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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: June 2012

An Important Contribution to the “White Working Class” Debate

Dear Readers:
During the last several weeks an energetic debate has broken out among leading political analysts over the role and importance of the white working class in the coming election and also over how to properly define and measure this key voting group.
Tom Edsall summarized the debate as follows in the New York Times:

…This is an issue of central importance in American politics. And it’s not just crucial for the presidential election: understanding what the white working class is and where it is going is fundamental if we want to understand where the country is going…
…Part of the problem is that different people mean different things when they are talking about the working class. Is this cohort made up of those without college degrees; those in the bottom third of the income distribution; or those in occupations described by the federal government as “blue-collar”?

TDS is pleased to present an extremely important contribution to this discussion, an analysis by Andrew Levison that quite dramatically challenges key assumptions of the conventional wisdom on this subject:
The Surprising Size of “White Working Class” America – Half of all White Men and 40 Percent of White Women Still Work in Basically Blue-Collar Jobs.
The memo is available here in a PDF format.

Keep Your Eye On the Medicaid Expansion Issue

This item is crossposted from The New Republic.
Given the immense attention rightly being devoted to the Supreme Court’s treatment of the individual mandate, it’s not surprising that far fewer words are being spilled on the Court’s other big finding: that the federal government cannot withhold all Medicaid funds from states refusing to accept the Medicaid expansion that contributes so much to the law’s goal of covering the uninsured. Among those writing about this issue, moreover, there’s a general consensus, articulated earlier today by Jonathan Cohn, that the “super-match” being offered to states accepting the expansion is just too “sweet” for any state to turn down, even without what the Court calls “coercion.” Indeed, as Matt Yglesias pointed out, the deal is particularly sweet for the southern states with large low-income populations and stingy existing Medicaid programs.
Makes sense, on the surface. But it raises a rather obvious question: if the expansion is an offer no one could refuse, why did 26 states go to court in the first place to make it possible to turn it down without losing all their Medicaid money? Were they trying to make a theoretical point they had no practical plans to pursue?
The sad truth is that Republican governors and state legislators have been claiming ever since ACA was enacted that the expansion, even with the “sweet” super-matches, would bankrupt their budgets. And the even sadder truth is that many of these solons don’t think of this as primarily a fiscal issue, but as an ideological test of their hatred of the “welfare state.” There’s a reason southern Republicans, perhaps even more than their compatriots elsewhere, love Paul Ryan’s Medicaid “block grant” proposal. They want significant reductions in the existing Medicaid program, along with structural changes that would make it unrecognizable as a low-income entitlement. This involves a philosophical objection to giving poor people free health insurance, not just a budgetary concern.
Moreover, southern GOP lawmakers aren’t entirely free to cut the best fiscal deal they can. Let’s say you are Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, a fiery conservative who sees no problem with openly crusading to drive perfectly legal private-sector labor unions right out of your state. Is it a no-brainer to accept the Medicaid expansion when the most powerful politician in the neighborhood, Sen. Jim DeMint, has this to say after the Court’s decision?

I urge every governor to stop implementing the health care exchanges that would help implement the harmful effects of this misguided law. Americans have loudly rejected this federal takeover of health care, and governors should join with the people and reject its implementation.

In reality, if states do refuse to set up exchanges, ACA allows the federal government to set them up on behalf of the uninsured in those places (and indeed, that will be the ultimate recourse for those affected by a state refusal to expand Medicaid). But the Medicaid expansion does require affirmative state action.
Assuming it survives a potential Republican president and Congress in 2013, the Medicaid expansion is going to be a red-hot issue in many states, particularly in the South, illogical as that might seem. So I agree with Alec MacGillis: The beneficiaries of the Medicaid expansion better get mobilized, not just to protect the national law but to insure it is not sabotaged in their own states.

