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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategists Are Asking the Wrong Question About the White Working Class

If you were a Democratic political strategist with a multi-million dollar budget for opinion research about the white working class, which question would you want to investigate?

Read the Memo.

Democrats: Let’s Face Reality – The Term “People of Color” Doesn’t Describe a Political Coalition That Actually Exists.

The term “People of Color” is now playing a central role in the Democratic discussion of political strategy.

Read the memo.

Democratic Candidates: The Whole Debate about “Critical Race Theory” is a Cynical GOP propaganda trap – Here’s What you Should Say Instead

The latest example of this extremely effective GOP exploitation of language is the current debate over “Critical Race Theory” – a perspective about race that is supposedly being foisted on children in classrooms around the country.

Plausible Strategy for Surge of Immigrants

Democratic officeholders and candidates who plan to run in 2022 and 2024 need to face a simple, brutal fact – many will lose their next elections and will return control of government to the GOP if they do not offer a more plausible strategy for reducing the surge of immigrants at the border

Democrats in 2022 and 2024 will lose elections without a strategy.

Let’s Face It: The Democratic Party is Not a “Big Tent” Political Coalition – But it Desperately Needs to Become One.

Democrats routinely describe the Democratic Party as a “coalition” or even a “big tent coalition.” But in reality Dems know that this is not the case.

American Business Has the Power to Stop the GOP Assault on Democracy – Here’s a Strategy to Make Them Do It.

America is now well on its way to creating an electoral system that functions like Mexico’s during its era of one-party rule.

The Daily Strategist

December 7, 2021

Political Strategy Notes

At Axios, Sarah Mucha writes, “Vulnerable House Democrats are convinced they need to talk less about the man who helped them get elected: President Trump….Democrats are privately concerned nationalizing the 2022 mid-terms with emotionally-charged issues — from Critical Race Theory to Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection — will hamstring their ability to sell the local benefits of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda….The push by centrist lawmakers, especially from the suburbs, to keep the conversation away from Trump is frequently derailed by the party’s loudest voices — and their insistence to talk about him at every turn….People don’t want to hear about Donald Trump,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), told Axios. “They’re going to vote because they want to see people get sh-t done.”….”All politics is local,” Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) tweeted last week. “Whether it’s advocating for the equitable redevelopment of Gwinnett Place Mall, or securing funding for our local trailway system, every day I am working in Congress for our community.” However, “It’s going to be really really hard to distinguish yourself from your national brand,” said Sean McElwee, executive director of Data for Progress, a progressive think tank. “It’s functionally impossible for House members to do.” Mucha adds, “Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg said Democrats need to capitalize on their successes and paint Republicans as extremists….The process of defining the Republicans as unfit will not be about Trump,” he told Axios, but instead about how each Republican has adopted “unacceptable positions.”

Gregory Krieg and Rachel Janfaza argue that “If the Supreme Court curtails abortion rights it could flip the script on the 2022 midterm elections” at CNN Politics: “With the looming possibility of the Supreme Court gutting Roe v. Wade, the future of reproductive rights in America is poised to become a central and potentially defining issue in the upcoming midterm elections….The high court is expected to deliver its ruling on a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks next summer, as campaign season kicks into high gear. At a hearing this week, the bench’s conservative supermajority signaled its intent to uphold the law, going against decades of precedent and likely introducing a volatile new variable in electoral politics….Democratic campaign organizations up and down the ballot, along with allied abortion rights groups, are now ramping up efforts to channel the anger and anguish of pro-choice voters and drive them to the polls. On the federal level, Senate Democrats are stressing the importance of maintaining their majority in order to confirm a new justice in the event President Joe Biden has the opportunity fill a vacated seat. In the states, leading Democrats are warning that Republican victories in legislative and gubernatorial races will lead to another burst of efforts to outlaw or severely curtail abortion rights, in line with the hundreds of restrictions that have been enacted in the last decade — this time without constitutional barriers to slow or stop them….Abortion rights have strong support in a variety of national polling. An ABC News/Washington Post survey from last month found that 60% of Americans say Roe v. Wade should be upheld. Only 27% said it should be overturned.”

David Siders doesn’t buy it, however, as he writes in “Why the threat to Roe may not save Democrats in 2022; “I wish we lived in a world where outrage mattered. But I think we live in a post-outrage world,” said one party strategist” at Politico. Siders explains further, “Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic strategists, pollsters and officials reveal skepticism that the court’s decision will dramatically alter the midterm landscape unless — and perhaps not even then — Roe is completely overturned. Privately, several Democratic strategists have suggested the usefulness of any decision on abortion next year will be limited, and some may advise their clients not to focus on abortion rights at all….Some of that thinking is colored by Virginia’s gubernatorial race earlier this year. After the Supreme Court allowed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy to take effect in Texas, the party was so sure abortion would resonate with voters that Democrat Terry McAuliffe made it a centerpiece of his campaign, saying “it will be a huge motivator for individuals to come out and vote.”….By the time ballots were cast, just 8 percent of voters listed abortion as the most important issue facing Virginia, according to exit polls. Even worse for Democrats, of the people who cared most about the issue, a majority voted for the Republican, Glenn Youngkin.” As Julie Roginsky, a former top adviser to New Jersey’s Democratic governor, put it, “Every time we’ve run on issues like women’s health, they have polled through the roof. But … they have been completely ineffective at getting voters to the polls. There’s a difference between something that polls really well, and something that gets voters to the polls. And that is what a lot of people are confusing.” And yet, a substantial majority did vote against Trump in both 2016 and 2020.

