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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: June 2013

Mike Tomasky: Democrats must get ready for a new, bitter and hysterical wave of GOP race-baiting in 2016

Just look at what’s already happened since the [Voting Rights Act] decision was announced–the GOP is launching voter-suppression drives in six of the nine freshly liberated states. All the states, of course, are down South. These drives might “work.” But they will attract an enormous amount of negative publicity, and they’ll probably induce massive backlashes and counter-movements. This effort will lead to even greater distrust of the GOP by people of color, and it will reinforce the captive Southern-ness of the party, making it even more Southern than it already is. And Republicans won’t stop, because they can’t stop. Race baiting is their crack pipe.
And here’s the worst part of this story. If the House Republicans kill immigration reform, and Republican parties across the South double down to keep blacks from voting, then they really will need to jack up the white vote–and especially the old white vote–in a huge way to be competitive in 2016 and beyond. Well, they’re not going to do that by mailing out Lawrence Welk CDs. They’re going to run heavily divisive and racialized campaigns, worse than we’ve ever seen out of Nixon or anyone. Their only hope of victory will be to make a prophet of Trende–that is, reduce the Democrats’ share of the white vote to something in the mid- to low-30 percent range. That probably can’t happen, but there’s only one way it might. Run the most racially inflamed campaign imaginable.
That’s the near-term future we’re staring at. We can take satisfaction in the fact that it’s bad for them, but unfortunately, it’s not so good for the country.

Jamelle Bouie: Is the GOP House majority as safe as it looks?

The broad assumption for next year’s congressional elections is that Republicans hold the advantage. Not only are Democrats defending more seats in the Senate, but Republicans have an entrenched House majority and benefit from the skewed demographics of midterm elections, where traditionally Democratic voters — young people, women and nonwhites — are underrepresented at the voting booth.
With that said, a new poll from Democracy Corps, a Democratic polling group, suggests that the landscape for Democrats is better than it looks. In its survey of the 24 most competitive Republican congressional districts, the GOP holds just a one-point advantage over a generic Democrat, 43 percent to 42 percent. What’s more, a large number of voters in these districts (54 percent) want Republicans to do more to work with President Obama. Overall, the Republican brand has taken a serious hit over the last six months — GOP opposition to universal background checks and the Violence Against Women Act, among other things, has raised “serious doubts” about the performance of Republican incumbents in competitive areas.
Indeed, this fits with other polling, in particular, generic ballot surveys, that show Democrats with a small but persistent advantage. In the Real Clear Politics average, for example, Democrats hold a three-point lead in the generic ballot, 42 percent to 39 percent.
None of this is to say that the GOP is set to lose in 2014, but that the current behavior of congressional Republicans has not endeared the public. Another 12 months of this, and the GOP could find itself in a worrisome position next November.

Ross Douthat: Democrats Get a Gift From the Roberts Court

…the Roberts Court may have actually handed the Democratic Party a political gift.
…When Nate Silver looked at studies assessing the impact of voter ID laws, he estimated that they tend to reduce turnout by around 2 percent — and that reduction crosses racial lines, rather than affecting African-Americans exclusively.
A 2 percent dip is still enough to influence a close election. But voter ID laws don’t take effect in a vacuum: as they’re debated, passed and contested in court, they shape voter preferences and influence voter enthusiasm in ways that might well outstrip their direct influence on turnout. They inspire registration drives and education efforts; they help activists fund-raise and organize; they raise the specter of past injustices; they reinforce a narrative that their architects are indifferent or hostile to minorities.
This, I suspect, is part of the story of why African-American turnout didn’t fall off as expected between 2008 and 2012. By trying to restrict the franchise on the margins, Republican state legislators handed Democrats a powerful tool for mobilization and persuasion, and motivated voters who might otherwise have lost some of their enthusiasm after the euphoria of “Yes We Can” gave way to the reality of a stagnant, high-unemployment economy.
So a lengthy battle over voting rules and voting rights seems almost precision-designed to help the Obama-era Democratic majority endure once President Obama has left the Oval Office….Liberal demagogy notwithstanding, voter ID laws aren’t a way for Republicans to turn the clock back and make sure that it’s always 1965. But they are a good way for Republicans to ensure that African-Americans keep voting like it’s always 2008

Dana Milbank: Darrell Issa and the overblown scandals

This is how a scandal implodes:

First, the head of the investigation overpromises. “This was a targeting of the president’s political enemies, effectively, and lies about it during the election year so that it wasn’t discovered until afterwards,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight committee, said in May of the IRS targeting scandal. He later declared President Obama’s press secretary a “paid liar” for stating otherwise.
Next, facts emerge to undermine the investigator’s presuppositions. Documents released by Ways and Means committee Democrats this week show that the IRS, in addition to targeting tea party groups, also had “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) lists for groups using descriptors such as “progressive,” “health care legislation,” “medical marijuana,” “paying national debt” and “green energy.”
Finally, evidence surfaces that the investigator stacked the deck. Tuesday night, the Hill newspaper quoted a spokesman for Treasury’s inspector general, Russell George, saying the group was asked by Issa “to narrowly focus on tea party organizations.” The inspectors knew there were other terms, but “that was outside the scope of our audit.”
Certainly, something went badly wrong at the IRS that caused groups to be targeted because of ideology. But it’s nothing like the conspiracy Issa cooked up in which the president and his men supposedly used the tax authority to attack their political foes.
…the collapse of the Issa-driven scandal has reinforced a growing impression in the capital that ultimately will help Obama: The chairman is full of it.

The Third Way approach to debating the deficit: A guide for the perplexed

The principals of Third Way had an op-ed in the Washington post last week that characteristically began by slamming what they called “the left.” Now Third Way has a very unique approach to debating those it disagrees with – an approach that may be confusing for those new to it. To assist the neophyte, here’s a handy guide.
The Third Way op-ed says:

The left needs to get real on Medicare, Social Security and the deficit……These voices [i.e. the left] argue that we can have substantial new spending on public investments, a secure safety net, no middle-class tax increase — all without addressing entitlement spending.

Now a normal reader has to wonder, exactly who is this “left” that believes and advocates this view? After all, even the most prominent opponents of deficit-hysteria like Paul Krugman, Bob Reich and Bob Kuttner don’t seriously embrace the simplistic view above. So who is it? The people who write comments at Firedoglake? The guys and gals who wear the Guy Fawkes masks during Occupy protests?
Nope. It turns out that “the left” that Third Way is criticizing in their Op-Ed is essentially the entire – and I mean entire — liberal-progressive coalition. Their expansive definition of the “left” includes even those groups that are the closest to Obama himself.
Here’s Third Way:

There is a rising chorus on the left, most recently articulated in an op-ed Monday by Neera Tanden and Michael Linden [“Deficits are not destiny”] of the Center for American Progress, that our fiscal conversation should be declared over and plans for meaningful entitlement reforms mothballed.

Now, frankly, if Third Way seriously defines the Center for American Progress as representing “the left” in American politics then they must also define the Brookings Institution and the Hoover Institution as the official think tanks of the Mississippi Tea Party and the Arizona minutemen. There is simply no other way to compress the American political spectrum from left to right radically enough to fit Third Way’s categorization scheme. CAP is, of all the Beltway think tanks, the one closest to the Obama administration. Moreover, until several weeks ago it was counted among the “good guys” by many deficit-hawks because it supported a “grand bargain.” On occasion it may be described by journalists as “center-left” rather than as “liberal” or “progressive,” but, aside from Third Way, never as simply “the left”
And the actual policies proposed by the Center for American Progress do not even remotely fit the caricature Third Way offers in the initial quote above,
Here’s Third Way:

But the left’s reasoning is predicated on four fiscal fantasies….Fantasy No. 1 is that taxing the rich solves our problems. Fantasy No. 2 is that “we can have it all” “substantial new spending on public investments, a secure safety net, no middle-class tax increase — all without addressing entitlement spending.”

Now here is what the Center for American Progress’s Op-Ed – the Op-Ed specifically cited by Third Way as its key example of what “the left” thinks — actually says:

Indeed, liberals have been leading on entitlement reform as part of a balanced approach to deficit reduction for the past four years. The Center for American Progress offered a detailed plan to reform Social Security that would achieve 75-year solvency while making the system more progressive, stable and eliminating its gender inequity. We also offered a Medicare plan that would continue to reduce costs for the federal government, saving $385 billion over 10 years, without shifting those costs onto middle- and low-income beneficiaries, businesses or states. These are good ideas, and Congress should pursue them.
Yes, the nation still has a long-term deficit challenge. And yes, entitlement reform will have to be part of the solution.

