washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: March 2013

Political Strategy Notes

At Daily Kos Elections, David Jarman’s “Renters make good Democrats, and other demographic observations” offers some useful insights. Lots of interesting discussion in the comments section as well.
Could it be clearer? Even a conservative-commissioned poll shows it. As Alexander Burns reports at Politico, “The YG Network polling, conducted by the GOP firm McLaughlin & Associates, found that 38 percent of Americans name the “economy and jobs” as the issue of greatest importance to them. Twenty percent named “deficit and debt” as their top concern, and 16 percent pointed to health care…”It is important to note that ‘economy and jobs’ is almost twice that of ‘deficit and debt,'” pollster John McLaughlin notes in the report.”
This story probably deserves more attention from both the media and Democratic strategists than it is going to get: A new guest worker proposal under discussion in talks between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and organized labor would link foreign worker visas to the unemployment rate.
Sen Rob Portman’s about-face notwithstanding, Nate Silver reports that ” only 25 percent of Republican voters supported same-sex marriage in Pew’s poll last year, barely changed from 21 percent in 2001.”
Republicans don’t like it. But a pro-Democratic group is launching a new website, C-Quest.org, which “will feature original video and local coverage of the sequester’s effects,” reports Aaron Blake at Post Politics.
Greg Sargent finds “A moment of real clarity in the fiscal debate,” after reporters corner Speaker Boehner and Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Sargent concludes from the interviews: “…now sinking in that: 1) Republicans are not getting the entitlement cuts they want without agreeing to new revenues; and 2) Republicans are explicitly confirming that there is no compromise that is acceptable to them to get the cuts they themselves say they want. The GOP position, with no exaggeration, is that the only way Republican leaders will ever agree to paying down the deficit they say is a threat to American civilization is 100 percent their way; they are not willing to concede anything at all to reach any deal involving new revenues to reduce the deficit, or to get the entitlement reform they want, or to avert sequestration they themselves said will gut the military and tank the economy.”
Wonkblog’s Danny Hayes has an insightful post on attitudes toward the death penalty — and the role of the MSM in transforming the way people think about it.
Speaking of the MSM, am I nuts, or is CPAC getting an awful lot of ink, air time and bytes for an organization representing an ideology that was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in the last election? (See, for example, what you get when you click on National Journal’s ‘Politics’ link. Hard to imagine a liberal organization getting equivalent coverage)
E. J. Dionne, Jr. puts the conservative disconnect with political reality in perspective: “Do they honestly think voters will endorse the military spending they seek even as they throw 40 million to 50 million of our fellow citizens off health insurance and weaken health coverage for our elderly? Can they continue to deny that their goal of an internationally influential America demands more revenue than they currently seem willing to provide? Have conservatives on the Supreme Court pondered what eviscerating the Voting Rights Act would do to the image of our democracy around the globe?…Would they rather waste the next three years than make any further concessions to a president the voters just reelected?”
I’m glad someone else noticed.

Dems: look closely at the language and metaphors that self-proclaimed “middle of the road” pundits use to criticize Obama: it provides an ironically revealing indication of their deep intellectual dishonesty.

Democrats really don’t need any assistance in finding examples of intellectual dishonesty in the writings of the self-proclaimed “nonpartisan” or “sensible middle of the road” commentators who criticize Obama but let Republicans escape with little or no condemnation. But there is one particular characteristic of this group that provides a psychologically fascinating demonstration of their subconscious bias toward the GOP.
Consider one of the most popular political metaphors of recent weeks — the demand that Obama should act like “the adult in the room,” basically by making completely one-sided concessions to the GOP. This “adult” metaphor is invariably presented by middle of the road commentators as something that is self-evident; to them, the demand seems entirely reasonable and politically neutral.
But the intriguing psychological fact about this metaphor is that it carries a very clear and completely unavoidable set of implications about the other side of the equation – the GOP.
If Obama is being called upon to act as “the adult in the room” this inescapably implies that the GOP is behaving like a bunch of children. Indeed, it actually implies a good deal more than that: it implies that the Republicans are acting like spoiled, undisciplined and misbehaving children. In most people’s minds, when children’s behavior becomes so unruly that it becomes urgently necessary to call on someone to act as the adult in the room it tends to suggest a whole series of subsidiary concepts — that the children needing adult supervision are behaving like spoiled brats, that they need a good spanking, that they are being indulged and pampered. That their parents are not doing them any favor. That they need tough love or they are going to grow up as deeply damaged selfish and self-centered adults.
Now, how many times have you seen a middle of the road commentator connect his or her call on Obama to behave like the adult in the room with any of these images of the GOP? The answer, of course, is absolutely never.
And in fact, this refusal to take their own language and metaphors seriously is repeated again and again in the rhetoric of the self-proclaimed middle of the road commentators.

