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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Democratic Political Strategy for Reaching Working Class Voters That Starts from the Actual “Class Consciousness” of Modern Working Americans.

by Andrew Levison

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RUBI Report Highlights Successful Approaches for Rural Democratic Candidates

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The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

As the 2022 and 2024 elections approach Democrats have responded to their declining working class support by proposing variations on one or another of two strategies that they have advocated ever since the 1970’s.

“Peaceful Protest” vs. “Rioting” is a False Choice.

There’s a Militant, Powerful Strategy for Protesting Police Injustice

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Democrats Will Lose Elections in 2022 and 2024 if They do Not Offer a Plausible Strategy for Reducing the Surge of Immigrants at the Border.

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

March 27, 2023

Political Strategy Notes

Jared Gans reports at The Hill: “The public’s party preferences were almost evenly split in 2022 after years of Democrats having a slight advantage among U.S. adults….A Gallup poll released on Thursday found that 45 percent of adults consider themselves Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while 44 percent consider themselves Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents….The Democratic Party has led the GOP in the poll by at least three points since 2011, when the two parties were tied. Gallup found a plurality of adults, 41 percent, identify as independents. Only 28 percent identify as Democrats and 28 percent identify as Republicans….Gallup said in its analysis that the increase in independent identification seems to have been driven by members of Generation X and millennials identifying as such. About half of the millennials surveyed and more than 40 percent of Generation X said they identify as independents, while less than a third of older generations said the same….The results were based on 10,736 U.S. adults from 11 separate polls from January to December 2022. The margin of error was plus or minus 1 percentage point.”

What’s the matter with Florida (Democrats)? Some insights from “Florida Democratic Party chair quits after disastrous midterms” by Gary Fineout and Matt Dixon at Politico: “Diaz’s departure came after Florida Democrats suffering some of their worst losses ever, including the re-election of Gov. Ron DeSantis by 19 points over Charlie Crist, the election of a supermajority in the Florida Legislature and the flipping of several counties including once-reliable blue Miami-Dade County….“During my tenure, I hoped to address these issues, and build a united party without silos, focused exclusively on our purpose- to elect Democrats,” Diaz wrote in his statement, first reported by the Florida Phoenix. “Instead, I found obstacles to securing the resources and a long-standing, systemic and deeply entrenched culture resistant to change; one where individual agendas are more important than team; where self-interest dominates and bureaucracies focus on self-preservation.”….There were also signs of dissatisfaction heading into the crucial 2022 elections, with many Democrats privately whispering that Diaz appeared “missing in action” as the Republicans caught — and then zoomed past Democrats in voter registration numbers….State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said “there is close to no Democratic Party in Florida,” which is what led her to launch her own voter registration and organizing group, People Power for Florida. “I wasn’t going to wait for the party to step up and I’m glad I didn’t. We — as individual Democrats — are the party, and we have to get back to basics and think long term if we’re going to win this state for everyday people.”….Diaz’s lengthy missive announcing his resignation savaged national Democratic organizations that raised millions from Florida donors but did not spend that money in the state.”

Fineout and Dixon continue, “He also took aim at legislative campaign organizations, including the one run by Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book for focusing “exclusively” on their candidates and not helping the party….It is impossible to build or ‘rebuild’ an organization without resources,” Diaz wrote. “Huge sums of money continue to be outside the control of the FDP. When reflecting on our disappointments during the past 20 years, one must follow the money. Who received the investments? What was the return on these investments?” ….During the 2018 midterms, for example, national Democratic groups spent nearly $60 million in Florida, a number that dropped to under $2 million in 2022….Diaz also contended that the party did not have an effective message to voters and had difficulty finding volunteers to help the party: “We have plenty of social media activists, not roll-up-your-sleeves volunteers. We communicate virtually, not personally.”….On messaging he wrote: “Campaigns are about winning and winning requires hard work and resources. No amount of hard work or resources can overcome a bad message, a message that fails to connect with people where they are. The point of messaging is to win votes. You do that by not prompting ideological polarization.”….“While the Florida Democrats seem to be in perpetual rebuilding mode, after a tough series of election cycles, it was time for a change in chair,” Book said. ”But to regain what has been lost, the changes cannot being or end there — and Manny Diaz cannot be used as a scapegoat for what has transpired….One person didn’t get us into this mess and one person can’t get us out,” she said.”

From “Biden’s sudden centrist push on immigration‘ by Stef W. Knight at Axios: “Zoom in: The administration deployed a White House address and a visit to El Paso, all while House Republicans readied for investigations into the administration’s handling of the border.