In short, not only is the Center for American Progress not accurately described as representing “the left” in American politics but Third Way attributes to CAP views that every serious person in Washington knows perfectly well they do not actually hold.
Now really, just what the heck is going on here? Why even bother to present such an obviously flawed and easily refuted political typology?
The answer is that Third Way wants three deeply contradictory things (1) to be viewed as a major and legitimate part of the democratic coalition (2) to be able to nonetheless criticize Obama from the right, using a form of argument largely identical to those of Pete Peterson’s “Fix the Debt” and other similar, overwhelmingly Republican or supposedly “nonpartisan” groups that reject Obama’s more balanced approach and (3) to claim for themselves the mantle of “centrism” from the Clinton Administration figures of the 1990’s.
The problem, of course, is that in the real political world of America today none of these desires are remotely realistic. Obama is presenting a deficit reduction strategy that is, by any rational definition, “centrist,” the leading “centrist” politicians of the 1990’s, including Bill and Hillary Clinton themselves, support Obama’s general approach rather than that of “Fix the Debt” and most active, committed Democrats today consider themselves “liberals” or “progressives” rather than “centrists”
So on the large set of issues related to the deficit, Third Way finds itself:

1. Disagreeing with President Obama’s centrist approach.
2. Presenting a line of argument largely championed by Republicans or other non-Democrats and
3. Upholding a perspective which is a distinctly minority view within the modern Democratic coalition.

Now there is a perfectly honest way that Third Way could champion this perspective, It is to adopt the stance of the “lonely and heroic voice of reason,” the brave contrarians who stand fearlessly against the tide, assert that they alone are right and predict that the Democratic Party will one day recognize its errors and come around to their view.
In the memo on which the Washington Post op-ed was based, Third Way did not create a straw man called “the left” but more accurately defined their debate as with liberal Democrats. They also presented their position in a more textured way. But in the Washington Post Op-Ed, Third Way decided to use a different approach — to create a false dichotomy between themselves on the one hand and an imaginary opponent one might call “the economically illiterate, proudly fact-denying left” on the other and to fight this straw man rather than admit that they were actually disagreeing not only with most liberals and progressives but with most active Democrats and Obama himself.

The NYT’s Timothy Egan argues that everything is Obama’s fault – and in the process achieves Guinness Book of World Records levels for the use of utterly vacuous clichés.

For a long time now progressives have been pointing out that many mainstream commentators use a particularly vacuous and indeed dishonest kind of argument when they decide to criticize Obama. Rather than criticize Obama for failing to employ some specific alternative strategy to overcome GOP sabotage, they simply toss out metaphors and clichés about “strength” and “Weakness”, “arm-twisting” and “muscle” as if macho posturing by itself were a coherent political strategy.
Progressives call this the “Green Lantern” view of the presidency, the idea that presidents have essentially limitless power if they simply choose to wield it. It’s an essentially dishonest form of criticism because it allows a columnist to write an entire column blaming Obama for failing to overcome GOP resistance without once noting the unprecedented GOP resistance itself or proposing how it could actually be overcome.
Today’s Times has a particularly egregious example: in a single, short column Timothy Egan tosses out no less than 10 vacuous, clichéd criticisms.
Gaze in awe:

…too often, Obama (1) phones it in from 35,000 feet, far from the (2) sweat, grime and blood of the battlefield of politics.
[He] continues to (3) give limp speeches and moan about how he can’t get anything done with a Congress of Neanderthals and talk-radio spawn.
[He] did not (4) have enough muscle to (5) marshal through something favored by 90 percent of the American people — background checks to keep criminals and crazy people from getting guns.
He’s allowed himself (6) to get boxed in…
[His] policies — on immigration, marriage equality, tax fairness, guns — are sound and have majority support…It’s the way he runs the executive branch, (7) his fear of taking the fight to Republicans, that is so maddening.
(8) He’s defensive, forced to defend his presidency as still being alive and well. Obama doesn’t have to be Lyndon B. Johnson, (9) twisting elbows to shape history. But maybe he can hire an L.B.J.
(10) Leaders find a way.

My god, just look at this forest of clichés. You can criticize Obama all you want but let’s face it, this drivel reads like something that was written by a computer program that randomly accessed a database of clichés and spit them out in any arbitrary order.
And here’s an interesting contrast to consider: study the editorial pages of New York Times and the Washington Post and count how many commentaries you can find that criticize a major Republican Party figure with a similar blizzard of 10 equally vacuous clichés.
The fact is that you can count such commentaries on the fingers of one thumb. The Times and Post simply will not run commentaries of that kind because they would appear too blatantly “partisan,” “extreme” and “polemical.” It’s only with the president that they feel free to run relentlessly negative commentaries and pretend that they are dispassionate analysis.
America’s problem is not just that we have a political party that has descended into a profoundly dangerous extremism. It’s that we also have a mainstream media that is in a clinical state of denial about that basic reality.

