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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Spotlight: Dems on Energy Independence

Edmund L. Andrews’ somewhat misleadingly-titled New York Times article “Candidates Offer Different Views on Energy Policy” is more a broad overview of the differences between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates as two groups on how — and when — to achieve energy independence for the U.S. This is not so helpful for making distinctions between the individual candidates, and disses all of the “second tier” candidates, except for a quick mention of Richardson’s CAFE goal (50 mpg by 2020 –highest and quickest).
The main point of the Times article seems to be that Dems as a whole have stronger policies for energy independence, which we knew already. The article does touch lightly on a few energy policy positions of Clinton, Richardson, Edwards McCain, Huckabee and Romney (the worst of both fields, arguably). But most of Andrews’ piece deals with the differences between the GOP field and the Dems in general terms. The candidates’ positions on energy independence and environmental concerns are too important to be addressed so once-over-lightly in the nation’s top newspaper.
So where do you go to get more detail on the energy/environmental policies of the Dem field? You go to their energy and environment web pages, collected here for your convenience:
Biden – “Energy” and “Climate Change” and “Protecting the Environment”
Clinton – “Promoting Energy Independence and Fighting Global Warming
Dodd – “Chris Dodd’s Energy Plan
Edwards – “Energy/Environment
Kucinich – “A Sustainable Future
Obama – “Environment” and “Energy”
Richardson – “Energy” and “Environment
Please read them all and feel free to share with us your thoughts on their relative strengths and weaknesses. No, we’re not going to do the same for the GOP field — that’s their job, and there isn’t much of substance in the GOP field anyway, except for McCain’s oppostion to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic (gasp) and Huckabee’s support for mandatory limits on greenhouse gases.
We need a louder echo chamber on energy and environmental issues. Why? As a survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for the Center for American Progress, conducted 3/19-22, found:

More than 3/4 of people believe the effects of global warming are already here.
Americans want immediate action on global warming – 60 percent believe that increasing pollution has set global warming into motion and “we must take action now or it will be too late to stop it.”
Unlike other issues before Congress and the President there is no strong partisan divide on stopping global warming.

The survey also indicated that energy and global warming “now rivals health care as the top domestic issue that requires immediate action.” We have a great opportunity here. The challenge is to bring it front and center.

Libertarians Lame on Environment

Just to piggy-back on Ed’s post yesterday, here’s a tidbit from the Libertarian Party Platform section on “Property Rights,” subsection on “Solutions”:

All publicly owned infrastructures including dams and parks shall be returned to private ownership and all taxing authority for such public improvements shall sunset. Property related services shall be supplied by private markets and paid for by user fees, and regulation of property shall be limited to that which secures the rights of individuals.

Now there’s a lovely idea. Let’s turn our National, State and City Parks over to any greedhead with a chainsaw.
The Libertarian Party web pages say little of substance about improving environmental protection, or addressing global warming and related concerns. And if you want to see a Libertarian get all tongue-tied, just ask him/her to explain how they would reduce pollution. In fact, Libertarian leaders still frequently deny that global warming is a problem. When pressed, they say pollution issues can be settled in the courts, which is highly dubious, especially considering they want to repeal environmental regulations.
The main reason Libertarian policies have any relevance to Democratic strategy is that Ron Paul, a former (’88) Libertarian Party presidential nominee, has gotten substantial contributions from individuals seeking a peace candidate in the GOP presidential field. I’d wager a lot of those contributions come from people who are unaware of the Libertarian Party’s (and Paul’s) blanket opposition to environmental regulations, or Paul’s disturbing support from white supremacist groups, discussed in several articles on this page.
Paul is not going to get nominated, but who knows, his fund-raising success may yet nudge one of the GOP’s more likely nominees toward a less hawkish position regarding Iraq. Either way, after the GOP nomination is decided, Dems may have a clear chance to win over some of Paul’s pro-peace supporters, a relatively small constituency, but one which could make a difference in a close general election. It might help to have a better understanding of who they are.