An Early Snapshot of House Battleground Districts in Half the States

Congressional redistricting is still underway in many states, so speculation about which Democratic House seats are in danger and which GOP House seats are vulnerable has to be pretty sketchy. Sabato’s Crystal Ball is on the case as it develops. Here’s their latest chart with poll and analysis-driven estimates for the House of Reps seats in the 25 states that have finished redistricting:

Crystal Ball sees 5 toss-up House races in half of the states with 11 months to go until the midterm elections. Four of the five toss-ups are currently held by Democrats, with one planned district, CO-8. Note that House districts for megastates CA, FL  GA, MI, NY and PA are not yet charted.

No, Biden Doesn’t Need a “Sister Souljah Moment”

As a old guy and a history buff, this topic attracted me like catnip, and I addressed it at New York:

Seth Masket did something important and admirable at Politico this week: He examined the historical premise for some advice being offered to President Biden by many voices and found it to be ill-founded:

“Joe Biden needs a ‘Sister Souljah Moment.’ At least, that’s according to the quickly congealing conventional wisdom in Washington. That is, Biden and Democrats are in dire danger of losing control of Congress next year, and the one thing that could save them would be by bashing someone to Biden’s left on matters of race.”

The allusion is to a speech famously made by Bill Clinton in the summer of 1992 (when he had already nailed down the Democratic presidential nomination) to a conference of the Jesse Jackson–chaired Rainbow Coalition criticizing the organization for holding a panel the previous day that included Sister Souljah. The rapper had recently made remarks related to the L.A. riots that some interpreted as promoting the killing of white people (a claim she denied).

Jackson (who had expressed pride in Souljah’s appearance at his conference) was sitting on the stage near Clinton as he spoke and understandably felt blindsided and exploited by what Clinton said. So it has gone down in legend as a “moment” when a Democratic politician pandered to swing voters (and perhaps to white racists) by conspicuously separating himself from Black political activists. And that, as Masket notes, is what some commentators want Biden to do to stem the political bleeding over controversies surrounding racial justice, including Black Lives Matter protests, the “defund the police” movement, and the alleged influence of critical race theory in public-school classrooms.

The principal trouble with the claim Biden can do wonders via a little measured race-baiting, Masket explains, is that it didn’t do Clinton much good in 1992. A lot of factors lifted him to victory that fall, but clearly it was the economy (stupid!) and the temporary withdrawal of Ross Perot from the race that were most important. There is little-to-no evidence that the Sister Souljah “moment” had any particular effect on the contest. Yet the legend persists:

“Is it possible that Clinton got some help on Election Day from his bashing of Souljah five months earlier? It’s possible, but unlikely. Campaign effects just generally don’t last that long. It was a very old story by then, and it’s hard to even discern much of an effect when the story was fresh. Polling that year shows that voters were more likely to trust Clinton on issues related to racial politics, but that was true prior to the Souljah moment, as well.

“So why is it important to interrogate this piece of political lore three decades later? Because clearly many opinion leaders take it as an article of faith that a Democratic president can make himself more popular by bashing advocates for racial justice. The evidence doesn’t really support this, but they make the argument anyway.”

I would go a step further than Masket in debunking the “Sister Souljah Moment” theory. I say this not because I have any insider information on what was going on in the Clinton campaign (or in the candidate’s mind) before he made that Rainbow Coalition speech. But I was an early Clinton supporter and later worked for the decidedly Clintonite Democratic Leadership Council, and I sure didn’t think the incident was mostly about race. Obviously, racists in the electorate probably perceived it that way, though few of them at that point in history were likely to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate. The broader perception at the time was captured by Tom Edsall’s on-site report on the speech for the Washington Post:

“Clinton’s frank remarks seemed designed to demonstrate his willingness to challenge core Democratic constituent groups and to begin to break his image in the public as a “political” person who would bend to pressure from major forces within his party …

“The power of the Perot campaign, and growing public animosity to both the Republican and the Democratic parties, has been interpreted in the Clinton campaign as a powerful message requiring the Arkansas governor to attempt to regain the status of an ‘outsider’ candidacy — a status first lost to former Massachusetts senator Paul E. Tsongas, then to former California governor Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. and most recently to Perot.”

Indeed, the idea that Clinton was triangulating against Black folks generally on race was not borne out by the reaction from, well, Black folks, other than those very close to the justifiably insulted Jackson, as Steve Kornacki later observed:

“Clinton did not suffer any discernible fallout among black voters; in fact, many black political leaders — some nursing their own grudges against Jackson — used the occasion to throw their support behind Clinton.”

