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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira Cites Strong Support for Bank Regulation

In this week’s ‘Public Opinion Snapshot’ at the Center for American Progress web pages, TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira has some bad news for JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, who has been whining about the Obama administration’s proposal to help prevent future financial crises by strengthening regulation of the financial sector. As Teixeira explains:

The public by an overwhelming 77-15 margin said in an early March ABC poll that banks have not yet done enough to make amends for their role in the financial crisis. The same poll asked the public whether banks and other financial institutions owe it to the country to help Americans struggling with the economy. Once again, an overwhelming majority (69-26) said it is banks’ responsibility to help out.

Clearly, stronger financial sector regulation is a great issue for the Administration, and one which could give Dems another important legislative victory, while making dissenting Republicans look like apologists for the worst practices of the banking/financial industry.


Obama’s SCOTUS Short List and the ‘Empathy Standard’

After reading a dozen or so bios of potential nominees to replace Justice Stevens, I’m much impressed by the talent pool of prospective justices said to be under consideration by President Obama. I know the available internet bios probably leave out more than they include, but they do provide a sense of what these individuals are about.
There are no names on the ‘short lists” I’ve read that I would oppose, unlike the Bush appointees, all of whom should have been Borked, IMHO. Glen Greenwald and others have made a case for concern about putative front-runner Elena Kagan. On the one hand, Kagan reportedly did an outstanding job of representing the Obama Administration in the Citizens United v. FEC case, even though the high court’s reactionary majority ruled the wrong way. That’s important in a nation where corporate power is not only unchecked, but growing.
Greenwald argues, however, that it’s very hard to figure out what Kagan stands for, other than mastery of the law. There is no question that she has a brilliant legal mind, and her academic credentials, like all of the short-listers are very impressive. But published evidence in her bios of the “empathy” President Obama has said is an important quality to look for in judicial nominees is a little thin. No doubt, she has more empathy than she has shown thus far, since she clerked with Justice Marshall and the President knows her character.
Most of my progressive friends, especially the lawyers, are hoping that Judge Diane Wood will get the nod instead of Kagan. More than Kagan, Wood has a record that indicates her beliefs in the context of the law. Like several other judges on the short list, Wood’s record indicates fairly strong empathy for the disadvantaged, if not a great passion for the underdog. The same can be said for other judges said to be under consideration. True, neither Justice Douglas or Brennan displayed all that much empathy before their years of service on the high court, but they nonetheless set the progressive standard I would like to see more of among the Supremes.
Other names of the growing list of possible Obama appointees include: Rueben Castillo; Merrick B. Garland; Pamela Karlan; Harold Koh; Martha Minnow; Janet Napolitano; Deval Patrick; Leah Ward Sears; Cass Sunstein; Sidney Thomas; and Elizabeth Warren.
I have confidence that whoever the President nominates will have impeccable legal credentials and solid progressive values. In terms of measuring up to a high “empathy standard,” however, one name on the short list stands out, after reading the bios: Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan.
After considering the impressive but very dry legal achievements chronicled in the bios of the others, Granholm’s bio provides a strong impression of a public servant who cares deeply about working people and their struggles for a decent life, and that this concern would be at the center of her decision-making. As Michigan Governor, for example, Granholm not only signed into law, but also proposed the “No Worker Left Behind” act which provides two years of free training/community college for unemployed and displaced workers, which has benefited more than 100 thousands in her state. She fought tenaciously against budget cuts for homeless shelters and mental health agencies, challenging her foes to not turn their backs on ‘the least of these.”
While her legal gravitas and experience may not match the lofty achievements of Kagan, Wood or some of the others, Granholm has some impressive legal creds of her own, including a Harvard J.D., an appeals court clerkship and four years as Michigan A.G. In addition, she has lead an energetic, well-rounded life, with varied working experience. Of course it’s much easier to convey such an impression, when your operative base is a political career, instead of a purely legal one, as is the case for all of the sitting justices. But it would be good to have at least one Supreme Court Justice who has been actively engaged in creating changes to improve the lives of people. Any of the Obama short-listers would merit support from progressives. But this is one I would cheer.


