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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

Gallup on Ideology: Nothing To See Here, Folks

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on June 15, 2009
As part of the endless efforts of conservatives to treat the last two election debacles as aberrations in a “center-right nation” (or as somehow-conservative reactions to that godless freespending liberal George W. Bush), you can expect some reaction to the latest Gallup survey of the ideological self-identifications of Americans. It shows a slight uptick in “conservative” self-identification during 2009, up to 40% from 37% last year. But it’s basically the same findings almost always found in recent decades when voters are offered the three choices of “conservative,” “liberal” and “moderate.” Self-identified “conservatives” have been bumping around 40% since 1992, with “liberals” around 20% and “moderates” holding the balance. Moreover, Gallup confirms the very old news that Republicans are heavily conservative (73% “conservative,” 24% “moderate” and 3% “liberal”), while Democrats are more ideologically diverse (40% “moderate,” 38% “liberal” and 22% “conservative”).
There’s no real evidence here that anything’s changed since November of 2008.
And as always, the C-M-L choice doesn’t seem to tell us as much as more nuanced measurements of ideology. The big recent Center for American Progress study released in March, State of Political Ideology, 2009, added “libertarian” and “progressive” to the usual menu of self-identification options, and after pushing leaners, found that 47% of Americans think of themselves as progressive or liberal, while 48% self-identify as conservative or libertarian. The CAP survey also found that when you probe deeper in terms of more specific statements of values and beliefs, there’s a reasonably solid progressive majority when it comes to most matters of international and domestic policy. The conservative “brand” may still be relatively strong, but it doesn’t always translate into issue positions, much less voting behavior.
Virtually everyone agrees that the long-stable C-M-L findings disguise generational trends that are worth watching closely. The new Gallup survey finds that “liberals” outnumber “conservatives” by a 31%-30% margin among voters under 30. And a May analysis by CAP on “millennials” shows 44% self-identifying as progressive or liberal, and just 28% as conservative or libertarian.
None of this, of course, will deter “center-right nation” fans from claiming the latest Gallup survey as evidence that Americans were misled during the last two election cycles, or were offered insufficiently stark ideological choices, or were simply tired of George W. Bush and will return to the Republican Party almost automatically in 2010 or 2012. This argument is essential to the conservative project of keeping the GOP firmly on the Right, or driving it even further Right. When you are a hammer, everything–and certainly every poll–looks like a nail.