‘Experience’ Card Favors Second-Tier

Michael Kinsley has one of the better msm op-eds of the ’08 campaign this far, “Who Needs Experience?,” arguing that Senator Clinton goofed big time in trying to play the ‘experience’ card with a relatively-weak hand. Not that Senator Clinton doesn’t have good experience on her vita. But, saying “We can’t afford on-the-job training for our next president” was probably asking for trouble. As Kinsley explains in his WaPo/LaTimes column:

With her “on-the-job training” jab, Clinton was clearly referring to work experience. But there is also life experience. Being first lady is sort of half job and half life but good experience in either case.
She has to be careful about making a lot of this. Many people resent her using her position as first lady to take what they see as a shortcut to elective office. More profoundly, some people see her as having used her marriage as a shortcut to feminism. And the specter of dynasty hangs unattractively over her presidential ambitions. In an odd way, the deep unpopularity of George W. Bush has hurt Hillary Clinton, as people think: “Enough with relatives already.”

Kinsley may be on to something here. NH and IA voters sometimes take pride in being contrarians, and such bluster can be made to look really bad in attack ads. Obama has already responded to Senator Clinton’s remark with a pretty good zinger — “My understanding is that she wasn’t Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. I don’t know exactly what experience she’s claiming.”
In addition, Edwards and the other Democratic candidates have equally/more impressive life and professional experience as Clinton. This is especially true for the second-tier candidates, Richardson, Dodd, Biden and Kucinich. Clinton would be wiser not to invite comparison of experience with any of the Democratic field. Her strong cards are an ability to talk about the issues with clarity and her portfolio of generally solid policies. To get back on game, she needs to work a little harder to convince voters that she is about the future, not the past. Otherwise, it’s the Clinton years were OK, but ‘been there, done that.’

Triple Gratitude

Tomorrow is not only Thanksgiving, but also the 44th anniversary of the assassination of JFK and the 7th anniversary of the “Brooks Brothers Riot.” So after giving thanks for the blessings of family and freedom, be grateful also that you belong to a political party that produced a leader who still symbolizes hope and the promise of democracy for millions worldwide, instead of a party that produces charmers like these chaps.

Opinion About Iraq War: Stable or Shifting?

Emory University poly sci proff Alan Abramowitz has a post at Pollster.com challenging Charles Franklin’s earlier analysis of recent trends in public opinion about the war in Iraq. Abramowitz explains:

The claim that there has been a significant shift in public opinion toward the war is simply not supported by recent polling data. For example, a new CNN/Opinion Research Poll finds opposition to the war at an all-time high of 68 percent. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll finds that 27 percent of Americans approve of the president’s handling of the war, down 3 points from September and almost identical to the levels of support from the first half of the year. This same poll finds that the war remains easily the most important issue in the minds of Americans–26 percent named the war as the most important problem for the federal government to address with health care a distant second at 16 percent.

And this translates into advantage Democrats:

The new ABC-Washington Post Poll finds Democrats favored over Republicans on the war by a 16 point margin, slightly higher than the Democratic margin earlier this year and last year.

Abramowitz concedes a “small uptick” in Americans’ opinion about how the war is going, but concludes:

But this shift is not indicative of any broader shift in public opinion toward the war. Opposition to the war remains as high as ever as does support for a withdrawal timetable. And Iraq clearly remains the most salient issue in the 2008 election.

Franklin makes his case with equal fervor that “partisan persuasion has tilted towards the Republicans and away from the Democrats,” but concedes that Americans remain pessimistic about the war by a 20 point margin. He also notes that “It is too early, and the changes too modest, to declare this a ‘turning point’ in opinion.” No doubt the presidential candidates’ poll analysts will be watching this debate with increasing interest in the months ahead.

Gas Tax as a Third Rail

Thomas Friedman’s New York Times op-ed column on the benefits of raising gasoline taxes makes elegant moral and economic sense. Friedman makes a tight case that raising gas prices would (a) reduce our dependency on mid-east oil and (b) actually save consumers money in the long run, especially if linked to a cut in the payroll tax. It would also encourage faster development of hybrid cars and alternative technologies leading to a cleaner environment and help prevent future oil wars.
Friedman is hitting on all cylinders here and he probably has many of his readers believing that a gas tax increase would be a thing of logical beauty. He even writes a compelling script for politicians defending a hike in gas taxes, while under attack from their opponents:

Yes, my opponent is right. I do favor a gasoline tax phased in over 12 months. But let’s get one thing straight: My opponent and I are both for a tax. I just prefer that my taxes go to the U.S. Treasury, and he’s ready to see his go to the Russian, Venezuelan, Saudi and Iranian treasuries. His tax finances people who hate us. Mine would offset some of our payroll taxes, pay down our deficit, strengthen our dollar, stimulate energy efficiency and shore up Social Security. It’s called win-win-win-win-win for America. My opponent’s strategy is sit back, let the market work and watch America lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.”