Towards A More Upbeat Mid-Term Scenario

For Dems seeking an alternative to the pervasive doom-and gloom mid-term speculation, John Harwood takes an even-handed look iat the upcomming election in his Sunday New York Times edition of ‘The Caucus.’ First Harwood feeds the ‘Dems are doomed’ meme, noting,

As if Republicans did not have enough cause for optimism this year, the pollster Neil Newhouse offers this lesson from history: Since John F. Kennedy occupied the White House, presidents with approval ratings below 50 percent have seen their parties lose an average of 41 House seats in midterm elections.
This year, a gain that large would return the House to Republican control. President Obama’s most recent Gallup Poll rating: 45 percent.

Harwood goes on to add that none of the previous nine Presidents experienced an increase in their approval ratings between January and October in their first midterm election years. But Bush II actually broke the first mid-term jinx in 2002, helped by the World Trade Center bombings, which elevated ‘national security’ to the leading priority of swing voters.
What I like about Harwood’s article is that he gives a fair hearing to the view that, while history is important for predicting political outcomes, it isn’t everything. Harwood cites a litany of busted political rules, including the political realignment of the South, the presidency is for whites only and the Republican “lock” on California. Harwood quotes Alan Abramowitz, who has contributed to TDS, to good effect: “As soon as a political scientist comes up with a sweeping generality about American politics, it will immediately be falsified.” Political rules were made to be broken, and 2010 should be no exception.
Indeed, President Obama’s improbable rise from an obscure state senator/law professor to the most powerful elective office on earth in less than five years ought to give political prognosticators pause in uttering cocksure predictions about electoral outcomes. Perhaps more to the point, Obama’s rise to power was based on a very creative and well-executed outside-the-box strategy, as much as his personal gifts.
This view won’t change the betting on the GOP at Intrade or Vegas, but it does allow a little room for a more encouraging outcome than is currently being parroted by pundits. Further, as Harwood notes,

Though the unemployment rate remains stuck around 10 percent, the economy in March enjoyed its strongest job growth in three years. The stock market has been booming. Democratic candidates hope that continued good news between now and November will begin alleviating the sour mood of voters.
…Ray C. Fair, an economist at Yale and a student of the relationship between economic conditions and political outcomes, argued that history shows voters take account of third-quarter performance, too. His model of 2010 economic performance projects that Democrats will draw 51.63 percent of the two-party vote for the House…That translates to roughly 224 seats — enough for Democrats to retain control of the House.

So the Republicans ought to hold the high-fives for a while, particularly if the economy takes a better-than-expected uptick between now and November.


Senior ‘Persuadables,’ HCR and November 2

Senior voters are getting lots of love from both major parties this year, leading up to the November elections. First, they are a large portion of the mid-term turnout — in the 2006 mid-terms, 29 percent of the electorate in House of Reps races were over 60, according to CNN’s exit polling.
Secondly, many are skeptical about the landmark HCR Act. As Jeffrey Young’s post “AARP, Dems lobby older voters on healthcare law before midterms” at The Hill explains further, “A Gallup poll released two weeks ago found just 36 percent of people 65 or older thought the healthcare law is a “good thing,” compared to 54 percent who said it is a “bad thing.”
The Republicans are focusing on one of the Act’s Medicare-related provisions as a political fulcrum, as Young explains:

Republican criticisms of Democrats using nearly $500 billion in Medicare spending cuts to finance new coverage for the uninsured fueled seniors’ anxiety…The most obvious potential short-term drawback for seniors is the possibility of cutbacks in the Medicare Advantage program…Republican proponents of the private Medicare Advantage plans, as well as the insurance companies that provide them, maintain that slashing the subsidies will result in many plans exiting the market, reducing benefits or raising premiums. The Congressional Budget Office partly backs up this contention, concluding that 1.5 million fewer people will be covered by Medicare Advantage plans by 2019.

