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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Is Kerry Finding His Voice?

Maybe.  Check out this very interesting article on Kerry, based on an interview he did yesterday with editors and reporters at The Washington Post.  Kerry criticizes Bush pretty forthrightly for the way he has handled the Iraq occupation and his failure to secure allied cooperation in that occupation.  He also has some interesting things to say about domestic issues, including a call for job creation through infrastructure investment and an endorsement of the expensing of stock options (in contrast to Lieberman and Gephardt).

Is Bush Losing His?

As E.J. Dionne points out in his column today, Bush is now “on the defensive”.  Data from a just-released CBS News poll make clear why.  According to the poll, just 45 percent now think the US is in control of the situation in Iraq and 41 percent think the US is not; in April, 71 percent felt the US was in control only 20 thought the US was not.
Other findings underscore the increasing sourness of the public mood about Iraq.  More people now believe the Iraqi people are resentful at the US presence in Iraq (37 percent) than believe the Iraqi people are grateful to the US for removing Saddam (34 percent).  (Twenty percent say both are true).  And people are becoming more pessimistic that US troops will be able to leave anytime soon–just 13 percent now believe troops will leave in less than a year, down from 40 percent in April.
And, critically, sentiment is growing that, in one way or another, the benefits of the Iraq war have not been worth the costs.  Only 54 percent now believe removing Saddam was worth the costs, down from 65 percent in May.  And, looking at the end results of the war, not just Saddam’s removal, Americans are now split down the middle (45 percent to 45 percent) about whether these results were worth the costs.
Intriguingly, while 56 percent of men believe the results were worth the costs, just 35 percent of women feel that way.  Wow.  That’s quite a gender gap.  So much for security moms backing Bush’s policies.
The poll also finds evidence that media coverage of administration deceptions and exaggerations on Iraq’s WMDs is starting to have a substantial effect on the public.  For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 percent) now believe the administration overestimated Iraqi WMDs.  In contrast, just 30 percent believe the administration either correctly estimated or underestimated the WMDs.
Consistent with this, 56 percent now believe the administration was either hiding important elements of what it knew about Iraqi WMDs before the war (45 percent) or was mostly lying about them (11 percent).  Only 36 percent believe the administration was telling most or all of what they knew. 
As for whether we’ll ever find the elusive WMDs, just 55 percent now believe we will, down 12 points from 67 percent a month ago.  And, very significantly, the public is now split down the middle (46 percent to 46 percent) about whether the war will have been worth the costs if no WMDs are ever found.
Finally, more people (52 percent) now believe Iraq was a threat that could have been contained (43 percent) or was not a threat (9 percent) than believe it was a threat requiring immediate military action (43 percent). 
How the worm turns.  No wonder Bush’s approval rating on Iraq is down to 58 percent, a fall of 14 points from two months ago.  And his overall approval rating in this poll is down to 60 percent, a fall of 6 points in just one month.
These ratings are still higher, however, than his rating on foreign policy issues (now only 50 percent) and his rating on handling the economy (a truly abysmal 41 percent, with 46 percent disapproving). 
And what’s America’s most important problem?  The economy and jobs, by a wide margin.  And how is the economy compared to two years ago (when, it might be noted, we passed the first of Bush’s allegedly stimulative tax cut packages)?  By more than 4:1 (55 percent to 13 percent), the public says the nation’s economy is worse, rather than better.  (Another 30 percent say it is the same).
On the defensive?  I’d say so.

Dean May Have Found His Voice, But Does It Matter?

Howard Dean’s been getting a lot of good press lately, based partly on the fact that he has already found his voice and seems to be the only candidate in the Democratic field that’s truly exciting anyone.  And, he has seized the coveted top spot in the Daily Kos’ cattle call rankings of the Democratic candidates. 
But could he really beat Bush, even if he did succeed in getting the Democratic nomination?  The short answer is: probably not.  While he’d do well in some states and with some groups, particularly professionals, students and the anti-war left, he’d have a lot of trouble with culturally conservative and white working voters in precisely the states Democrats need to win to beat Bush.
So, realistically, he and the Democrats would get toasted pretty badly.  My good friend and partner-in-crime, John Judis, explains it all in a crisp, well-focused article in Salon.com.