Two significant analyses of the underlying partisan political consistency of the Supreme Court’s rulings

E.J. Dionne:
Whenever conservatives on the court have had the opportunity to tilt the playing field toward their side, they have done so. And in other recent cases, the court has weakened the capacity of Americans to take on corporate power. The conservative majority seems determined to bring us back to the Gilded Age…
…Liberals will still win occasional and sometimes partial victories, as they did Wednesday on same-sex marriage. But on issues directly related to political and economic influence, the court’s conservative majority is operating as a political faction, determined to shape a future in which progressives will find themselves at a disadvantage….
The voting rights decision should be seen as following a pattern set by the rulings in Bush v. Gore in 2000 and Citizens United in 2010. Bush v. Gore had the effect of installing the conservatives’ choice in the White House and allowed him to influence the court’s subsequent direction with his appointments of Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Citizens United swept aside a tradition that dated to the Progressive Era — and to the Founders’ deep concern over political corruption — by vastly increasing the power of corporate and monied interests in the electoral sphere.
The Shelby County ruling will make it far more difficult for African Americans to challenge unfair electoral and districting practices. For many states, it will be a Magna Carta to make voting more difficult if they wish to.
Howard Fineman
The shrewdest, most manipulative and radical politician in this city isn’t the president or a member of Congress. He’s the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, John G. Roberts Jr.
In a now familiar two-step of jurisprudence, the Roberts Court on Wednesday tactically ceded ground it did not regard as crucial — this time, on two gay rights cases….But politically, these tolerant rulings on the country’s social fabric deflect attention from the Roberts Court’s deeper goal: to remove the federal government as an impediment to corporate, state and local power. In other words, to dismantle a framework of progressive laws and court rulings stretching back to Teddy Roosevelt, the New Deal and the Great Society….
Viewed over a series of years, the major decisions of the Roberts Court exhibit a contrapuntal political rhythm — and a sharp awareness of how it’s all playing.
Roberts may have wanted to be cautious initially, but his eyes grew wide when presented with the Citizens United case. In 2010, he led the court to declare that corporations, like individuals, have free speech rights that bar the government from limiting what they spend independently on campaigns and elections.
The reaction was swift — and negative. So even as the court sought ways to limit federal regulation of business and markets, Roberts boldly created a majority to uphold the central provision of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act in the midst of the 2012 campaign.
Court observers figured — rightly as it turned out — that Roberts would balance that move with the one he made on Tuesday: writing the opinion that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act and essentially freed the Republican-dominated South from the last vestiges of federal control of the region’s election laws. And then observers figured that once the Supreme Court had lurched to the right on voting rights, it would angle back on gay rights….Gay rights won Wednesday. Voting rights lost Tuesday. But in the Roberts era, big money tends to win every time

Ruy Teixeira: Obama’s Coalition is Going Strong — and Could Be Growing

Cross-posted from TP Ideas:
We’re almost exactly half way through 2013. It’s a good time to ask whether the coalition of voters Obama rode to victory in 2012 is sticking with the president under the pressure of conflict with Congress, several “scandals,” and an economy that seems stuck in slow recovery mode.
An easy way to get a sense of the coalition’s health is to look Obama’s job approval numbers by demographic group and see how they compare with his support by demographic group in the 2012 election. The latest Pew Center poll allows us to do that by providing a very detailed table with Obama’s approval numbers broken down by dozens of demographics. The general health of Obama’s coalition looks pretty good — maybe even great.
His support among minorities remains extremely high. Black approval is 87 percent (though this a fall-off from the 93 percent support he got in the election) and Hispanic approval is 71 percent, identical with his 2012 vote support, with a 50 point approval spread (approval-disapproval) that exceeds his 44 point margin among Hispanics in 2012.
His support among Millennials is also holding up. Obama’s 58 percent approval rating among 18-29 year olds is just under his 60 percent vote support in 2012 with his approval spread (25 points) again exceeding his 2012 support margin (23 points).
The Pew data also include detailed breakdowns among whites, the source of some of the most intriguing data on the Obama coalition. First, Obama is doing substantially better among white college graduates than he did in the election. Not only is his approval rating among this group (44 percent) now higher than his 2012 vote support (42 percent) but his approval spread today (-5 points) is also far better than his vote support margin last November (-14 points).
This change is being driven by white female college grads. In 2012, Obama got 46 percent of this group, losing them by 6 points, a considerable falloff from 2008 when he carried them by 5 points. In the new Pew data, Obama has 49 percent approval among this demographic and sports a positive 5 point approval spread.
The news is less positive among the white working class. Obama’s job approval (34 percent) is a couple of points down from his abysmal 36 percent vote support in 2012. Interestingly, while his overall approval spread (-24) among this demographic is pretty close to his 2012 vote margin (-25), men and women have gone in opposite directions. Obama now garners only 29 percent approval among white working class men, with an approval spread (-35) which is distinctly worse than his 2012 vote margin among this demographic (-31). White working class women on the other hand give Obama an approval rating of 39 percent, identical with his 2012 vote support among this group, and an approval spread (-13) substantially better than his 2012 vote margin (-20).
These data suggest that continued Republican extremism and intransigence may be swelling the mostly intact Obama coalition with more white college-educated women (and perhaps some white working class women). On the other hand, the GOP appears to be shoring up their already formidable position among white working class men, one of the most conservative groups in the electorate. We shall see if this trade-off turns out to be a wise strategy or an inadvertent gift to the Obama coalition.