  • “I think on this issue, he is shifting to where a lot of us have been wanting him to go. He has shifted to the center,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate border Democrat from Texas, told Axios following his trip to the El Paso border with Biden.
  • Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who also accompanied the president to the border in her district, agreed last week signaled a shift in strategy.
  • Escobar told Axios she thinks it is the right approach and that some of her more concerned colleagues are coming around.

Between the lines: Immigration has long been a political minefield — and the administrationhas struggled to politically address the record numbers of border crossings.

….The big picture: Biden embraced many of the priorities of progressive immigration advocates during the 2020 presidential election.

  • He made sweeping promises to end several Trump policies, pursue legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants and end for-profit immigrant detention.
  • Since taking office, he has followed through on many of those goals and has repeatedly called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
  • But a significant uptick in border crossings, a shift in migrant nationalities and vast logistical issues faced by federal agencies as well as border states have helped push him to make a more public stance on his new enforcement policies on the border ahead of 2024.

The bottom line: Some see a change but aren’t convinced the new policies are enough.”

House Republicans Moving Toward Abandonment of Ukraine

This week at New York I wrote about an important trend that is becoming more apparent every day:

When Russia first launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, most Americans and their political representatives immediately identified with and sought to assist the beleaguered victims of Vladimir Putin’s aggression, while condemning the crude neo-tsarist imperialism it represented.

But from the get-go in the dark heart of MAGA-land, there was dissent and considerable grumbling. Some of if took the form of America First whataboutism, best expressed by Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance; on the brink of the invasion he said, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine” because he was too absorbed with fentanyl coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. But others were really struggling to abandon their affection for Putin, who had, with Donald Trump, Victor Orbán, and Jair Bolsonaro, represented a sort of right-wing authoritarian network. Then-Congressman Madison Cawthorn parroted Russian propaganda by saying “the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies,” and his colleague Marjorie Taylor Greene called the Ukrainians “neo-Nazis.” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was a constant font of bitter hostility toward U.S. aid for Ukraine.

Now, nearly a year later, it’s harder to find Republicans expressing a crush on Putin, but neo-isolationist disdain for any U.S. role in aiding Ukraine has been steadily rising in the GOP and may have reached a tipping point where it has real-life consequences. When putative House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached a handshake agreement with his right-wing critics to roll back appropriations for the current fiscal year, defense hawks in his party were appalled. It quickly became apparent that the “defense cuts” many House Republicans had in mind involved the new tranche of military aid to Ukraine that had been included in the omnibus spending bill Congress approved in December. It’s no accident that a majority of House Republicans skipped Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Congress on December 21, even as opinion leaders on the right were attacking him (e.g., Donald Trump Jr.’s dismissal of Zelenskyy as an “ungrateful international welfare queen”).

This sort of attitude isn’t as common among Senate Republicans (whose leader, Mitch McConnell, said in support of the omnibus bill, “providing assistance for Ukrainians to defeat the Russians is the No. 1 priority for the United States right now”). But the idea of abandoning Ukraine is now an acceptable point of view among GOP elected officials. And it’s spreading to rank-and-file Republicans. FiveThirtyEight’s latest polling overview found “a growing partisan divide on the issue:”

“In [a] YouGov/CBS News poll, a narrow majority of Republicans (52 percent) wanted their representative in Congress to oppose aid [to Ukraine], whereas 81 percent of Democrats wanted theirs to support it. A mid-December poll from CivicScience also showed a wide partisan gap, with 83 percent of Democrats supporting military aid to Ukraine versus 53 percent of Republicans. At the beginning of the war, though, support among Republicans was almost as high as it was among Democrats: In March, another YouGov/CBS News poll showed that 75 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats supported sending weapons and supplies to Ukraine.”

There’s nothing terribly novel about voters (and politicians) from one political party growing cool toward a U.S. military engagement or alliance associated with a president from the opposing party. Many once-staunch Vietnam war hawks in the Democratic Party changed their minds once it became “Nixon’s War.” And many hyperhawkish Republicans began sounding like cooing doves when Bill Clinton pushed NATO into military action against Serbia. That may be what’s going on now with respect to Ukraine.

