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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

A Failure to Communicate

Down in Atlanta yesterday, I was watching a local yak show, in which Pulitzer Prize-winners Hank Klibanoff and Cynthia Tucker were being interviewed about the comparative strengths of the print rags vs. the blogs. The two Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters gave a pretty good account of the merits of print media, giving some cred to the blogosphere as a source for good reporting, but stretching a little painfully, I thought, to paint a bright picture of the future of print at a time when daily newspapers across the country are laying off staff in droves.
You can find a revealing example of why print is often an inferior medium, at least for political reporting, by comparing the recent coverage of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul at one of the better political websites Orcinus and alternatively at the Boston Globe, which has won more Pulitzers than any daily other than the Grey Lady and WaPo. Here’s a teaser from Sara, writing on Paul at Orcinus back in June:

What I can tell you — what all of us need to know before we run out and sign on for a summer of Ron Paul Love Feasts — is that Paul has some long-standing ties to early-90s Patriot groups — and some ugly attitudes on race and equality — that should give us all long and serious pause….

She then cites some disturbing quotes attributed to Paul or his newsletter, including:

* A 1992 screed on African-American”racial terrorism” in Los Angeles, in which Paul insists that “our country is being destroyed by a group of actual and potential terrorists — and they can be identified by the color of their skin.”
* Another 1992 article, this one asserting that “complex embezzling” is “100% white and Asian;” and noting that young black male muggers are “unbelievably fleet-footed.”
* A Houston Chronicle citation from 1996, in which he asserts that Barbara Jordan was a “fraud.” Paul wrote: “Everything from her imitation British accent, to her supposed expertise in law, to her distinguished career in public service, is made up. If there were ever a modern case of the empress without clothes, this is it. She is the archetypical half-educated victimologist, yet her race and sex protect her from criticism.”

There’s more in a similar vein in Sara’s article, and Orcinus has many other disturbing reports about Paul. Contrast this hard-hitting reportage with the Boston Globe’s limp pages on Paul, which you can access here. To be fair, it’s not just the Globe. Major dailies in general have given him an easy ride of it. When it comes to comparing dead tree media political reporting to political blogs, it’s often like patty-cake vs. hardball.
The exception that proves the rule is the late great Molly Ivins, who hipped her readers to his extremist views many years ago. No doubt they miss her a lot these days.


Hope Over Fear

Eriposte asks a question I’ve been wondering about lately “Who is the GOP Rooting For?” Not that it matters much in terms of what the Democrats have to do, which is nominate the strongest possible candidate. But it is of interest in the “know thine adversary” tactical sense.
Eriposte boots the question to Taylor Marsh, who doesn’t really answer it directly. Marsh’s article, “Are Republicans Actually Scared of Hillary Clinton?” is more concerned with unraveling the sources of Hillary-phobia, specifically that it is more about sexism than front-runnership. She makes a good point. A lot of arch-conservatives do not want the example of a strong woman running America.
My guess is most of the GOP strategists are now rooting for anybody but Hillary, since she has proven she is a good debater, knows the issues better than their field, has learned how to project an appealing persona and has a fierce campaign. What they think doesn’t mean she is our best candidate, but it does help explain their strategy going forward.
The Democrats have an exceptionally strong presidential field, in that any of our “top-tier” candidates, and most of our “second-tier” candidates should be able to beat whoever they nominate. Down ticket is where we need a few more strong candidates.
The GOP is a party driven mostly by the psychological elements of fear and resentment. All of their grand strategy points in this direction. It is their bread and butter. They do well when they can create this contagion among swing voters. When they can’t, we win.
Conversely, Democrats are no good at projecting fear. We have always done better when our presidential candidates project a sense of hope, going back to FDR (“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself”), all the way through Bill Clinton (“The man from hope”). If we can keep this spirit front and center in the closing weeks of the ’08 campaign, look for a landslide.