Obama is called on to display “Leadership as President” because it is his responsibility in that high and exalted position but Republicans are not held to have any corresponding responsibility to show even minimal respect or deference for either the man or the office.
Obama is called on to display political “courage” but Republicans are not criticized for failing to show even the most minimal political bravery of their own.
Obama is called on to “rise above politics” but Republicans are not condemned for gleefully wallowing in it.

In short, virtually the entire range of sanctimonious, one-sided demands made on Obama by the middle of the road commentators inherently imply equal or greater failings on the part of the Republicans, but these implied failings are never directly expressed or criticized.
(Note: After two years of savage criticism by progressive writers like Greg Sargeant, Paul Krugman and others, middle of the road commentators have now finally begun to add a pro-forma sentence somewhere in their columns that quickly notes that “of course, Republicans can be argued to be more at fault than Obama”, but they quickly make up for this brief criticism of the GOP by throwing around a dozen or more terms like “Washington” “the political parties” “congress” and so on, all of which are calculated to indicate that they really believe both sides are equally to blame.)
So the bottom line is this: the same exact language that middle of the road commentators so widely use to criticize Obama simultaneously implies that Republicans should be viewed as “spoiled brats” who “need a good spanking” because they are “disrespectful”, “ill-mannered”, “ill-behaved”, “cowardly”, “selfish” and “self-indulgent,” but the middle of the road commentators absolutely never – never – follow their own language and metaphors to their logical conclusion.
This is not only powerful evidence of a deep intellectual dishonesty but — for people who are paid to exercise literary skill — it also demonstrates a genuinely startling inability to perform the task for which they were hired.

Lux: Obama, Dems Should Unite Against Ryan Budget, Wall St. Abuses

The following article, by Democratic Strategist Mike Lux, author of “The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be,” is cross-posted from HuffPo:
I am thankful each and every day that Barack Obama won the 2012 election, and that he is our president instead of Mitt Romney. The current version of the Republican Party is the most extreme, cynical, and utterly heartless group of people I have ever witnessed in American politics- and I have witnessed a lot in my 30-plus years in politics. I am proud of the president for the good things he has done on many different issues, and for many of the fights he has chosen to take on. But on economic policy, and especially on fighting for the middle class, this President has two blind spots the size of a Mack truck.
The first is Wall Street. Obama’s first term Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner believed that the most important thing in making the economy work better was to help the biggest banks on Wall Street, and Obama’s current Attorney General openly admits in official testimony to Congress that he is hesitant to prosecute criminals who are executives at big banks because it might hurt those companies, and therefore, apparently, the broader economy. These policies are bad economics, bad morality, and bad politics. This allegiance to Wall Street’s interests has drained vast amounts of money out of productive investments in the real economy, put millions of homeowners underwater on their mortgages or into foreclosure, made big bank execs feel free to commit financial fraud, and allowed continued dangerous speculation in our financial markets that could lead to another financial panic in the not too distant future. These pro-Wall Street policies have slowed the economy down dramatically. Favoring the biggest banks over the rest of the economy is terrible policy if you want to help the middle class.
The other huge blind spot is on Obama’s great desire to strike this “grand bargain”, including cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits. He seems obsessed with the idea, offering it up to the Republicans over and over and over again no matter how many times they say no. He is dead wrong on this issue, and Democrats in Congress should fight him on it tooth and nail.