That could be in part because even if you think Clinton was pushing off the left, he wasn’t exactly moving right. In the same speech in which he chastised Sister Souljah for allegedly smiling upon the hypothetical killing of white people for the sins of their race, Clinton sounded some familiar populist themes that were entirely congenial to his audience:

“The speech included repeated attacks on the Bush administration, with a well received line about Vice President Quayle — ‘I’m tired of people on trust funds telling people on food stamps how to live’ — and praise for ‘the real story of Los Angeles — that most people who live in that city did not burn, loot or riot.’”

So what would a more nuanced understanding of the “Sister Souljah Moment” tell Joe Biden?

First of all, Biden is in a vastly different position than was Clinton in 1992. There is no Ross Perot on the horizon, appealing to a huge block of swing voters temporarily estranged from both parties. When Clinton rejected Jesse Jackson’s advice to run a base-mobilization campaign, there were plenty of reasons to fear that identification of Clinton with Democratic orthodoxy would be disastrous: At the time of the Sister Souljah speech, Clinton was running third in many polls behind Perot and George H.W. Bush. And when Perot did (temporarily) withdraw from the race right after the Democratic convention (I was involved in speech preparations for that convention and remember when the word came down: No more criticisms of Perot!), he basically confirmed that Clinton had succeeded in redeeming his pledge to become “a different kind of Democrat,” as the Los Angeles Times explained:

“’When we started … there was a climate there where we could win outright,’ Perot asserted. But now, he said, ‘the Democratic Party has revitalized itself. They’ve done a brilliant job, in my opinion, in coming back.’

:Perot did not elaborate on that point. But Morton H. Meyerson, a longtime Perot confidant and campaign adviser, later cited the Democratic Party’s platform as something that ‘Ross feels good about.’

“Meyerson added: ‘The Democrats seem to be listening to the people.'”

Biden, by contrast is operating in a highly polarized climate with few swing voters and no Perot-like centrist to challenge him. He has zero reason to gamble on separating himself rhetorically from his party.

Second of all, while Clinton was dealing with decades of perceived Democratic subservience to the party’s interest and constituency groups, Biden is dealing with a conservative media environment in which nothing he says will effectively contradict assertions that he wants to defund the police, open the prison doors, impose “woke” speech codes and racial quotas on colleges and workplaces, and usher in a socialist revolution. It’s all preposterous, but Biden has already tried and failed to challenge the smears with rhetorical signals. Some hypothetical equivalent to the supposed message Clinton sent in the “Sister Souljah Moment” would mostly be heard by those who feared, not hoped, he was separating himself from his party under pressure.

And third, even if Joe Biden thought he needed to “push off” the left (as though defeating Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential primaries wasn’t enough “pushing off”), he should stay far away from racially inflammatory subjects. Biden would have never won the presidential nomination without the kind of staunch Black support that destroyed the potentially strong nomination campaigns of Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, even though Biden’s history on racial issues was far more problematic than Clinton’s in 1992. Besides, now and in 1992, the idea that “the left” and “Black voters” are somehow synonymous is simply wrong.

If Biden feels the need to make it clear he’s still the moderately progressive Democrat who hates racism but is by no means a socialist or especially “woke,” he should just say so, as often as possible. No “pushing off” is necessary.

Political Strategy Notes

“What Biden hasn’t done is seize the bully pulpit as only a president can,” Harold Meyerson observes at The American Prospect. “Last week, my colleague David Dayen, in writing about how corporations are hiking their profit margins under the cover of inflation and supply-chain gridlock, noted that JFK, when confronted with an inflationary price hike from U.S. Steel, secured national prime-time all-network coverage of an address he delivered from the Oval Office attacking the company for raising the cost of living despite its pledge not to….a prime-time Oval Office address would at least command the attention of anyone watching the legacy networks and the news networks. It still provides presidents with the biggest megaphone available to them. And Biden has yet to use it….It’s time he did, to spell out what’s actually in both the infrastructure bill and Build Back Better. It will soon be time he went the prime-time route to make the case for the voting rights legislation that will come before the Senate early next year, in which he will have to talk about why voting rights are more fundamental to maintaining a democracy than the Senate’s filibuster rule….He can make those cases in his State of the Union address early next year, but that in itself won’t suffice. His ongoing avoidance of a prime-time Oval Office talk with the nation, which has helped enable his intraparty adversaries to block his agenda, has been an abdication of presidential power and responsibility that has played a major role in bringing down both his standing and his party’s.”

Although studies indicate that many self-described “independent” voters actually lean toward voting Democratic or Republican on election day, the choice of the “independent” label does indicate a reluctance to publicly identify with either party, a branding problem for both of them. At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter takes a look at President Biden’s trendline with Independents.  Walter explains, “According to Gallup polling….Biden’s overall job approval rating has dropped from 57 percent in February to 42 percent today, a slide of 15-points. That drop-off has been driven almost entirely by independent voters. Since February, Biden has lost 6 points of approval among Democrats (96 percent to 90 percent), a similar 6 points among Republicans (from 12 percent to 6 percent), but he has lost 16 points among independents (dropping from 53 percent in February to 37 percent in November)….The most recent polls from Marist, Quinnipiac, Washington Post/ABC, Fox and Monmouth, show Biden’s job approval ratings among independents in a similar place; from 29 percent to 44 percent approval. More ominously for Biden, the strong disapproval ratings among independent voters have also increased over these past few months. For example, back in April, 27 percent of independent voters in the Quinnipiac poll said they strongly approved of the job Biden was doing, compared to 38 percent who strongly disapproved. In the November polling, just 12 percent of independents strongly approved to 46 percent who strongly disapproved; a swing of 23 points more strongly negative.”