Pitfalls of Evaluating Campaign Coverage

New York Times reporter Katherine Q. Seelye has a short article flagging a new study of campaign coverage, conducted 1/1 to 5/31 by the Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism and Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. The study will likely get a fair amount of buzz, despite the very limited representation of just five websites in the survey (AOL, MSNBC, CNN, Yahoo and Google).
There were no big shockers in the survey, which found that horse race stories accounted for 63 percent of all reports surveyed, up from 55 percent in ’04 and ’00, In terms of coverage, Clinton got the most, Obama got the most favorable and McCain got the most negative coverage. The candidates’ track records received only 1 percent of coverage — I would have guessed maybe a little more. Conservative spinmeisters will undoubtedly make much of the fact the Dems got more coverage than Repubs (49-31 percent of stories), but that will likely even out before long.
To be fair to the survey sponsors, it would be impossible to do a full-scale study of political coverage, particularly on the internet, so vast and diverse is the relevant content. But it is misleading to suggest the findings of five websites, none of which are dedicated to political reporting, is somehow representative of the scope of campaign coverage on the internet. In light of this shortcoming, make what you will of the overview bullet point about the approaches of different media categories:

There were also distinct coverage differences in different media. Newspapers were more positive than other media about Democrats and more citizen-oriented in framing stories. Talk radio was more negative about almost every candidate than any other outlet. Network television was more focused than other media on the personal backgrounds of candidates. For all sectors, however, strategy and horse race were front and center.

Shortcomings notwithstanding, the study has some insights for campaign strategy in dealing with reporters of different media, although most savvy flacks of the candidates will not be too surprised at the survey findings. For an interesting alternative view of media coverage, check out another Pew Research Center study on a related topic “Internet News Audience Highly Critical of News Organizations,” conducted in July.


Needed: Training, Support for Women in Key States

Emily’s List is featuring a chart ranking the state legislatures according to the percentage of legislators who are women. The chart’s data comes from the Rutgers University Center for American Women in Politics, and the gap between the highest and lowest-ranking states is surprisingly large, with Maryland at the top (34.6 percent) and South Carolina at the bottom with 8.8 percent, which may not bode well for Senator Clinton in that state’s upcoming primary.
As you might guess, the ten bottom-ranking states are disproportionately southern, although a few southern states rank better, including Florida (ranking 22nd) and North Carolina (24th). Georgia is sort of mid-range at 32nd, ahead of Rhode Island (36th) and New Jersey (41st). The big surprise in the bottom 5 is Pennsylvania, ranking 46th among the 50 states, with women holding just 12.6 percent of the seats in the state legislature. Clearly the problem is more complicated than backward southern attitudes towards women’s political empowerment.
Impossible to say from this data whether not enough women are running for the legislatures, or men and even women are just not supporting women candidates when they do run, or perhaps some combination. While no state has achieved parity, the large disparities suggest that something can be done to improve womens’ political empowerment in the lower-ranking states.
Women were 56 percent of voters and 63 percent of swing voters in the U.S. presidential election in 2004, according to Emily’s List, and all polls are showing Democrats with a significant edge among women voters — a 7 percent gender gap favored Kerry in ’04. All of which makes me wonder if a more substantial investment in recruitment, training and campaign support for Democratic women, particularly in the low-ranking states, might be money very well-spent.


Health Care Reform: Reversing the GOP Spin

In their Rockridge Institute multi-part post “The Logic of the Health Care Debate,” George Lakoff, Eric Haas, Glenn W. Smith and Scott Parkinson dissect the rationales, assumptions and arguments behind the debate over health care reform. It’s very much a Lakoffian exercise, contrasting the psycholinguistics behind “progressive, conservative, and neoliberal” verbiage on health care. Democratic campaigns should find the insights helpful in addressing Republican spin on one of the top-ranking concerns of voters. For example, from the section on “The Conservative Mode of Thought”