The darker possibility of an underlying MAGA longing for solidarity with authoritarians near and far shouldn’t be entirely ruled out. Maybe Putin — once the object of particular idolatry on the U.S. Christian right for his homophobia and Islamophobia — is beyond the pale for the time being. But people who see the world as characterized by a global battle to the death between conservative patriarchal Christianity and a global conspiracy of “woke” elitists aren’t going to abandon that vision just because of some Russian war atrocities.

Mark Green: Dems Should Toughen Their Attacks for 2024

Some observations from “If Democrats Want to Win 2024, They Need to Punch Back Hard” by Mark Green at The Nation:

While it’s obviously hard to predict what issues will dominate the next cycle, lessons from the midterms should inspire Democrats to get back on the offense as soon as early 2023, which the fractious speakership fight can only encourage.

For starters, that means tattooing a very unpopular Trump (plunging to only 31 percent favorability rating in the most recent Quinnipiac poll) on nearly all Republican nominees. He’s the product of their party. And whether he ends up running seriously or not, Trump has the potential to destroy the brand of the GOP for a generation—especially after the six currently sitting criminal grand juries conclude their work.

Failing to do so would be like ignoring the disgraced Nixon in 1974 because he was no longer “on the ballot.” Republican candidates who have been either complicit or silent during Trump’s carnage need to be held politically accountable for shredding the truth and the law. Herbert Hoover was a Democratic piñata for some 50 years; the Republicans ran against Jimmy Carter for 20. Trump should be radioactive at least as long.

Green notes further, “An effective response would not mean merely piling even more Trump scandals onto the existing mountain of them, which largely worsens scandal fatigue among weary voters and a cynical media. More urgent are memorable messages and vivid metaphors that tie together the thousands of separate lies and scandals that already add up to the singular truth that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to both Don and Ron.”

Will “pocketbook populism” combined with tougher attacks against the Republican’s contempt for democracy and economic policies favoring billionaires be enough to help Democrats gain ground in 2024? Green argues:

As lower inflation, more jobs, cleaner air, and lower drug prices take effect by the next election, some swing voters may take notice.

Can Democrats then run on both this pocketbook populism and an assault on GOP revanchism to create a “blue backlash”?  There’s a new cadre of congressional talent in place to make that case—such as the eloquent House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, constitutional lawyer Jamie Raskin, wunderkind AOC, and cable-guys Ted Lieu and Eric Swalwell—and keep Republicans on the ropes.

In this crucial interregnum before the transition of the 117th Congress to the 2024 general election, the test is who controls the narrative. Will it be the McCarthy-Greene regime asserting that “87,000 more IRS agents” is Big Brother? That cutting Social Security is essential even if it risks tanking the economy? That the Ethics Committee must be weakened? Or will it be the Jeffries-Raskin bloc responding that the 87,000 number is a Trump-level lie and a euphemism for what is in reality a “Billionaire’s Protection Act,” that failing to increase the debt limit will lead to a “Republican recession,” and that weakening the Ethics Committee is really just a Get-George-Santos-out-of-jail-free card?

The genteel ‘above the fray’ strategy, combined though it was with some highly effective meddling in the adversary’s primaries, may have helped some Democrats in 2022. But 2024 is shaping up to be a brutal year for Democrats — if they don’t sharpen their attacks against Republicans.

Biden’s Underwater Approval Ratings Rising to the Surface

Sometimes polling numbers change so slowly that it takes a while to notice an important trend, but Joe Biden’s job approval ratings are still gradually creeping upward, as I noted at New York:

Democrats managed to break pretty close to even in the 2022 midterms despite Joe Biden’s chronically underwater job-approval ratings. But now there’s even better news for Democrats and for Biden’s prospects of winning a second term: His job-approval numbers have been gradually improving since Election Day. And if you look at his approval ratio (the gap between those approving and disapproving of his performance as president), the trends are even better.

According to the RealClearPolitics polling averages, Biden’s current job-approval ratio is minus 7.6 percent (44.1 percent approval, 51.7 percent disapproval). The gap was 12.4 percent on November 8, 2022, and 20.7 percent last July 20 (36.8 percent approval, 57.5 percent disapproval). In the FiveThirtyEight averages, Biden is even closer to being above water in terms of popularity. His ratio is now minus 6.8 percent (44.1 percent approval, 50.9 percent disapproval). Last time he was in positive territory was on August 29, 2021, at FiveThirtyEight and on August 21, 2021, at RCP. There are some outlier polls already showing Biden above water (e.g., a new Economist/YouGov poll that gives him 50 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval among registered voters). More may soon follow.

