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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Cookie-Jar Republicans Give Dems Edge

Christopher Hayes’s article “Corruption — A Proven Winner” in the May 2nd issue of The Nation (though not yet available through their website) makes a strong case that corruption and ethics are powerful issues for Democratic candidates. Hayes, a contributing editor to In These Times, shows how the corruption issue was skillfully addressed by Democratic candidates to turn Illinois into a solid blue state in a relatively short time. As Hayes explains:

For much of the twentieth century, Illinois was the quintessential swing state, the Ohio of its day. Its state government tilted toward moderate Republicans. It voted for the winner in the presidential election twenty-one of twenty-four times in the twentieth century through 1996, going for Reagan in 1980 and 1984, George Bush I in 1988 and Clinton in 1992 and 1996. The rock-ribbed Republican suburban “collar” counties around Chicago canceled out the heavily Democratic city, leaving the fate of statewide elections to the fiercely independent voters downstate. Now the state looks like a Democratic lock–Gore and Kerry both won it by double-digit margins–and in these dark days you’ve got to wonder, How did this happen? And are there any lessons to be gleaned for Democrats elsewhere?

Hayes acknowledges the important role of demographic change in producing the Dems Illinois miracle:

Local observers use the term “perfect storm” to describe the confluence of disparate factors that has produced such a true-blue state, but it’s clear that demographic changes account for much of the transformation. Over the past decade, both Chicago and its surrounding suburbs have been getting progressively more Democratic as a result of the widespread migration of black and Latino families into the collar counties, an influx of immigrants and the rightward tilt of the national GOP on social issues, which has alienated many suburban moderates. Also, as John Judis and Ruy Teixeira argue in their book The Emerging Democratic Majority, the transition of the regional economy from manufacturing to service and technology has brought with it a substantial number of professionals with graduate degrees, a group that increasingly forms a bedrock Democratic constituency.

Illinois was clearly ready for a strong Democratic candidate to lead the charge. They found him in Rod Blagojevich, a candidate for Governor who took advantage of an exploding “license for bribes” scandal in the GOP statehouse and turned it into Democratic gold:

In 2002, as the scandal was reaching a fever pitch, Blagojevich won the gubernatorial race by successfully exploiting the taint of scandal against his opponent, Attorney General Jim Ryan, who, while neither related to nor implicated in the scandal, had the misfortune of sharing the same political party and last name as George Ryan. Blagojevich ran a barrage of ads showing side-by-side pictures of Jim Ryan and George Ryan, and promised to clean up state government and pass ethics reform.
But the damage done by licenses-for-bribes has reverberated well past that election, tarnishing the entire Republican brand in the state. When in last year’s US Senate race Republican nominee Jack Ryan went down in flames after sealed divorce records revealed he had pressured his wife into attending sex clubs, there was a general “here we go again” feeling to the coverage, despite the fact that Jack Ryan’s sins were venial and George Ryan’s mortal…[Democratic congressional candidate} Melissa Bean attributes at least some of her support to scandal fatigue among Republicans in her district. “I think it helped a lot,” she told me. “It’s one thing to be the right candidate for the district and another to be the right candidate at the right time. There’s no question that this was a district that was ready for change.”

Not every state is as ripe as Illinois, but the Dems do have opportunities elsewhere, including Washington, where the DeLay scandal is percolating nicely. But Hayes argues that they have to work the right levers:

Democrats do have to make the case forcefully. In Illinois the US Attorney’s office played a key role in doggedly pursuing GOP corruption, and if Democrats learned anything from the Clinton years, it’s the power of an officially sanctioned investigation to turn smoke into fire. But with the GOP currently controlling both houses and barring any ethics investigations that don’t have majority support, Democrats will have to rely on the press and public outrage. Of late, it seems Congressional Democrats have been catching on to this, taking steps to move the ball forward on the scandals that the blogosphere has worked feverishly to call attention to, pushing for a floor vote to reinstate revoked ethics rules, and issuing a 147-page report about the “death of deliberative democracy” under the GOP’s reign.

