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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

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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

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The Daily Strategist

November 19, 2017

Reagan Myth to Cast ’08 Shadow

Tom Bevan has a post, “Reagan’s Shadow” at The Real Clear Politics Blog, predicting that the current crop of GOP presidential candidates will “work to invoke his name and associate themselves with his legacy” in the months ahead, beginning with the first GOP presidential debates at the — you guessed it — Reagan Presidential Library on May 3rd. The idea being that the public needs to be reminded that Republicans once ruled without serial blundering, scandals and foreign policy disasters of epic proportions on an almost daily basis. Reagan nostalgia is likely to become even more of a cottage industry with conservatives and lapdog media as we approach November ’08. Some polling outfits have apparently bought into the meme, as Bevan notes:

The polling firm Strategic Vision recently began asking Republicans in six states whether they believe George W. Bush is “a conservative in the mode of Ronald Reagan.” The results were surprisingly consistent and overwhelmingly negative: 62% of Republicans in Florida answered “no.” The numbers were even worse in the five other states: 68% in Wisconsin, 69% in Pennsylvania, 71% in Michigan, 77% in Iowa and 78% in Georgia.

Even asking such a question suggests that Reagan mythology is still thriving. Reagan, not Lincoln, is clearly the GOP’s internal standard for measuring their candidates, and no doubt, the GOP’s ’08 field will strive to appear more “Reaganesque” as the campaign wears on, just as some Democrats tried to emulate JFK’s persona over the years with less than impressive results. With a few exceptions, the MSM gave the Reagan “legacy” a free pass in the wake of his death, thereby allowing the Reagan myth to grow in stature. By the time summer ’08 rolls around, it will be “Bush who?,” and Reagan’s name and image will be invoked ad nauseum at the GOP convention and during the fall campaign as the GOP’s preeminent symbol. The Democratic attitude should be “Bring it on.”
Democrats, including party leaders and the progressive blogosphere should be ready to demolish the Reagan mythology. Fortunately, this will not be hard, and there are plenty of resources. Probably no source has been more vigilant than The Nation. Start with The Nation’s editorial “The Reagan Legacy,” a succinct wrap-up of the damage done by the Gipper. Proceed to Alexander Cockburn’s blistering essay “Reagan in Truth and Fiction.”
An interesting handful of articles about the most treasured myth of Reagan-worshippers, that he single-handedly won the cold war, can be accessed at this link. For a good overview of the damage done by “Reaganomics,” check out Steve Kangas’ “The Reagan Years:A Statistical Overview of the 1980s.” Walter Field’s “No Tears for Reagan” at BlackAmericaToday.com explains how Reagan obstructed Civil Rights gains.
The GOP will almost certainly wield the Reagan Myth with increasing frequency during the campaign ahead, if only because they have nothing else to project in a positive light. Democrats are not running against Reagan, but some well-crafted sound bites about Reagan’s real record whenever his name is exalted will help show voters which candidates — and which party — tell it straight.


Solid Content, Little Drama in First Debate

First, raspberries to NBC for broadcasting the first Dem presidential primary debate only to those who have the expensive cable TV package or cable modems/DSL hook-ups that actually perform well. This was the opening of a political campaign that has generated wide, intense interest, according to polls, and the public deserved better. So there.
Brian Williams did a good job of asking tough questions and the Dem field performed well as a whole. There are no national post-debate polls out yet, but viewers of the debate are undoubtedly clear on which party’s candidates are committed to getting us out of Iraq as quickly as possible.
The consensus in the blogs and rags seems to be that no candidate leap-frogged over the others and none destroyed their chances. There were no campaign-nuking one-liners like “Where’s the beef?”, or gaffes like Gerald Ford calling Poland a free country.
But there were some impressive sound-bites. Hard to imagine a better answer, for example, than Joe Biden’s when asked what was his worst failure. Without missing a beat, he replied “overestimating the competence of this administration and underestimating the arrogance.” The other candidates should take note. This is a good example of the kind of eloquent brevity that scores in such formats.
It ought to go without saying, but just in case anyone missed it, candidates, please do not under any circumstances compare yourself to “a potted plant.” The creds you gain as a humorist probably won’t last as long in voter memories as the image associated with your name.
For a sense of how the debate is being perceived by Democratic blog-readers, check out MyDD‘s post-debate comment string on the topic. Reports by WaPo and the Grey Lady are available here and here. South Carolina’s leading rag, The State has a decent wrap-up by Aaron Gould Sheinin. OK, to be fair to MSNBC.com, they do have a pretty good debate wrap-up package here, which includes jazzy candidate response thumbnails you can vote on.