What does Biden need in the way of popularity to become a good bet for reelection in 2024? Using Gallup data (our best source for comparing presidents over time), recent presidents who won reelection had job-approval ratings between 48 percent (George W. Bush in 2004) and 58 percent (Ronald Reagan in 1984). Obama was at 52 percent, and Bill Clinton was at 54 percent. Losers included Jimmy Carter at a terrible 37 percent and Donald Trump at a meh 45 percent (Trump, of course, came pretty close to pulling off the electoral-vote upset despite losing the popular vote by 4.5 percent).

Biden might note that Obama (whose party did not do remotely as well in the 2010 midterms as it did in 2022) gained six points in job-approval ratings between June and November of 2012. That kind of progress for Biden from now through Election Day 2024 would put him in relatively good standing. And that’s aside from the fact that he could win reelection even with unimpressive job-approval numbers if his opponent has popularity issues of his or her own. Presumably, these are matters that Biden will mull before he makes his 2024 intentions definitively known.


Political Strategy Notes

From Thomas B. Edsall’s latest New York Times opinion column: “Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, suggested in an email that the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning Roe v. Wade was a crucial factor in the escalation of conflict within Republican ranks. This split became evident within weeks of the decision in the abortion rights vote cast by a majority of the electorate in Kansas, a red state, in an August referendum. In the Kansas governor’s contest, “moderate Republicans rebelled against an extreme pro-life, anti-tax, antigovernment conservative, allowing Democrats to win the governorship,” Greenberg wrote….Polling conducted by Democracy Corps, Greenberg said, shows that “moderates are Republicans because of race and immigration, but they are more pro-choice and pro-A.C.A. (the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare), and they are providing a base of voters and support for Republican leaders who are starting to shake up the party.”….During the current session of Congress, Greenberg wrote, “I bet that there will be 10 to 20 Republicans who will work with Democrats to pass important legislation. And they will be empowered by the state examples and the perception that McCarthy is just in the pocket of the Tea Party and Trump Republicans.”

Edsall also notes some trends toward GOP moderation at the state level, including: “At the start of this year, Derek Merrin — a hard-edged anti-abortion conservative supportive of so-called right-to-work laws — was assured victory in his bid to become speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives….Merrin had won majority support from the 67-member Republican caucus in the 99-member Ohio House. His ascent would have marked a significant shift to the right in a state Republican Party known traditionally for its centrism….On Jan. 3, however, when the full Ohio House met to pick a speaker, Merrin was defeated by a bipartisan coalition of 32 Democrats and 22 Republicans, a rarity in this polarized era. The coalition supported a less conservative, less confrontational Republican, Jason Stevens, who told the House after his victory, “I pledge to respect and to work with each and every one of us to address the many concerns of our state.”….Let’s look at a third state, Pennsylvania — where the determination of control in the state House of Representatives awaits the results of special elections for three vacancies. Here, enough Republicans joined with Democrats in a bipartisan vote on Jan. 3 to make Mark Rozzi, a centrist Democrat, speaker of the House….“The commonwealth that is home to Independence Hall will now be home to this commonwealth’s first independent speaker of the House,” Rozzi told his colleagues after the vote. “I pledge my allegiance and my loyalty to no interest in this building, to no interest in our politics. I pledge my loyalty to the people of the commonwealth.”…In Ohio and Pennsylvania, the House speaker can, with some restrictions, set the legislative agenda.”

At FiveThirtyEight, Alex Samuels ponders “What Will New Leadership In Congress Mean For Democrats?,” and writes: “House Democrats officially elected New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to be their leader this past weekend, coalescing around a fresher face as the new Republican majority took control. The new top three leaders will consist of Jeffries, Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, who will serve as the new minority whip, and California Rep. Pete Aguilar, who will chair the Democratic caucus….While all of these changes are noteworthy, Jeffries, in particular, makes history as the first Black politician to lead any major party in Congress. At 52, he also marks a stark generational shift for House Democratic leadership following two decades under Nancy Pelosi, who is leaving the position at 82 years old….Jeffries still has a choice to make: Will he use his new mantle to advocate for more progressive policies or continue the unspoken tradition of past rising Black political leaders and move more toward the middle?…And while he’s more liberal than most fellow House members, according to DW-NOMINATE, a political-science metric that uses roll-call votes to measure the ideology of members of Congress, Jeffries has tried to assert his independence from the party’s left wing, saying in 2021, “There will never be a moment where I bend the knee to hard-left democratic socialism.” Jeffries is clearly not a guy who is going to die on any ideological hill. But his bell-ringer speech debut as leader of the House Democrats made it clear he is also not a guy who is going to take any guff from the Republican majority. It’s a pretty good look for House Dems.