Despite the daunting poll figures, defenders of the legislation have some selling points, as Young points out:

To counter the anti-healthcare reform message, Obama and his allies are highlighting the new or improved benefits under the law…“I want seniors to know, despite some of the stuff that’s been said out there, these reforms don’t cut into your guaranteed benefits,” Obama said last week. “What they do is eliminate co-payments and deductibles for preventive care, like checkups and mammograms. You will be getting those for free now.”
Perhaps the biggest selling point for Medicare beneficiaries is the gradual phasing-out of the so-called doughnut hole coverage gap that is currently part of the Medicare Part D drug benefit; this year, beneficiaries who fall into the gap will receive a $250 rebate…In addition, advocates of the law are trumpeting enhanced prevention and wellness benefits such as a free annual physical and expanded access to home-and community-based medical and assisted-living services.

If the aforementioned Gallup poll is right, at least ten percent of over-65 seniors can be described as ‘persuadable,’ which is not a lot to work with. There are no data yet that provide a clear conclusion about the “intensity” of the opposition to the HCR act among the over-60’s, but surely some of those who now disapprove of the legislation could be turned around with persuasive appeals. The white house, Democrats and the AARP are trying to make that happen, and Young’s post provides a good account of the strategy to date.
(Update/Question: Might a strategy that targets ‘younger’ seniors, say 60-65, based on the assumption that some may still have some dormant late 1960’s attitude remaining, produce good results?)
At the same time, however, Dems have to bring their “A” game to the mid-term campaign in mobilizing more sympathetic constituencies. As Ed Kilgore noted in his TDS post, “Seniors, Obama and 2010” back in September, “Democratic success in 2010 will depend on either better performances among seniors than in 2008, or better turnout–or even higher Democratic percentages–elsewhere….Democrats need a 2010 strategy that takes it for granted that disproportionate white senior turnout could be a big problem. Stronger-than-usual turnout among young and minority voters is obviously one way to deal with it, and that will take some serious work.”


Beck, Fox News, the Militia Message and Your Money

Eric Boehlert’s post “Post-Hutaree: How Glenn Beck and Fox News spread the militia message” at Media Matters for America merits a read, not only by progressives, but also by moderates, and even conservatives, who draw the line at supporting violence. Boehlert reports:

Not only have the number of radical-right extremist groups exploded in the wake of President Obama’s election (more than 500 today, as compared to just 200 during the 1990s), but these militia members now have a proud sponsor in the person of Fox News’ Glenn Beck, who has done more than any other person to amplify and mainstream the movement’s hateful and foreboding anti-government message. Beck continues to give a voice, and national platform, to the same deranged, hard-core militia haters and self-style “patriots” who hounded the new, young Democratic president in the early 1990s in the wake of Waco.
On TV and the radio, Beck rarely bothers to mention the militia movement by name. Instead, he’s simply co-opted their rhetoric as his own. He’s acted as a crucial transmitter, warning about Obama fronting his own private “army,” and urging followers to “start food storage.”
Not to mention these previous militia moments:
Beck asserts: “The second American revolution is being playing out right now”
Beck says “what is ahead may loosen the bonds of society,” may end with “a French Revolution”
Beck: “There is a coup going on … it has been done through the guise of an election”
Beck: “You can’t convince me that the founding fathers wouldn’t allow you to secede”
Beck: “[I]f we don’t have some common sense, we’re facing the destruction of our country… it’s coming”
The truth is that the daylight separating the radical, anti-government militia movement from self-styled mainstream conservatives is growing dimmer by the day. Like the fact-free Obama birthers, the militia remains a radical subset that today’s right wing refuses to part ways with. That sad fact was highlighted when scores of far-right media voices initially downplayed the Hutaree arrests last week, or even defended the militia members and — disturbingly reminiscent of Waco — cast the FBI and the federal government as the over-reaching bad guys.
And at Fox News, it’s not just Beck. The cable “news” channel’s militia-flavored message (beware gun-toting IRS agents!) has been as simple as it’s been relentless: Obama is destroying this country and he’s doing it intentionally. It’s not that people disagree with Obama and don’t like what they call his “liberal” policies as applied to the economy and health care reform, etc. Instead, the conflict is much more dire. Obama is not just misguided in this political and legislative agenda. Instead, Obama is the incarnation of evil (the Antichrist?), and his driving hatred for America, as well as for democracy, runs so deep that he ran for president in order to destroy the United States from within.