Virginia Primary Post-Mortem

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on June 10, 2009
So what really happened in yesterday’s Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary? In a sentence, Creigh Deeds trounced the two early front-runners in nearly every part of the state, despite notable disadvantages in organization and (versus Terry McAuliffe, at least) money. His campaign saved the money it had, spent it on well-placed TV ads, and peaked at exactly the right time, winning the bulk of undecided voters down the stretch and battening on growing voter dissatisfaction with his rivals.
As Ari Berman points out today at The Nation, there was almost certainly an element of the old murder-suicide scenario at play: Brian Moran spent a lot of time attacking Terry McAuliffe, driving up T-Mac’s already high negatives and souring voters on himself as Deeds quietly went about campaigning.
But it’s not enough to intone “murder-suicide” and forget about the whole thing. The remarkable aspect of the contest was that Deeds defied the heavily-subscribed-to belief that the “ground game” is what matters most in low turnout primaries. Yes, turnout was a bit higher than expected (320,000 votes instead of 250,000), but was still low by almost any standard other than VA’s weak history of competitive primaries. Moran was all about “mobilization” and McAuliffe threw lots of his money into the “ground game,” even as Deeds was laying off field staff. Yet Deeds won ten of eleven congressional districts (losing narrowly to the Macker in the majority-black 3d district that runs from Richmond to Hampton Roads), winning NoVa against two rivals from that region. Some pundits attribute Deeds’ success in NoVa to his endorsement by the Washington Post, but while that endorsement was well-timed and helped provide a psychological boost to the Deeds campaign, everything we know about elections suggests that newspaper endorsements don’t matter a great deal.
In other words, what the candidates actually had to say in their ads, their mailers, their debates, and their personal appearances actually had a lot to do with the results–an once-popular idea that deserves a second look now and then. (See Amy Walters’ breakdown on the percentage of candidate expenditures on direct voter contact via ads and mail, where Deeds excelled).
Was there an ideological twist to this primary? That’s hard to say, without exit polls. Moran definitely tried to position himself as the “true progressive” in the race, opposing a big coal plant in southeast VA, stressing his eagerness to overturn the state’s gay marriage ban, and hiring some high-profile netroots figures like Joe Trippi and Jerome Armstrong. Moran also tried to identify himself with those who supported Barack Obama against McAuliffe’s candidate, Hillary Clinton, in last year’s presidential primaries (not very successfully, given T-Mac’s relatively strong showing among African-Americans yesterday). And both Moran and McAuliffe went after Deeds very hard during the last week or so on Deeds’ record of opposition to gun control measures.
In a state like Virginia, though, even self-conscious progressives tend to cut statewide candidates a lot of slack, so the ideological issues with Deeds may have helped him marginally.
The silliest conclusion I’ve heard since last night, though, is that McAuliffe’s defeat somehow represents the “end of Clintonism” in the Democratic Party. Sure, the Big Dog himself campaigned for McAuliffe to no apparent avail, and if “Clintonism” means no more than the personalities connected with the Clintons in the past, then maybe the results were a blow to “Clintonism.” But if, as I suspect is the case, those who are celebrating the “end of Clintonism” are talking about “centrism” or efforts to appeal beyond the progressive Democratic base, it’s kinda hard not to notice that the winning candidate yesterday seems to most resemble that profile. And there’s no question at all that the areas of Virginia actually won by HRC in 2008 went heavily for Deeds.
If you missed all the very brief excitement over VA last night, you can check out the liveblogging that Nate Silver and I did over at 538.com. And I also did some analysis of turnout patterns in VA today. Now it’s on to November, and no matter what you think of Creigh Deeds, he does enter the general election contest with some momentum and a demonstrated ability to pull votes from pretty much everywhere.
UPDATE: John Judis povides a more thoroughgoing analysis of the “end of Clintonism” interpretation of yesterday’s results than I did, but reaches a similar conclusion. In the meantime, given the prominent roles played in Brian Moran’s campaign by netroots gurus Trippi and Armstrong, and his adoption of many elements of netroots CW on how to win a low-turnout primary, you have to wonder why nobody’s asking if Moran’s third-place finish signals the “end of the netroots.” Maybe that’s because this whole “death by association” theme is ridiculous, whether we are talking about Moran or McAuliffe.

Obama and the Left (Part 432 and Counting)