In the conservative mode of thought, securing health insurance is a matter of individual responsibility. In this view, health care is a commodity that should be bought and sold through insurance policies in the market. If someone wants a commodity, they should work hard to afford it. In a free market economy — given that America is a land of opportunity — they will be able to do so. Anyone without health insurance for himself or his family just isn’t working hard enough and doesn’t deserve it. It’s just like plasma TVs; if you want one, work hard to afford one. Otherwise, you won’t get it, because you haven’t worked hard enough, and you don’t deserve it.
From the principle of individual responsibility, it follows that employers should never be forced to provide health insurance for their employees. They might choose freely to do so in order to attract talent, but that should be their free choice.
Within the conservative mode of thought, the market is both natural and moral. Natural in that people instinctively seek their own profit and moral in that those who are most disciplined will be most likely to prosper. Market outcomes are therefore always moral and most practical, since the market optimizes the fair and efficient distribution of goods and services. Government interference compromises both the efficiency and morality of market processes.
In conservative thought, health insurance should be a money-making business; it will be most fair and efficient that way. Conservative thought also supports private medical accounts on two similar grounds. First, they are moral because they make the individual responsible. Second, they are practical in that the money can be invested in the market, thereby creating more profits for more people.
What about the denial of care or coverage? In conservative thought this is inevitable and necessary. Your lack of coverage is your own fault. You have not been self-disciplined. You have failed in your individual responsibility to earn it. It’s not the fault of the market or insurance companies. Insurance companies provide a service at a profit, and when they cannot provide that service at a profit, they should not do so. Moreover, those who are uncovered have an incentive to work harder and earn coverage. People do not have the moral right to have someone else pay for their health care coverage; indeed it would be immoral to do so, since that promotes dependency.
Promoting dependency — whether by patients, doctors, or plan administrators — is the root of the conservative fear of health care for all Americans. Conservatives label this as “socialized medicine” or “government health care,” and they argue that health care for all Americans will undermine our self-discipline and make us weak. This is, above all, a moral issue for conservatives, which is why economic efficiency arguments alone will not carry the day with them. For example, we already know that U.S. Medicare and Canada’s single-payer health care system are more efficiently managed than U.S. private, profit-maximizing insurance companies.3 There is also compelling evidence that savings on the profit and administrative costs of the current private insurance companies could pay for health care for all Americans, if it were run as a single payer system.4 From the conservative perspective, these plans are still viewed from top to bottom as unearned entitlements — automatic care for patients, guaranteed income for doctors, and lifetime jobs for government administrators — and so promote dependency and are immoral.
Finally, once health care is understood as a commodity, then the logic of the market sets the value of human life and limb. Therefore, there should be a limit — a cap — on the value that can be claimed in a lawsuit when medical error causes disability or death.
This conservative logic fits perfectly the practice of health insurance companies and makes sense of the following quotes from conservative leaders.

The authors then quote Nixon, Guiliani, Romney and the National Review to prove their point. In their equally-eloquent section on “The Neoliberal Mode of Thought,” they discuss the “Surrender-in-Advance Trap” that they feel some Democrats have blundered into, noting:

With an exaggerated emphasis on system-based solutions, neoliberal thought may lead one to surrender in advance the moral view that drives an initiative in the first place. Those who pragmatically focus on appeasing what they assume will be unavoidable political opposition to their proposals also run the risk of moral surrender…They deeply believe that progressive moral principles can be served through neoliberal methods and forms of argument. We want to stress, however, that the consequence is dire whatever the motivation. The failure to articulate a clear progressive morality in favor of more technocratic solutions to profit-maximizing markets puts the progressive cause at a disadvantage on health care and other policy issues as well. It doesn’t matter whether one is simply trying to avoid conservative and insurance company opposition or whether one truly believes in one’s heart that the market will cure us. The progressive moral basis for providing health care for all — empathy and responsibility, protection and empowerment — is not stated. As a result, Americans don’t get to hear the progressive moral basis for extending health care to all Americans, and they don’t get to decide whether they agree with that moral premise. Americans only hear the conservative moral view. That moves them in a conservative direction, not only on this issue, but on all issues.

