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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Democratic Strategist

Obama and the Jewish Vote

Predictably enough, the Republican win in a special election for NY’s ninth district has created a new cacophany of claims that the Obama administration’s Middle East policies are alienating Jewish voters. Most prominent was Dan Senor’s Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday, which had probably been written days–maybe even weeks or months–earlier.
Eric Alterman has the 411 on Senor and his claims:

Senior is a Republican partisan who publicly considered–and then backed away from–a run for Kirsten Gillibrand’s Senate seat. To say that he is rather heavily invested in an analysis that relies more on propaganda than evidence is to state a truism. So, too, Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who argues, “It’s very easy to extrapolate to the 2012 election and say Obama is going to have trouble with Jewish voters in battleground states like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania.” These two are hardly alone in their views, which threaten to cement into conventional wisdom any minute now. The reporter Ben Jacobs, writing in the Jewish magazine Tablet, insists that “the issue on voters’ minds was Israel” and that this accounts for the Democrats’ loss.
Reporters always say this kind of thing. But if they stopped to think about it for even a moment they would realize that a) they cannot read people’s minds, and b) when tens of thousands of people undertake, individually, to decide between a set of choices, it is foolish to ascribe a single motivation to all of them. (Remember, most of the eligible voters decided to stay home. And let’s not forget furthermore that a significant percentage of the district’s voters are in fact, Catholic.)…
As unpopular as Barack Obama may be with some Jews, remember that New York City Republicans are not a lot like “real Republicans,” those nutty folk who keep debating one another about whether America should let sick, poor people die or give them the death penalty. And for those Jews who might think of straying next year, Democrats have two words for them: “Rick Perry.”

That’s a good thing to keep in mind when predictions are made of this or that constituency abandoning Obama. There will be at least two presidential candidates on the ballot.

TDS Co-Editor William Galston: Is Romney Pandering with his Hard-Line Stance on China? Or Is He Onto Something?

This item by TDS Co-Editor William Galston is cross-posted from The New Republic.
The most significant policy disagreement in last week’s Republican debate went almost unnoticed. The moderator asked Jon Huntsman, “What does Governor Romney not get about China?” After noting America’s economic weakness and the need to focus on our tasks here at home, Huntsman remarked, “I’d have to say, Mitt, now is not the time … to enter a trade war.”
Behind this exchange lies a remarkable development. A few days before the debate, Romney’s campaign released “Believe in America,” a book-length economic plan. In most respects it summarized standard conservative positions. To be sure, the plan didn’t go as far toward reducing individual income taxes as ardent supply-siders would like, and it kept its distance from Paul Ryan’s politically explosive Medicare proposal. Still, it offered almost no outright surprises … except on trade. In seven bluntly stated pages, Romney staked out the toughest position against China that any mainstream national politician has adopted in a long time. The following quotations provide a sense of its tone:

Having tried and failed with ‘engagement,’ the Obama administration now behaves as if the United States has no leverage in dealing with a country that routinely steals our designs, patents, brands, know-how, and technology. …
This is not all happenstance. Rather, it is the result of a deliberate policy by the Chinese government that seeks to build up its economy by piggybacking on Western technological success. …
The Chinese government facilitates this behavior by forcing American companies to share proprietary technology as a condition of their doing business in China. China’s unfair trade practices extend to the country’s manipulation of its currency. …
And it uses a variety of unfair practices–for instance, inventing regulations and standards that only Chinese companies can meet, and artificially lowering costs for Chinese companies–to tilt the playing field in its favor. Instead of responding forcefully, the Obama administration has acted like a supplicant.