TDS Co-Editor William Galston: Conservatives’ Long March Through the Court Hits a Wall

This item by TDS Co-Editor William Galston is crossposted from The New Republic.
In a stunning decision that will define his legacy as chief justice, John Roberts broke with the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc and provided the fifth vote to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. While declining to uphold the Act under the Commerce Clause, Roberts argued that the mandate could pass constitutional muster as an exercise of Congress’s power to tax. In so doing, he refrained from providing a precedent for what many conservatives regard as an unprecedented expansion of an already expanded New Deal Commerce Clause about which they have grave reservations.
One can only speculate about Roberts’ motives for proceeding as he did. It is certainly possible that, like Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in the mid-1930s, he had one eye focused on jurisprudence and another on the standing of the institution he heads. This may be another “switch in time” that saved the Court from becoming embroiled in a full-fledged confrontation with the executive and legislative branches.
What is beyond speculation is that this comes as a massive disappointment to movement conservatives who have spent decades strengthening their position in the judicial branch with the ultimate objective of halting and reversing the growing reach of the federal government. Expect recriminations and accusations alleging that, once again, a pivotal conservative has yielded to liberal elite opinion.
If conservatives are to realize their hopes of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the electoral process is their only remaining recourse. Once the dust settles, expect them to mobilize and work even harder for unified government under Republican control. And expect Mitt Romney to wave the bloody shirt all the more vigorously.

Conservatives Race To Get Their ObamaCare Talking Points

This item is cross-posted from The New Republic.
The initial reaction to the Court’s decision on ACA among conservatives seems to have been much like that of other observers: surprise. Some, of course, were surprised by the survival of the individual mandate; more were surprised by the configuration of the majority and minority (Roberts, not Kennedy, defecting; Kennedy’s dissent calling for total invalidation).
There seemed to be a lull in commentary as right-wing gabbers tried to absorb the opinions and develop a common take. Most interestingly, Fox News cut away almost immediately to a fifteen minute interview with the Big Boss, Rupert Murdoch, to discuss his plans for the division of News Corp. into two companies (Rupert offered a few thoughts on the Court decision, too, but nothing deep). National Review‘s The Corner was uncharacteristically quiet immediately following the announcement, but soon John Hood articulated what is rapidly becoming the Big Talking Point on the Right:

First, those who dislike the mandate–which includes a majority of U.S. voters–will now have no recourse but to vote for Mitt Romney to repeal it. Second, the only way the administration prevailed was to have Obama’s main legislative accomplishment redefined as one of the largest middle-class tax increases in the history of the country.

Indeed, the initial tendency of conservatives to express rage at the Chief Justice for betraying The Cause seems to be giving way to an appreciation of what he accomplished by shaping the decision: first, by rejecting the Commerce Clause rationale for ACA, the future option of restricting federal power (and even unraveling the New Deal and Great Society programs) remains open, and second, by using the arcane constitutional doctrine of the “taxing power” to justify ACA, Roberts gave the law’s opponents a ready-made line of attack.
There’s also naturally great interest among conservatives in the 7-2 holding that the federal government cannot withhold all Medicaid funds in order to “coerce” states to go along with ACA’s Medicaid expansion, which accounts for as much as half the law’s expansion of health insurance. Already, there’s talk of states rejecting the expansion, though not much realization of how this decision may have changed partisan politics in the states quite profoundly.
By the time the president spoke, the chattering classes of the Right were in full synch about the “ObamaCare Tax Increase.” Grover Norquist should be pleased.

Kilgore: Romney’s Dilemma May Dilute His Message

TDS Managing Editor Ed Kilgore’s “So What’s the Election About?” at the Washington Monthly has some perceptive ruminations on Romney’s strategy options at this juncture. In the wake of the High Court ruling,

…ObamaCare does indeed touch on conservative obsessions–e.g., the “welfare” that “socialists” want to give to those people–that the subject the election was previously “about,” monthly jobs reports and GDP indicators, doesn’t quite arouse…But is that a smart strategy? And is Mitt Romney, who has all but lobotomized himself, his staff and surrogates to prevent presentation of anything other than the pure economic referendum message, on board?