Independents’ Day

Charlie Cook warns Democrats in his latest column that angry denunciations of Bush may make them and their fellow Democrats feel good.  And such denunciations are certainly helping fuel the surging candidacy of Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination.
But, if Democrats want to win in 2004, Cook argues, they need to reach independent voters, not just their fellow Democrats, and convince these voters to turn away from Bush and the GOP.  How to do that?  Cook cites June data from this Ipsos/Cook Political Report surveys that show that only 44 percent of independents approve of Bush’s handling of the economy (just 12 percent strongly approve), while 49 percent disapprove (29 percent strongly).  Similarly, an unimpressive 48 percent of independents approve of Bush’s performance on domestic issues (only 8 percent strongly) and 45 percent disapprove (30 percent strongly).
That suggests the Democrats’ potential sweet spot among independent voters.  But Cook is puzzled by the Democrats’ tepid efforts so far on the economic front, especially the fact that their economic stimulus proposals have tended to focus on tax cuts rather than public works spending.
Cook’s views on this puzzle are worth quoting at length:
Congressional Democratic leaders are vulnerable to questions as to whether they threw in the towel too quickly on tax cuts. There is a considerable body of evidence that voters see a more direct connection between government spending on streets, highways, bridges and school construction and the creation of jobs than the connection between tax cuts and job creation and economic stimulus.
The Democrats’ argument could have gone something like this: “President Bush wants to blow the deficit sky high by giving tax cuts to his rich and powerful friends. If we are going to drive up the deficit, at least do it by repairing our streets, roads, schools and other public spending that we would eventually need to do anyway and would create more jobs.”
It’s a virtual certainty that this argument would resonate better than the tax cuts did — which received tepid support at best.
Amen, brother Cook.
Read Jeff Madrick’s column today in The New York Times for followup.  He provides a good summary of recent economic data and surveys policy options for generating healthy job growth.  His conclusion is that the most effective means of generating such growth is not individual tax cuts, but government spending in selected areas, including an adequate transfer of money to the states (perhaps as much as $100 billion) and investment in education, health care and transportation infrastructure.
Madrick’s idea is not novel.  It is merely sensible and well-supported by research.  So where are the Democrats?  Independent voters might actually want to hear what they have to say about this one.

DLC Vs. Populists, Round 1,287

Bob Borosage posted this blistering attack on the DLC in TomPaine.com on Tuesday.  Everything he said was completely predictable.  Just like everything Al From and Bruce Reed wrote in the recent issue of Blueprint (and reprised in a Wall Street Journal op-ed) was completely predictable.  And now today we have a “let’s you and him fight” article in The Washington Post with the headline “Among Democrats, The Energy Seems To Be on the Left”.  The article rounds up the usual suspects (Borosage, Reed, Will Marshall) and quotes them saying the usual things about each other.
Ho-hum.  Wake me up when these guys say anything new.  In the meantime, you might want to check out TAPPED’s excellent post on this article and the general DLC-populist dispute.  DR can only echo TAPPED’s hope that:
…this is not simply a replay of the McGovernite years, that both progressives and centrists in the party have learned a couple of lessons, and that maybe they can all get along a little better than before.
As a certain Democrat has observed in slightly different contexts: keep hope alive!

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

If you haven’t already, read Michael Tomasky’s July 2 article on The American Prospect’s website.  Tomasky does a nice job of outlining and defending the many good and noble reaons why liberals are angry at Bush…and then making the very necessary point that anger doesn’t win any elections.  The point isn’t to get mad, the point is to beat these guys.  They’re masters of brutal tactics–in DR’s view, Karl Rove’s true genius–and anger, unfortunately, is not an effective counter to these tactics.
Consider some of their choicer recent tactics.  Mark Gersh’s article in Blueprint explains how Republicans out-gerrymandered the Democrats in the redistricting from the 2000 Census.  And T.R. Reid describes how Republicans in Colorado have successfully re-redistricted that state’s Congressional seats to give Republicans more of an edge, particularly in the newly-created 7th district that Bob Beauprez narrowly won in 2002.  Of course, this is what the Republicans in Texas also attempted and, though they were temporarily thwarted by Democratic lawmakers fleeing to Oklahoma, they haven’t give up yet.  Indeed, there is every indication that the national Republican leadership is determined to try the re-redistricting trick anywhere they can get away with it. 
Another Republican tactic, described in an exhaustive article in The Washington Monthly by Nick Confessore, is their development of a political and patronage machine based directly on business lobbies in Washington, DC.  The GOP’s basic message to these lobbies is: no Democrats allowed.  We’re the only game in town and we want all the jobs, political support and money from you guys.  In return, we’ll try to give your business clients everything they want.
No tactic too low.  No maneuver too venal.  This is the essence of the today’s Republican tactics.  But you’re not gonna beat these tactics by ranting and raving about how awful Bush is.  You’re going to beat them by being equally tough and smart in how you play the game.  Sure, anger feels good.  But winning feels better.

