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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Matt Compton


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Paranoia on the Upswing

In October, Mother Jones reported on the creation of a popular, massive multiplayer game, in which conservatives launch a revolution in reaction to an attempt by the Obama government to merge the United States with Mexico and Canada to form a North American Union:

In the game’s scenario, 20 million armed American “patriots” begin seizing local and federal government offices. These are the same people whose earlier Tea Party protests had been ignored and dismissed by the mainstream media. Now, they post bounties for government employees. There’s fighting in every state.

The makers call the game, “2011 — Obama’s Coup Fails” but they are careful to describe the project as an act of satire and fiction.
Unfortunately, far too many Republicans believe the coup already happened:

PPP’s newest national survey finds that a 52% majority of GOP voters nationally think that ACORN stole the Presidential election for Barack Obama last year, with only 27% granting that he won it legitimately […] Belief in the ACORN conspiracy theory is even higher among GOP partisans than the birther one, which only 42% of Republicans expressed agreement with on our national survey in September.

Writing at TAPPED, Adam Serwer has the perhaps the sanest bit of analysis one can offer about this trend:

The 2008 electorate was the most diverse ever–for some people, that is disenfranchisement by definition, since that means America is being increasingly populated by people who aren’t “real Americans.” Even if ACORN didn’t steal the election, those people did, and so whether ACORN literally stole the election matters about as much as literal “death panels”. It’s “true enough.” Hoffman workers in NY-23 mistook one of their own African-American volunteers for a member of ACORN, which wasn’t even active in the district.
None of this new far right mythology actually has to make sense. As long as the frayed pieces of the puzzle can be assembled in a manner that allows this part of the right to preserve in their minds the idea that they are the authentic representation of what it means to be American, any explanation will do.

The central problem, of course, with this entire line of thinking is that it might motivate some unsettled individual to take matters into his own hands.
Another popular trend among the conservative fringe? The slogan: “Pray for Obama—Psalm 109:8” That particular psalm reads, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” Some have launched a small industry selling t-shirts and bumper stickers which display the message. And of course, this comes just six weeks after Facebook had to take down a poll which asked members if they wanted to see President Obama assassinated.
Even if this upswing of anger against the government doesn’t put his life in danger, it runs the risk of calling into question the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency. It bolsters the arguments of those who believe that the liberty of ‘real Americans’ is somehow threatened by his presence in the White House.
That’s an idea we must work to reject. It isn’t just offensive; it’s dangerous.

The CBO Scores the Senate Bill

The moment for which we’ve waited all week has arrived — the CBO has scored the Senate health care reform bill:

On CNN a moment ago, Dana Bash reported that the Congressional Budget Office has given the Senate health care reform bill has an estimated $849 billion price tag.
Bash cited a “senior Democratic source” for this information.
The source also said the bill would reduce the deficit by $127 billion dollars, Bash reported.
The bill also reportedly includes a public health insurance option with an opt-out clause

From a message standpoint, this is particularly good news.
The Senate bill would provide coverage for 94 percent of the population, extending access to another 31 million Americans. The price tag comes in well below President Obama’s $1 trillion ceiling. It does more to reduce the deficit than the bill passed by the House earlier this month, and on that front, the CBO estimates it would cut the deficit by as much as $650 billion in the second decade.
Barring a leak of the bill tonight, we will likely wait until at least tomorrow to get more details about the specific mechanisms included in the Senate legislation. But for now, this is a big step forward.

Don’t Count Out Cost Controls Yet

This morning, NPR introduced a story to outline a supposed shift in the way that Democrats talk about the health care bill which was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month.
For months, the President has used the phrase “health care reform,” detailing efforts to shift costs dramatically downward. But when he spoke from the Rose Garden ten days ago, he said that the House bill has, “[b]rought us closer than we have ever been to comprehensive health insurance reform in America.”
NPR says that reflects an important change in rhetoric:

“Health insurance reform” is the same label other Democratic leaders are now using — a phenomenon that coincides with the insurance industry having turned against the Democrats’ health care proposals, which force insurers to drop highly unpopular policies, such as denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Thankfully the House bill only represents one-half the equation. The Senate must still pass a bill, and we have every reason to believe that the final piece of legislation from the upper chamber will much more explicitly embrace the principals of health care reform.
In fact, as Ezra Klein points out, there are three reasons to believe the Senate bill represent one of the most significant efforts at cost control in American history:

The first comes from the excise tax on high-cost health insurance plans. The idea here is simple enough: you’re taxing any growth in health-care premiums that’s faster than the rate of growth in GDP plus one percentage point, which is going to make people a lot less accepting of premium increases and unchecked growth. This is, in the simplest sense of the term, a cost control. In theory, it controls costs by taxing one of the drivers of cost growth into submission. It is, by far, the policy economists are most united on, and the one that works in the most straightforward and blunt way.
The second comes from the newly formed Medicare Commission, which is a lot stronger than people realize. The idea isn’t simply that a panel of experts gets to dream up interesting reforms to try out in Medicare. It’s that they are charged with making sure that Medicare hits certain growth targets, and their package of reforms has to achieve that goal. Those reforms are then sent to Congress, where Senate debate is limited to 30 hours, and amendments must be both budget neutral and “germane.” This report, in other words, is exempt from the filibuster. So far as anything is ever easy to pass, this is easy to pass. If Congress cannot manage action even within this streamlined process, then it simply cannot cut health-care costs at all, and our federal government will go bankrupt.
The third is the delivery-system reforms. The House bill has these too, though they’re a bit weaker. They key alchemy, however, is the interplay of the delivery-system reforms and the MedPAC commission. The Senate builds in a lot of pathways by which an idea that starts in Medicare through the commission and proves successful can be brought to pilot and then brought to scale across the health-care system. Medicare serves as the laboratory, but other institutions created in the bill serve as the factory

We should get a score of the combined Senate bill from the Congressional Budget Office any day this week, and that should give us a very strong indication of the direction that the health reform effort will take going forward. But at this point, it would be a mistake to say that cost controls aren’t a major facet of the legislation.

More Evidence to Support Health Care Reform

When the House voted to pass the health care bill, cable news shows were filled with pundits talking about how many Democrats voted against the legislation to avoid taking a hit in their districts.
But the first poll that I’ve seen which shows a member of Congress losing support at home actually comes as bad news for Rep. Mike Castle — a Delaware Republican who voted against the bill.
A new survey from Susquehanna Polling & Research shows Beau Biden — Delaware’s attorney general and the son of the vice president — beating Castle by five points in a match up for the US Senate. When the same firm polled the race this spring, Castle was up 21 points.
Why is Biden surging? As Dave Weigel points out:

He’s grabbed the lead in vote-rich New Castle County, built up a 41-point lead among Democratic voters, and moved to only 5 points behind Castle among independents. According to the pollster, the shift “may be a result of negative publicity [Castle] received in the state after casting a ‘no’ vote for President Obama’s health care reform bill in the U.S. Congress.” Castle, who has thrived as a moderate Republican in an increasingly Democratic state, has been casting more partisan votes–against the stimulus package, for the Stupak amendment–that have been well-reported in Delaware.

As we noted in a staff post earlier, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that there’s nothing to be gained from voting against health care reform. I think we can safely add this latest bit of data to the top of the stack.

Disappointingly Predictable

Late yesterday afternoon, POLITICO reported that that the health insurance which the Republican National Committee provides for its employees covers elective abortions. The RNC had used the same plan since 1991, but as of today, that is no longer the case.
In a statement, RNC Chairman Michael Steel said:

“Money from our loyal donors should not be used for this purpose. I don’t know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled.”

I like drawing attention to Republican hypocrisy as much as the next guy, and I chuckled for a moment when I first saw this story. But it didn’t take a genius to see this move to restrict the committee’s insurance plan coming, and that’s a shame.
There’s no reason at all that the RNC’s health care plan shouldn’t cover elective abortion. It is a legal medical procedure, protected by the Constitution.
The fact is, employers ought to do everything they can to give employees the most-complete coverage possible, and part of me hates that RNC staffers will no longer get that benefit.

The President in Section 60

Yesterday, President Obama spent some time in Arlington National Cemetery. That’s not unusual for a commander-in-chief, but it’s not often that it produces a piece of journalism like the one written by James Gordon Meek.
Meek, a reporter for the New York Daily News, found the President in the cemetery’s Section 60 — the final resting place for many of the fallen from our recent wars. He was there to visit the grave of a friend who had died in Iraq, and hadn’t expected the President’s unscheduled stop:

What I got was an unexpected look into the eyes of a man who intertwined his roles as commander in chief and consoler in chief on a solemn day filled with remembrance and respect for sacrifices made – and sacrifices yet to be made.
I’m sure the cynics will assume this was just another Obama photoop.
If they’d been standing in my boots looking him in the eye, they would have surely choked on their bile.

The entire piece is well worth a read. I urge you to take a moment to check it out.

Tea Party of Doom

It was a year ago that Igor Panarin, a Russian academic and former KGB analyst, first drew widespread attention in the West, with a front page profile in the Wall Street Journal and a prominent link from Drudge.
His claim to fame?
Professor Panarin predicts that the U.S. will soon break apart. While descriptions of his dystopia vary, in most accounts, six new nations emerge from the rubble — The California Republic, consisting of the entire Pacific coast, under a Chinese sphere of influence; The Atlantic Republic, drawn from the East Coast down through the Carolinas, which would join the European Union; the South, which will fall under the influence of Mexico; the entire Midwest, which would join Canada; Alaska, which would be claimed by Russia; and Texas, with all its talk of secession, which would declare independence.
Panarin hosts a radio show and helps to train state diplomats in Russia, but as Mother Jones reports, Panarin is gaining plenty of new fans here in America:

In September, Chuck Baldwin, a perennial far-right presidential candidate on the Constitution Party ticket, observed that Panarin’s predictions of “some sort of break up of the United States in the near future” was a “very realistic probability.” (Columnist and MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan linked to Baldwin’s article on Panarin.) Joseph Farah, the founder of the arch-conservative website WorldNetDaily, which is famous for promoting “birther” allegations questioning Obama’s citizenship, wrote in December that he wasn’t “buying into Panarin’s entire prediction” but that “there’s something to it.” More than half of the nearly 3,000 WND readers who responded to a poll attached to Farah’s piece agreed that “the US is on course to break up soon, and another 18 percent said they thought the United States wouldn’t break up, but would ‘continue to lose sovereignty to the UN and other global entities.'”

This week, conservatives took their appreciation a step farther, when Panarin was flown in to give a presentation to a gathering of the Houston Tea Party Patriots at a Hilton Hotel in Texas. In promoting the event, organizers wrote that some called Panarin’s theory a “radical impossibility,” then asked, “But is it?”
When a movement, which claims to fight socialist fascism in the name of freedom, promotes the ideas of a former KGB agent as a way to offer some intellectual heft to its arguments, it becomes increasingly difficult to lend that movement any credibility whatsoever. But these are the same people who insist on comparing health care reform to the Holocaust, so perhaps credibility just isn’t what they’re going for.

The Texas Tribune Example

Last year, the American Journalism review conducted its fifth census of newspaper reporters who cover state government. Their survey found only 355 full-time newspaper reporters at work in the nation’s state capitols, a decrease of 32 percent from 2003. In the year since this report, the industry has continued to suffer, and local papers across the country have announced more buyouts and early retirements.
But a group of entrepreneurs at the Texas Tribune is engaged in an experiment with the hopes of creating a model that allows local political reporting to survive and even thrive online:

Led by Evan Smith, the former editor of the highly respected Texas Monthly, The Tribune is a nonprofit attempt to use a mix of donations, sponsorships, premium content and revenue from conferences to come up with a sustainable model for journalism that neither depends on nor requires a print product.
At this point, The Tribune has raised $3.7 million, including $1 million from John Thornton, an Austin venture capitalist, $1.6 million from other individuals, $500,000 from the Houston Endowment and $250,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Part of the reason the Tribune method holds so much promise is the degree to which it keeps its mission tightly focused. As the New York Times reports in their profile of the organization, the organization faced a serious decision last week, when the shootings at Fort Hood occurred only 90 minutes from their office in Austin, Texas:

“We were all sitting around talking excitedly about what we were going to do with it,” said Elise Hu, who came to The Tribune from KVUE-TV. “And then you could see Matt,” she said, indicating her colleague Matt Stiles next to her at lunch, “was about to blow his stack.”
“It wasn’t our story. Should we have just been one more news organization rushing to Fort Hood? I don’t think so,” said Mr. Stiles, who joined the Web site from The Houston Chronicle.

The Tribune has very specific beat. It covers politics, policy, and state government. Those are the areas in which its reporters have developed expertise, and when those reporters didn’t see a way they could add value to a story about Fort Hood, they didn’t devote resources to writing it. That’s an excellent example which highlights an important point — on the Internet, journalists really can’t afford be be redundant. When every other news outlet in the world is covering a story, it’s best to focus on what you can offer that is unique.
If The Tribune knows this already, there’s a lot of reason to hope they might have some serious lessons to teach the rest of us in the future.

Roots of the GOP woman problem

Anyone flipping through CSPAN in between football games on Saturday had an opportunity to catch a pretty ugly sight. As Rep. Lois Capps spoke out in defense of women’s rights, Republican Congressman Tom Price repeatedly attempted to shout her down, citing parliamentary procedure. This comes just a week after conservatives forced a moderate woman out of the race for the congressional seat in NY-23.
Now POLITICO has a story on the GOP’s struggles in persuading women to run for office:

House Republican leaders have spent years trying to bolster female recruitment, often with frustrating results. While the number of Democratic women willing to challenge sitting Republicans keeps rising, recruiting GOP women to challenge Democratic incumbents is becoming harder.
From 1994 to 2004, the NRCC recruited an average of 20 women a cycle to challenge incumbents, and even they won only three of those seats during the entire decade.
In 2006 and 2008, the number of female challengers dropped to 13 and 18, respectively, with only one winner, Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas.

But this isn’t a story that’s limited to Congress, which makes things all the more difficult for the GOP.
The trend is even more pronounced in the states, where Democrats control an overwhelming advantage in the legislatures that count women as a significant percentage of their members. There are 11 states where women represent at least 30 percent of the legislative districts, and we control both legislative chambers in 10 of them.
If the GOP really were serious about recruiting more women to office, perhaps that’s the place where they should start. But the example of Dede Scozzafava — who was a member of the New York Assembly before being chosen to run in last week’s special election — should raise a red flag for many.