Dems Prep for Orangeburg Rumble

You have to surf around to get a good overview of tonight’s ((7:00 p.m. est) debate between presidential candidates in Orangeburg, S.C. We’ll get you started. First, the format, from MSNBC’s ‘First Read’ reporter Mark Murray:

The State has experts saying that tonight’s debate format will make it difficult for anyone outside the top-tier of candidates to break through. “There will be eight candidates on the stage at 7 p.m. facing 90 minutes of questions from NBC News anchor Brian Williams. There are no opening and closing statements. At most, there will be time for about 12 questions, if each candidate is given one minute to respond to each question.”

Sounds like maybe Brian Williams will be the real winner. The upside of the format from a fairness standpoint is that second tier candidates will get equal time, with no commercials. “Special software designed by the network will keep track of how long each candidate gets on the air to ensure equal time,” explains Nedra Pickler in her Associated Press preview.
WaPo’s Chris Cilliza has quickie what-to-look for riffs for each candidate in The Fix. A sample:

The Connecticut senator is our dark horse in tonight’s debate. He’s a fiery speaker who knows that he’s got to peel off supporters from Clinton, Obama and Edwards in order to move his numbers. That’s a combustible combination that could make Dodd the story of the night. Dodd’s strongest weapon? His status as the only Democratic presidential candidate to cosponsor legislation offered by Sens. Russ Feingold (Wisc.) and Harry Reid (Nev.) that would remove funding for the war in Iraq next March. Dodd is also likely to push the frontrunners on specifics as he has touted himself as the candidate of ideas — most notably on energy policy.

Sam Youngman speculates that hot-button issues, like gun control and abortion will set the tone of the debates in his The Hill post “Dems walk tightrope in S.C. on guns.” Youngman sees Dems facing a tough dilemma:

The White House hopefuls will have to address both issues in front of what are essentially two distinct audiences: a national base that leans left on the issues, and a live audience in the crucial state of South Carolina, where Democrats tend to be more socially conservative.

While any candidate would welcome an early victory (Ja. 29) in the South Carolina primary, the debate is nationally-broadcast (MSNBC), and candidates will surely be playing more to the cameras. Interest in the ’08 campaign is substantially higher than usual, according to Pew Research. As the first nationally-broadcast debate, ratings should be high.


How Dem Candidates Should Support Gun Control

DLC President Bruce Reed takes on the conventional wisdom that gun control is a ‘third rail’ for Democrats in his Slate article “It Takes a Bubba: Tougher gun laws are better politics than you think.” He argues that the key to successful advocacy of gun control is linking it to crime control, noting in two nut graphs,

The political case for not running for cover on guns is equally straightforward. Unlike most politicians, voters are not ideological about crime. They don’t care what it takes, they just want it to go down. The Brady Bill and the clip ban passed because the most influential gun owners in America—police officers and sheriffs—were tired of being outgunned by drug lords, madmen, and thugs.
When Democrats ignore the gun issue, they think about the political bullet they’re dodging but not about the opportunity they’ll miss. In the 1980s, Republicans talked tough on crime and ran ads about Willie Horton but sat on their hands while the crime rate went up. When Bill Clinton promised to try everything to fight crime—with more police officers on the street, and fewer guns—police organizations dropped their support for the GOP and stood behind him instead.