Editor’s Note: we’re very happy to feature this item, originally published at The Huffington Post, by Mike Lux, founder and CEO of Progressive Strategies, LLC, and author of The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came To Be. This is an important contribution to our ongoing discussion of intraparty and intraprogressive debates. It was first published here on June 10, 2009
There has been some interesting writing lately on the whole Obama and the left thing, a wave of discussion that started when Obama declared his candidacy for president, and won’t end until humans stop writing history books.
The first was kind of a silly article by Josh Gerstein in Politico, which basically described the left as being Rachel Maddow, some civil liberties groups, and some LGBT activists. Not surprisingly given that definition, all “the left” in Gerstein’s article cared about were civil liberties, gay rights, and having a Supreme Court Justice picked.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of those are incredibly important issues and activists, but to describe “the left” in that way seems like pretty bad reporting. Doesn’t mention the labor movement, health care advocates, advocates for low-income people, environmentalists, bloggers, community organizers, progressive think tanks, feminists, progressive activists of color, MoveOn and other online activists, the progressive youth movement, the peace movement, or any other parts of the remarkably diverse and interesting progressive movement. He didn’t mention how progressives had both pushed for the stimulus package to be bigger but also were an essential part of getting it passed in the end; or how progressives have been organizing big coalitions on behalf of helping Obama get health care, immigration reform, climate change reform, and a re-write of banking legislation passed; or how progressives have expressed concern on a range of issues like trade and banking.
There have also been articles in the Washington Post about how Obama’s election and the sausage making of passing legislation had deadened progressive excitement, and the excellent grasp of the obvious file — one about how progressive groups now had more power in lobbying than they had under Bush.
Easily the most thoughtful pieces of all have been two recent pieces by members of the progressive movement themselves (both personal friends, so I’ll admit my bias upfront). The first, by Gara LaMarche of Atlantic Philanthropies, was a thoughtful and nuanced discussion of the challenges of both Obama and progressives, and was fairly hopeful in general, both about Obama and about the relationship between him and the movement. The second, by Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, was a more frustrated discussion of the way progressive leaders aren’t challenging Obama enough, and the distancing of Obama from progressives.
From my experience in the Obama transition as the Obama team’s liaison to the progressive community, and in all my conversations with folks both inside and outside of Obamaland before and since, the tension between being hopeful about the possibilities and upset that better things aren’t being realized will always be there. If managed right by both Obama and progressive leaders, it can be the kind of constructive, creative tension that leads to the kind of big breakthrough progressive changes we saw in this country at key moments in our history- the 1860s, the early 1900s, the 1930s, and the 1960s (the Big Change Moments I write about in my book, The Progressive Revolution). If managed poorly, it can lead to the kind of presidential meltdowns we saw with the LBJ and Jimmy Carter presidencies, and on the Republican side with the first Bush presidency: Presidencies that started with high hopes but ended with destructive conflicts between the base and the presidency, tough primary challenges, and lost re-election hopes.
So far, I’m feeling quite good about Obama’s chances for the former. After some initial stumbles, he pushed through the stimulus package — and the biggest progressive public investment package — in history. His budget was very bold and as strongly progressive as any budget at least since 1965, and it has made its way through the first rounds of the congressional budget process in good shape. He has so far handled the politics around his first big legislative initiatives, health care and climate change, very pretty, giving us a solid chance at success.
Progressive leaders have handled themselves well on balance, too. A lot of us thought the stimulus was too small, but we pushed hard to get it passed once the die was cast. A lot of us prefer a single-payer health care system, but are also pushing hard to see a strong public option kept in this reform package, and are putting big resources into the passage of a good plan. Progressive groups and leaders are working hard and constructively to push Obama and other Democrats to improve the climate change bill that came out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and to move forward on the strong financial regulation and immigration reform legislation. And where Obama has disappointed many of us — on civil liberties, on LGBT issues, on Afghanistan, and on financial regulation — we have pushed back strongly but generally not been destructive in doing so.
Going forward, though, there are certain things history and common sense teach us that both sides need to understand very clearly:
1. We need each other. Progressives need to understand that our fates for several years to come are tied, fundamentally and completely, to Obama’s success as president. If he loses his big legislative fights, we won’t get another chance at winning them for a generation (see health care, 1993-94), and early losses will make the Democrats more cautious, not more bold (see health care, 1993-94). If Obama’s popularity fades, Democrats will lose lots of seats in Congress. If he loses re-election, Republicans and the media will say he was a failed liberal and run against him for many elections to come, even if his actual policies are more centrist (see Jimmy Carter). But Obama’s team needs to understand that they need a strong progressive movement as well, and as Jane alluded to, they haven’t generally acted like they do. Without progressives’ passion, activism, lobbying, and money, Obama can’t win those incredibly challenging legislative battles. Just as Lincoln never would have won the civil war or ended slavery without the passion of the abolitionists, just as FDR never would have won the New Deal reforms without the labor and progressive movement, just as LBJ would never have passed civil rights bills without the civil rights movement, Obama can’t win these big fights alone. And he can’t win re-election either without the passion of his base: see LBJ, Ford, Carter, George H.W. Bush, and many other presidents for more info on that topic.
2. Obama needs a left flank. It is a natural tendency of any White House to be dismissive of criticism, and to play hardball when people disagree with you. The Obama team should not hesitate to defend itself when being pushed from the Left, but I would caution against playing too hard at hardball. The Obama team needs a vibrant and vocal Left flank, because the stronger their Left flank is, the more Obama seems solidly in the middle. The White House would be well-served to fully support and empower progressive groups, media, and bloggers — even when they sometimes disagree with Obama.
3. There needs to be both an inside and an outside strategy for progressives. Progressive leaders who get jobs in the administration are sometimes derided as sell-outs, and progressive groups who are not openly critical of the Administration are sometimes criticized as being too cozy with those inside. At the same time, insiders get very worked up about “irresponsible” bloggers and outside activists who they say don’t understand the system and the challenges they are facing.
Having been both on the inside and the outside, I see the grain of truth in both sides’ perspective, but also respectfully disagree with both sides.
We need progressive people in government, even if the cost of that is that they have to trim their sails on issues where they disagree with administration policy. We need progressive groups in regular in-depth policy meetings with the administration, even if that means they have to soft-pedal their criticisms some of the time to keep that access. And we need outsiders who will push like crazy for doing the right thing now no matter what.
Change and progress never happened in this country without both insiders and outside agitators playing a strong role. The administration needs to respect the role of those outsiders, and those working for progress from the inside and the outside need to respect each other. There is no other way this is all going to work for the good.