To counter these practices, Romney proposed a new approach, which begins with “unilateral steps” to get China’s attention. He invoked his private-sector background: “Anyone with business experience knows that you can succeed in a negotiation only if you are willing to walk away. If we want the Chinese to play by the rules, we must be willing to say “no more” to a relationship that too often benefits them and harms us.” The initial steps include:

stopping counterfeit and fraudulently labeled products at the border;
going to courts and the WTO to challenge practices that violate existing laws and treaties;
imposing targeted tariffs and economic sanctions; making common cause with our allies to thwart mandatory technology transfers;
designating China a currency manipulator and imposing countervailing duties;
and barring U.S. government procurement of Chinese goods and services unless the Chinese government ends its discrimination against U.S. goods and services.

Romney’s plan concluded with a ringing pronouncement:

The United States does not have to accept forever the practices that have led to a huge and seemingly perpetual trade deficit with China. … The time has come to lay out a series of steps that China must take to become a responsible member of the global economy. And the time has also come to lay out the consequences that would accompany its failure to make rapid progress toward that end.

This plan has a significance that goes well beyond the policy specifics and their immediate political implications. Mitt Romney is running for president as the champion of the business community. It is hard to believe that his hard-hitting stance toward China was not developed in close consultation with his numerous contacts in that community. If his views reflect theirs, it means that U.S. firms with substantial interests in China have shifted their position in ways that could prove momentous for future relations between the world’s two largest economies.
Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton campaigned against President George H. W. Bush on the grounds that Bush had placed our diplomatic and commercial relationship with China ahead of considerations such as human rights and democracy. Once Clinton took office, systematic and sustained pressure from the U.S. business community forced the administration to relent, and the status quo ante was mostly restored. But if Romney is accurately representing the views of his core supporters, the business community has now concluded that the status quo no longer serves its interests and that the playing field has tilted too much to be accepted.
In a lead editorial, the Wall Street Journal accused Romney of being willing to risk a “trade war” for crass political reasons, and it argued that giving Americans the impression that a confrontation with China will bring lost jobs back to the United States is offering “false hope.” Maybe so. But Romney seems willing to run for president on the proposition that there’s leverage we have failed to exploit and that a tough stance will force China to change course. If he’s elected on that basis, he’ll have no choice but to test that proposition.
It’s possible, of course, that Romney’s tough China stance is intended mainly to sway primary electorates in trade-sensitive states such as South Carolina and that he intends to pursue a steady-as-you-go strategy if he’s elected president. If so, he’s fooling himself. As the Clinton case illustrates, campaigns have consequences. In September 1992, Bill Clinton declared that “We will condition favorable trade terms with repressive regimes–such as China’s Communist regime–on respect for human rights, political liberalization, and responsible international conduct.” And that’s what he did–at first. Seventeen months into his presidency, in May 1994, after much turmoil inside his administration, he finally announced a course correction: “I am moving … to delink human rights from the annual extension of most-favored nation trading status for China.”
Today, the Chinese and American economies are far more deeply intertwined than they were two decades ago, and the potential costs of disrupting the relationship have risen accordingly. If Romney becomes president, we’ll find out whether the business community has really changed its mind about China, and how much heat he’ll be willing to endure if they haven’t. We’ll learn, as well, whether the Chinese government will respond with compromise or confrontation. And as we do, the future of the world economy will be at stake.

TDS Co-Editor William Galston: Memo to Mitt Romney: You Have to Attack Rick Perry, and Here’s How to Do It