Reed also thinks Dem strategists have misinterpreted the effect of support for gun control in the 2000 general election:

The current political calculus is that guns cost Gore the 2000 election by denying him West Virginia and his home state of Tennessee. This argument might be more convincing if Gore hadn’t essentially carried the gun-mad state of Florida. In some states, the gun issue made it more difficult for Gore to bridge the cultural divide but hardly caused it. Four years ago, Gore and Clinton carried those same states with the same position on guns and the memory of the assault-weapons ban much fresher in voters’ minds.

There’s more to discuss about Reed’s article, and his argument ought to generate some buzz in Democratic circles. After all, lives are very much at stake here, and Democratic inaction in response to the Virginia Tech massacre would compound the tragedy and reflect poorly on our leadership.


Frontloaded Primaries Provide Advantages

Chris Bowers has a pair of posts at MyDD in support of frontloaded primaries, and provides a couple of compelling arguments in his first post. Regarding frontloading’s longer focus on candidates:

If anything, frontloading and the long campaign are actually good things for our democracy…Giving the public more information on the candidates vying to hold our most important elected office, and more information on those candidates, are also good things for any democracy…

Concerning the financial advantages of frontloading, and who gets them:

…Inexpensive, early states are still just as available to every underfunded, longshot candidates as they ever were. If you have a full year and several million dollars, your inability to break through to 35% of the small caucus and primary electorates in Iowa, where only 50,000 caucus goers would be enough to win, or New Hampshire, where 100,000 primary voters would be enough to win, is not the fault of a corrupted political system. In 2004, even Dennis Kucinich raised $13,000,000, which would be enough to spend over $85 on each of the voters needed to win both states. Don’t come cryin’ to mama about frontloading, a long campaign, or too much money in the process if you can’t win in Iowa or New Hampshire.

In his second post, Bowers provides data from a recent Pew poll showing that voters are already paying a high level of attention to the presidential campaign, thus the argument that there isn’t enough time for voters to make thoughtful choices is bogus. Bowers notes further:

This increased public interest in the campaign is matched by the rapidly increasing amount of campaign donors and the number of people attending campaign rallies, both of which are easily on record pace compared to other recent elections.

Bowers predicts:

…significantly higher levels of voter turnout than previous primary/caucus seasons. This also means voters will spend more time, not less, making a decision on who to support. And yes, because of the frontloading, far more people will potentially have a say in who is nominated. Increased turnout, more informed voters, a greatly expanded electorate and increased grassroots activism — this is why it is a good thing the campaign is receiving so much attention early in the season.

Democratic bloggers and opinion leaders seem to be evenly divided pro and con about frontloading, and it would be interesting to see a poll of rank and file Democrats on the topic. Meanwhile, it’s a done deal, and candidates have to factor it into their ’08 strategy. The turnout in primaries will be a fair measure for evaluating frontloading, and a Democratic victory in November ’08 will make it a permanent part of presidential campaigns.


Second-Tier Candidates Redux

With respect to yesterday’s post, we missed a good link, actually two good links. We refer you to Edward B. Colby’s “Stop the Winnowing Already!” in the Columbia Journalism Review‘s CJR Daily which has this to say about the MSM’s weak coverage of second-tier candidates:

It is way too early for…narrowing the field. In fact, as Time’s Karen Tumulty wrote in a recent blog post, “the media seem to be getting ahead of the voters” already: “What’s the hurry, ten months before the first caucus, to winnow the field to a few candidates deemed viable — say, three at most from each party?” While Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Richardson “are getting all but ignored by the national media,” Tumulty wrote, celebrity has defined the leading candidates in the press narrative, while “actual issues” have of course been shortchanged.
2008 is supposed to be the most “wide open” presidential race Americans have seen in eighty years. This election is of crucial importance — the winner will have to deal with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, massive environmental issues, a staggering deficit, etc. But the country will only get the kind of national debate it desperately needs if the political press resists the time-honored temptation to put the horserace above all else. Cast the media spotlight to the wider field of candidates and let them duke it out for a while. That just might give journalists on the campaign trail better stories, too.

Readers are encouraged to take up the cause and email the editors of the top rags, mags and tube news programs, urging them to report more on the whole field.