Toward Single-Payer Reform–Step by Step

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on June 5, 2009
It’s hard to find anyone inside the D.C. beltway who actually believes single payer health care reform can be achieved in this session of congress. The majority of progressives seem to have settled for the “public option,” which can be seen as a step toward achieving a single-payer system down the road, make that way down the road.
The public option does seem to be the most promising proposal for achieving a progressive consensus for this session of congress. But I do hope the single payer warriors will keep the heat on as the ‘scary left’ that makes the publlic option seem like a moderate alternative.
I applaud incremental reform as generally a more practicable approach than “big package” reform. By providing a smaller target and a simpler policy, precisely defined incremental reforms have a certain edge in winning hearts and minds. Incremental reforms have less baggage than “big package” reforms and they reduce the opposition’s ability to use red herrings to distract voters. Republicans, for example, had an easier time of it trashing ‘Hillarycare’ than they would in fighting a bill that forces insurance companies to do one simple thing — cover pre-existing conditions.
The oft-cited advantage of big package reform is that you can build a broader coalition. Well, that’s true. But it gives a well-organized opponent plenty of targets for mobilizing opposition. The right is very good at distracting voters with specific objections to proposals that offer otherwise beneficial reforms. See our staff post yesterday on William Galston’s New Republic article to get a sense of how complicated are public attitudes toward various health care reforms.
Incremental reforms are often portrayed as a ‘sell-out’ of progressive principles because they invariably leave some constituency out. The pre-existing coverage requirement, for example, still leaves millions without coverage. But if there is an understanding that other specific reforms to broaden coverage will be strongly advocated shortly after pre-existing coverage is enacted as part of a coalition commitment, then it could become possible to achieve something resembling universal coverage in fairly short order. Voting on highly specific health care reforms one by one in rapid succession may be a quicker way of getting to universal, comprehensive reform than having a grand battle over a highly complicated health care reform bill with many moving parts that have to work together in synch.
Incremental reform is not a new idea. Governor Howard Dean proposed insuring all children first, which is a good example of a politically-attractive initial reform. I like the idea of first guaranteeing catastrophic coverage to everyone — codifying the principle that no one loses their home or retirement assets because of an illness. It would be politically-popular by providing a huge sense of relief to millions of voters and it could be financed through a single-payer mechanism, sort of a partial single-payer reform. Let the private insurer reforms and the public option address other coverage issues — for now. A comment by Daniel Bliss in response to an Ezra Klein post on health care reform at The American Prospect made the argument nicely:

The key thing, as I see it, is that a final plan will not be successful in the long run unless it has a single payer component. Note the qualifying word, “component.” It merely has to share the risk and streamline the core of the system, but does not have to be single-payer in its entirety, and indeed probably shouldn’t if we want the best possible system. There is after all a great deal of difference in how applicable a market is to something that people simply won’t do without (e.g. accident and emergency) compared to something that is relatively more discretionary (non-urgent care administered in relatively small and affordable increments, such as chiropractic treatment). It’s worth noting that the top-rated health care systems in the world, according to the World Health Organization, tend to embody this concept of mating single payer for catastrophic coverage with supplemental insurance taking care of more discretionary parts of health care. France is the outstanding example.

If the Obama Administration can say 3 years from now, “We eradicated the fear of ruinous health care costs for all American families,” that’s a hell of an impressive achievement to run on on 2012.
Given the complexity of attitudes toward health care proposals, I’d prefer to see a series of specific health care reforms debated, voted and enacted in succession, each piece standing on its own merits, rather than having them all linked together and inter-dependent on each other. It would bring more clarity — and simplicty — to the debate over health care reform, and my hunch is consumers/voters would welcome it.