Walter adds that “Independent voters are like the “check engine” light in American politics: when that light goes on, you are in trouble. Right now, that light is blinking red. That’s a terrible sign not just for Biden but for Democrats writ large.” But the latest trend for Biden regarding Independant voters offers hope that the President and the Democrats may be on the cusp of a turnaround with  Independents. As Walter writes, “This month provided some good news for Biden. The most recent polls from Gallup, Fox, Marist and Quinnipiac find Biden recovering some ground — or at least stabilizing — with independent voters. For example, Marist polling found Biden underwater with independent voters in August by 19 points (36 percent approve to 55 percent). Their November poll showed that gap down to 5 points (44 percent approve to 49 percent disapprove). The October FOX poll found Biden losing support among independents by 26 points (36 percent to 62 percent); that gap was 16 points (39 percent to 55 percent) in their November poll….Of course, there’s no telling if this is simply a blip, an outlier or the start of an upward trend.”

At The Hill, Karl Evers-Hillstrom writes, “Paid leave’s popularity is central to advocates’ lobbying push. Eighty percent of voters in Manchin’s home state support ensuring paid leave for workers suffering from a serious illness, and 72 percent support universal paid leave for workers caring for a new child, according to a new poll from Democratic firm Global Strategy Group, commissioned by Paid Leave for All….That makes paid leave one of the most popular measures in Democrats’ reconciliation bill, and far more popular among West Virginia voters than other proposals such as universal pre-K and the enhanced child tax credit, which were backed by 58 percent and 54 percent of those surveyed, respectively….Those same trends extend to battleground state polling, where paid leave is even more popular. Advocates say the measure would help Democrats reverse GOP gains among parents and suburban women that powered Republicans’ huge election night in Virginia last month and increase turnout among likely Democratic voters such as young women and women of color….“Whether you’re talking about the strategy of persuasion or you’re talking about the strategy of turnout, this is one of the few issues that is at the top of both of those agendas,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who is urging the party to prioritize passing the paid leave program.”

Why Dems Need More Focus on Secretary of State Races

Looking toward the midterm elections, Louis Jacobson provides a well-researched update, “Secretary of State Races: More Important Than Ever in 2022, and More Complicated, Too” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. As Jacobson writes,

Next year, 27 states will hold elections for secretary of state. With former President Donald Trump continuing to make election fraud the centerpiece of his effort to return to the presidency — despite the lack of any evidence — the outcome of secretary of state races in 2022 will loom larger than ever, because in most states the office oversees election administration….Trump has inserted himself directly in some of these races by endorsing primary candidates in several states.

Handicapping these races is more complicated than usual because if some of the more aggressively pro-Trump candidates end up winning the nomination, they could enable a more promising outlook for Democrats in the general election.

In Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, the general election for secretary of state is likely to be competitive regardless of who the Republican nominee is. In addition, another half-dozen races could be competitive, including Democratic-held seats in Colorado, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Jacobson shares insights on each of the 27 races, and concludes,

Several states will hold gubernatorial races in which the winner will be able to appoint the secretary of state.

Two big prizes, Florida and Texas, lean towards GOP holds, while one smaller prize, Maryland, is a good prospect for a Democratic flip. In addition, a few states have their legislature choose the secretary of state, and among those are Maine and New Hampshire, which could have a competitive fight for control in one or both chambers (Democrats control both chambers in Maine, while Republicans control both in New Hampshire).

The biggest prize for a secretary of state appointment, however, could be Pennsylvania. The Keystone State is another highly-competitive Trump-to-Biden state where Trump and his allies sought to overturn the election results. Democrats are all but decided on their gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, while the Republican primary field is large and wide open: It includes candidates with varying degrees of fealty to Trump, including former Rep. Lou Barletta and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has sought an Arizona-style “audit” of Pennsylvania.

With American democracy under unprecedented assault, the integrity of the nation’s Secretaries of State, who will be responsible for enforcing voting rights in the states during the midterm elections, has never been more important. Jacobson’s article provides an excellent update on these races.

Teixeira: The Common Good – An Idea So Crazy It Just Might Work!

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

John Halpin explains in his latest at The Liberal Patriot:

“Is it any wonder that the Democratic Party’s brand is in the toilet these days? Voters don’t have a clue what Democrats are talking about half the time but sense that it has little to do with them or their values.

Much of modern progressive-left discourse sounds like a dreary small group discussion in sociology class. “Systemic problem this” and “structural change that” with no clarity whatsoever about what is being discussed, why it matters, and why anyone should care. Contemporary progressive language often seems designed to alienate and confuse people rather than find shared priorities and connections across disparate groups….