Media-Dissed Second-Tier Candidates Deserve a Look

With their perspective based on early polls of questionable relevance, the MSM does a lousy job of giving the “second-tier” presidential candidates fair coverage, and niether voters or the democratic process are well-served. As a result most voters probably know more about the most trifling details of the personal lives of “front-runners” Clinton, Obama and Edwards than the policy positions of second-tier candidates Biden, Dodd, Gravel, Kucinich or Richardson.
The Democrats have a strong field competing for the ’08 nomination, and the second-tier candidates more than match the front-runners in terms of experience and accomplishments. To find out more about the second tier, who get relatively little ink or face time on TV, voters have to do their own research. Google and Yahoo search engines are great resources for this quest. But time-challenged voters may prefer Wikipedia, which does a surprisingly good job of presenting link-rich political biographies that present both the positive and negative aspects of their respective careers. We’ll even save you some typing. Just click on the links below to get up to speed on the second-tier Dems running for President. In reverse alphabetical order:
Bill Richardson
Dennis Kucinich
Mike Gravel
Chris Dodd
Joe Biden
Yes, we know that there have been some problems with accuracy in some Wikipedia entries. But the links in each article provide a handy resource for double-checking controversial statements of fact.


How Frontloading, Electoral College Trash Democracy

Our March 23 post tried to provide a balanced perspective on the pro and con arguments with respect to the Feb 5 mega-primary and frontloading of primaries in general. Today we’ll just refer you to Hendrik Hertzberg’s New Yorker article “Pileup,” an exceptionally well-reasoned and well-articulated critique of primary frontloading. Hertzberg notes for example in this truncated excerpt:

This development has two aspects, both of which have been widely deplored. One is the bunching of primaries, which magnifies the need to raise very big money very early, pretty much guarantees that dark horses will stay dark, and makes it harder for someone to enter the race late….For all practical purposes, the primaries disenfranchise voters in “late” states and privilege voters in “early” states, while the general election disenfranchises voters in “spectator” states and privileges voters in “battleground” states. In both cases, the disenfranchised far outnumber the privileged…a schedule that (a) locks up both parties’ nominations in one fell swoop and (b) requires the country to devote two out of every four years to Presidential politicking is completely insane.

Hertzberg also takes a quick shot at an even greater injustice — the winner-take-all electoral college:

The primaries, of course, are only half the story, and not the more important half. Thanks to the winner-take-all allocation of each state’s electoral votes—another of those informal constitutional amendments nowhere to be found in the parchment—the only voters who count in November are the ones in the dozen or so battleground states.

Help is on the way, explains Hertzberg, in the form of a national movement to render this most archaic of our institutions irrelevant:

…the fledgling National Popular Vote plan—a proposed interstate compact…would confine the electoral college to a ceremonial role, like the Queen of England’s. The idea is that once enough states have signed on to put together a majority of electoral votes, those states agree that their electors will always vote for the winner of the popular vote in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. From that moment, for the first time, Presidential elections would be truly national. Every citizen’s vote would be worth casting, and worth campaigning for, no matter what state it happened to be cast in. Grassroots politics would be worth the trouble everywhere, not just in a dozen swing states. No more red states and blue states, just the red-white-and-blue United States, its Constitution unchanged but its constitution made worthy of a mature democracy.

We’re stuck with the primary frontloading for 2008. But there is now a real chance to dump the electoral college and get rid of this rancid abomination forever — a cause tailor-made for blogosphere leadership and internet activism.


Public Opinion on Gun Control Tracks Crime Rates

Is it OK that a student whose professors and fellow students believed was potentially violent can walk into a store and walk out with a semi-automatic handgun after only a few minutes? Is this right really what “The Framers” meant to protect in the 2nd amendment? Should Dems try to do anything about it? Could any gun control law have stopped the massacre in Blacksburg? These and other tough question surrounding the tragedy at Virginia Tech are being addressed on editorial pages all across the nation.
It’s not hard to name presidential candidates of both parties who have staged silly photo-ops to portray themselves as The Great American Hunter. And there is no question that most national and statewide Democratic candidates have dodged the issue in recent years or just rolled over for the NRA. Rep. Jane Harman(D-CA) is not one of those politicians, as she makes clear in her post at TPM Cafe, supporting passage of the the Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act (HR 1022), which would re-enact the ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004.
Up until this latest tragedy, public opinion had turned very slightly against gun control. This CNN post features a video link, “Watch how crime rates affect public support for gun laws” which graphically demonstrates a strong relationship between crime rates and public opinion on gun control. It will be interesting to see where public opinion goes from here — and how Dems respond.