2010 Cycle Heating Up Early

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on June 4, 2009
The midterm elections of 2010 are still seventeen months away, but in many states, the cycle’s starting early, in part, no doubt, because everyone is expecting a difficult environment for fundraising.
In my home state of Georgia, the 2010 gubernatorial contest has been actively underway for months, and has been enlivened by two big events that have significantly changed the field. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, the early frontrunner on the GOP side, suddenly withdrew from the governor’s race in April, citing health issues (he is, however, running for re-election). That decision lured U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who shares a geographical base with Cagle, into the GOP field, which already featured two statewide elected officials, Secretary of State Karen Handel (a protege of term-limited incumbent Gov. Sonny Perdue) and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.
Then just yesterday, former Gov. Roy Barnes, who lost to Perdue in 2002 in a major upset, jumped into the race on the Democratic side. The field already includes Attorney General Thurbert Baker, former Secretary of State and Adjutant General David Poythress, and state House Democratic leader Dubose Porter. Barnes is the Big Dog of Georgia Democratic politics, and was immediately regarded as the front-runner, even getting a big shout-out from the Democratic Governors Association as though he were the putative nominee. It wouldn’t be a big surprise if one or more of Barnes’ rivals decides to give the contest a pass. Early polling by DKos/R2K in April showed Barnes running ahead of Handel and just behind Oxendine.
Though Georgia has leaned decisively Republican in recent cycles, the recession (which has hit the state very hard), infighting among Republicans, and significant cutbacks in state services and investments, have all given Democrats hope that they can stage a comeback in 2010. Indeed, Georgia may become one of many states where there will be an interesting test about which party gets the blame for bad times: the governing party in Washington, or the incumbent party closer to home.
The same could be true of Florida, which at least one recent analysis called the hardest-hit of all the states, thanks to a massive decline in home prices. Though Obama carried the state last year, Republicans have been regularly winning most other elections of late; gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, the state CFO, is the only Democratic statewide elected official other than U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and Republicans control both state legislative chambers.
Sink enjoys a cleared field for the gubernatorial nomination, and Florida Democrats are enthusiastic about her candidacy (it doesn’t hurt that her husband is 2002 gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride, a wealthy trial lawyer). Her almost certain opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum, has lost two Senate bids since 2000, and he will also have to deal with possible fallout from a bitter, ideologically-driven Senate primary between Gov. Charlie Crist and former FL House Speaker Marco Rubio. Crist will likely win that primary, but hard-core conservatives could decide to sit on their hands on General Election Day. And since Republicans now control state government, the perennial state budget crisis will probably be held to their account by many voters.
Georgia and Florida are two states where Democrats often express optimism early in cycles, only to experience the hard realities of minority status when voting draws near. This is one cycle where Democrats have more realistic grounds for an optimism that could extend right through to election day.

Obama’s Republicans

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on June 2, 2009
In a move that places yet another dent in conservative claims that Barack Obama is a hyper-partisan extremist who was lying about bipartisanship during the campaign, the President announced today that he was tapping New York Republican congressman John McHugh to serve as Secretary of the Army. With two other GOPers in his Cabinet (Gates and LaHood), and another recently agreeing to become Ambassador to China (Huntsman), you have to start wondering why so many prominent Republicans are agreeing to join the administration of this Democrat Socialist.
Political junkies are already speculating about the special election to fill McHugh’s House seat; his historically Republican district was carried comfortably by Obama last year.
But in the meantime, it is interesting that Obama is outdoing most of his predecessors in reaching out to the opposition party for high appointments, inside and outside the Cabinet.
Bush 43 had his one token Democrat, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta (he publicly touted Sen. John Breaux as his personal favorite for Energy Secretary, but that’s probably because he wanted to flatter him for his help in the Senate).
Clinton had Defense Secretary Bill Cohen, and another GOPer, David Gergen, served as his chief of staff for a while.
Bush 41 had no prominent Democrats in his administration. Reagan had a very nominal Democrat, arch-conservative Bill Bennett, as Education Secretary, and another, Jeane Kirkpatrick, as UN ambassador. Carter had a sort-of Republican, Energy Secretary Jim Schlesinger. I won’t go through the whole modern list, but Ford had one Democrat in his Cabinet, as did Nixon (the soon-to-be Republican John Connally); Kennedy and Johnson had two, though one, Defense Secretary Robert McNamera was very nominally Republican.
Democrats nervous about Obama’s Republicans at the Pentagon should remember that FDR picked Republicans for both of his military cabinet positions, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. And actually, two other famously progressive figures, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and Agriculture Secretary (and later vice-president) Henry Wallace, were nominally Republican upon joining Roosevelt’s Cabinet, though both endorsed FDR in 1932.
What makes Obama’s GOP appointments significant is that they are occurring in an era of extraordinary partisan and ideological polarization; none of his Republicans have been nominal types or endorsed his candidacy last year; one of them, Jon Huntsman, was reportedly getting ready to run against Obama in 2012.
Nobody knows, of course, whether any of these appointees will come out of the Obama administration as Republicans after listening to their party-mates apply every term of abuse in the English language to their boss and their administration’s policies day in and day out so long as they serve. If any of them do flip, it will serve as a nice symbol of Obama’s efforts to build a majority coalition on the foundation of GOP ruins.