Ryan’s Budget Keeps Moderate Republicans Hiding in Shadows

There have been plenty of incisive critiques of Paul Ryan’s latest budget, but E.J. Dionne, Jr.’s WaPo column, “Paul Ryan’s Cruelly Radical Vision” captures the essential meanness of it better than most:

It is full of holes and magic asterisks, the biggest being his refusal to detail any of the middle-class tax deductions he would have to scrap to get to his 25 percent income tax rate. This would represent an astonishingly large cut from the current 39.6 percent rate for incomes of over $450,000 a year.
It’s a cruel budget. To finance his largess to the very well-off, Ryan would — through steep Medicaid cuts and the repeal of Obamacare — leave an additional 40 million to 50 million poor or moderate-income Americans without health insurance, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
He’d impose big reductions for food stamps, college tuition aid, child nutrition programs and a slew of other programs that help the least among us. Even here, Ryan doesn’t come clean. He fuzzes up exactly how such cuts might be made by lumping them together in large categories.
Those who think of themselves as compassionate conservatives have a moral obligation to oppose Ryan’s design.

Dionne describes Sen. Patti Murray’s budget as a far more serious effort for those who prefer to live in the real world, where flesh and blood working people are already struggling to get by and adds:

…Poorer Americans pay a big part of the price for Ryan’s cuts; Murray leans primarily on revenue from wealthier Americans to move closer to balance. Ryan claims to reach balance in 10 years. Murray and the Democrats rightly argue that rushing to balance is less important than keeping an eye on economic growth and job creation. So Murray includes $100 billion in her plan to support infrastructure projects and job-training programs.

Dionne notes “It takes nerve to dismiss the results of an election that Ryan himself called a “referendum” and wonders if House Republicans will “be held accountable for ignoring that verdict while putting forward something this radical and unrealistic?”
it’s a good question, make that the question of the political moment. Dionne concludes, “This is, finally, a test of those who consider themselves moderate and are seeking a sensible settlement. Will they call out Ryan and the House Republicans for how extreme their ideas are? Or will they instead adjust their own postures and timidly let Ryan dictate the terms of the debate?”
Regrettably, none of the more astute commentators are betting on the few remaining moderate Republicans coming forward from the shadows to do what is best for America.

Kilgore: Continue the Beatings Until Morale Improves

Ed Kilgore has a perceptive post up at Washington Monthly explaining why the Republican party’s capacity for substantive change has devolved to nil. He cites Ray Marshall’s insight that, in addition to the tea party’s knee-jerk nihilism,

… Thanks to a combination of geographic sorting and gerrymandering, many House Republicans can truthfully claim to be faithfully representing their constituents who sent them to Washington to pull down the Temple, not to do deals with Democrats. That’s why the House stands for now at least as the Proud Tower of unbending right-wing orthodoxy.

Then Kilgore elaborates:

With the “base” and elected officials (not to mention the vast noise machine of activists and gabbers) alike embracing every available excuse for maintaining the GOP’s ideological totems, the handful of wonks and scribblers calling for a fundamental reexamination of those totems are laughably outgunned. Marshall doesn’t specifically note the complicity of the MSM in mis-describing the various “rebranding” and “better messaging” projects of the GOP as something far more consequential than they actually are. But that, too, encourages the deception and self-deception that keeps Republicans from facing the music, and helps, as Marshall does observe, prevent a divided federal government from functioning on a whole host of issues….

Rather than wait indefinitely for enough Republicans to grow up or for the MSM to do its job, Kilgore concludes that the only sensible response left for Dems is to keep beating the Republicans. “These people just need the honesty that comes with chronic defeat. That won’t be easy for those who still think of Barry Goldwater’s calamitous loss in 1964 as a moral victory.”