This item by TDS Co-Editor William Galston is cross-posted from The New Republic.
Every successful presidential campaign faces at least one defining moment when choices spell the difference between victory and defeat. Your first one has come earlier than just about anyone expected, and much depends on how you respond.
Up to now, you’ve pursued a steady-as-you-go, above-the-fray strategy, ignoring your Republican rivals and training your fire on President Obama. And for six months it worked well enough to keep you in the lead. Your campaign ignited little passion, but a majority of the party was willing to settle for you if no one better came along. And no one did: Many Tea Party favorites declined to enter the race, as did potential challengers for mainstream Republican support such as Mitch Daniels. And it was hard to regard the people in the race who excited the most grassroots enthusiasm–Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain–as plausible Republican nominees. You were on track to grind out an uninspiring victory.
Then Rick Perry changed everything. Within two weeks he has established himself, not just as the Tea Party’s champion, but as a figure who could potentially unite all the party’s factions, including the business community that constitutes your base. Perry is a mortal threat to your candidacy. What should you do?
It will be tempting to keep on doing what you’ve been doing. After all, you’re comfortable with it, and you’ve gotten good at it. Some of your advisors will say that changing tactics now would give off an air of desperation. Others will say that your best course is to allow Perry–volatile, undisciplined, the distilled essence of Texas–to self-destruct. After all, he has already used the language of treason to denounce a third round of quantitative easing. Surely there are many more unguarded moments to come. So let’s let others help him take himself down, while we do as little as possible to antagonize people whose support we hope to get down the road.
Seductive, isn’t it? And dead wrong. Perry’s entrance into the race has highlighted your key weakness: People still don’t know who you are and what you stand for. They’re yearning for clear, strong, unapologetic leadership, but they don’t know where your red lines are. And efforts to placate opponents–such as fudging your long-held views on climate change–will only make matters worse.
But Perry’s emergence also gives you a unique opportunity to define yourself–against him. If you take it, you have a fighting chance of prevailing. If you duck it, you’ll lose, just as Tim Pawlenty did when he booted away his chance to take you on.
How should you do it? Well, to the extent that the Republican nominating contest is a rational process, it’s a search for a candidate with three characteristics. The nominee must be competent to serve as president, reliably conservative, and electable. You’re never going to be able to make your party believe that the longest-serving governor in Texas history isn’t fit to serve as chief executive. And despite some facts to the contrary, it won’t be any easier to challenge Perry’s conservative credentials. That narrows it down to one option: You must persuade the decisive portion of your party that Rick Perry is too extreme to be elected president.
Here’s your theme: Rick Perry wants to repeal the 20th century. I don’t. And neither do the American people.
That terrain of battle offers a target-rich environment. Where to begin? With Perry’s stated desire to repeal the 16th amendment? With his opposition to the 17th amendment, based on the odd view that taking the power to elect senators away from state legislators and giving it to the people of each state somehow amounts to a national power-grab? Maybe. But if I were you, I’d begin with Social Security. Here are Governor Perry’s considered views on the subject:

Certain [New Deal] programs massively altered the relationship between Americans and their government with regard to critical aspect[s] of their lives, violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles of federalism and limited government. By the far the best example of this is Social Security … . Social Security is something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now … . By any measure, Social Security is a failure. (Source: Rick Perry, Fed Up!, pp. 48, 50, 62))

So … Perry believes that Social Security is (a) unconstitutional, (b) an undemocratic imposition on an undefined “we,” and (c) a failure, however you look at it.
To be sure, there are real problems with Social Security, and lots of us have spent a good deal of time figuring out how to address them. In the long term, significant adjustments are necessary and unavoidable. But if you can’t figure out how to refute Perry, you don’t have the political intelligence to be an effective candidate. And if you’re not willing to say it, starting in September’s debates, you don’t have the guts to be an effective candidate. And you won’t be your party’s nominee.
Why should you pay any attention to me? After all, I’m a lifelong Democrat, even though my credentials have been questioned from time to time. Two reasons. First, I’ve been through six presidential campaigns, five of which went down to defeat in deeply instructive ways. When it comes to failure, I know what I’m talking about.
The second reason goes to my motives. Because I regard you as the most electable Republican with a serious chance of winning his party’s nomination, this memorandum might appear to be what the lawyers call an argument against interest. Why then would I give you what I sincerely regard as good advice? Answer: If the current mood of economic desperation persists for another year, which it might, then candidates who wouldn’t be electable in ordinary circumstances might capture that mood and ride it to victory. Not to put too fine a point on it, but a Perry presidency would be a catastrophe for the country. Not only does he have bizarre views on just about everything that has happened since the 1890s; if you think American politics is hyper-polarized now, just wait.
Bottom line: I’ll vote against you and do what I can to assist President Obama’s reelection effort. But I also want to take out an insurance policy: If Obama loses, I want the country to be in hands I regard as responsible–even if I’ll end up opposing most of what you propose.
In the end, what I think doesn’t matter that much. But I strongly suspect that millions of Americans feel the same way, even if you won’t be hearing from them in the next few months.