Lakoff et al see the neoliberal approach as a poor substitute for comprehensive reform, and one which has deadly consequences:

System tinkering — eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions, adding mandatory coverage for this or that ailment, subsidizing (substandard) health care for the poor — will make a difference for many, but not for all. It will leave many more people with the kind of dissatisfaction that those with present health insurance have rightly been complaining about. Tinkering like that is more concerned with saving a system that has already failed than it is with the health of a society, indeed, with saving lives.

The authors’ argument is moral at the root, but they do offer an important strategic consideration:

The best way to proceed is to keep what we care the most about at the center of the discussion of health care security. What we care the most about is the actual health and well-being of flesh-and-blood people. Keeping this care in our hearts does not mean that temporary compromises will not be necessary. It means only that we don’t begin with compromise.

Lakoff and his co-authors have made a compelling argument for a bold strategy for comprehensive health care reform, and they have a lot more to say about the terms of the debate than can be recounted here. Democratic candidates would do well to give due consideration to their challenge on the road to November ’08.


’08 Elections: ‘Perfect Storm’ Or Political Tsunami

Mark Green, one of the Dems’ staunchest progressives, has an encouraging post up at the HuffPo “Why 2008 will be a Perfect Storm for Republicans,” with this happy prediction:

Adding it all up: look for Democrats to end up with a near filibuster-proof 58 Senate seats (up from 51) and 260 House seats (up from 213 in 2005 and 233 in 2007). The 2006 and 2008 elections would then be the equivalent of a rolling realignment, comparable to the 51, 49 and 53 House seats that switched hands in 1958, 1974 and 1994 respectively. For when there’s a tidal wave of sentiment, it doesn’t tip some close contests but nearly all close contests.

Green’s perfect storm has four elements, encapsulated in the GOP’s disastrous policies in the following areas: Iraq; the economy; intolerance; and children. Green adds:

Beyond these four problems, a variety of other realities combine to dig Republicans into an even deeper hole. Recent polls show Democrats are more trusted on every domestic and foreign policy issue: education, health care, environment, economic growth, fiscal discipline, even terrorism. The number of Americans who self-identify as Republican is at a seven year low. While Americans believing the country is on the wrong tack was 50 percent in 2002 and 2004, it’s now 67 percent. National Democratic committees and presidential candidates are outraising their Republican counterparts better than 2 to 1. And then there’s the fact that Republicans are defending 22 Senate seats in 2008 compared to 12 for the Democrats. Nine Republican Senate seats are now considered vulnerable (Alaska, Colorado, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon and Virginia).

In other words a thorough housecleaning is in the making. Another Green, David Michael, a Hofstra poly sci professor, thinks the “perfect storm” analogy may fall short in describing the political weather taking shape for Republicans. As he writes in his Common Dreams post, “The Coming Progressive Era“:

Calling this a perfect storm may not do justice to the tsunami headed the GOP’s way. They’ll be lucky if they wind up as well off as the Tories in Britain after Thatcher, exiled for a dozen or more years…Democrats are likely to get one more chance in 2008, and they’re likely – with one exception – to sew up total control of the government, with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and little need for overriding vetoes.

Lest we get too optimistic, Professor Green points out that we’ll still have a reactionary Supreme Court. But even that could change with a lucky break or two. And yes, I know, a million things can go wrong between now and November ’08. For now, however, we can be cheered that political observers are beginning to envision a very different political climate for the opposition. ‘Perfect Storm’ or tsunami — either one will do nicely.


