There’s been a lot of buzz around the blogosphere about a phony Abraham Lincoln quote that Bush Iraq War supporters keep throwing out there (most recently senior House GOPer Don Young of Alaska), suggesting that dissenters in Congress during wartime are “saboteurs” who might well be “arrested, exiled or hanged.”Lincoln never said that, but the more important issue is the underlying suggestion that there’s something unprecdented and un-American about dissent, in Congress and elsewhere, in wartime. Nothing could be further from the truth.Many southerners opposed the War of 1812 as a New England conspiracy to seize Canada and enhance its regional power. Most northern Whigs–including, most notably, a young Congressman named Abraham Lincoln–opposed the Mexican War as a southern conspiracy to seize Mexican lands and enhance its own regional power. During the Civil War, much of the Democratic Party in the North officially opposed the government’s war aims. There were open and large and vibrant antiwar movements as well prior to and during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and Vietnam. And there’s no question that most Republicans openly challenged the Truman administration’s policies during the Korean War, and the Clinton administration’s intervention in Kosovo.The only real exceptions to the normal pattern of dissent were World War II and Afghanistan. And it’s no accident that in both cases, war began through a direct attack on the United States.The other wars were, like Iraq, wars of choice, waged not as a matter of immediate national self-defense, but in response to debatable and rebuttable arguments of national interest.Nearly two years after the Mexican War commenced, a Member of Congress penned a letter challenging the war’s original justification, and commencing with a demand for its termination, with these words:”[It] is a singular omission in this message [by President James K. Polk], that it, no where intimates when the President expects the war to terminate. At it’s beginning, Genl. Scott was, by this same President, driven into disfavor, if not disgrace, for intimating that peace could not be conquered in less than three or four months. But now, at the end of about twenty months, during which time our arms have given us the most splendid successes–every department, and every part, land and water, officers and privates, regulars and volunteers, doing all that men could do, and hundreds of things which it had ever before been thought men could not do,–after all this, this same President gives us a long message, without showing us, that, as to the end, he himself, has, even an imaginary conception. As I have before said, he knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show, there is not something about his conscious [sic], more painful than all his mental perplexity!”The author of this missive, which any Member of Congress could equally address to George W. Bush, was one Abraham Lincoln.UPCATEGORY: Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey
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By Ed Kilgore
Pouring over the details of the gubernatorial recall election in California, some significant patterns emerged, as I noted at New York:
The overwhelming defeat of the effort to recall California governor Gavin Newsom was a big victory for a Democratic Party that has had its troubles lately. With the margin of victory for the “no on recall” campaign roughly doubling the already-robust advantage shown in pre-election polls, the earlier scare that the recall threw into the ranks of the Golden State’s dominant party dissipated entirely. With about three-fourths of the expected vote now counted, “no” leads “yes” by a 63.8 to 36.2 margin (which could get even larger if the usual pattern of last-cast mail ballots leaning Democratic manifests itself once again).
The “no” vote was remarkably close to Joe Biden’s performance in California in 2020 (he won 63.5 percent). Given the extreme partisan polarization that underlay the recall vote (exit polls showed 89 percent of self-identified Republicans voting “yes” and 94 percent of self-identified Democrats voting “no”), that means the partisan patterns of the presidential race were reduplicated to a remarkable extent in a non-presidential special election, where Democrats often experience a “falloff,” particularly when they control the White House (and in this case, the governorship). That’s great news for California Democrats, and not a bad sign for Democrats nationally, who are bracing for the midterm losses the “White House Party” typically suffers.But in assessing the implications of the results, it’s important to look back at what happened down ballot in California in 2020, while looking ahead to the most critical 2022 battleground, the fight for control of the House. Of the 13 net House seats Republicans gained in 2020, four were in deep-blue California. There is no likely path for Democrats to hang onto House control in 2022 without flipping some or all of those lost seats in one of their strongest states.
Precisely because of the reduplication of the 2020 patterns, there’s really nothing about the recall returns that suggests Democrats are sure to claw back some House seats in California. Two of the four seats Republicans flipped in 2020 (with Asian-American women Young Kim and Michelle Steele as candidates) were centered in Orange County. While “no” won in Orange, the recall race there was closer than the Biden-Trump contest of 2020. A third battleground seat was the one Republican David Valadao won in a very competitive section of the San Joaquin Valley. The recall improved on Trump’s 2020 performance in every county in his district (e.g., Trump won 55 percent in Kings County, but “yes” on recalling Newsom won 63 percent). These results could reflect an intensifying alienation of this heavily agricultural area from Sacramento’s environmental and water-supply policies. Or it could reflect a drop-off in Latino turnout that could spell disaster for Democrats in close 2022 races. Either way the recall numbers should give pause to Democratic optimism about midterm House races.
One study of 2020 returns in California showed Latino turnout trailing non-Latino turnout by about 10 percent. One mail-ballot tracker for the recall showed the turnout gap between Latinos and non-Latino white voters swelling to 20 percent. Youth turnout for the recall was also terrible, exit polls suggest. Yes, these are constituencies that are difficult to mobilize in special elections. But that’s also true of midterm elections, which is a problem Democrats in California and elsewhere need to solve.
The bottom line is that Newsom won the Democratic and Democratic-leaning elements of the California electorate by strongly encouraging partisan polarization via his lavishly funded campaign. This was the obvious smart strategy in this heavily Democratic state. It’s less clear the same strategy will work wonders downballot for Democrats in 2022, which they probably will not have a big financial advantage and shifts in public opinion away from the presidential winner may have settled in, as they did for the last three presidents. Even if Democrats hang onto their monopoly of statewide offices and their super-majorities in the state legislature, any failure to make progress in House races could contribute to the much-dreaded moment when Californian Nancy Pelosi hands over her gavel to Californian Kevin McCarthy, and the Democratic trifecta that gives Biden a chance to implement his agenda comes to an end.