New Model, Old Coalition

This item, by Andrew Sabl, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at UCLA, is cross-posted from Samefacts.com.
What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian? Someone who knocks on your door for no particular reason.
I thought of that joke when reading James Wimberly’s recent comment alluding to his (excellent) post from 2008 about how Obama’s grassroots movement was like the New Model Army. In both cases the movement’s unprecedented breadth and power, once unleashed, was fearsome in battle–but one couldn’t ride that Army into power and expect anything less than revolution. As James put it: “What [Obama] won’ t be able to do is shelve his sweeping promises and govern from the technocratic, establishment centre like Bill Clinton. He will have to be a great reforming president or fail.”
I think this is half right, in the way the joke implies. Obama for America had the tone of a movement: it relied on faith- and hope-based rather than instrumentalist motivations, adopted the cadences of the Civil Rights movement (much against Obama’s own personal inclinations), built a pretty successful ethos of fellowship and organization for their own sakes, and yes, could be very moralistic. But while the movement’s tone expressed zealotry, its purpose had no trace of Puritan precision.
Obama for America wanted Change: a thorough repudiation of the policies of George W. Bush. And we lived by Hope, i.e. an irrational belief, which by self-fulfilling prophecy became rational, that we could through new communication techniques–not unlike the Puritans’ sermons, camp meetings, and pamphlets–defeat the formidable hierarchies of [Charles] Bush and Clinton, [Laud] Rove and Penn. But to what end? In hindsight, we can see that there were several competing Puritan agendas. To some of Obama’s supporters, purging the polity of Dubyan corruption meant, above all, ending wars and restoring civil liberties. To others, it meant ejecting the corporate money-changers from the political temple by freeing politics from lobbying and campaign money. To a third group (more numerous than many progressives realized), it meant what Obama very often said it meant: overcoming the bitter partisanship of the Bush years so that we could all seek common-sense solutions in measured tones. To a final group, the one most likely to listen to Obama’s policy proposals while discounting his rhetoric, it meant repudiating the politics of oligarchy and putting governmen back on the side of equal opportunity and social welfare.
The first group has been the most disappointed by Obama in office; the last, most impressed. (If Obama has turned out to be less of a populist than many of his supporters hoped, he’s also been much more of a classic New Deal/Great Society advocate of the welfare state.) But it is clear now, as it was not clear in 2008, that not all of these Puritans could be right about what the movement was most centrally about–and that it was almost certainly impossible for all of us to get the kind of (incompatible) revolutions that we wanted.
Michael Walzer, who read the New Model Army as the first modern ideological movement to take over a regime, called the English Civil War the “Revolution of the Saints.” But the saints had a common purpose, that of purifying the true Church and ending its liturgical and political corruptions. And they had a common enemy–a King asserting Divine Right and an Anglican Church that backed him–that united them in spite of splits between Presbyterians and Independents, burghers and Diggers, Rainsborough’s democrats and Ireton’s elitists. Obama’s movement had a common feeling of sainthood without the common theology that would render that feeling a source of unity rather than division. As a result, each of its sects has ended up convinced both that it contains the true saints and, just as dangerously–but wrongly–that we once did agree on the True Religion and that it’s Obama’s fault that we no longer do.
This is Obama’s fault in a sense, but not the sense that Obama’s most fervent critics normally intend. The problem is that Obama for America objectively speaking was, always was, a garden-variety political coalition, with all the common and cross-purposes, shared and clashing interests, that any catch-all political party inevitably contains. But Obama, half-knowing the costs, fooled us into thinking we were a movement.
We were Unitarians who thought we were Witnesses. The question now is whether anything will get us to knock on doors the way we used to.