Data Measures Southern Whites Political Drift

Paul Rosenberg’s Open Left post “Class Still Matters Among Southern Whites” provides some interesting trend data showing party self-identification by income percentile in the south over the last half-century. Rosenberg provides tables for each decade from the 1950’s through the 2000’s (based on the American National Election Studies (ANES) Cumulative Datafile) showing a precipitous decline in middle-upper income white southerners identifying themselves as Democrats. As you might expect, the largest shift was from the 1950’s to the 1960s, with a more modest drift toward the GOP after that. There’s really no good news for Dems in the data, other than an increase benefitting Dems at the lowest (0-16) and highest (96-100) income percentiles from the 1990’s to the 2000’s.
Rosenberg’s earlier Open Left post on the topic, “(Southern) White Men Can’t Vote–For All Of Us,” offers more detail on southerners’ party preferences. As late As 2004, 50.7 percent of southerners chose Democratic for party i.d., compared with 41.5 percent choosing the GOP. Comparable ’06 southerner party i.d. statistics are not yet available.
Also, actual voting patterns provide a more complex — and relevant — view than we get from party i.d. statistics. Paul Krugman has reported that 62 percent of southern whites voted Republican in ’06 House races. However, in a later NYT blog post, Krugman cites studies and concludes “… if you look at voting behavior, low-income whites in the South are not very different from low-income whites in the rest of the country…It’s relatively high-income Southern whites who are very, very Republican.”
Moreover, the GOP advantage on issues of concern to southerners is not so overwhelming, as Bob Moser explained in his Nation article “The Way Down South“:

The chasm supposedly yawning between Southern ideology and national norms is wildly, though routinely, overstated. In a 2003 comprehensive study of Southern political attitudes, pollster Scott Keeter found folks still tilting to the right on many issues of race, immigration and the use of military force. But Southerners are just as likely as other Americans to support government regulation, strong environmental protection and social welfare. They’re prochoice, too (though less than the rest of the country), and on another contentious “cultural” issue, gay civil unions, are just slightly less supportive than other Americans. Polls show that young Southern voters, along with the region’s booming Hispanic population, lean Democratic

Before writing off the Democats’ future in the south, take note also of demographic trends indicating strong growth in African American and Latino population in the region. In addition, Despite party i.d. data and congressional votes in ’06, Democrats manage to hold majorities of both houses of the LA, MS, AL, AR, NC and WV state legislatures, and one House in both TN and KY.
Democrats clearly have a future in the South, but you have to look at a broad array of data to see it.


Can Dems Win Business Support?

The American Prospect is featuring an article by Paul Waldman, “The Dems’ Big Business Opportunity,” making a persuasive case that Democrats are in position to win broad support from pro-business voters, particularly with a few smart moves.
Much of Waldman’s argument is based on the GOP’s “stunning record of incompetence.” It’s not just the current Administration’s disastrous Iraq and foreign policy, which could provide a case study in mismanagement for the Harvard Biz School. He also cites a nicely-done eriposte study showing that, on a range of economic indicators important to business, such as GDP growth, unemployment, deficits and inflation, the average performance under Democratic Administrations has been superior to that of Republican Administrations. Waldman concedes that the facts won’t matter much to ideologues, but for rational and “responsible” business men and women, making this case might help Dems.
Waldman urges Dems to “approach business with a new grand bargain” and “change how they think and talk about corporations” a tall order for the Party of the Big Tent. He also counsels a more practicable wedge strategy to separate rational business people from the right-wing ideologues, so Dems can peel off a healthy portion of the former.
In his blog at the ITT List (In These Times) Adam Doster argues that Waldman underestimates the importance of taxes as a core issue of Big Business and adds that the “responsible” busineess leaders are already supporting Democrats. Doster sees slim business pickings now that the low-hanging fruit is being hauled away on donkey carts. Doster says Dems would do better to put the energy into promoting “populist policies.” Doster also flags Christopher Hayes’ Washington Monthly article “Revolt of the CEO’s,” which included this paragraph echoing Waldman’s thought on the possibility of a social contract business leaders could support:

“The corporate guys are beginning to think this is going to happen,” said Bill Galston, a senior policy adviser in the Clinton White House and a current fellow at the Brookings Institution, referring to health care and climate change legislation. “They are willing to make their peace with the welfare and regulatory state as long as they can have some say. What they don’t want is for the train to leave the station and they’re not in the first-class car.” The Chamber of Commerce’s Josten summed up his members’ views this way: “You want a seat at the table, because if you’re not at the table you may be on the menu.”