Seniors to Bush: You Call This a Prescription Drug Benefit?

The GOP’s plan is clear enough.  Give seniors a prescription drug benefit and they’ll move toward the Republicans as the party that can get things done for seniors.
But what if they don’t like it?  Then you get blame instead of credit and the whole political scheme just might fall apart.  Recent Gallup data suggests this a real possibility.
By 69 percent to 24 percent, seniors oppose an effort to shift most Medicare recipients into managed care plans.  And, by 63 percent to 20 percent, seniors believe the new Medicare bills being considered by Congress will not do enough to help pay the cost of prescription drugs.  It seems unlikely that more widespread understanding of the actual provisions in a final bill will modify that negative judgement–indeed, based on what’s likely to be in that bill, that negative judgement could well be accentuated. 
That could set up a perverse situation where, the more attention seniors pay to the prescription drugs bill, the worse it will be for Bush and the Republicans (not exactly what Rove and Co. had in mind).  Maybe that’s already happening.  Gallup data show Bush’s approval rating dropping 12 points among seniors in the last half of June, precisely the period when coverage of the Medicare prescription drug bills was most intense. 

It’s a Postindustrial Thing: You Wouldn’t Understand

The recent Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas law prohibiting gay sex is starting to get the law where the public already is.  Over the last several decades there has been a striking shift toward tolerance of homosexuality, as part and parcel of an overall social transformation toward a diverse, tolerant postindustrial society.
That’s America’s future and it’s a future leading elements of the GOP are completely out of touch with.  Those elements of the GOP may shake their heads at the Supreme Court decision, but they might as well shake their heads at the public as a whole.  Check out these shifts in public opinion.
According to a recently-released Gallup poll, six in ten (59 percent) think homosexual relations between consenting adults shold be be legal.  As recently as 1986, that figure was less than one in three (32 percent).  Similarly, today 54 percent believe homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle, while in 1982, only 34 percent believed that.
A useful article by pollster Mark Mellman in The Hill rehearses other relevant data.  In 1977, 56 percent thought homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities; now 88 percent believe that.  Also in 1977, just 27 percent thought homosexuals should be hired as schoolteachers and 44 percent believed they should be allowed to be doctors; today those figures are, respectively, 56 percent and 78 percent. 
This tolerance also extends to political leaders.  According to the most recent data, 59 percent would be willing to support a gay Presidential nominee (up from 26 percent in 1978) and three-quarters would find a gay Cabinet member acceptable.
Of course, anti-gay prejudice remains, as does racism.  But, just as with racism, there has been tremendous progress in the direction of social tolerance and equal opportunity.  The hard right in the GOP (is there any other kind these days?) may wish it weren’t so but it is–postindustrial values are becoming America’s values and trying to stop that change is like trying to hold back, say, the advance of modern science.
I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising that they’re trying to do that, too.  DR highly recommends this article by Nicholas Thompson in the latest issue of The Washington Monthly, where he documents the cavalier attitude of the Bush administration toward modern science and their basically contemptuous attitude toward actual scientists.  “Scientists–we don’ need no stinking scientists” seems a fair summation of their position, as they merrily ignore the consensus of working scientists to pursue their agendas on everything from biotechnology to global warming to invading other countries to find nonexistent WMDs. 
Anti-science.  Anti-tolerance.  Have they no shame?
I think you know the answer to that one.