According to Pew’s data, Americans draw ideas about what is right and wrong in the world from several sources—religion among them for one-third of Americans, along with common sense (45 percent), philosophy (11 percent), and science (9 percent).

American values rightly emerge from a nice blend of all these sources.

But rather than listen to another strange Democratic speech on systemic inequality or a 10-point plan about a complicated new social policy that few people understand, it would be nice occasionally if religious Democrats just said: “We believe everyone is equal in the eyes of God and under our Constitution. Our policies are motivated by a desire to secure the common good for the entire nation and equal dignity and rights for all people.”

What would a Democratic politics motivated by concern for the common good look like? As Ruy Teixeira and I outlined way back in 2006 in a report for The American Prospect entitled, “The Politics of Definition”:

“Securing the common good means putting the public interest above narrow self-interest and group demands; working to achieve social and economic conditions that benefit everyone; promoting a personal, governmental and corporate ethic of responsibility and service to others; creating a more open and honest governmental structure that relies upon an engaged and participatory citizenry; and doing more to meet our common responsibilities to aid the disadvantaged, protect our natural resources, and provide opportunities rather than burdens for future generations…

A primary goal of the government in this approach is to ensure basic fairness and opportunity: the civil, legal, and economic arrangements necessary to ensure every American has a real shot at his or her dreams. Common-good progressivism does not guarantee that everybody will be the same, think the same, or get the same material benefits in life; it simply means that people should start from a level playing field and have a reasonable chance at achieving success.

Internationally, common-good progressivism focuses on new and revitalized global leadership grounded in the integrated use of military, economic, and diplomatic power; the just use of force; global engagement; new institutions and networks to deal with intractable problems; and global equity. As in past battles against fascism and totalitarianism, common-good progressives today seek to fight global extremism by using a comprehensive national-security strategy that employs all our strengths for strategic and moral advantage. This requires true leadership and global cooperation rather than the dominant “my-way-or-the-highway” mentality…

Progressives should not forget that the common good is a powerful theme in the social teachings of many major faith traditions—Catholicism and mainline Protestantism, in particular, and in moderate evangelical and other denominations as well. The principle of the common good is drawn upon in these faiths to guide people towards more thoughtful consideration of their own actions in light of others; to compel political leaders and policymakers to consider the needs of the entire society; and to check unrestrained individualism that frequently erodes community sensibilities and values.

The goal of the common good in both the secular and faith traditions is a more balanced and considerate populace that seeks to provide the social and economic conditions necessary for all people to lead meaningful and dignified lives.”

These common good values, in turn, underlie Democrats’ efforts to advance affordable health care, support for the poor, family and environmental policies, and public investments. If Democrats lead with consensus values like these—religious or otherwise—then specific policies and messages will flow more naturally and persuasively for voters.”

The common good: it was a great idea then, it’s an even better idea now!

Political Strategy Notes

In “With Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps,” Scott Wong and Mike Lillis write at The Hill,  “While President Biden‘s Build Back Better Act still has a tough road in the Senate, House Democrats have already begun holding a series of roundtable discussions, site visits, in-person and virtual town halls and news conferences across the country highlighting individual pieces of the roughly $2 trillion package….The idea is to break it up into smaller bite-size chunks — things like child care, climate change, education, health care and help for seniors — that will make the 2,135-page bill easier for voters and constituents to digest and understand how it directly impacts their lives….”There are some challenges. I think we never messaged effectively the American Rescue Plan. I think we have to do it bit by bit,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a senior member of the Ways and Means and Budget committees who is planning separate events focused specifically on child care and students….“So given the size and scope of the bill, the messaging of it cannot be done in a day or a week,” he said. “It’ll have to be spread out, and do it with people whose lives really will be affected by what we do.”….Vulnerable Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a mother of three, has done local TV interviews focused on her top priorities in the bill: universal preschool and the one-year extension of the expanded child tax credit….And at a Phoenix pharmacy this week, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) joined patient advocates at a health care-themed news conference, highlighting how Build Back Better empowers Medicare to negotiate lower prices for some prescription drugs, expands Medicaid coverage and allocates $150 billion for home care for seniors and people with disabilities…..[Rep. Sean Patrick] Maloney recently gave a pep talk to colleagues at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, where he unveiled internal polling numbers showing that Democrats are only 2 percentage points behind Republicans in a generic ballot across battleground districts — suggesting his party has plenty of time to make up the difference if they message Build Back Better effectively.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne explains why “The hypocrisy argument on the filibuster is itself phony,” and notes, “Because every Republican senator voted against the Freedom to Vote Act last month — and all but one opposed even debating the John Lewis voting rights bill this month — no bill that would do anything worthwhile can reach the 60-vote threshold required to overcome the filibuster….Reforming the filibuster is the only way Democrats can pass the voting guarantees favored by civil rights groups and democracy advocates. It’s the only way they can undo the voter suppression and election subversion laws that have been passed in more than a dozen GOP-controlled states since 2020. It’s the only way to dismantle wildly partisan gerrymanders…..No Democrat or progressive whohas flipped on the filibuster is pretending they didn’t. They are quite clear in saying versions of what the Senate arch-traditionalist Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said in 1979: Rules that seemed appropriate in the past “must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.”….The loudest critic of changing filibuster rules now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was happy to junk the filibuster in 2017 in his quest to pack the Supreme Court with conservatives. Seems pretty hypocritical to me.”