Rational and Non-Rational Arguments Against Gay Marriage

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on May 28, 2009
With all due allowances for Jonathan Chait’s impressive logical and rhetorical skills, it’s still amazing how briskly he is able to dispatch the rational arguments made against marriage equality in The New Republic today, reflecting “a body of opinion held largely by people who either don’t know why they oppose gay marriage or don’t feel comfortable explicating their case.” So gay marriage advocates do tend to state rather than explain their position, or come up with assertions about the baleful effects of same-sex marriage that wouldn’t stand up in a high school debate.
Jon begins, however, from a premise that is broadly accurate about the rules of discourse in contemporary Western society, but that clearly isn’t embraced in its entirety among conservatives:

In a liberal society, consenting adults are presumed to be able to do as they like, and it is incumbent upon opponents of any such freedom to demonstrate some wider harm.

That’s another way of saying that the proper question about gay marriage isn’t “why?” but “why not?” And that is indeed the question Americans are beginning to ask more often, particularly as their circle of gay or lesbian acquaintances grow, and as same-sex couples come out of the shadows with no visible bad effect on anything other than the tender sensibilities of homophobes.
But the growing shabbiness of the “rational” case against same-sex marriage helps expose the extent to which gay marriage opponents actually depend on non-rational but still powerful arguments from Tradition and Revelation.
The case from Tradition, which you hear over and over from gay marriage opponents, is that marriage has always been defined as the “union of a man and a woman.” Sometimes in their exasperation they stamp their feet and enumerate how very long always is. The idea is that same-sex marriage is a dangerous act of (to use the term employed by the Catholic Bishops of Iowa in the statement linked to above) “social engineering” that challenges the settled wisdom of the ages. From this quintessentially conservative point of view, of course, the liberal presumption in favor of the rights of “consenting adults” has always been rejected, on this and every subject, in favor of what Chesterton called, approvingly, the “democracy of the dead.” Traditionalists typically try to deploy the rational arguments that Chait demolishes to buttress their case, but their case is essentially unrebuttable because it treats precedent as the only authority.
The main weakness of the Argument from Tradition, of course, is that much of what we have come to recognize as the Western Tradition in recent decades has reflected an Enlightenment-based revolt against much older traditions–in other words, that the liberal habit of mind that Chait cites has become, even though unevenly applied, the real Tradition that demands respect. Even the most rabidly inflammatory exaggerator of the impact of same-sex marriage would have to acknowledge that the emancipation of women has been a vastly greater change in the “traditional” way of life of the human species, and even anti-feminists are loath to suggest we were better off when women couldn’t vote or own property. In the long, long sweep of history, slavery has about as strong a pedigree as “traditional” marriage. So the “democracy of the dead” can and must be overturned now and then in the interests of the living.

Strategy Memo: the situation in Iraq is deteriorating. Democrats must start now to prepare for the coming Republican smear attacks that will try to blame Obama for whatever goes wrong.

This item by James Vega was originally published on May 21, 2009
It has unfortunately now become clear that despite certain promising trends in the December elections in Iraq, in general the situation is sharply deteriorating. The Sunni “awakening councils” – whose pacification was a critical part of the reduction in violence — have not been paid since last winter when responsibility for their payments was passed to the Shia army. Instead of the jobs and assimilation into the Shia-dominated army that they were promised, many “awakening council” members have been arrested and others have gone into hiding. Bombings have once again become regular and frequent events. All the major religious and ethnic groups are preparing for a renewal of fighting.
It now appears that even a “best-case” scenario for Iraq is a continuing level of sectarian violence that resembles past eras in Northern Ireland. The “worst-case” scenario is a return to the full scale, grotesquely violent ethnic civil war of 2006-2007.
The Republicans, because they are out of power (and committed to their “take no prisoners” propaganda strategy) are already beginning to prepare utterly opportunistic attacks on Obama and the Democrats regardless of what actually happens in Iraq.

• If Obama decides to slow the withdrawal of troops from Iraq (assuming this can be negotiated with the Iraqi government) Republicans will criticize him for failing to achieve a clear “victory”–i.e. to completely suppress the ethnic violence.
• If Obama sticks to his current plan for withdrawal while conditions worsen, Republicans will attack him for “losing” the war in Iraq that the surge had “won”.