I’m old enough to remember a time when leading conservatives were champions of the police and law enforcement. Those days appear to be over, as Boehlert explains:

Blogger Pamela Geller complained that the FBI raids were “nuts.” Glenn Beck’s radio guest host Chris Baker decried the Hutaree arrests as “nothing more than attack on faith and free speech.” And Washington Times columnist and frequent Fox News talker Monica Crowley likened Hutaree members to proud patriots, as she squarely placed the blame on the government for squelching the militia’s right to dissent…Keep in mind that both Geller and Crowley conveniently forgot to inform readers that the militia members had been arraigned on charges of plotting to kill cops. Apparently that fact no longer moves the needle in today’s right-wing media, which has severed its traditional ties with the law-and-order movement and instead today pledges its allegiance to whoever hates the government — and Democrats — the most.

Boehlert also provides a graphic of the “Tea Party Patriots” website, “the official home of the American tea party movement,” which claims the Hutaree militia with the headline “FBI Raids Tea party Compound.”
Somewhere there must be some conservatives who are repulsed by the glorification of allegedly would-be cop-killers. Even Elizabeth Hasslebeck, house conservative of the popular daytime chat show “The View,” condemned Sarah Palin’s Facebook graphic putting the districts of progressive members of congress in a gunsight crosshairs. If you don’t think this sort of thing encourages violence, consider this report from today’s New York Times about the arrest of Charles A. Wilson, who allegedly threatened to kill Senator Patty Murray for her support of HCR:

“I hope you realize, there’s a target on your back now,” Mr. Wilson said in a recorded voice mail message on March 22, according to the criminal complaint. “There are many people out there that want you dead.” He added, “It takes only one piece of lead. Kill the [expletive] senator! Kill the [expletive] senator! I’ll donate the lead…Not only do I say ‘kill the bill.’ I say, kill the [expletive] senator too, ’” Mr. Wilson said in another message, according to the complaint. “Kill the bill. Kill the senator, too.”

Media Matters for America reports that 80 or more sponsors have dropped Glen Beck, after he called President Obama a “racist” who harbors “deep-seated hatred for white people.” According to MMA‘s “So who’s still advertising on Beck? April 6 edition..,” the list of Beck’s current sponsors includes:

American Petroleum Institute
Wholesale Direct Metals
Pajama Jeans
NoMask.com
Citizens 4 Healthcare
Rosland Capital
Easy Water
Quietus
Hydroxatone
Tax Masters
Weekly Standard
Dish Network
Lear Capital
IAmNotAshamed.org
Foundation For A Better Life
Merit Financial
IRSTaxAgreements.com
Wall Street Journal
Goldline International
Lifelock
Nutrisystem

One would think that companies like the Wall St. Journal and Dish Network could lose a lot of customers by supporting inflammatory hate TV. Perhaps they assume progressives don’t watch Beck/Fox, so they probably wouldn’t think to take their business elsewhere.


Obama’s HCR Win Rooted in Emotional Appeal

I’ve been a little wary of Drew Westen’s argument that the failures of Democrats in politics derive from over-reliance on reason-based appeals, while the Republicans win their victories by connecting with voters’ emotions. I felt he may have over-stated his case, since I know lots of people who make elegant rational arguments for or against politicians based on positions on the issues.
But Westen makes a very strong case for the persuasive power of emotion over reason in politics in his CNN commentary “Why Obama won the health care battle.” This time, Westen, author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation,” applies his theory to explain the course of the HCR struggle, and it fits impressively.

Politicians tend to think about how the minds and brains of voters work in one of two ways.
The first is to assume that voters come to decisions on issues like health care reform by carefully examining the data and the arguments and then calculating whether one plan or another better fits their rational self-interest. In this view, a campaign is a debate on the issues.
When you hear (or heard) Democratic strategists dismiss polls showing that the majority of Americans opposed the president’s health care plan but support its component parts, this is the model of the mind of the voter they are assuming.
That’s why Democrats tend to lose ground even on issues with strong popular support, like health care reform, which was extremely popular during the 2008 election but steadily lost backing over the course of the first year of the Obama administration until regaining some momentum over the past few weeks.