Dionne continues, “There are two big reasons why senators should vote to reform the filibuster, no matter their past views. The first is institutional: What started out as an unusual practice to extend debate has become a routine method for blocking the will of the majority. To put it starkly: Abuse of the filibuster is wrecking the Senate….A 2020 report from the Brennan Center for Justice nicely summarized just how radical the shift has been on the use and abuse of the filibuster. “There have been as many cloture motions in the last 10 years (959),” wrote senior fellow Caroline Fredrickson, “as there were during the 60-year period from 1947 to 2006 (960).”….But the core reason the filibuster must be reformed is the moral imperative of passing bills to defend democracy. It confronts multiple challenges: to the right to vote; the right to have votes counted without political interference; and the right of voters to select their representatives — and not have politicians do it by drawing wildly partisan district boundaries….Should Democrats, including President Biden, allow these things to happen by claiming that the filibuster renders them powerless, they will be guilty of a more profound hypocrisy. If it fails to act, the party that won power in 2020 as the bulwark of democracy and civil rights will be saying that these commitments matter less than fealty to an outdated, dysfunctional practice that has been altered repeatedly in pursuit of far less noble goals.”

Some comments from David Pepper, former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman and author of “Laboratories of Autocracy,” during his interview by David Neiwert at Daily Kos: “…There were a lot of people who rigged these districts in 2011 after Karl Rove was very sadly adept at targeting statehouses to flip….Ohio is this glaring case study of what happens when you’ve had that for a generation, but sadly, Missouri or Tennessee or Florida, they’re all seeing the same thing as Ohio is….It was on the third time of trying they succeeded in getting rid of the week where people both vote and register at the same time. It took them three tries. But if there’s never accountability, they just keep pushing and pushing….We often have one bad cycle, we quit, we fire everybody, we start over. Stacey Abrams told us, even when she lost her governor’s race for a lot of reasons that she explained were really illegitimate, she gained progress in that loss. She registered people. She fired up people, and that progress carried over to ’20 in a way that we turned Georgia blue, just like running in every single statehouse district in every state. You’re going to lose most of those races. We know that, but we should celebrate the fact that we’re running in every district because every one of those candidates will register voters….They will have higher turnout, and maybe in two or four years, if they do it again, and we’ve seen this in states like Virginia, they win the next race….So we’ve got to define it as a long game, and that means you see progress even in tough years if you’re doing it right, and we’ve seen that in Ohio. We’ve seen that in other states, and the other thing we got to do—back to the broader politics—there are multiple elections that impact democracy.”

The Presidential Buzz About Buttigieg Isn’t Helping Anyone

I got a bit annoyed at one of the recent topics of Beltway scuttlebutt, and wrote about it at New York.

I like Pete Buttigieg. I met and interviewed him at a mayors’ conference in 2017 and found him to be smart, engaging, and open-minded. I didn’t even mind that he failed to respond to my hint that I’d sure like help getting tickets to the upcoming Georgia–Notre Dame football game in his fair city (maybe he didn’t have any; he did, after all, go to Harvard, not Notre Dame). It did not occur to me that he might run for president in the very next cycle, but he was clearly a young pol to watch.

Once he did take the plunge, Mayor Pete’s ability to transcend his slim résumé to become a top-tier candidate was impressive indeed. As an observant liberal mainline Protestant, I couldn’t help but cheer the challenge he posed to the religious right, which could not grasp the idea of a gay, married, churchgoing military veteran who knew scriptures and theology better than its own champions. But Buttigieg also showed some conventional political chops, particularly in Iowa, where his largely amateur grassroots organization basically fought Bernie Sanders to a tie. Even when he faded, he managed not to burn too many bridges with occasionally sharp-elbowed debate performances, and got out of the race at the right time while endorsing the ultimate nominee. His reward, the visible but distinctly second-tier Cabinet post of secretary of Transportation, seemed appropriate to his contributions to Biden’s victory and his status in the party. He had, after all, just turned 39 the day before the new administration took office.

But now he faces the most daunting challenge yet of his brief career on the national political stage: presidential buzz. It emanates regularly from Beltway journalists and their sources like a sort of sonic nerve gas. Today’s entry from Politico reads:

“While Buttigieg says he’s not contemplating the race to be Biden’s successor, inside the West Wing, others are imagining it for him. His name is sometimes discussed by aides as a natural Democratic presidential nominee in 2028 — or 2024 if the president opts not to run.

“’Nobody in the West Wing shuts that down,’ said one person with direct knowledge of the conversations. ‘It’s very open.'”