Looking ahead to the 2023 governor’s races,  J. Miles Coleman observes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball “While it’s easy to begin looking towards the 2024 election cycle, 3 states will have gubernatorial contests this year…. In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear remains personally popular, but he will be running in a red state with a large GOP bench….Louisiana and Mississippi should be easier contests for Republicans. Term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) will be hard for Democrats to replace, while Mississippi, where Democrats have not won a gubernatorial contest this century, will also be an uphill fight for them….The initial ratings for these 3 races are Leans Democratic for Kentucky, Safe Republican for Mississippi, and Likely Republican for Louisiana….Of the 3 states seeing governors races this year, Kentucky will likely see the most vigorous 2-party competition. Four years ago, Kentucky voters ousted an unpopular governor from a popular party. This year, the Bluegrass State will weigh whether to keep a popular governor from an unpopular party….Though the status of abortion in Kentucky is being settled in the courts, from a purely electoral perspective, the anti-Amendment 2 vote may provide something of a template for a Beshear win this year. The state’s 2 largest counties, Louisville’s Jefferson and Lexington’s Fayette, both voted over 70% against the amendment — in 2019, Beshear himself received about two-thirds of the vote in each of those large counties. (Those are the pockets of dark blue on the map.) The 3 northernmost counties, which are in Cincinnati’s orbit, also voted, in aggregate, against Amendment 2. Beshear’s overperformance in northern Kentucky was key to his 2 previous statewide wins. It is hard to transfer every element of a referendum to an actual partisan contest, but a similar vote in Kansas last summer presaged Gov. Laura Kelly’s (D-KS) victory in another red state….Considering the governor’s personal popularity and the potential for uncertainty in the Republican primary, we are starting Beshear off as a slight favorite and calling the Kentucky contest Leans Democratic.” Coleman also provides a detailed analysis of the Guv races in MS and LA.

Dems Make House Republicans Squirm About Cuts to Social Security and Medicare

From “White House turns talk of Medicare, Social Security cuts against GOP” by Alex Gangitano and Brett Samuels at The Hill:

The White House is turning the tables on House Republican lawmakers when it comes to conservative-led spending proposals that Democrats warn could mean cuts to crucial programs like Medicare and Social Security….The Biden administration is already building on a strategy it deployed during the midterm election season in which it highlighted talk from multiple GOP congressional lawmakers about how they plan to use their new House majority to consider cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

It’s also putting a spotlight on the possibility of military spending cuts by Republicans in an effort to balance federal spending and reduce the national debt….The Biden administration has made clear it won’t go along with such proposals, framing Republicans as the party that wants to defund the military and threaten social welfare programs.

“They are going to try to cut Social Security and Medicare. It could not be clearer,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain tweeted Monday, sharing a clip of Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) saying on Fox Business Network that major spending cuts would likely require changes to entitlement programs.

As Gangitano and Samuels note, “The Republican Study Committee’s fiscal 2023 model federal budget included increasing the Social Security eligibility age to reflect longevity. The committee argued that the adjustment would continue the gradual increase of the retirement age, noting that full retirement was raised to 67 in 2022.”

This is a really bad look for McCarthy and other Republican House leaders. “I can’t imagine a less persuasive case to the American people than, ‘Let me hollow out Medicare or I’ll set off an economic bomb that kills millions of jobs overnight,’” one Democratic strategist said.”

But the Republicans won’t be committing political suicide unless Democrats and the media insist they own it. It shouldn’t be hard. It’s up to Democrats – elected officials, party leaders and rank and file – to make sure young voters all across America understand that it is their health care and retirement that is on the GOP chopping block, and only one party is working to stop them.

Teixeira: From Environmentalism to Climate Catastrophism: A Democratic Story (Part 1)

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

This is the first part of a three part series

The beginnings of the environment as an issue can be traced to the conservation movement of the late 19th and early 20th century associated with figures like Gifford Pinchot, head of the Forest Service under Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. They were Republicans but many Democrats also embraced the movement; Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service in 1916. And the New Deal in the 1930’s had a prominent place for conservation activities, most famously in the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) where young men were employed to improve forests and national parks. Trail systems and lodges from that era are still widely used today.