You can almost hear the Republican base’s eyes glazing over at the prospect of more Mitt yada yada about economic indicators. On the other hand, asks Kilgore, “Is a big national debate over health reform–particularly since Democrats may have actually learned a thing or two about how to market reform, and because popular parts of ACA are now being implemented–a slam dunk for Republicans?” Further, adds Kilgore,

…As Paul Waldman points out today, an ACA debate also brings Romney’s own flip-flop back up in a big way, just when he thought he had that problem in his rear-view window…But it’s not clear to me that Romney is going to be able to suppress the desire of conservatives to rant about ObamaCare 24/7. You may recall that in 2008 wingnut activists got so frustrated with John McCain’s refusal to talk about Jeremiah Wright and ACORN that they started disrupting his events. I think we can look forward to a lot more of that if Mitt tries to “get back on message” and talk monotonously about economic indicators when his audiences want him to whup up on the godless babykilling socializers who want to take Medicare away from hardworking Americans in order to help those people.

All in all, it’s an unhappy dilemma for the Mittster: Provoke more discussion about Bain’s outsourcing of American jobs or Romney’s flip-floppage on health care. It’s hard out there, being a flip-flopping job-outsourcer.

Creamer: Ruling Will Secure a Healthier America, Electrify Dem Base

This article by Democratic political strategist Robert Creamer, author of Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, is cross-posted from HuffPo:
The most important thing about today’s Supreme Court health care decision is the victory for the millions of Americans who will live longer, happier, healthier lives because of the new health care law.
It is also an historic day for the thousands of health care warriors who have fought to make health care a right in America for decades and have finally seen their struggle rewarded with success.
But the Supreme Court’s decision has massive political implications as well:
First, this victory will send another bolt of electricity through Obama’s base. Nothing succeeds better than a hard-fought victory at pumping people up — and firing them up for the next great battle. The victory will send thousands of volunteers streaming into Obama campaign offices — and millions of dollars into its coffers. It will invigorate Obama’s army of volunteers.
It is particularly important when coupled with the president’s decision two weeks ago, protecting Dream Students from deportation. That decision already had a major impact on enthusiasm among Obama supporters — and particularly Latinos.
Their Supreme Court defeat will also dispirit the right-wing — particularly because they were abandoned by their own iconic, conservative Chief Justice who wrote the opinion finding the law constitutional.
Enthusiasm is a huge factor in electoral politics.
Second, the Romney campaign — and Republican candidates across the board — have now been forced to double down on repealing the entire bill. They will argue that now, the only way to get rid of the bill is to elect a new president and a Republican House and Senate.
Opponents of health care for all can no longer rely on arguing that the bill is an “unconstitutional usurpation” of government authority. No less a conservative icon than Chief Justice John Roberts found the law constitutional.
Since Obama Care is now a reality, Democrats can now move from defense to offense on health care.
By supporting repeal of the entire law, Republicans also support taking away the law’s protections against discrimination because of pre-existing conditions.
They support taking away access to free preventive health care for seniors.
They support taking away health care from millions of young people who can now stay on their parent’s insurance policies until they are 26 years old.
They support taking away access to contraception for women.
They support taking away enhanced prescription drug coverage for seniors.
They support taking away provisions that no longer allow discrimination against women.
They support taking away provisions that prevent people from being just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.
The support ending provisions that require that insurance companies can must spend 80 percent of their premium dollars on medical care — not on administrative costs and profits.
People may be afraid of things they don’t know much about. That helps explain some of the past opposition to the health care law by people who would benefit from it. But people are furious when you try to take something away from them. Romney will lose that argument over the months ahead.
Third, ironically, the past unpopularity of the law now positions the president as a strong, resolute leader, who does things because they are right — not because they are politically popular.
Passing health care reform was incredibly difficult and politically risky. Barack Obama is a leader that is a committed to principle — the mirror opposite to Mitt Romney, who has no core values whatsoever. Most voters want leaders who stand up for what they believe. That is a huge advantage for Barack Obama’s candidacy for re-election.
Finally, the Supreme Court victory creates political momentum. In politics as in sports, momentum — the bandwagon — is absolutely critical to the outcome. People like winners — they like to be with winners. Today Barack Obama — and the people of the United States — were winners.
That fact will give the president a major boost — a long-term boost — among swing voters over the months ahead.
This is a very, very big day for the lives of ordinary Americans.
It is also a very, very big day for the critical November battle that will chart our nation’s future.