This sort of thing is deadly for Buttigieg’s potentially very long future in Democratic politics. It is bound to annoy his boss, President Biden, who is tamping down any speculation that he might take a pass on a reelection fight in 2024 and obviously wants to keep talk of a successor on a low boil at best. More pointedly, any Buttigieg buzz will undoubtedly be perceived as hostile and even disrespectful to the interests of heir-apparent Kamala Harris. The biggest political liability Mayor Pete took out of his presidential campaign was a reputation for being the ultimate wine-track candidate, with a particular difficulty (fed by events in South Bend) in attracting any sort of support from Black voters. He may have made some subtle progress in this respect by proposing a well-received “Douglass Plan” for Black empowerment, though it wasn’t enough to help him electorally. But clearly the last thing he needs if he ever does want to serve as president is to become a cat’s paw for those who want to sideline the first Black woman to have a clear shot at the presidency.

Beyond that, presidential buzz puts Buttigieg in a no-win position vis-à-vis doing the job assigned to him in the Biden administration. Politico notes that the kind of barnstorming any secretary of Transportation should be doing to promote the bipartisan infrastructure legislation that is Biden’s biggest accomplishment to date sure looks a lot like proto-campaign activity:

“While there is no election directly in sight, Buttigieg’s initial on-the-ground efforts to promote the infrastructure deal had some familiar elements of his past campaigns. There were lots of news interviews, meet-and-greets with local electeds, die-hard fans in ‘Pete’ shirts carrying copies of his book, a protester with a homophobic sign (‘Booty Gay Go Away’), and people having trouble pronouncing his name (‘Butt-Edge-Edge’ instead of ‘Boot-Edge-Edge,’ as the emcee of one event kept pronouncing it).

“There were also attempts at that folksy Midwestern humor that were part of his candidacy roughly two years ago. On the benefits of the infrastructure package, he told POLITICO ‘this is literally as concrete as it gets.’ He noted how cold it was at the bill signing but said that the bipartisan package ‘warmed my heart.’”

If everything he does in public or private becomes interpreted as little more than a calculated step toward the presidency, that goal may grow further and further away.

Buttigieg hasn’t even turned 40 yet. If Biden has set a new standard for the lifespan of presidential ambitions, Buttigieg can keep hope alive for close to four more decades. What he doesn’t need is to burn out and become yesterday’s news long before he makes another big move in 2036 or 2040 or 2050. If it turns out he is quietly promoting the buzz as we speak, he deserves the danger he would be courting. Otherwise, for Pete’s sake, cut it out and let him do his job.

Tomasky: How Dems Can Close the Sale

At The New Republic’s ‘the Soapbox,’ Editor Michael Tomasky argues that “Democrats Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Tell Voters What the Build Back Better Act Is All About: The Biden agenda will make everyone’s lives a little bit easier and a little bit better. There’s no need to hide from a good deal.” As Tomasky writes,

Assuming the Democratic Party–controlled Senate passes some version of the Build Back Better Act this year, as Chuck Schumer has vowed it will, the new year will dawn with Democrats fanning out across the country to sell the Biden agenda (which House Democrats have already started doing with the version of the president’s social provision bill they passed last week, along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill).

Among the people I talk to, there seems to be a consensus forming that Democrats are going to have a hard time convincing voters about the generous array of wonderful benefits these bills will unleash before the midterm elections. People are in a sour mood, they say. Besides, inflation and the pandemic dictate everything, Donald Trump’s America is more fired up to vote, swing voters are going Republican, and too few of these programs are going to be up and running by next November.

On top of that, political science tells us that voters don’t often reward a party that passes transformative legislation. Voters are a cranky bunch. People are far more likely to use their votes to punish what they don’t like than to reward what they do like.

I suppose there’s truth to a lot of these observations. But I look through the reports on what happened to be in the bill, and I feel like I’m seeing a lot of stuff that Democrats can campaign on. Say you’re a Democrat trying to hold onto your seat in a purple district and you’re not Maine’s Jared Golden (in other words—you voted for these bills). You’re being challenged by some right-wing loon who’s carrying on about socialism and handouts and taxing and spending. Can’t that person say something that sounds a little something like this?

“I’d really like to know what particular things in the bill my opponent has such trouble with. Let’s start with Medicare. This bill adds hearing aids to Medicare coverage. The average cost of a prescription hearing aid in this country is $4,700. That’s a lot of money—for most seniors, a prohibitive amount of money. Now it’s covered. Is that a handout? In my opinion, it’s something that’s going to improve a lot of people’s quality of life. The bill also caps prescription drug outlays at $2,000 a year. Right now, there’s no hard cap, and there’s that infamous donut hole, which you know all about if you’ve bothered to talk to seniors. Maybe my opponent hasn’t. But it strikes me that saving seniors some money is a pretty good thing. Maybe my opponent doesn’t. And of course, insulin is going to cost $35, as opposed to the current $100. Is that what my opponent means by socialism?

“Let’s see, what else.… There’s a lot of money in there for the states—not the federal government, the states—to build and stand up pre-kindergarten programs and childcare centers. The bill ensures that a family of four with income up to $300,000, which is about 98 percent of the population, will pay no more than 7 percent of their income on childcare. Is this going to create a society of layabouts? I think the opposite. I think affordable day care will give a lot of parents, mothers in particular, the chance to work or go back to school and better themselves so they can move up the ladder at work. I’m not seeing how this is bad.