The Dems have a great start in making corruption a pivotal issue that will pervade the ’06 election. But the outcome will ride on the Dems follow-through, says Hayes:

Congressional Democrats should take a page out of Gingrich’s and Blagojevich’s books and propose comprehensive ethics reform. They should talk about the “corrupt Republicans” and “restoring transparency and integrity” at every turn. They should use DeLay’s mounting ignominy to tar fellow Republicans who benefit from his fundraising and clout. In short, they should make Republican scandal and Democratic reform one of the central narratives of their opposition over the next two years. “Newt Gingrich came to power because of an ethics scandal,” says Obama’s state political director, Dan Shomon. “Rod Blagojevich got elected partly because of scandal. You can defeat an incumbent if you can catch his or her hand in the cookie jar.”

Corruption will be a powerful issue for Democrats for as long as there is a GOP, which is driven by greed as much as any other value. Hayes’s article should be included in the playbook for all Democratic candidates in upcoming elections.

‘Buying Union’ Link Provides Screen for ‘Buying Blue’ Campaign

The “Buying Blue Can Be Tricky” post below (April 15) mentioned that the AFL-CIO does not provide a list of currently unionized companies on its web page. Not exactly accurate, it turns out. The AFL-CIO does provide a separate web page “Buy American. Buy Union!,” which helps consumers identify unionized companies, as well as companies that have been targeted by unions for boycotts as a result of their backward labor policies. “Buy American. Buy Union” should be used as a screen for companies endorsed by the “Buy Blue” campaign.

Buying Blue Can Be Tricky

EDM received a couple of comments about the “Buying Blue, Boycotting Red” post below, and both writers make excellent points. One is that union membership should be a consideration. The other is that what a company does, especially its role in partisan politics, should also be a criterion in buying blue. For example, the News Corp company listed as a “blue buy” is part of the Fox Network and red-listed UPS has unionized drivers. To this we might add a company’s environmental and diversity track records should be factors to look at for consumers who want to “buy blue.” No doubt the folks at buyblue.org have wrestled with these and other factors. Indeed, it would be a good idea for them to provide links to such lists. (Oddly enough, however, aflcio.org does not provide a list of currently unionized companies). The more such filters are applied, however, the shorter the buy blue list becomes. But buyblue.org nonetheless provides a great service for Dems as it is — to make good choices as consumers, we need to know which companies’ top executives lavish cash on the GOP.

Buying Blue, Boycotting Red Companies

True blue Dems have a great resource over at buyblue.org, which is loaded with information about which companies are supporting Democrats and Republicans. Check out, for example, “The Top Ten Bluest and Reddest Corporations.” Here’s their ranking list of companies, based on “amounts given by their C-level executives in 2003-2004” in both dollars and percentage terms:
Ten Bluest Corporations
Time Warner, $1,713,621, 77% Blue
Viacom, $892,513, 78% Blue
News Corp, $689,549, 61% *
Walt Disney, $606,504, 70% Blue
IBM, $397,936, 68% Blue
Cablevision, $326,842, 68% Blue
Torchmark Insurance Cos., $314,441, 88% Blue
Sony Corp. of America, $287,535, 69% Blue
Working Assets, $234,255, 100% Blue
Costco, $224,803, 99% Blue
Ten Reddest Corporations
United Parcel Service, $2,361,922, 71%
SBC Communications, $2,028,031, 67% Red
Merrill Lynch, $1,900,326, 72%, Red
Pfizer, $1,465,317, 67% Red
MBNA Corp., $1,453,497, 73% Red
Union Pacific, $1,428,663, 79% Red
Southern Co., $1,041,025, 80% Red
Wachovia Corp, $998,997, 75% Red
Clear Channel Communications, $764,318, 67% Red
General Electric, $747,386, 67% Red
There are other ways of ranking companies according to their financial support for both parties (See April 11th post “Calling All Dems: Stop Funding GOP Causes” below.) The beauty of selective patronage and boycotts is that it is a way that rank and file Dems can get involved in supporting their party on a daily basis and their success does not depend in any way on politicians. Reducing a company’s profits by even 1 percent can start stockholders howling for reform.