Dems Celebrate ACA Ruling, While GOP Spills the Whine

Here comes the “See, we told you Obamacare was nothing but a big tax” whine from Republicans, coupled with more angry pledges to “repeal Obamacare.” It’s really the GOP’s only option, given Chief Justice John Roberts’s ruling that the Act’s provision requiring all Americans buy health insurance is not a mandate; it’s a tax, fully authorized by the Constitution.
As a tax, it’s small ‘taters in comparative terms. The Congressional Budget Office estimates for the cost of the ACA are in the $94 billion per year for the first ten years range, less than the tax cuts for the wealthy that Congress passed during the Bush administration. And let’s not forget that the $94 billion doesn’t take into consideration all of the financial benefits of a healthier population. Republicans are going to have a very tough sell with the “big tax” argument.
Looking at it another way, American consumers spend an estimated $75 billion per year on soft drinks — and that figure doesn’t include additional hidden costs, such as expensive health care problems, like tooth decay, obesity-related illnesses and diabetes.
So what are the Republicans going to do? Run against Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Obama? Even the most optimistic general election scenarios don’t include the GOP emerging from November with the 60 Senate seats needed to stop a filibuster. Even if they did, do they really want to drag the American public through another excruciating and protracted debate about health care, particularly since they have no alternative plan.
What they are going to do about it is whine for a couple of months to gin up wingnut animosity, until they realize that the value added in terms of votes is close to nil. They’ll trot out the repeal pledges every now and then for an applause line from their knee-jerk ideologues. But they know that the voter mobilization potential of a repeal campaign is very limited from now on.
In the heated debates ahead about repealing the ACA, Dems should always point out that the law was approved by a super-majority, affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court and the opposition has no alternative plan. More importantly, the ruling provides cause for celebration, and not just because of the political victory for President Obama. As Andrew Rosenthal puts it in his New York Times blog, “The Affordable Care Act will provide insurance for tens of millions of working people and it will eventually help rationalize and bring down the costs of health care for everyone.”

Kilgore: MSM Meme Re Dem Convention No-Shows is for Dummies

TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore Blogs at The Washington Monthly on the MSM buzz about some Democrats taking a pass on the upcoming convention, and it’s a fun read because Kilgore knows the turf like few other political writers — from the inside.

Both Republicans and some MSM purveyors of a snail’s-eye-view have been richly enjoying the drip-drip-drip of “stories” about this or that Democratic pol in a highly competitive race deciding to skip the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. …Look, don’t get me wrong: I love national party conventions, God help me. I’ve been to six of the suckers myself, and have watched as much as I could of both parties’ conventions since 1964. Hell, there are years when it was about the only thing I watched on TV, other than election night coverage itself and University of Georgia football games.
But let’s face it: national conventions lost their deliberative functions long ago. The last multi-ballot affair was in 1952, long before the advent of the modern primary system. The last convention where there was any doubt after the opening gavel about the identity of the nominee was in 1976, and that was only because of a miraculously close primary finish between Reagan and Ford. The last time there was any serious convention maneuvering over the platform was in 1980, when the Carter forces blithely caved to a full-employment plank designed to embarrass the president.

Kilgore acknowledges that political conventions do serve some worthwhile functions as “a well-timed opportunity for message delivery” and “fundraising and GOTV preparations.” However, “For a junior congressional candidate in a tough race, it’s time better spent either on the hustings or dialing for dollars. Kilgore concludes, “So let’s give the no-show meme a rest, folks. It’s news about nothing from nowhere. ”