Of course the hat trick for Dems is to win business support without selling out organized labor, whose ground troops loom large in the weeks leading up to election day — or, to put it in moral terms, to win the confidence of business while remaining faithful Democrats.
I’m a little more optimistic than both Waldman and Doster that it can be done. It’s getting to the point, where honest, level-headed business folks have nowhere else to go than to the Democratic Party. Jackie Calmes’ Wall St. Journal article, “GOP Is Losing Grip On Core Business Vote, ” cited by Waldman, notes that 37 percent of the “professionals and managers” occupational category now identify themselves as Republican/Leaning Republican, a significant decline from the 44 percent of just three years ago, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted last month.
I anticipate Dems winning the largest percentage ever of small business men and women, few of whom could be much-impressed by what the GOP field and congressional candidates have offered in the way of health care reform thus far, or by their do-nothing prescriptions for the Iraq quagmire. All in all, ’08 is shaping up as a banner year for Democrats — and that’s good for business as well.


Seniors Rule — Especially in Iowa

Just an observation, following-up on our staff post below on the Des Moines Register poll. Check out Patrick Healy’s article “New Program for Saving Is Proposed by Clinton” in today’s New York Times. An interesting coincidence that candidate Clinton, whose campaign is increasingly being described as a “juggernaut,” (see here, for example) comes out with an innovative federal “401K-style” program on the heels of of the Register poll showing 51 percent of the likely caucus-goers are over age 55. The hunch here is that Clinton’s exceptionally-alert strategists figured this out a long time ago, in addition to the fact that seniors always rule when it comes to turn-out percentage. Heck, the picture with Healy’s article alone almost tells the story. Don’t be surprised by a rash of “me too” proposals suddenly emerging from the rest of the Dem field.


Global Warming as a Sleeper Issue

For all of the media coverage and water-coooler buzz about global warming as an issue of concern, it checks in fairly low in priority rankings, when it is listed at all. Most recently, it ranked 7th in a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted 7/9-17.
But such rankings of the importance of issues may understate the depth of concern many people have about global warming. A national survey conducted by Yale University, Gallup and the ClearVision Institute 7-23-26 and released last week indicates that 40% of respondents now say that presidential candidates’ positions on the issue will “strongly influence” their vote in both the presidential primaries and general election.
The survey also found that 85 percent favored requiring automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and SUVs to 35 mpg, “even if it meant a new car would cost up to $500 more.” In addition, 82 percent of respondents want to require that at least 20 percent of electricity comes from renewable sources, even if it costs an extra $100 annually. However, two-thirds of respondents opposed raising gasoline taxes and 71 percent were against raising electricity taxes to curb carbon emissions.
Democrats have a significant edge in addressing global warming. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted 7/27-30 found that 48 percent of adults said the Democratic Party would do a “better job” of addressing the issue, while only 9 percent favored the Republicans.
Democrats are expected to provide the needed leadership on the issue, a challenge that is proving increasingly difficult for a party well-short of a veto-proof majority. As Daniel W. Reilly explains in his post on the topic at The Politico, “Democrats have held more than 120 hearings on global warming and have delivered countless speeches in this Congress. Yet a climate change bill is still in the drafting stages in the Senate.”
With a president hostile to environmental reform in the white house, enactment of global warming reforms could be more than a year away. But clearly, the low regard the public has for the GOP’s commitment to curb global warming gives Dems an advantage. In light of the alarming greenhouse gas threshold announcement in today’s WaPo, highlighting the difference between the parties on the issue could make a pivotal difference in the ’08 presidential and congressional elections.