Dems Must Rework Gun Control Policy to Win in ’08

Dems who want to get up to speed on the politics of gun control must read Sasha Abramsky’s “Democrat Killer?” in The Nation. Abramsky makes a compelling case that a one-size-fits-all pro-gun control policy is a huge loser for Dems in the west and south:

Nationally, as the Democrats do the Electoral College math and realize the rising importance of the mountain and desert West to their presidential hopes, more and more are making this realpolitik calculation. If the South is now virtually unwinnable for national Democratic candidates, the party can craft a new Electoral College majority only if it can figure out how to make significant inroads into this region, into beautiful Open Road states like Nevada and New Mexico that, in 2004, went mildly Republican in the presidential election, while notching up significant victories or maintaining power for local and state Democratic Party politicians. And crafting a new stance on guns seems to a growing number of Democrats to be just the way to do that.

A more carefully-calibrated approach to gun control, says Abramsky, could reap new victories for Democratic candidates:

Rethinking guns is not only less morally toxic and less politically costly than any effort to recalibrate the party’s position on abortion or gay rights but could yield far greater political gains…It would take only a few thousand such voters to change their votes in New Mexico and Nevada for a Democratic presidential candidate to win both those states; and while Colorado and Montana are harder nuts to crack, they are certainly on the party’s radar. Win three of these four states, or win two of them plus Iowa, and the Democrats have an Electoral College majority again.

Abramsky concedes that there are tough moral and political concerns to balance in reformulating the Dems’ gun control polices. But Dems must not lose sight of the central issue. As Abramsky asks,

After all, what’s the point in staking the moral and intellectual high ground on gun control, as I believe gun-control proponents have done, if in doing so you lose the larger war for political power and the ability to enact all the other aspects of your program?

A good question — and one which Democrats must address to win back control of the White House and congress.

Calling All Dems: Stop Funding GOP Causes

Arguably, the most under-utilized resource rank and file Democrats have at their disposal is consumer spending choice. Worse, most of us inadvertantly give money to the GOP every day by supporting corporations that fund Republican candidates, while contributing very little, if anything at all, to Democrats. Grab a burger at Wendy’s, for example, and you have made a contribution to their PAC, which gives 93 percent of it’s dough to the GOP. (Click here for a longer list of companies that give more than 90 percent of their PAC money to Republicans.}
But who has time to keep up with the political spending patterns of Fortune 500 companies? The Center for American Progress, that’s who. The CAP’s American Progress Action Fund has launched a campaign to “Tell Corporate America to Drop the Hammer,” targeting five corporations that have contributed to Tom (“The Hammer”) DeLay’s defense fund. They are: American Airlines ($5K); Bacardi ($3K); Nissan ($5K); R. J. Reynolds ($17K) and Verizon ($5K).
At the link above, CAP has a nifty “send them a message form” which takes about 30 seconds of your time to express your disapproval to the five companies.

New Poll: GOP Interferes in Americans’ Private Lives

Republicans are always carrying on about how “we have to get government out of our lives.” But a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll just reported indicates that the public views the GOP as more meddlesome in Americans’ private lives than the Democrats — and by a healthy margin. Asked “When it comes to moral values, do you think the Republican Party is trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans, or not?” 55 percent responded affirmatively, compared to 40 percent who felt that way when asked the same question about the Democrats.

