudiation by the public somehow demonstrate Bush’s Higher Wisdom:

His hot dog arrived. Bush ate rapidly, with a sort of voracious disinterest. He was a man who required comfort and routine. Food, for him, was fuel and familiarity. It was not a thing to reflect on.
“The job of the president,” he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, “is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can’t play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You’ve gotta think, think BIG.

The thought of “thinking big” led Bush directly into a discussion not of Iraq, but of Iran:

“The Iranian issue,” he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, “is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran’s a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you’ve got a dangerous situation. … That’s what I mean by strategic thought.

It certainly sounds like Bush internalized the now-forgotten (if not ridiculed) assessment of him by the Right just after the initial invasion of Iraq as some sort of World-Historical Figure whose primary responsibility is to ignore adversity and controversy and do what he thinks best in a “big” way. And while I’m a bit skeptical of the talk around the blogosphere that the administration is seriously planning military action on Iran, it does bear noting that such an audacious move would comport well with the self-image he conveys in this interview.


Empowering Campaign Supporters to Make Ads

The primary season opens in earnest with a fun challenge from NDNblog‘s Peter Leyden. How many times have you watched a political ad and scoffed “I could do better than that?” Well, it’s time to put up or shut up.
Leyden reveals a nifty idea being applied by the Romney campaign — empowering supporters to create their own ads. The Republicans in general may be behind in using internet resources, but Leyden gives due credit to the Romney campaign for “Enabling the Creativity of the Crowds in Politics.” As Leyden describes it:

The campaign is using Jumpcut, which Yahoo bought last year, as the tool for “mashing up” video, audio and photos in creative ways. The campaign provides a base of content to use, but they also encourage people to upload their own material to remix…Mash-ups” refer to repurposing material meant for one thing to communicate another. It’s similar to the more familiar “remixing” of music from original songs into new creations. The mash-up technique has been used somewhat in politics, though not in official campaigns. The most famous example is the “Vote Different” remake of the Apple 1984 done by a person who remained anonymous for several weeks earlier this year. Moveon blazed a trail in the 2004 campaign by creating a contest to create a TV ad about “Bush in 30 Seconds.” However, all the submissions were original and there was no material provided to create the ads via a mash-up.

The downside is that there is a certain potential for abuse. But the bet is that most users will use the technology in a positive way. (To see how it works, click here.) On balance, says Leyden:

Despite the risks, Romney is going down the right path. The most successful candidates will be those who can harness the energy and creativity of large numbers of American citizens. No one candidate or small team of consultants can pull off an election victory these days. They need the ideas, passions and efforts of many, many people working together for a long, long time.

A worthy challenge for Democrats with creative ideas for ads.


Edwards’ Labor Day Double Dip

Labor Day was an especially productive day for John Edwards, who won endorsements from both the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers at an event in Pittsburgh. Add in his earlier endorsement from the Carpenters and Joiners, and Edwards is clearly in the lead for union backing (he’s reportedly the frontrunner for endorsements from three large Change to Win unions as well–SEIU, UNITE-HERE and the Teamsters, though all have the option of staying neutral until the early primaries). Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by the Machinists (and may have the inside track with AFSCME), and Chris Dodd by the Firefighters.


Iraq Overshadows Labor’s Agenda

Labor Day ’07 finds America’s union movement in a paradoxical situation with respect to its political influence. First, the bad news. Union representation has been declining significantly, as E. J. Dionne points out in his Labor Day column at WaPo.

Labor’s political gains have occurred in the face of a steady decline in its private-sector role. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of the American work force was unionized in 1973 and unionization rates were roughly equal in the public and private sectors. The latest figures, for 2006, show a decline in unionization to 12 percent of the workforce and a radical shift in labor’s composition: Now only 7 percent of private-sector workers belong to unions, compared with 36 percent in the public sector.

But numbers can be deceptive, as Dionne concludes:

The shift in labor’s base and the overall drop in membership may be central to both the growing political sophistication and influence of the unions. The public-sector unions, with an obvious interest in the outcome of elections, have developed highly effective political operations. This is true of the teachers and nurses, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the police and firefighters, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
…Thus the paradox on Labor Day 2007: At a moment of organizational weakness, labor’s political influence and ideological appeal may be as strong as at any time since the New Deal. Every Democrat running for president seems to know this.