Political Strategy Notes

Matea Gold of the L.A. Times D.C. Bureau reports on President Obama’s message to Organizing for Action Founder’s Summit yesterday, which is right on target: “The only idea here that we’re promoting is the notion that if the American people are speaking out, organized, activated, that may give space here in Washington to do the kind of work — hopefully bipartisan work — that’s required…But in order to do that I’m going to need all your help.” Gold adds, “…The organization is drawing on his campaign’s data, technology and staff as it seeks to build a grass-roots force to back him on issues such as gun control, immigration reform and the budget.”
At The Washington Post, Lori Montgomery reports “…107 House Democrats — more than half the caucus — have signed a letter declaring their “vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits.” And the complaints are likely to grow louder as Republicans press Obama for more details about his proposals to charge wealthy seniors more for Medicare coverage and to implement the Social Security inflation change, known as the chained consumer price index, or chained CPI.”
Here’s a Wonkblog graphic comparison of the Senate Democrats budget (sponsored by Patti Murray) and Paul Ryan’s House budget.
In his ‘Conscience of a Liberal’ blog, Paul Krugman observes that the Ryan budget “produces a lot of front-loaded austerity, in part because it keeps the tax hikes that finance Obamacare while cancelling the Medicaid expansion and exchange subsidies. The result would be a lot of fiscal drag in 2014 and 2015 — years when the U.S. is very likely still to be in a liquidity trap, so multipliers will be large. This particular “Path to Prosperity” is, in the short to medium term, very much a path to continued depression.”
John Dickerson’s Slate post, “Is Obama Setting a Trap for Republicans?” probes white house strategy in the budget negotiations. Sure, the president would like a grand bargain on the budget, and he has to try for one, knowing full-well that the Republicans could string him along for a while, then sink the negotiations at any time. In that event, Obama has the cover he needs to hang tough and reveal, once again, that the Republicans can’t govern because they won’t compromise — not a bad meme for 2014.
The Republicans’ clueless arrogance toward working people is well-reflected in this account “The Lesson of Mitt Romney’s 47-Percent Video: Be Nice to the Wait Staff?” by Chris Good of ABC’s ‘The Note.’ As Good puts it in his opening and closing sentences: “Mitt Romney may have lost the presidency because he offended a bartender” and “Perhaps candidates should be more careful about what they say around servers, because sometimes the 47 percent is bringing out the food.”
At Roll Call, Abby Livingston posts on “The Unusual Suspects: DCCC Hunts for Outsiders.” Livingston credits the DCCC with reaching beyond traditional sources for candidate recruitment in the Committee’s new ‘Operation Jumpstart.’ Says DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward: “We look for solutionists, people who have a track record of solving problems in that community or have a story that really resonates with the voters in that community — mayors, business leaders, veterans.” OK, but a wider net couldn’t hurt.
Boo hoo about Intrade’s big fold. But Nate Silver reports that betting on political outcomes is very much alive elsewhere. “Most of these sites are not open to Americans…But they tended to perform more rationally than Intrade over the course of the 2012 campaign, with their prices more closely tracking polls, prediction models and news events.” But their traffic is peanuts, compared to the mother of all casinos — Wall St.– and Silver shows how politics is reflected in stock market prices.
At The New York Times ‘Opinionator,’ Thomas B. Edsall explores in impressive detail how the three different methods of measuring poverty used by politicians lead to serious problems in formulating policy: “The lack of definition in our definition of poverty is part of the problem; it helps to answer the question of how the richest country in the history of the world could have so many people living in a state of deprivation.”
Here’s hoping that Sen. Rand Paul will serve as a ‘useful idiot’ spolier in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, garnering just enough votes in key states to help deny their most electable candidate, whoever that may be, the nomination. Given the GOP’s venerable tradition of silly or malevolent veep candidates, Paul may yet find himself in that slot, which is a scary enough “heartbeat away” scenario. But he is not likely to top the ticket, as Michael Gerson argues in his WaPo column, “Rand Paul masks his true worldview.”

Ryan’s Budget Sets New Standard for Arrogance Toward Public

Ed Kilgore’s “A Tug O’ the Forelock” at the Washington Monthly pinpoints the “rationale” behind Paul Ryan’s latest regurgitation:

…In the 1980s, when Democrats found themselves on the south end of a northbound electoral-demographic trend line, they adjusted pretty dramatically, or at least had big and ideologically meaningful arguments about it with the forces of the status quo ante having the burden of persuasion. Republicans in a similar situation seem determined to scream defiance at the electorate. Their way is the Truth and the Light, and it’s the country which needs to adjust!
…Ryan’s budget is a tug of the forelock by the House GOP to the Cut-Cap-Balance crowd who think a radical and permanent reduction in domestic spending, read right into the Constitution, should be the eternal message of the Republican Party, no matter what happens electorally. All their endless and redundant RINO-bashing and demands for adherence to “conservative principle” reflect that belief-set. The American people are to be offered a chance to reverse the tragic mistake they made in 1964, again and again until they finally get it right. So it’s important to Ryan’s core constituency that the party’s largely symbolic budget documents keep on that shining path, world without end.

All of which must be sorely testing the capacity for embarrassment of smarter Republicans. As “T2” adds in the comments following Kilgore’s post, “Another example of why today’s GOP has become more of a cult than a viable political party.”