Needed: Wave Election to Restore Voting Rights

Shame on Justice Roberts for green-lighting voter suppression and turning the High Court into an instrument of aggressive political partisanship. That said, Democrats should get organized, and quickly, at the federal, state and local levels.
It’s good that Democrats and progressives across the nation are calling on congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and enact other electoral reforms and that there is optimism that it might be possible. No matter how hopeless the Republican political gridlock seems, we can’t function from a foundation rooted in cynicism about what can be done. In addition there is value in forcing votes on restoration of the Act, so that the public is reminded again and again which party supports voter suppression.
At the same time, however, we have to be realistic about prospects for enough Republicans in congress doing the right thing regarding restoration of voting rights. As Sen. Chuck Schumer put it, “As long as Republicans have a majority in the House and Democrats don’t have 60 votes in the Senate, there will be no preclearance.”
With few exceptions, the GOP’s record on voting rights in recent years is worse than poor. Already they are aggressively capitalizing on the ruling in TX, NC and AL to disenfranchise voters of color and youth, just as the pro-Republican majority hoped.
Dems must organize a full-court press to restore the Voting Rights Act. But the ruling also underscores the critical urgency of mobilizing a record mid term turnout in 2014, without which, the Voting Rights Act is likely to remain unenforceable. It’s just possible that the ruling will energize African Americans, Latinos, young voters and other constituencies who will be targeted for disenfranchisement by Republicans in the states to turn out in unprecedented numbers for the mid term elections. But it’s likely only if leaders and activists in these communities make it a top priority.
As a new Democracy Corps study points out, Democrats are in better than expected shape looking toward the 2014 mid term elections. The challenge now is to make the most of the Court ruling in turning out key constituencies. With that commitment, we can set the stage for a wave election in 2014 and a win in the next presidential election, which is imperative for restoring balance to the Supreme Court.

Don’t Mess with Texas…Women

As disheartening as was the Supreme Court ruling on voting rights, there was one bright spot in the news yesterday. You can read about it most anywhere, but HuffPo’s “Texas Abortion Bill Filibustered By State Senator Wendy Davis Is Dead” provides a well-described and vividly-illustrated account:

The Texas anti-abortion bill, which threatened to close nearly all of the abortion clinics in the state and prompted an 11-hour filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), is dead, The Austin American-Statesman reported…Lawmakers had to vote on Senate Bill 5 before the special session’s end at 12 a.m. local time. However, protesters halted the proceedings 15 to 20 minutes before the roll call could be completed.
The crowd of demonstrators in the capitol cried “Shame! Shame!” when Davis’ filibuster was halted by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who ruled that her discussion of mandatory ultrasound testing was off-topic. Then the protesters roared after state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
Their cries continued to echo inside the chamber — and over a livestream watched by thousands around the world — until after the midnight deadline passed.,,,A time stamp showing the vote completed after midnight was the deciding factor. “This will not become law,” Sen. John Whitmire (D), told The Austin American-Statesman.

Naturally the Republicans are all bent out of shape about it, and they will surely try again to press the case that clueless guys with bizarre understanding of sexual biology should have dominion over women’s bodies.
For now, however, stetsons off to the progressive women of Texas who refuse to be bullied. As Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, tweeted about the incident “The official vote was recorded at 12:03 a.m. Know why? Because of you. #StandWithWendy #SB5 #TXLege.” Howya liking the filibuster now, Republicans?