With varying degrees of strictness the conservation movement’s guiding principle was to insulate unspoiled parts of nature from development by market forces, thereby preserving them for healthy leisure and recreation. The movement, like all future iterations of the environmental movement, assumed an unending conflict between man and nature that required good people to take the side of nature.

As development proceeded over the course of the 20th century, the stresses on nature became ever larger and more obvious, leading to the emergence after World War II of an apocalyptic strain in the conservation movement. The argument gained traction that economic and population growth would, if unchecked, destroy the environment and lead to civilizational collapse. Accompanying that strain was a milder version of the idea that directly challenged the old conservation ethos: simply conserving what was left of nature was not enough. The reality of the interdependent natural world meant that man’s activities were having dire effects everywhere on the planet—where people lived and where they didn’t. These activities were upsetting a finely balanced system, resulting in the degradation of both nature, as conventionally understood, and people’s lives. Restoring and preserving that balance was what it meant to be an environmentalist.

This reformist environmentalism gained purchase during the 1950’s, associated with figures like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith who were trying to expand the remit of contemporary liberalism. Galbraith’s best-selling book, The Affluent Society, dwelt on the ways the mass consumer capitalism was good at meeting basic needs but very poor at producing a healthy society for its citizens. One of the symptoms of the latter failure was the increasing degradation of the environment through pollution of the air and water.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, picked up on Galbraith’s concern and vastly amplified it, posing the environmental problem in dire, life-threatening terms. It caught the popular imagination and created a national debate about the environment almost overnight. This was the birth of the modern environmental movement and its instantiation as a movement of the educated middle class, leaving behind the conservation movement’s upper class base.

The movement proved enormously effective as a reform movement. Carson’s book veered toward the apocalyptic, but the movement she inspired was laser-focused on practical reforms that would immediately reduce pollution and safeguard the environment. A raft of legislation in the Johnson administration followed like the Clean Air and Water Quality Acts and, in the Nixon administration, the creation of the Environmental Protection Act and the promulgation of the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) standards. This legislation and subsequent action was directly responsible for a radical reduction in pollution of all kinds in the next decades.

But the apocalyptic strain of environmentalism, which saw industrial society as an imminent threat to human life and to the planet, was not eliminated by these reforming successes. Instead a closer relationship evolved between mainstream environmentalism and a radical view of the fundamental dangers of industrial society. The first manifestation of this was the anti-nuclear power movement which arose in the 1970’s and was turbo-charged by the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, Building on public fears of  nuclear meltdowns and radiation poisoning, the movement was successful in stopping the build-out of nuclear power in the United States.

In the 1990’s, as a scientific consensus emerged that greenhouse gases were steadily warming the earth, this movement was superseded by the climate movement. Here was clear proof that industrial society and human civilization were counterposed. Initially meliorist in orientation, the movement has become more radical as it has gathered strength. The quest to eliminate the possibility of dire scenarios has met the reality that industrial societies built on fossil fuels are likely to change only slowly, for both political and technical reasons.

This has promoted a sense that radical action to transform industrial society must be taken as fast as possible. That view has gained hegemony within the Democratic party infrastructure, supporting activist groups and associated cultural elites. Practical objections about the speed with which a “clean energy transition” can be pursued and concerns about effects on jobs and prices are now outweighed for most Democrats by the perceived urgency of the mission. That has set the Democrats apart from the working class voters they aspire to represent for whom these practical objections and concerns loom large. It has become a significant factor in the Great Divide that has opened between postindustrial metros and the rural areas, towns and small cities of middle America.

Political Strategy Notes

At The Hill, Brent Budowsky writes: “While most commentators, myself included, believe there is an upper limit to what Biden and congressional Democrats can accomplish legislatively, it is wrong to suggest that nothing important can be accomplished, for two reasons….First, there are somewhere between 10 and 30 House Republicans who could be part of negotiating success on some important issues that they believe in and which are important to their districts. …Second, it is already increasingly apparent that the growing image of hard-core House Republican obstructionism, including the super-hostile attempts to humiliate Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), are beginning to brand House Republicans in the eyes of voters as the kind of anti-voter obstructionists that led the GOP to electoral disaster in 2018, 2020 and 2022….One can envision significant bipartisan agreements in the Senate that 10 or more GOP House members would accept, such as on a broad immigration bill that would strengthen border protection, improve border security, provide relief for the “Dreamers” and more. Remember when everyone believed bipartisan infrastructure was impossible to pass?….It could be similarly possible to reach agreement on lowering prescription drug costs for a far wider group of patients than could be achieved last year, or to pass some version of the widely popular child tax credit and other measures to support working women.”