Midwest Flagship Newspaper Calls Out GOP Hypocrites

Hats off to the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for setting a high standard of gutsy truth-telling for other heartland MSM newspapers. Here’s a tasty morsel of richly-deserved snarkage from their editorial “Missouri Senate blames unions for economic woes. Oh, please.”:

The Missouri Senate has found the culprit. It’s public employees.
It’s those absurdly high-paid teachers, nurses, janitors, secretaries, pothole fixers and home health care workers.
Early Tuesday morning, while some of those workers were helping roll over your grandma or grandpa at the nursing home so they didn’t get bed sores, the Republicans who lead the state Senate set things right. They gave initial approval to a bill that will make it a little harder for the unions that represent those public employees to collect fees that might be used to elect thoughtful people to elected office.
Take that.

The editorial goes on to note that Missouri public workers are already the lowest-paid state employees in the U.S. and weakened unions are struggling to survive with GOP domination of the legislature. But the Republican bully-boys just can’t resist beating up on working people who happen to be in a vulnerable position. Further, states the editorial:

But because union-bashing has become a big-money deal on the national scene (thanks to Wisconsin and Michigan), the lemmings in the Missouri Senate don’t want to be left behind. They’re doing the bidding of their corporate overlords in the American Legislative Exchange Council, which promotes cookie-cutter legislation written by corporate lawyers to enhance their bottom lines.
So, for those of you keeping score at home, this is what the Senate did (so far) in one of the key legislative weeks, the last before spring break, sending a signal to all where its priorities lie:
It raised taxes on poor people.
It cut taxes for rich people.
It hurt teachers, nurses and other public employees.

Naturally, the bill exempts first responder public unions (firefighters, police) which have strong lobbies and whose members tend to vote Republican more frequently than other union members. It’s all about shameless partisanship. As the editorial concludes, “Senate Republicans should have more pride than this. If they want to blame working people for the state’s economic problems, while banks and corporations sit on record profits, good luck with that argument. But have the courage to tell the truth.”
As with bullies everywhere, real courage, as in standing up for decent treatment of people who are struggling, is not a consideration. But at least the hometown newspaper is doing its job sticking up for working people who deserve a little support.

Behind the Latest ‘Obama is in Trouble’ Poll

Amid all of the buzz about President Obama’s approval numbers downtick in recent opinion surveys, WaPo’s Greg Sargent has a lucid take on the latest Post poll:

…Dig deeper into the poll and you find something striking: Public disapproval of the sequester is running high — and more Americans hold Republicans responsible for it. Solid majorities oppose specific cuts to government programs to replace the sequester — even as solid majorities support closing tax loopholes to replace it. Solid majorities reject the basic Republican argument about the sequester and the economy.
It’s true that the poll finds that Obama only holds a small edge over Republicans on who is most trusted on the economy, 44-40. His approval rating has slipped, though it remains at 50 percent. The public also is split on who has the balance right on government spending (though this may again reflect that people always like cutting spending in the abstract). But look at these findings:
* 72 percent of Americans, including 74 percent of independents and 81 percent of moderates, disapprove of the Congressional GOP.
* Americans disapprove of the sequester cuts by 53-39; 64 percent say they’ll hurt the economy; 60 percent say they’ll hurt the government’s ability to provide basic services; and 69 percent say they’ll hurt the military.
* Americans hold Congressional Republicans responsible for the sequester cuts by 47-33.
* 68 percent want Obama and the GOP to work together to avert the cuts, while only 28 percent want them to continue (the conservative position).
* 71 percent oppose cutting spending on Medicaid to replace the cuts; and 60 percent oppose raising the Medicare eligibility age to replace them. By contrast, 58 percent support replacing the cuts with more targeted cuts to military spending.
* 56 percent support replacing the cuts with an agreement that includes limiting deductions enjoyed by higher income individuals.

Doesn’t sound like much support for the GOP’s rigid position that only budget cuts merit consideration. As Sargent explains: “People say they agree with the GOP about spending cuts in the abstract. But when you get specific, solid majorities disapprove of the sequester cuts and think they’ll harm the economy — rejecting the conservative argument about the relationship between the economy and spending cuts.”
When polls ask good questions, it is clear that progressive economic policies have much more support than do the Republican’s austerity proposals. Or, as Sargent concludes, “Majorities reject the values, priorities, and governing vision at the heart of the GOP stance on the sequester.”