This propaganda strategy requires almost no effort for the GOP. It is, in effect, a perfect “no- lose” situation for them. They just have to avoid inadvertently insulting the work of General Petraeus and the military while they attempt to assign the entire blame for whatever transpires onto Obama and the Democrats.
What should Democrats do in response? The first and most urgent challenge will be to present a unified and coherent response to the Republican attacks and to avoid the appearance of internal disarray. This will not be easy because there are at least three quite distinct strategic views about Iraq within the Democratic Party — and more if one includes the formerly Republican neoconservative military strategists who — in an extraordinary case of instant mass epiphany — all rediscovered the virtues of principled political nonpartisanship around 11:03 P.M. last November 4th (as one observer acutely noted, “they did not flee the sinking Republican ship; they teleported”).
But, even as Democrats continue to debate alternative military strategies among themselves, they can, without contradiction, also present a unified response to Republican attacks. The basic theme of this response should be that there is a fundamental difference between responsible and irresponsible criticism. Obama, General Petraeus, and the other military advisors face deeply difficult, “no easy answer” trade-offs regarding how to allocate limited troops and deal with deeply rooted interethnic violence. Republicans who want to criticize Obama’s strategy therefore have an obligation to confront key questions like the following:

• In order to deal with the current shortage of available troops, should the U.S. bring back the draft? Should it hire 50,000 or more additional paid mercenaries to fill the gaps? If a Republican is not in favor of these steps, then he or she must explain where the troops will be found to carry out any broadened U.S. mission before he or she criticizes Obama.
• To deal with rising ethnic violence in Iraq, should the U.S. resume the payments to the “Awakening Councils, even if the Maliki government objects? Should the U.S. redeploy increased numbers of American troops to Iraq’s major cities to maintain peace between Shia and Sunni? If not, then Republican critics must explain exactly what alternative strategy it is that they propose before they criticize Obama. Demanding “victory” is not an alternative military strategy – it is a goal.

When Republicans attack Obama without honestly answering these kinds of questions — as they most surely will — Dems should consistently make three parallel points about the difference between sincere debates over military strategy and the following key phrase — “irresponsible political posturing”:

• Partisan demands for “victory” or “success” which do not include a realistic plan to provide the troops and resources needed to achieve those goals are irresponsible political posturing.
• Partisan accusations that Obama’s strategy “is failing” or has “failed” which do not offer a coherent alternative strategy are irresponsible political posturing.
• Partisan attacks on Obama and the Democrats as showing “weakness” but which offer no alternative strategy are irresponsible political posturing.

In short, Democrats should respond to Republican attacks on Obama by insisting that Republicans have a patriotic obligation to the troops and to the county to offer serious and responsible military alternatives rather than empty partisan rhetoric. The American people understand that there are no easy, magic solutions in Iraq. If the Republican “alternative” is to pretend that magic solutions exist, they will not receive the support of most Americans.
Democrats should as their very first response to Republican attacks consistently and repeatedly assert the basic demand that Republicans avoid “irresponsible political posturing” on this issue. Democrats should insist that if Republicans engage in this kind of shamelessly irresponsible behavior, they do not even deserve to be answered; they deserve to be condemned and ignored.

The Abortion Issue and Democratic Strategy

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Alan Abramowitz, who is Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University, and a member of the TDS Advisory Board. It was originally published on May 20, 2009.
Is support for abortion rights hurting Democratic candidates at the polls and, if so, would abandoning the Party’s traditional pro-choice position help Democrats win over pro-life voters? These questions are being raised with increasing urgency following the release of new Gallup and Pew polls that supposedly show a substantial decrease in support for the pro-choice position among the American public.
The findings of the Gallup and Pew polls are rather surprising given the stability of public attitudes on the abortion issue over several decades. Moreover, a number of other polls conducted before and after the 2008 election found no dramatic change in public opinion on this issue. For example, the two most respected academic surveys of the American public, the General Social Survey and the National Election Study, found no decline in support for abortion rights between 2004 and 2008. More importantly, the evidence from the 2008 National Election Study indicates that Barack Obama’s support for abortion rights was a net plus for his candidacy and that attempts by Democrats to win over pro-life voters by abandoning the Party’s support for abortion rights would probably do more harm than good.
Every four years since 1980, the American National Election Study has asked a sample of eligible voters to choose one of four positions on the issue of abortion: abortion should “never be permitted,” abortion should be permitted “only in case of rape, incest, or when the woman’s life is in danger,” abortion should be permitted “for reasons other than rape, incest, or danger to the woman’s life, but only after the need for the abortion has been clearly established,” or “a woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of choice.”
The results in 2008 were very similar to those in other recent election years: 13 percent of voters supported a total ban on abortion, 26 percent supported allowing abortion only under highly restrictive conditions (rape, incest or danger to the woman’s life), 19 percent supported allowing abortion under less restrictive conditions but only if a there was a clearly established need, and 42 percent supported allowing abortion as a matter of choice. For analytical purposes, I combined the first two options, banning abortion completely and allowing it only under highly restrictive conditions, into a single pro-life category. I left the rather vague third option, allowing abortion only if a need had been clearly established, as a middle category, and I used the fourth option, allowing abortion as a matter of choice, as the pro-choice category. This resulted in 39 percent of voters being classified as pro-life, 19 percent being classified in the middle position, and 42 percent being classified as pro-choice.
There was a strong relationship between abortion position and presidential vote in 2008. Pro-life voters supported John McCain over Barack Obama by decisive 62 percent to 38 percent margin. But pro-choice voters supported Obama over McCain by an even more decisive margin of 73 percent to 27 percent. Those in the relatively small moderate group favored McCain over Obama by a fairly narrow 55 percent to 45 percent margin.
According to the NES data, pro-choice voters supporting Obama made up 30 percent of the electorate while pro-life voters supporting McCain made up only 24 percent of the electorate. These results suggest that Barack Obama’s support for abortion rights helped him more than it hurt him in 2008. Before accepting this conclusion, however, we need to control for the influence of partisanship because opinions on abortion are strongly correlated with party identification and 90 percent of Democratic and Republican identifiers voted for their own party’s presidential candidate in 2008.
In order to evaluate the impact of the abortion issue on the performance of the presidential candidates, we need to know whether partisan defection rates were affected by opinions on abortion.