Li Zhou explains why “McCarthy’s speaker chaos could make Democrats more powerful” at Vox: “Rep. Kevin McCarthy has become speaker of the House, but only did so by offering offered a series of concessions that effectively mean his speakership will consistently be under threat from his own caucus….McCarthy’s agreement to weaken the role of the speaker is likely to lead to extreme gridlock within the ranks of the GOP. But it could also present an opening for Democrats. If far-right lawmakers in the GOP follow through on their promises to hold up pivotal spending and debt ceiling legislation, Republicans may well have to rely on Democrats’ help to get any bills across the finish line — a dynamic Democrats could capitalize on….“The deal is, if they want to get stuff done, they’re going to have to work with us,” says Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee. “And we’re not going to be a cheap date.”….Ultimately, House Republicans will need to get a majority to pass bills including an increase to the debt ceiling, spending legislation, the farm bill — which authorizes many Agriculture Department programs — and a defense bill that lays out funding for the military. Were conservative members to withhold their support for such policies, the GOP wouldn’t be able to pass the bills on their own. If they aren’t able to, they risk scenarios like the country defaulting on the national debt and causing an economic crisis, as well as a potentially interminable government shutdown….The best case for Democrats is that they’re able to slip a few of their priorities into must-pass legislation. But, as Scanlon alluded to, there’s a worst-case scenario as well: utter gridlock.”

“Democrats’ political success comes down to a pretty simple equation,’ Amy Walter writes at The Cook Political Report. “When those millions of “new voters” show up, Democrats can win. When they don’t, Democrats fall short….Using Catalist modeling, Podhorzer calculated the percent of the vote Democrats could expect from “regular voters” and from the “new Midterm voters” in each battleground state. …In every state but Michigan, regular voters—those who voted in 2014—are more GOP leaning. For example, in Arizona, just 46 percent of “regular voters” would vote Democratic, while in Florida it’s 43 percent. But, in every state except Texas, new Midterm voters are majority Democratic. In Nevada, for example (where regular voters are just 45 percent Democratic voting), a whopping 57 percent of new voters are modeled Democratic voters…. In other words, if only those who voted in 2014 showed up to vote last year in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, Democrats would likely have fallen short of winning in those states. But, with the addition of these new voters, Democrats were victorious….However, this also illustrates the challenge for Democrats to win once critical battleground states like Florida and Ohio, as well as the still-uphill fight to turn Texas blue. Florida, Ohio and Texas have the most GOP-leaning “regular voter” pool of the battleground states. Plus, in Ohio and Texas, the new Midterm voters are divided evenly between Democratic and Republican leaning. So, to win statewide in those two states, Democrats will need to not only drive up their new voters, but will have to hope that the GOP base voters stay home as well.”

The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuval writes, “Even while giving Republicans a narrow margin in the House of Representatives, voters elected a historic cohort of insurgent progressive newcomers, adding at least 11 new members to the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The CPC, which just reelected Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal as its leader, had numbered 101 members, making it the largest ideological caucus in the last Congress. It will grow in the new one, even after losing members to retirement (like Eddie Bernice Jackson of Texas), election to other offices (Karen Bass as Los Angeles mayor, Peter Welch as senator to Vermont), or election reversals (including, regrettably, one of the true champions of working people in Congress, Michigan’s Andy Levin, brought down by reapportionment and a multimillion-dollar dark money assault in the Democratic primary waged largely by AIPAC and Emily’s List)….What’s behind this new wave? Slowly, insurgents are turning blue districts progressive. That isn’t easy: 2022 saw an unprecedented flood of dark money mobilized by corporate and conservative interests intent on defeating progressives in primary battles….Fortunately, citizen movements and community organizing gave Democrats the base to counter corporate money. They also put forth bold ideas to address an economy that doesn’t work for working or poor people. All are staunch advocates of progressive reforms—from the Green New Deal and Medicare for All to police and gun reforms, abortion rights, and more. They are also bolstered by a growing progressive electoral infrastructure: Our Revolution, the Working Families Party, MoveOn, Indivisible, People’s Action, the Progressive Congress Campaign Committee, and the CPC PAC, among others….With Democrats losing control of the House, the newly emboldened progressives will be forced to take on an even greater role. They will need to consolidate their inside/outside strategies with grassroots groups across the country—and to push hard for an aggressive executive-order strategy from the Biden White House. They will sharpen the reform agenda and contrast it with the chaos and venom that will mark the Republican caucus. And they’ll continue to build—challenging a corrupted Democratic establishment. “You can win or lose elections,” Representative-elect Casar said, “but you don’t ever lose a movement. Our work is on a much greater horizon than one election.”