In terms of issues, health care reform now tops Labor’s agenda. In his Labor Day message, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, launched a campaign for universal, comprehensive health care. Sweeney points out that one fourth of voters in ’06 were union members, and says:

it’s painful this Labor Day to look around and see America isn’t working the way it should… One of the greatest economic burdens working families face today is the insane, out-of-control cost of health care. One in four Americans say their family has had a problem paying for medical care during the past year. The cost of health care — rising far faster than workers’ wages or inflation — is a major factor in housing problems and bankruptcies. In fact, every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.
Meanwhile, insurance and drug companies are making stunning profits, health insurance CEOs averaged $8.7 million in 2006 compensation and pharmaceutical company CEOs pulled down an average of $4.4 million.
The rest of us aren’t faring so well. The annual premium cost for a family health plan has close to doubled since 2000, from $6,351 to an astonishing $11,480…As costs grow higher, fewer employers are providing health coverage for employees–and fewer workers are able to afford their share of the costs or to buy policies on their own. The outrageous price tags on insurance policies are driving increases in the number of people without coverage. The federal government just let us know that another 2.2 million people — including 600,000 more children — lost health insurance last year, meaning 47 million of us now cannot afford to get sick.
In the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, that is just not acceptable. In America, no one should go without health care.

See also the AFL-CIO’s guide to where each of the presidential candidates of both parties stand on six key “working family issues”: the Employee Free Choice Act; Good Jobs; Health Care; Trade and Manufacturing; Retirement Security; and Education.
Union endorsements of presidential candidates are somewhat spread out thus far. Dodd has been endorsed by the Firefighters union. Clinton has the nod from the Machinists and the United Transportation Union. Edwards, who may get the lion’s share of endorsements in the months ahead, has been endorsed by the Carpenters Union. Change to Win Chair Anna Burger, quoted in Dionne’s column, says the labor movement sees a field of Democratic candidates who believe that “unions are the solution, not the problem
In an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales on Democracy Now, Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union and author of “A Country That Works: Getting America Back On Track,” also expressed his concern about Democratic leaders’ need for unity on health care reform:

…the employer-based healthcare system served us well, but it’s a relic of the industrial era. We need a new universal 21st century healthcare system, because in the end, our employers just can’t compete in a global economy when they are putting the price of healthcare on the cost of their products and their competitors aren’t. It’s just not good economics. And at the same time, we have the greatest healthcare system in the world, and now 46 million people don’t have access to it.
…I’m so encouraged that we may see a change in Washington, but yet I’m so concerned that Democrats don’t understand. Most people get up every day, and they don’t think about whether they are in a red state or a blue state. They think about how they’re going to get their kids to work, how they’re going to be able to take care of their aging mother, and how are they going to pay their healthcare bills. Half of the bankruptcies in the United States are due to unpaid healthcare bills. CAP and SEIU just released a report about how middle-income people can’t afford one medical emergency. How can Democrats say we don’t need a new universal healthcare system? I mean, it is so basic and so important to America’s competitiveness. If the Democrats want to be the leaders in the House and the leaders in the Senate, which I hope they soon will be, then they need to lead, as well.

Stern, who lead a group of unions into a new labor coalition, Change to Win in 2005, says “We are at a crucial moment, a moment that makes us ask what kind of country we want to be.” He advocates “new models of organizing” and had this to say about the importance of a stronger union movement in his HuffPo post for Labor Day:

This Labor Day, a greater percentage of the economy is going to profits than to wages, and a majority of parents believe their children will be worse off economically. Tens of millions of people in the U.S. are working harder than ever before, but they’re still falling behind….The answer to that question must include more workers uniting in unions — the labor movement. Unions have always been the best anti-poverty, best pro-health care, best pro-family program around. Unions have done more to help working people experience economic success than any other program.

But the war in Iraq remains a potent obstacle to winning social reforms in all of these areas. Both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win web pages have little to say about the Iraq quagmire, an ignored ‘elephant in the room.’ Yet it makes no sense to avoid the issue, when Iraq-related expenditures now consume 10 percent of the federal budget, according to Robert Sunshine, assistant director for budget analysis of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
As the traditional end of Summer, Labor Day marks the moment when greater numbers of Americans begin to pay more attention to the upcomming primary races. In the months ahead, American voters will increasingly turn their attention to the positions of candidates on the key issues noted by Sweeney and Stern. But voters also understand that progress on the social and economic agendas of both labor and the Democratic Party is being held hostage to the Iraq War. Ending it should be the central priority of both unions and the Democrats.


A Seasoned Voice

We’re pleased to introduce another addition to our TDS blogging stable, J.P. Green. He’s written on political issues and social change for newspapers, magazines, television and websites. He has also worked as a speechwriter, lobbyist and activist/organizer in labor, civil rights and other progressive organizations since the 1970’s.
This seasoned voice is the perfect one to offer some ruminations on the current role of the labor movement in progressive politics. His post will be up momentarily.