Meyerson: Bring White Working Class Back Home

In the current issue of Dissent, Harold Meyerson has a must-read article for Dems, “Beyond the Consensus: Democrats Agree on How to Play Defense, But What Are They Fighting For?” Meyerson offers a lucid assessment of the current state of the Democratic Party, its propects and what can be done to create a majority anchored in Democratic principles:

One point on which all Democrats agree is that the party needs a red-state strategy. In olden days, the DLC might have made this argument, to the strenuous opposition of social liberals. These days, labor has embraced a proposal from the Teamsters that the movement should focus its organizing in battleground and red states….
Consensus reigns. We are all Democrats; we are all cultural moderates…Though the killer issue in last November’s election, we know, wasn’t really moral values; it was national security. And we need to be for that, too.
Will that get us back into the majority? For the really disquieting thing about the exit polling was that it showed that the number of self-identified Republicans equaled the number of self-identified Democrats. It’s particularly instructive, and depressing, to look at the turnout figures in the non-battleground states, where neither party was buying the airwaves or flooding the mailboxes or walking the precincts to get out their vote. In battleground states, Kerry pulled down 3.6 percent more votes than Al Gore had four years before, and Bush exceeded his 2000 totals by 4.4 percent. But in non-battleground states, where voters were left to their own devices, Kerry increased his total over Gore by just 1.5 percent, while Bush boosted his total by 3.9 percent. In Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, where no major offices were on the ballot, turnout hit an all-time high. That’s the white working class, flocking to George Bush.
And did they ever flock! Kerry lost white, working-class voters-a group that constituted roughly half of the 2004 electorate-by 23 percent, six points worse than Gore had done in 2000. The shift away from the Democrats came chiefly among white, working-class women, who voted nine points more for Bush this time than they had four years ago. To a considerable degree, that’s a function of their trust in Bush on matters of national security: 66 percent of white, working-class voters said they trusted Bush to handle terrorism, compared to just 39 percent who trusted Kerry. (These numbers come from Democratic poll analyst Ruy Teixeira, who has been rummaging around in the raw data from the exit polling.)
But it’s a secondary result that should really give the Democrats pause: 55 percent of these voters trusted Bush to handle the economy, compared to just 39 percent who trusted Kerry. The economy? Bush? They trust the man on whose watch the nation lost three million manufacturing jobs in four years, whose recovery has seen the lowest increases in wages and salaries of any recovery since before the Great Depression? That Bush? And among precisely the voters-the white working class-who’ve lost the most economically during his presidency.
Perhaps this collapse of confidence in Democratic economics isn’t as bad as it seems. After all, once Kerry lost these working-class voters’ trust on national security, his trustworthiness on other topics likely plummeted as well. In addition, the Bush people were certainly more successful depicting Kerry as a cultural plutocrat (not that hard a job, really) than Kerry was in depicting Bush as the economic plutocrat’s favorite president. Kerry was always more comfortable talking about America’s proper role in the world than he was discussing America’s economy, and Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg faults Kerry’s campaign for failing to focus on the economy during the homestretch….
Politically, the declining strength of unions has hurt the Democrats most within the white working class. Over the past forty years, white union members have tended to vote Democratic at a rate roughly 20 percent higher than their non-union counterparts. But with the rate of private-sector union membership now down to an abysmal 7.9 percent, the voting habits of working-class whites have shifted markedly rightward.

In addition to his sobering observations, Meyerson asks some tough questions and has a lot more to say about how Democrats can challenge corporate abuse of working people. Highly reccommended for Dems interested in building a stronger party.

GOP ‘Big Tent’ Collapsing?

With Republicans controlling the three branches of government and recently winning key votes in congress on the bankruptcy bill and ANWR oil exploration, it would seem there is not a lot for Democrats to be optimistic about. But some previously dim pricks of light are starting to flicker more brightly at the end of the tunnel. As yesterday’s post below indicates, recent polls show President Bush’s approval numbers tanking significantly and the public is clearly unimpressed with the Administration’s ‘leadership’ on issues, including Social Security, economic policy and GOP meddling in the Terry Schiavo tragedy. In addition, it appears that some serious rifts are appearing among the GOP rank and file. Adam Nagourney provides an interesting wrap-up of the Republicans’ internal troubles in his Sunday New York Times article “Squabbles Under the Big Tent”:

Conservative commentators and blogs are even warning that Republican divisions could turn into turmoil once President Bush begins his fade from power. “The American right is splintering,” the sometimes-conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan wrote in a column for The Sunday Times of London headlined, “Bush’s Triumph Conceals the Great Conservative Crack-Up.”