Westen argues that HCR got serious traction when President Obama and the Democrats embraced the alternative view of “voters is as people who have to be sold on a policy or candidate. They are consumers, not debaters, and they’ll walk out of a store that doesn’t have attentive salespeople.” The winning strategy, according to Westen:

How do you sell reform? You tell a consistent story about what’s wrong with the system, who broke it and how we can fix it. You evoke not only people’s concerns about their interests but their values: fairness, the ability to choose what’s best for themselves and their family, security.
You try to get people as passionate as you are, concerned about the security of their care, angry at insurance companies that have been calling all the shots and hopeful that you know what to do about it. And you choose your words carefully, because words carry emotional connotations, and people may not know exactly what’s in a bill, but they have a general sense of whether they like it.
This is how Republicans tend to think about politics. And it’s how they managed to leave Americans with a bitter taste in their mouths about efforts to reform a health care system that had left virtually all of us one pre-existing condition — or one cancer requiring treatment that exceeded our annual or lifetime “cap” — away from medical bankruptcy, no matter how good we thought our insurance was.

For too long, argues Westen, Dems were over-using emotionally-constipated phrases such as “universal health care” and “health insurance reform” that “don’t exactly make your spine tingle.” Meanwhile Republicans were tapping the power of emotional appeals, like calling HCR “Obamacare” and “a government takeover” of our health care system that would “put a bureaucrat between you and your doctor.” Further,

For a year, while the Republicans were telling a great story about “death panels” and the president’s “socialist” agenda (though the president wouldn’t even support the “socialist” option of giving Americans the option of buying into Medicare if they preferred it over private insurance), the White House wasn’t offering a coherent story.
Precisely what problem the plan was intended to fix seemed to shift from week to week (Was it cost? Or the 46 million people without insurance? Or middle-class people losing their coverage?). And as for the plot, we didn’t know until a few weeks ago what the president’s plan even was.
Making matters worse, Obama seemed to lack passion about his signature issue. Everything seemed negotiable, as if what mattered was that the bill passed, not what was in it. And the White House used every word in the book you wouldn’t use if you wanted to “sell” reform.
Instead of emphasizing that people who work for a living ought to be able to take their kids to the doctor when they’re sick — a value statement that makes clear who the bill was designed to help (people who work for a living and still can’t get or afford decent health care, or could lose their insurance if they lost or changed jobs or started a small business) — the White House talked about “bending the cost curve,” another linguistic heart-stopper.

But the tide changed, Westen says, when President Obama began “telling a compelling story”:

….This story actually included the villains: Health insurance companies denying life-saving care to people for profits. In speeches journalists described as his most “passionate” since becoming president, he told the story of a woman who lost her life after she lost her health insurance and of a little boy who lost his mother because she couldn’t pay for her illness. He seized on an insurance rate hike of nearly 40 percent in California to mobilize populist anger.
And for the first time, the president decided to answer the attacks of his opponents, not just with well-reasoned arguments (which he did) but with attitude. When John McCain started posturing at the president’s “bipartisan” summit, the president reminded him that the election was over and who had won. When House Minority Leader John Boehner started rattling off talking points, the president responded with the verbal equivalent of eye rolling and asked whether there was someone who actually wanted to get something done…The president looked strong, resolute and passionate.

Looking ahead, Westen sees a critical choice for the white house:

…He can return to the “why can’t we all just get along?” unilateral bipartisanship that tied him up in knots in his first year, as if Republicans are just Democrats in need of rational arguments.

Or, better,

…Obama can damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead, dare the Republicans to vote no on every effort to fix every problem the country faces and pursue the pragmatic (sometimes partisan, sometimes nonpartisan) leadership the American people want.

And if the President can bring some of the passion he displays so well in his speeches into his press conferences, interviews and televised appeals, he can brighten prospects for the mid-terms, his re-election and the future of his party.