“Millenial Generation” Leads Pro-Democratic Shift

This item from the TDS staff was originally published on May 19, 2009
In his May 18 ‘Public Opinion Snapshot’ at the Center for American Progress (CAP) website, Ruy Teixeira expounds on an extremely encouraging development for progressive Democrats, the dawning of the “millennial generation” — those born between 1978 and 2000 — as a political force. As Teixeira explains:

Between now and 2018, the number of Millennials of voting age will be increasing by about 4 and a half million a year and Millennial eligible voters by about 4 million a year. And in 2020, the first presidential election where all Millennials will have reached voting age, this generation will be 103 million strong, of which about 90 million will be eligible voters. Those 90 million Millennial eligible voters will represent just under 40 percent of America’s eligible voters.
Last November’s election was the first in which the 18- to 29-year-old age group was drawn exclusively from the Millennial generation, and they gave Obama a whopping 34-point margin, 66 percent to 32 percent. This compares to only a 9-point margin for Kerry in 2004. Behind this striking result is a deeper story of a generation with progressive views in all areas and big expectations for change that will fundamentally reshape our electorate.

Teixeira references another new CAP study “The Political Ideology of the Millennial Generation,” by John Halpin and Karl Agne, which indicates

Overall, Millennials expressed far more agreement with the progressive than conservative arguments. Indeed, of the 21 values and beliefs garnering majority support in the survey, only four can be classified as conservative. Moreover, six of the top seven statements in terms of level of agreement were progressive statements. These statements included such items as the need for government investment in education, infrastructure, and science; the need for a transition to clean energy; the need for America to play a leading role in addressing climate change; the need to improve America’s image around the world; and the need for universal health coverage..,.When asked in the 2008 National Election Study whether we need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems or whether the free market can handle these problems without government being involved, Millennials, by a margin of 78 to 22 percent, demonstrated an overwhelming preference for strong government.

On May 13th, David Madland and Teixeira had a more in-depth post, “New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation,” on the political attitudes of this important demographic group. First, the demographic explosion:

We can start with the sheer size of this generation. Between now and 2018, the number of Millennials of voting age will increase by about four and a half million a year, and Millennial eligible voters will increase by about 4 million a year. In 2020—the first presidential election where all Millennials will have reached voting age—this generation will be 103 million strong, of which about 90 million will be eligible voters. Those 90 million Millennial eligible voters will represent just under 40 percent of America’s eligible voters.
The diversity of this generation is as impressive as its size. Right now, Millennial adults are 60 percent white and 40 percent minority (18 percent Hispanic, 14 percent black, 5 percent Asian, and 3 percent other). And the proportion of minority Millennial adults will rise to 41 percent in 2012, 43 percent in 2016, and 44 percent in 2020 (21 percent Hispanic, 14 percent black, 6 percent Asian, and 3 percent other). This shift should make the Millennial generation even more firmly progressive as it fully enters the electorate, since minorities are the most strongly progressive segment among Millennials.