“If you can’t win that debate, you don’t belong in politics,” argues Friedman. It’s an interesting tactic, making opponents of a gas tax take some responsibility for rising gas prices and revenues going to other nations. But it’s not an argument most candidates would want to try out in an election year. it might work better, say, in the first year of a new congress and a new President. And it’s going to take some big guns to actually get it done.
We do need some political leaders who have the gonads to take up this cause. But it’s a tricky political minefield, and it’s going to require a lot of time and work to win the hearts and minds of voters before the politicians are willing to get on it. Certainly we know that gas price hikes are politically-toxic, as this chart from Polkatz depicting an extremely close relationship between gas prices and presidential approval ratings makes abundantly clear. Voters already get it that a gas price hike is like a tax increase, as far as their wallets are concerned. Getting voters to appreciate that a gas tax hike can be a good deal for consumers when linked to a cut in payroll taxes for working people is a more complicated challenge, but one worth addressing — in ’09.

Academics Weigh in on Brooks Article

David Brooks’ New York Times column about presidential candidate Reagan’s speech in Philadelphia, MS in 1980 has been widely discredited as just another GOP whitewash. There is one more post, however that merits a read, Joseph Crespino’s article at the History News Network. Crespino, an Emory History proff and author of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution, has a few more points to make on the subject, including a report that Reagan was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan newspaper and rejected it only after a Carter Administration cabinet official publicized it. Other academics respond to Crespino’s article in the comments.

Dems Challenged on Immigration

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Cynthia Tucker shows why she won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in her Sunday op-ed, “Democrats must lead way on immigration.” Any Dems thinking about going all wobbly on the issue should first give Tucker’s eloquent essay a read. Tucker gives the GOP a richly-deserved blistering for their nativist position on immigration and adds:

…here’s some counterintuitive advice for the Democratic ranks: Don’t hedge. Lead. Do the right thing. Come out clearly and forcefully for putting illegal immigrants already in the country on a path to citizenship. This is no time to trim or triangulate. Show some spine. America is ready for reasoned leadership on this issue.
…So let the GOP be the party of fear and division. Democrats ought to stand for something else. The modern Democratic Party also made its choice in the 1960s, choosing hope over fear, tolerance over division and the beloved community over bigotry.
…This is no time for Democrats to turn their backs on that heritage. America is too generous and compassionate to expel millions of productive and otherwise law-abiding people. The nation has taken advantage of their labor for decades, and it would be inhumane (and outrageously expensive) to round them up and send them back.

Tucker suggests a reasonable alternative:

But Americans also want to be assured that this is the last time a broad legalization option is offered to illegal immigrants. Democrats ought to make it clear that they’ll enforce the borders and crack down on employers who hire illegally, a cheaper and more effective strategy for addressing the problem than building fences. After a few CEOs have done the perp walk for illegal hiring, they’ll stop offering jobs to those without proper documents. And when word gets across the border that U.S. companies have stopped hiring, those laborers will stop coming. They come for jobs, after all, not jihad.
This is a win-win platform. Not only is it wise and honorable, calling on the highest ideals of a nation of immigrants, it can also produce victories at the ballot box. Last week, Virginia Democrats made gains in state and local elections even though the state has been embroiled in fiery debate over illegal immigration. As an analysis by the Washington Post concluded, voting trends didn’t benefit “those who campaigned the loudest for tough sanctions against illegal immigrants.”
Let Republicans take the low road. It doesn’t end in a place the rest of the country wants to go.

This debate is just getting started, and Tucker’s challenge merits consideration.