“And how about the climate? There are a lot of tax incentives for companies and people to produce and purchase more renewables and to move away from coal. All kinds of things to encourage individuals and communities to invest in green energy. I guess if you think climate change is a hoax, you think all this is a waste of money. But most people don’t think it’s a hoax. Most people think it’s real. So, I think these are good ideas.”

Tomasky also has a “don’t”: “The one thing that was in the bill that I’d advise this candidate to skip is the lifting of the cap on the state and local tax deduction, which is, no doubt about it, a gift to higher-income taxpayers. But it was political reality that some moderates from high-tax states might have voted no if this wasn’t included—and another political reality that if it hadn’t been included and isn’t in whatever ends up passing in some way, shape, or form, some Democrats from swing districts in New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere would be much more likely to lose.”

Tomasky shares some more good messaging tips:

But there’s a lot more good news than bad. Democrats ought to welcome a debate about what they’ve done for the American people with their GOP opponents. Incumbents should defend their vote in terms like I’ve laid out above. And Democratic challengers to Republicans in winnable swing districts should clearly be able to say: Look at all these good things this person voted against.

In fact, Democrats should go even further. This is an old pet peeve of mine about how Democrats debate policy. Republicans talk about this stuff solely on the abstract level—it’s socialism and profligacy and so on. They do this because they know the programs are individually popular but the idea of big government is not. By the same token, Democrats do the opposite. They read the same polls, so they tend to emphasize the specifics and steer clear of the abstract.

I get it. But it leaves Democrats sounding like they’re just for individual policy programs here and there instead of a big-picture vision for the kind of society they want to build. This bill, whatever its shortcomings, contains a vision of society: a more humane place where wealth is being shifted back from the rich to the middle so that more people can fulfill their potential.

Democrats don’t really need to mention government at all. In the end, what these bills are seeking to do has nothing to do with the government anyway. The public sector is the means to an end. That end is creating the means by which people can lead more fulfilling lives and do so with greater ease at that. Democrats need to be willing to say as much, and they need to demonstrate a willingness to fight for it.

So much recent political analysis explains what many Democrats have been doing wrong, and that’s useful information. But now Dems have to regroup and attack. Tomasky’s article provides a promising battle plan.

Teixeira: The Anti-Politics of the Democratic Party Left

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Jon Chait, in an important article in New York magazine, analyzes the profoundly ineffective anti-politics of the Democratic party left, aided and abetted by donors and foundations who finance this nonsense. (Note: he also has some stern words for centrist Democrats who oppose very popular Democratic measures in the name of moderation.)

Here is perhaps the most important part of his argument:

“When confronted with the reality that the Democratic Party is losing Black and Latino moderates, the response on the left is often to treat their views as morally beyond the pale. “Yes, it turns out that a number of people of color, especially those without a college education, can see the allure of the jackboot authoritarian thuggery offered by modern Republicans,” wrote The Nation’s Elie Mystal. “A certain percentage of non-college-educated people are hostile to immigration. Sure. Does that mean Democrats should embrace beating migrants? A certain percentage of non-college-educated people are resistant to science. Sure. Does that mean Democrats should embrace horse dewormer?”

Obviously, nobody is proposing Democrats run on authoritarian thuggery. The question is whether any compromise with the center is acceptable. Obama competed for moderate views by promising that people could keep their private insurance even as he covered those who couldn’t get any coverage, that he would secure the border even as he gave amnesty to Dreamers. Reducing all these spectra of belief to a simple binary, then declaring the opposing position so horrific it cannot be accommodated, is not a political strategy. It is a kind of anti-politics.

This anti-politics did not materialize out of thin air. It is the working assumption of a vast array of progressive nonprofit organizations and the millionaires who fund them. Over the past half-dozen years, several people who work in and around the nonprofit world have told me, the internal political culture at progressive foundations has undergone the same changes that have torn through elite universities, mainstream-media newsrooms, and private schools. An uncompromising version of left-wing political rhetoric has put the leadership of these organizations on the defensive and often prodded them to fund more radical organizations and ideas than before.

These groups have churned out studies and deployed activists to bring left-wing ideas into the political debate. At this they have enjoyed overwhelming success. In recent years, a host of new slogans and plans — the Green New Deal, “Defund the police,” “Abolish ICE,” and so on — have leaped from the world of nonprofit activism onto the chyrons of MSNBC and Fox News. Obviously, the conservative media have played an important role in publicizing (and often distorting) the most radical ideas from the activist left. But the right didn’t invent these edgy slogans; the left did, injecting them into the national bloodstream.

Twitter is often blamed for (or, alternately, credited with) facilitating the rise of the Democratic Party’s left wing. But an important and generally unexamined source of the left’s growth is the left-wing millionaires who finance it. A little more than a decade ago, David Callahan wrote a book, Fortunes of Change, describing a social and political evolution among the American rich. The rise of a knowledge economy had produced a growing class of liberal millionaires and billionaires, and this elite cohort had begun to work its will on the system by forming “a new progressive donor class.”