Tax Reform Can Add Leverage to Dem Agenda

For your tax day reading pleasure, Alternet features a trio of articles illuminating the partisan and gender bias that undergirds the tax game and the political spin that keeps it afloat. Start with Lucy Komisar’s “How Tax Cheats Are Using Your Money to Fund Republicans,” which spotlights the shenanigans of one of the ’04 swift boaters and includes such nuggets as:

Every major private banking department offers a product called the “private placement offshore of variable annuities.”…According to the IRS, business executives have used such shelters to evade taxes on $8 billion in income. Assume that means “at least.” And that’s just one swindle in the panoply of tax cheating which the IRS says contributes to the loss of $40 billion to $70 billion a year from individual use and $30 billion from corporate use of tax havens….16.2 percent of the private wealth of North Americans, $1.6 trillion, is held offshore. The overwhelming reason for that is tax evasion.

Komisar also discusses a promising tax reform proposal, Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act (S-681). Moving along, check out Martha Burk’s “How the Income Tax System Shortchanges Women,” reprinted from MS Magazine. There may be an angle here for Dems looking for ways to mine the gender gap. As Burk explains:

Taxes are something women and men face with unequal pain, let alone gain…For example, a married couple faces a “marriage penalty” if their two incomes are similar and they file a joint return, since the second income (usually the wife’s) is taxed at a significantly higher marginal rate than if she filed as an individual. But if a couple forgoes the wife’s second income (or if one person’s income is appreciably lower), they may pay less as joint filers than they would have as singles (the marriage “bonus”). Both situations can reduce the incentive for a married woman to work outside the home.

Interesting take, and Burk offers five corrective reforms that merit consideration. It takes a lot of spin to to keep an unfair system afloat and it’s going to take a lot of reframing to get it fixed. Who better to lay it out than George Lakoff and Bruce Budner, whose “Progressive Taxation: Some Hidden Truths” makes this distinction:

America’s government has at least two fundamental functions, protection and empowerment. Protection includes the police, firefighters, emergency services, public health, the military, and so on. Empowerment includes the infrastructure needed for business and everyday life: roads, communications systems, water supplies, public education, the banking system for loans and economic stability, the SEC for the stock market, the courts for enforcing contracts, air traffic control, support for basic science, our national parks and public buildings, and more. We are usually aware of protection. But the empowerment infrastructure, provided by taxes, is usually taken for granted, hidden, or ignored. Yet it is absolutely crucial, a fundamental truth about America and why America provides opportunity…This is a basic truth. That is what framing should be about: revealing truths and allowing us to reason using them.

A little wonky, but interesting nonetheless. Lakoff and Budner bring it home nicely:

Taxes provide and maintain the protecting and empowering infrastructure that makes our income possible.
Our tax forms hide this truth. They do not indicate the extent to which taxes have created and sustained the common wealth so you could earn what you have. They make it look like the empowering infrastructure was just put there by magic and that the government is taking money out of your pocket. The most likely truth is that, through the common wealth, America put more money in your pocket than it took out — by far.
But this situation is threatened by conservative tax policy. Through unfair cuts in taxes paid by the wealthy, through payment for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and through borrowing abroad to pay for the tax cuts and Iraq, the common wealth is being drained and the infrastructure allowed to fall apart. We need to return to a fair tax policy that recognizes financial responsibility incurred by the compound use of America’s empowering infrastructure.

We’ll leave it to the politicians to boil it all down to manageable sound-bites and catchy slogans. Now, better get to the post office.