Romney Surge May Shift Campaign Strategy

Noam Scheiber’s “The Stump” blog at The New Republic echoes an observation noted in our staff post a week ago — that Mitt Romney’s campaign is gathering some serious momentum, as indicated by recent polls in NH, IA and SC. Scheiber has the numbers, and it looks like Iowa is Romney’s to lose, with a 14 point lead. He also has a 7.4 percent lead in New Hampshire and is gaining in South Carolina.
His growing lead is not as deep or broad as Senator Clinton’s Democratic numbers, and may have more to do with his well-timed ad buys, as John B. Judis has suggested:

Romney, on the other hand, continues to run strongly in the first three states, including South Carolina. In the American Research Group polls, Romney leads Huckabee by 27 to 19 percent in Iowa, he leads Giuliani by 30 to 23 percent in New Hampshire, and leads Giuliani by 29 to 23 percent in South Carolina. If Romney can win these states and Michigan, which also votes early, he could get a boost that would allow him to defeat Giuliani in the South and to compete with him in the big states in the West, Middle West and Northeast.
The question about Romney is how much his current popularity depends on an extensive ad campaigns that he has been running. Will his popularity hold up once the other candidates begin competing on the airwaves? According to polls, Romney’s support is far from solid. In the Marist poll in New Hampshire of likely voters, only 37 percent of Romney’s supporters back him “strongly.” By comparison, 48 percent of Giuliani’s supporters, and 56 percent of McCain’s are strong backers.

Romney would bring some significant negatives as a nominee, including his flip-flopping track record — you can almost see the ‘weather vane’ ads. However, Romney, a cum laude grad of Harvard Law and a top 5 percent grad of the Harvard Biz School, has a lot of experience dealing with progressives. He may be the shrewdest strategist of the comparatively weak GOP field, having been elected Governor of Massachusetts as a Mormon and Republican and spearheaded Massachusetts’ health care reform legislation. His sneering reference to New York as a ‘sanctuary city’ suggests he intends to use immigration as a wedge issue to win support from swing voters. Although Clinton still polls well against Romney, his campaign clearly knows how to push polls and deploy campaign resources. Whoever we nominate, I would prefer any other Republican opponent.

Sanitizing Reagan’s Record on Race

David Brooks has the latest installment in the never-ending effort to sanitize the late President Ronald Reagan’s track record. In his op-ed column in today’s New York Times, Brooks makes his case that the charge “that Reagan opened his campaign with an appeal to racism — is a distortion,” referring to Reagan’s 1980 campaign launch in Philadelphia, Mississippi, most famous as the site where three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner were murdered in 1964.
It is impossible to prove what Reagan intended to do on that occasion. Certainly, those who were involved in the decision and who are still alive would be unlikely to admit that it was a deliberate effort to exploit racial animosity. For the same reason, it is equally-impossible to disprove his intentions. What is known is what Reagan said on that day, and Brooks quotes him:

Programs like education and others should be turned back to the states and local communities with the tax sources to fund them. I believe in states’ rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can at the community level and the private level.

Brooks expects his readers to believe that the use of the term ‘states’ rights’ in that town was not intended to evoke segregationist sympathies, even when the previous sentence makes it clear that education is the primary issue here. What Brooks doesn’t provide is a little more background on Reagan’s views on racial justice, as does Sydney Blumenthal in his article in The Guardian:

Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (calling it “humiliating to the South”), and ran for governor of California in 1966 promising to wipe the Fair Housing Act off the books. “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house,” he said, “he has a right to do so.” After the Republican convention in 1980, Reagan traveled to the county fair in Neshoba, Mississippi, where, in 1964, three Freedom Riders had been slain by the Ku Klux Klan. Before an all-white crowd of tens of thousands, Reagan declared: “I believe in states’ rights.

Alec Dubro points out in his TomPaine.com article ‘Reagan White As Snow” that Reagan also vetoed anti-apartheid legislation and did what he could to screw up it’s implementation after the veto was overridden.
The reason Reagan’s record has any relevance to today’s politics is that the current GOP field is so weak that they feel a need to repeatedly invoke Reagan’s name as a touchstone to recall better times for their Party. Brooks and other Republicans, however, would be wiser to say as little as possible about Reagan’s racial views and policies.