Geez, Now If We Only Had Some Issues

Yesterday, DR discussed how Bush’s personal standing with the public, partly because of disenchantment with the Iraq adventure, is starting to show signs of serious erosion.  That disenchantment seems likely to grow–indeed, as this article in today’s New York Times points out, disenchantment is even spreading to the families of the troops involved.
Yet Democrats–it seems fair to say–have yet to find their voice.  There’s a sense that they just can’t quite find the issue or issues to get some traction on that guy in the White House.
Can’t find the issues!  Well, howsabout this one: 6.4 percent unemployment, the highest in 9 years, as detailed in another article in today’s Times.  Or this one: the first President since Herbert Hoover to preside over a decline in the number of jobs during his administration.  (For more useful information on the administration’s job growth record, be sure to check out this report by the Economic Policy Institute.)  So far, the Democratic approach has been to criticize Bush’s tax cuts as irresponsible and clearly not helping the economy.
True enough.  But what’s their plan?  How are they going to get the economy moving–create jobs, promote robust economic growth and so on?  Especially in terms of the Democratic Presidential candidates, it seems to DR that this should be a centerpiece of their campaigns, not an afterthought.  (“Hey, check out this cool health care plan–oh, and by the way, I will get the economy moving again.  I promise.”)
And, while they’re looking for issues, don’t overlook the environment.  As reported by Katherine Seelye in Wednesday’s Times, it’s finally starting to dawn on Democrats and environmentalists alike that the more they can get voters to focus on environmental issues, the better off they’ll be.  (Doesn’t sound like rocket science, but politicians can be amazingly obtuse, particularly when they listen too uncritically to their consultants.)  Indeed, a recent NPR poll showed voters who selected the environment as their most important issue favoring an unnamed Democrat over Bush in 2004 by 40 points!
The economy.  The environment.  And regular DR readers know how important the education issue is and how Democrats mysteriously continue to ignore it.  Call it E3: economy, environment, education.  Democrats, you’ve got issues.  Now go get ’em.

They’re All With Me, Right?

Our fearless leader, George W. Bush, says: “Bring ’em on”, secure in the knowledge that the great American public stands right behind him, ready to support the noble mission in Iraq, no matter what it takes. 
Or are they?  Someone should tell fearless leader, he of the schoolyard rhetoric, that the public is getting pretty restless as the chaotic situation in Iraq continues, casualties mount and questions about why we went to war–and whether we got the whole truth from the administration–intensify.  According to the latest Gallup poll, the number saying the Iraq situation was worth going to war about is down 20 points since April 9 (from 76 percent to 56 percent), while the number saying the Iraq situation was not worth going to war about is up more than 20 points (from 19 percent to 42 percent).  If present trends continue, we could see an even split on this question very soon.
The poll also finds that 37 percent now believe that the administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  And twice that number–75 percent–say that it would matter a great deal (53 percent) or a moderate amount (22 percent) if they were convinced the Bush administration had deliberately deceived them on this issue.
Data from a just-released poll by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes suggest that much of the public could be moved in that direction.  In that poll, 42 percent are already willing to say that, when the US government presented evidence to justify going to war with Iraq, it was being misleading.  On the specific issue of the WMDs, 62 percent say that the government either stretched the truth (52 percent) or presented evidence they knew was falso (10 percent).  And on the Saddam-Al Qaeda link, 56 percent believe the government either stretched the truth (46 percent) or presented evidence they knew was false (10 percent).
These data suggest that the public is starting to lose faith that the Iraq war was worth it and that the Bush administration was straight with them about the need to go to war.  And, contrary to conventional wisdom, these data suggest that such loss of faith may  wind up having real political consequences.  
Perhaps it already is.  The President’s personal high standing on a number of important indicators has sunk to unimpressive levels.  Just 50 percent claim he has a clear plan for solving the country’s problems, compared to 47 percent who think he doesn’t.   Only 54 percent say he is a person they admire (down 10 points since the beginning of May), while 45 percent say he is not a person they admire.  And 57 percent now say he cares about the needs of people like you (down 8 points since early April), compared to 42 percent who say he doesn’t.
But perhaps the most interesting finding is this: At the end of January in 2002, 71 percent said they agreed with Bush on the issues that mattered most to them.  Today, that’s down a whopping 18 points to just 53 percent who say they agree with Bush on the issues that matter most, compared to 46 percent who say they disagree. These figures are very similar to the ones Bush received on this indicator in August of 2001, right before September 11. 
Guess not everybody’s with Mr. “Bring ’em on” after all.