Stalking The Elusive White Male Voter

The white male voter is not an endangered species, as is sometimes suggested. But he is elusive political prey, for Democrats in particular, as Hoyt Hilsman affirms in his HuffPo post, “Democrats, White Men and the Tea Party Revolt.” Hilsman presents interesting demographic and voting data on the politics of race and gender at this political moment:

In his fine book The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma, David Paul Kuhn took a hard look at the future of the Democratic party, and it’s not good news. Since 1972, white men have voted by well over 60% for Republican or conservative candidates in every single presidential race. The only exceptions were Jimmy Carter, who got 48% of the white male vote, and Barack Obama, who got 41% of white men.
…With the minority and youth vote expected to be significantly lower in the 2010 midterm elections, white voters will likely cast more than 75% of the ballots. And with Obama’s approval ratings in the mid-30’s among white men, the Democrats’ hold on Congress is in jeopardy and Obama’s re-election in 2012 is questionable.
While some argue that the more progressive blocs of minorities and women voters can overcome the conservative votes of white men, Kuhn points out the fallacy of that argument. The nearly 100 million white men make up almost 40% of the American electorate, more than five times the total of all Hispanic voters, male and female. And the slight improvement that Democrats have registered with white women voters (over half of whom still vote regularly for Republicans) doesn’t begin to match the Republican party’s enormous advantage among white men. Add to that the outsized influence of the white male vote in the South (where more than 75% of white men vote Republican) and in rural areas which carry heavy weight in the electoral college (one Wyoming resident’s vote equals the vote of seventy-two Californians), the electoral future for progressives looks dim.

Looking at the voting data presented by Hilsman from a different angle, if President Obama was able to win 41 percent of white men as an act of faith based on an unproven track record, could he do even better in ’12, riding the crest of an economic uptick, assuming one is well underway by then and he gets much of the credit?
Hilsman’s remedy for the gender gap is credible enough. He notes, “a focus on jobs is paramount, since men have been the major losers in the current employment landscape,” while cautioning that focus won’t mean so much unless the numbers improve over the next few months. Hilsman adds:

…Democrats need to face the gender gap squarely. This does not mean capitulating on progressive causes, nor does it mean competing with Republicans on the macho quotient or reshaping itself as the “daddy” party. What the Democrats – and progressives in general – need to do is revive their conversation with white men, much as they did with African-Americans in the 1950’s and with women in the 1960’s and ’70’s…Democrats now should learn how to connect with the emotions of white male voters.

Hilsman touches on the third dimension of class, missing in the rest of this analysis, “we have been slow to recognize injustices done to white men, who have been viewed as occupying a privileged place in society (even though the vast majority of white men enjoy no such privileges).”
It’s an important distinction, which merits more consideration, since some white male voters support Republicans to defend their upper-class interests, while middle and working class white men who vote Republican are generally voting against their economic interests, arguably more so than any other demographic group. The proportion and ‘why’ of this second group are questions of huge import for the future of the Democratic Party, as well as the nation.
Hilsman suggests that President Obama emulate Franklin Roosevelt’s approach to the political discontent of white males: “FDR opened a dialogue with disenfranchised workers, who had been largely neglected and even scorned by much of American society…he managed to gain the confidence of a large swath of the American work force, and kept them from falling under the spell of political extremism.”
If Hilsman undervalues the role of a class-based appeal to white male voters, he hits the target in his conclusion:

Democrats have a chance to rebuild that progressive movement, but only if they listen to another disaffected group – white men… We should listen carefully to the concerns of white men – urban and rural, North and South – and respond to them within the framework of progressive values. Only then will we be able build a more inclusive future for our country — one that does not include the divisive hatred and venom of the Tea Partiers.

While many progressives remain doubtful about the Democratic Party’s prospects for winning the white working class as a voting bloc, what should not be in doubt is our ability to win a substantial piece of it — with a conscious, substantive and concerted message that speaks to their interests in a very particular way.