TDS Co-Editor William Galston: Will Obama Ever Say What He Should About the Jobs Crisis?

This item by TDS Co-Editor William Galston is cross-posted from The New Republic.
The Congressional Budget Office’s semi-annual update on the budget and economic outlook, out on Wednesday, offers sobering news about the next few years. The report’s economic analysis begins by observing that “[t]he slow pace of the current recovery is broadly consistent with international experience of recoveries following financial crises.” The authors cite key impediments to renewed growth–the burden of household debt, the need for financial institutions to restore their capital bases, lack of business confidence, and the glut of vacant homes left over from the construction bubble. Then comes the punch line: Unemployment will barely decline between now and the end of 2011, and is likely to stand at 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. Even with more vigorous growth beginning in 2013, we won’t return to full employment (about 5 percent) until the end of 2016. At various points, the authors stress that these unemployment projections are based on the economic outlook as it stood in early July and do not take into account negative events since then. If anything, labor market conditions could turn out to be even tougher than yesterday’s report suggests.
Against this gloomy backdrop, it’s good to hear that President Obama plans to give a major speech on economic growth and job creation soon after Labor Day. While we can’t rule out the possibility that the congressional super-committee may roll some of his proposals into an overall deficit reduction package, it seems more likely that the president will be setting the stage for a general election argument about the best way forward for the beleaguered U.S. economy. It’s all the more important, then, for him to embed his proposals in a credible narrative about the sources of our current predicament and the overall strategy for escaping it. (For purposes of concision, I’ve framed most of what follows in first-person prose, as though the president were speaking directly.)
On the diagnostic front, Obama should stress the following themes:
1. In recent decades we’ve become addicted to consumption at the expense of production. But we can’t indefinitely consume more than we produce. The vast American consumer market has sustained growth in foreign countries, but now it’s time to focus on the investments and innovations needed to make those countries into markets for what we make.
2. In addition, we became infatuated with financial manipulation at the expense of the real economy. Not only did a rising share of profits go to the financial sector, but also many of our most talented young people were diverted from other careers in the productive sectors of the economy. We focused too much on financial innovations, some of which severely damaged our economy, and not enough on innovations in products and services.
3. Homeownership is central to the American dream. But we should see our homes as what they are–places to live and raise our families, not as ever-rising assets that we can use to finance consumption and replace savings. During the past decade, too much capital and debt flooded into the housing market, and prices rose to unsustainable heights. The inevitable crash was devastating.
4. Because growth in wages and household income slowed dramatically, many families resorted to excessive debt to maintain their standard of living. Between 1980 and 2007, the debt burden on average households in relation to their income more than doubled. This line of credit couldn’t go on forever, and when it stopped, millions of families were left exposed.
5. Let’s face it: For decades, income and wealth in the United States have become more unequal. For some people, this is a moral issue; for others, even mentioning it smacks of “class warfare.” But the key point is that it has become a drag on our economy. As far-sighted corporate leaders saw as early as the 1920s, if working families couldn’t afford to buy what businesses were selling, the engine of economic growth would grind to a halt. By the end of that decade, it did. The same is true today.
6. And yes, we lost control of the federal budget. We can argue forever about why that happened. But what matters is fixing the problem so that we can restore confidence at home and abroad.

Creating a New Economic Narrative

This item is cross-posted from Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund.
As the end of Congress’s summer recess nears and Washington prepares to reengage on the debate over the economy, new research makes clear how essential it is for progressives to engage the voters who put them in power in 2006 and 2008 using an economic narrative that connects with their current lives and motivates them.
The Rising American Electorate–unmarried women, people of color, and younger voters–comprises a rapidly growing majority of the eligible voting population in this country. These voters formed a strong base for progressive victories and drove change in 2006 and 2008; however, among some, their support for Democrats dropped in 2010. Regaining that support and motivating these voters to turn out is crucial for President Obama’s reelection and congressional victories in 2012 among those who support an agenda for economic recovery for the middle class.
This is a real challenge. Dissatisfaction with Washington’s inability to make any progress on economic issues, coupled with the fact that these voters are disproportionately feeling the brunt of the economic downturn, creates uncertainty about those currently in office and leaves RAE voters with little motivation to engage in political issues. Key groups including unmarried women and young voters continue to indicate strong support for Obama and the Democrats heading into next year, but a stronger economic rationale is needed to ensure they turn out and support traditional allies who support their public policy agenda.
A more detailed analysis of these results can be found at Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund.