Political Strategy Notes

Lawrence Tribe predicts that the High Court will uphold Obamacare. Robert Reich agrees. But only 10 percent of Americans think they are right, according to this Economist/YouGov poll.
if the Court sinks the ACA, Do read Joan McCarter’s case at Daily Kos that Medicare for all is the best way to go. “A Medicare for all platform allows the Democrats to run against the activist Supreme Court, to run against the horribly unpopular Romney-Ryan Medicare plan, to provide the real contrast between the parties that many voters have struggled to see. And it would excite the hell out of the Democratic base; it would give us something to fight for. What’s the worst that could happen? Republicans calling Medicare socialism?”
Sorry, Mitt. Regarding your campaign’s “off the record private meeting” with Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, there will be no retraction of the Washington Post expose of Bain’s “pioneering” role as an American jobs out-sourcer, reports Dylan Byers at Politico. As one commenter on Byers’ report put it “…Heckuva job, Mittens. You drew attention back to the report, and got nothing in return. Brilliant!”
For a good activist antidote to outsourcing, join the AFL-CIO’s “Bring Jobs Home” campaign. According to AFL-CIO Now’s Mike Hall, The upcoming mobilizations will highlight the Bring Jobs Home Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in the Senate (S. 2884) and by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) in the House (H.R. 5542). “The legislation would eliminate tax breaks allowing companies to deduct expenses associated with moving operations overseas, while still encouraging them to assist displaced workers. It also would provide a tax credit to corporations that bring jobs back to the United States.” Text JOBS to 235246 to get info and action alerts.
David A. Graham’s post, “How Outsourcing Backlash Could Swing the Election in Key States” at the Atlantic has an instructive revelation that Dems can leverage: “Columbia political scientist Yotam Margalit…did a more detailed study of the 2004 election and found that outsourcing can be a potent issue: “Between 2000 and 2004, the electoral cost to the incumbent of a marginal job lost due to foreign competition was, on average, more than twice as large as the effect of a job loss resulting from other causes (e.g., domestic competition).” In other words, unemployment hurts an officeholder seeking reelection, but unemployment from jobs shipped overseas is much worse.”
Well, this is encouraging, and not a minute too soon.
Nate Cohn makes a sobering argument at TNR that, contrary to much recent reportage, “No, We Don’t Have Evidence of An Obama Advantage In The Electoral College.”
On the other hand, Jacob Weisberg has a point in arguing “Between the end of the primaries and the start of the conventions, presidential campaigns are message wars. Both sides test slogans and proposals while trying to frame their opponents in memorably unfavorable ways. In this phase, President Barack Obama has been the clear winner.”
And just to hone the messaging a bit, Dems, stop blaming “congress,” and start blaming Republicans in congress.
The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll offers some data to support the assertion that the Obama ad campaigns in swing states attacking Romney are working. “The obvious conclusion here is that the negative TV ads pummeling Romney in the battleground states…are having an impact,” conclude NBC’s political unit in their “First Read” morning briefing…The data in the NBC-WSJ poll certainly backs up that sentiment. A month ago in those same 12 swing states, Romney averaged a 36 percent favorable and 36 percent unfavorable rating. Now, he is at 30 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable. Attitudes about Romney’s business background, a target of numerous ads run by the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super PAC, are more negative in swing states…That’s despite the fact that Obama and his allies are being outspent by Romney and his allies on the air right now.”

Mitt’s “Simple” Plan

I’ve got two posts up at Washington Monthly that deal with big-picture strategic issues–specifically, the Romney election strategy.
One, playing off a Michael Crowley article on the 1980 and 1992 elections as being more complicated than the usual “economic referendum” assumptions about incumbent re-election cycles, examines one key reason the Romney campaign is so “focused” on a highly unspecific economic message: the policy preferences of his party are highly unpopular with non-Republicans. He needs to convince swing voters to make this a “referendum” on Obama’s economic record not just because many political scientists believe that’s what this type of election usually revolves around, but because any other message is perilous for him. To put it another way, Romney has a simple-minded message because he is encouraging swing voters to engage in a simple-minded calculation of how to vote.
Accordingly, in a second post I question the emerging CW that Romney’s campaign has been too slow or too vague in responding to developments like the president’s recent immigration initiative (and/or the Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s immigration law). Again, if you accept the premise that Romney’s whole campaign depends on ignoring issues other than poor macroeconomic indicators, it makes perfect sense that he’d be uninterested in speedy or specific reactions to developments that aren’t germane to his message. More broadly, anything that makes this a “comparative” election is unwelcome to Team Mitt.