Needed: Energized HCR Educational Campaign

The new Washington Post poll conducted 3/22-26, affirms that there is still deep division about recently-enacted health care reform legislation. Current data indicates that 50 percent of respondents disapprove of the HCR act, while 46 percent said they “support the changes in the new law.”
But other polls have shown a healthy portion of those who say they disapprove of the reform package want a stronger public option and broader coverage. In this poll, 49 percent of respondents agreed that the Act provided “the right amount” or “not enough” government involvement in health care reform, while 49 percent said it provided “too much government involvement” in the health care system.
Other polls have shown that the Dems’ HCR package drew better approval numbers, once voters were told about its key provisions. Jon Cohen and Dan Balz note in their WaPo article, “Washington Post poll finds split on health-care law remains deep,”

Many key provisions of the new law have been highly popular in recent polling, particularly insurance changes such as extending coverage to young adults and eliminating exclusions based on preexisting conditions.

As TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira reports of a Gallup poll taken just after the HCR bill was signed into law by President Obama,

In that poll, 49 percent said they thought it was a good thing that Congress passed a bill restructuring the nation’s health care system, compared to 40 percent who thought that was a bad thing. This plurality possibly reflects some individuals moving toward supporting the bill who previously had opposed it because it didn’t go far enough (about 10 to 15 percent of the public). This group, whose opposition to health care bills in Congress has stemmed from progressive rather than conservative priorities, is a plausible candidate for early increases in support generated by the new legislation…Much of the public is still uncertain about what exactly is in the bill and how it will affect them, but these early reactions are nevertheless encouraging. At minimum, they suggest that conservative predictions of a massive public uprising against health care reform were decidedly overwrought.

it remains unclear how opinions about the health reform Act will impact the November elections. But Balz and Cohen note,

At this point, Democrats hold a razor-slim edge (47 to 43 percent) on the “generic ballot,” the question about which party’s candidate people support in their local districts. Independents, who swung solidly for Democratic candidates in 2006 and 2008, now divide 42 percent for the GOP candidate and 39 percent for the Democrat.

To counter the GOP’s ‘repeal and replace” campaign, President Obama should not hesitate to vigorously use all available government communications resources to educate the public about the benefits of the HCR Act. The Administration should press the case for public service announcements on radio as well as television — insisting that education about the law is a bona fide public service, whereas ads opposing existing laws are exercises in partisanship. In addition, the white house and cabinet officers should do as many television interviews as possible to explain the Act. The president has begun a speaker’s tour designed to reach moderates and make the key elements of the Act understood to a critical mass of persiadable voters. The white house should also use the franking privilege to the max to send out one-page summaries of the benefits of the Act to every household.
The Republicans will howl and bellow foul, protesting that this is a partisan cause. But the Administration must respond that, no, this is not partisan. This legislation is no longer a proposal; it is the law of the land, established by an Act of the United States Congress and the federal government has a duty to educate the citizenry about the benefits of the legislation. Such an all-out educational campaign has legal justification, as well as being a moral imperative. To refrain from using all of the media resources at the white house’s disposal (and to fail to draw a prolonged whine from the G.O.P. about abusing the bully pulpit) would be political suicide. If the Administration and Dems fail to use every available tool to educate the public about the benefits of the Act, we deserve to get clobbered in November.
A federal government campaign of unprecedented scale to educate the public about the Act can help a lot. But it can’t do the whole job. The challenge for progressive bloggers is clear: To launch their own aggressive educational campaign, one that doesn’t just preach to the choir, but also reaches substantial portions of persuadable undecided voters. Email, social media, Youtubes, teach-ins (internet and otherwise), cellphones and other new media formats, along with television and radio, should be deployed as part of the nation-wide educational campaign. The emphasis should not be on debating the Act, but on informing people about it.
When we talk about ‘national security’ in America, we tend to speak in terms of defense policy and intelligence activities. But looking at the big picture, surely the health of the American people is a critical component of real national security, and making citizens aware of life-saving improvements in their health care system is compelling obligation.