History in Mississippi

Hattiesburg mayor Johnny DuPree became the first African-American since Reconstruction to win a major-party gubernatorial nomination in Mississippi yesterday, defeating white attorney Bill Luckett by a comfortable 55-45 margin in a Democratic runoff. The contest was notably without rancor, racial or otherwise. DuPress overcame a 2-1 spending disadvantage, and showed significant statewide strength.
DuPree now faces Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who won the GOP nomination three weeks ago without a runoff. Bryant will be a pretty heavy favorite, but you never quite know with off-year gubernatorial races. The last Democrat to win a Mississippi gubernatorial contest was Ronnie Musgrove in 1999.
DuPree is actually only the second African-American since Reconstruction to win a major-party gubernatorial nomination in any of the states of the former Confederacy. The first, and so far the only general election winner, was Doug Wilder of VA. African-Americans have won Democratic U.S. Senate nominations in NC (Harvey Gantt), GA (Denise Majette and Michael Thurmond), TN (Harold Ford) and TX (Ron Kirk).
UPDATE: this post was inaccurate in missing the gubernatorial nomination of Theo Mitchell in South Carolina in 1990, and more understandably, the Senate nomination of phantom candidate Alvin Greene in the same state in 2010.

Outsider Insiders

If you are a regular reader of what used to be called Pollster.com (now operated by HuffingtonPost), you may have noticed a new survey device they’ve unveiled in a partnership with Patch that seeks to assess the opinions of Republican political elites in the three most influential early caucus and primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina). It’s an interesting variation on the “insiders” polls utilized in the past that typically focus on Beltway elites.
The latest edition of this so-called GOP Power Outsiders Poll reports that about two-thirds of these folk (whose names are actually listed at the end of the article) are satisfied with the GOP presidential field as is. Since it’s not clear whether the survey was taken before or after Paul Ryan took his name out of contention, the current level of satisfaction may actually be a bit higher.
This is interesting because it offers a useful alternative to the usual division of opinion between “Beltway elites” and, well, real people across the country. The reality is that in this relatively early stage of the so-called “invisible primary” elite opinion in early states really is important in a distinctive way. As we get closer to the actual voting events, broader-based surveys of likely participants in caucuses or primaries will begin to matter most.

Battle of Ohio: Facing Referendum, Republicans Now Want to Compromise

With the Battle of Wisconsin reaching a temporary lull after the recent recall elections, attention is shifting to another midwestern state, where opponents of recently enacted union-bashing legislation have far exceeded the threshold of petitions needed to get a referendum repealing the measure on a November ballot.
With polls consistently showing Ohio voters favoring the repeal initiative (by 50-39 in a new PPP poll, and by larger margins in earlier polls), Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislative leaders are suddenly asking for meetings to seek a compromise on Senate Bill 5, which was enacted in March on a party-line vote.
Kasich hurried to sign the bill soon after it passed in order to force opponents to seek a referendum this year rather than in the higher-turnout 2012 presidential cycle.
But now Republicans are seeking to head off the referendum, or (since SB 5 opponents have made it clear that total repeal of the bill is a precondition to talks about how it might be replaced with compromise legislation) more likely, trying to strengthen their hand in the referendum fight by appearing reasonable. It’s a little late for that.
So the referendum fight is fully on, and as November approaches, you can expect the kind of national labor/progressive coalition that mobilized for the Wisconsin recalls to focus on Ohio.