Nagourney also provides a typology of GOP subgroups, which Democratic strategists may find of use as a guide for peeling off potential Republican voters:

Gone are the days when the Republican Party could easily (if simplistically) be divided into social conservatives versus fiscal conservatives. There are libertarian Republicans, Christian conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, Wall Street Republicans, balanced-budget Republicans, tax-cutting Republicans, cut-the-size-of-government Republicans, neoconservative Republicans supporting global intervention and isolationist Republicans who would like to stay at home.

Dems can also find some encouragement about GOP splintering in “Earthly Evangelist,” Deborah Solomon’s New York Times Magazine interview with Richard Cizik, head of the 30 million member National Association of Evangelists. Asked about his group’s influence on the future of GOP environmental policy, Cizik responded,

Look, the big corporate interests have an undue say in party policy. And into this reality come the evangelical Christians. And when confronted with making a choice, this administration will compromise. Because about 40 percent of the Republican Party is represented by evangelicals. They wouldn’t want the two major constituencies of the Republican Party at war with each other

Widening rifts in the GOP (see also March 30 post below) may well provide a margin of victory for Democrats in next year’s congressional elections and beyond, especially for Democratic candidates who make a clear and measured pitch for the votes of Republicans moderates and supporters of environmental reforms.

Targeting the GOP’s Achilles’ Heel

In the Sunday New York Times, columnist Thomas L. Friedman blasts the Bush Administration for its lack of a coherent energy policy, other than drilling for oil. For Democrats paying attention, Friedman’s broadsides reveal another Achilles heel Dems can target leading up to the ’06 and ’08 elections. Friedman’s column “Geo-Greening By Example” lays bare the GOP’s “who needs an energy policy?” attitude and the mounting dangers it entails for our security, our economy and the environment.

By doing nothing to lower U.S. oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism and strengthening the worst governments in the world…we are financing the jihadists – and the Saudi, Sudanese and Iranian mosques and charities that support them – through our gasoline purchases…By doing nothing to reduce U.S. oil consumption we are also setting up a global competition with China for energy resources, including right on our doorstep in Canada and Venezuela…Finally, by doing nothing to reduce U.S. oil consumption we are only hastening the climate change crisis, and the Bush officials who scoff at the science around this should hang their heads in shame. And it is only going to get worse the longer we do nothing.

Some of Friedman’s remedies are debatable, such as a huge hike in the gas tax, building nuclear power plants and having the President use an armor-plated Ford Escape hybrid as his “limo.” (armor plating would likely obliterate the hybrid’s mpg advantage). He supports some better ideas long-advocated by Democrats, including tax incentives for development of wind, solar and hydro power, but omits mention of the need for accelerating development of mass rail transit within and between cities.
In an earlier (January 30th) article, “The Geo-Green Alternative,” Friedman made a persuasive appeal for energy independence as the most powerful — and cost-effective — leverage we have for promoting democracy in the Middle East. John Kerry and John Edwards touched lightly on the advantages of a comprehensive energy policy during the ’04 campaign, but their efforts were not well-covered in the media or adequately promoted. Because the Republicans are wedded to the interests of the oil companies, it is highly unlikely that they will meet Friedman’s challenge to develop a credible energy policy.
With rising gas prices now identified as the number one economic problem (see March 25 post) and with 61 percent of respondents expressing support for more conservation measures in a recent Harris Poll (see March 22 post below), Friedman’s critique merits serious consideration. As the energy and environmental crises worsen, Democrats have much to gain by uniting behind a comprehensive strategy for energy independence.