G.O.P. Sets New Standard in Losing Ugly

Glenn Thrush and Marin Cogan tally up the Republicans’ shameful behavior of late in their Politico post “Republicans weigh costs of losing ugly” and it adds up to a very disturbing look at a once-dignified political party. The authors cite the Republicans’ “graceless response” to the Democratic health care reform victory in the form of “shouted insults,” along with “encouraged outbursts from the galleries” and “veiled threats” left in the seats of undecided members in the House chamber. In addition:

…Texas Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer shouted “baby killer!” as anti-abortion Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) spoke on the House floor…In an interview for POLITICO’s “Health Care Diagnosis” video series, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the “baby killer” outburst “horrible”…“In our conference [Sunday] before the vote, a lot of us said, ‘Look — no screaming, no shouting, no yelling, no nyah-nyah-nyah. If they pass this thing, be somber be glum,’” Ryan said. “I said look, ‘We’ve got to be adults about this..

The Politico article notes the “even uglier series of events outside the chamber Saturday” in which tea party bigots reportedly “shouted the N-word at civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and hurled an anti-gay insult at Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)”
Not all tea party activists are Republicans, and not all of them are vicious bigots. But when the Republicans and FoxTV ginned up the tea party protests, they also created a sometimes racist, violence-prone Frankenstein they can no longer control. Boehner was clearly shaken when he recently urged conservative activists to cool it.
A few other Republicans, if not the leaders, seem to grasp the disaster they are courting more fully. As Cogan and Thrush report,

…Neugebauer’s outburst, which echoed the infamous “You lie!” shout by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), had Republicans worried about the impact on “persuadables” — independents skeptical about President Barack Obama but leery of the GOP’s increasingly conservative tilt.
…The incident also undermined attempts by Republicans to project the image of a sober, less combative party willing to meet Obama halfway. And it prompted a salvo of rebuke from Democrats, who spent much of their post-passage Monday accusing the other party of violating the chamber’s decorum and coarsening debate.

History will record that the adults in the G.O.P. did not prevail. It wasn’t always this way. Try to imagine Eisenhower, for example, putting up with this kind of childish, mean-spirited crap. It just doesn’t compute. It can be argued that the Republicans lost their sense of shame a long time ago. But the modern G.O.P. is a political party that has lost its sense of dignity, as well. It’s as if the new working motto of Republican ‘leadership’ boils down to “dignity, schmignity.”
To tweak a popular catch-phrase of recent years, “God don’t like ugly,” perhaps 2012, if not this year, will bring the lesson that ‘voters don’t like ugly’ either.


Party Discipline — Grassroots Style

Yesterday’s edition of the Savannah Morning News has an interesting and instructive article by Patrick Rodgers about U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-GA12) catching hell from African American community leaders in a conference phone call just before the Saturday vote on health care reform. An excerpt:

This past Saturday afternoon, Congressman John Barrow held a conference call with more than 50 African American faith and community leaders from Savannah and Augusta. The call, which lasted nearly an hour, was to discuss his planned vote against healthcare reform the following day…Several callers said they would pray for him to change his mind and told him stories of their own struggles with the current healthcare system.

Barrow, whose district includes 44 percent African Americans, held fast to his opposition, citing the Blue Dog litany of concerns, and adding, according to Rodgers, “I’m not against the bill, but I can’t vote on a concept. I have to vote on specific legislation,” Barrow told the group. “I want the good that’s in this to pass, but I’m not willing to accept the collateral damage.” Apparently, it fell a little flat:

Most of those in attendance were unwilling to accept his reasoning…”You’re voting to hurt people by doing nothing,” said one caller who explained how she lost her benefits after leaving her last job, and hadn’t been able to afford to get them back since opening a small business.
Savannah City Council members Mary Osborne and Van Johnson were part of the call as well.
“You’ve got districts suffering from persistent poverty,” Alderman Johnson told Barrow. “Unless you have another plan, we need you to support this.”…”Do you expect us to support you in the next general election?” one caller asked about 45 minutes into the conversation.

Although they weren’t able to flip his vote, Barrow may pay a high price for his intransigence. The Democratic Party is not rigged like the G.O.P. to invoke party discipline for those who buck the Party’s majority and leadership on major legislation. But the African American community leaders of GA-12 have provided an instructive example of how progressives can pick up the slack. Barrow will be lucky if he doesn’t draw a formidable primary opponent.