Two Years After Trying to Overturn an Election, MAGA Republicans Still Disrespecting Democracy

Listening as I did to the House Speaker’s election saga, I heard a lot of rhetoric that brought back very bad memories, and I wrote about them at New York:

One of the more interesting things about the weeklong right-wing revolt against Kevin McCarthy’s ascent to the Speakership that has paralyzed the U.S. House has been the rebels’ conceit that they, rather than the other 414 members of the chamber, exclusively represent the “will of the American people.” They have passionately and redundantly appealed to this self-designed mandate during their remarks on the floor. A good example was Thursday’s speech by Virginia congressman Bob Good in nominating his obscure Oklahoma colleague Kevin Hern for the Speakership:

“The greatest reflection of where the people of this country are is the House of Representatives. The people spoke back on November 8 and gave the majority by some 3 or 4 million votes to the Republican Party. It’s not the White House; it’s not the Senate. It’s the People’s House that reflects where the American people are, and they trusted us on this side of the aisle with the leadership of this House. And we have a window of opportunity to validate that trust, to do whatever we can to save this Republic.”

That salvation, Good continues at some length to assert, requires “transformational change” in the Republican Party and in the Congress, meaning above all no more cooperation with the White House, with House Democrats, or with either party’s leadership in the Senate, as they all represent the despised “swamp” in the MAGA imagination.

When you deconstruct this train of thought, its arrogance is pretty breathtaking. The notion that the House majority holds an exclusive popular mandate is not one that Good or any of the rebels would have embraced during the eight years that Nancy Pelosi was Speaker. As for 2022, the more than 54 million Americans who voted for House Democratic candidates are given no voice at all. And the idea that Republicans carried the House out of some frantic cry from the electorate for “transformational change” is less compelling than the entirely commonplace metronomic trend against the party controlling the White House — a trend that was, in fact, weaker than any we have seen since 2002 and among the weakest ever. And the anti-McCarthy rebels had little or nothing to do with preventing a completely catastrophic midterms outcome for Republicans. As FiveThirtyEight notes, most of them barely had to run in the 2022 general election:

“Unlike the Democrats who voted against former Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2019 — who hailed exclusively from competitive districts — McCarthy’s foes tend to come from solidly red turf. Only three of the 20 were elected in districts with FiveThirtyEight partisan leans bluer than R+15 [districts 15 points more Republican than the country as a whole].”

Yes, arch-rebel Lauren Boebert won the closest House race in the country. But that’s because she very nearly lost reelection in an R+7 district, not because she was identified with “the swamp” or with Kevin McCarthy. Conversely, it’s hard to blame GOP underperformance on RINO squishes. Republicans lost the Senate thanks to unimpressive results posted by MAGA stalwarts like Blake Masters, Don Bolduc, Herschel Walker, and Adam Laxalt. If Mitch McConnell (the object of nearly as much rebel spleen as McCarthy this week) still stands athwart the Senate Republican conference like an ancient colossus, it’s because candidates who share the worldview of Bob Good and Matt Gaetz and Andy Biggs bombed at the ballot box. Closer to home, notable House flops included right-wing insurgents Joe Kent of Washington, J.R. Majewski of Ohio, and John Gibbs of Michigan.

Listening to the anti-McCarthy hardliners, you get the sense that they believe themselves to represent the popular will independently of mere elections. And that makes sense when you plumb the depths of their conspiracy-theory-laden points of view. Most of them are 2020 election deniers who are willing to discount a sizable number of votes as putatively fraudulent. Many believe leaders in both parties (along with the news media and social-media platforms) are complicit in preventing many millions of voters from making informed candidate choices. And at a time when they and other Republicans routinely accuse Democrats of socialist extremism, conservative hardliners counterintuitively continue to assert (as they have done during the Speakership fight) that there is too little difference between the two parties.

In this, the fringe characters of the political right resemble their counterparts on the left; both tend to assume there is a hidden majority for their points of view that somehow never breaks through in actual elections thanks to the perfidy of the Establishment. But let’s be clear: There’s zero equivalence in conduct. The fringe elements of the left, to the extent they exist in Congress, aren’t holding the chamber hostage; they have joined their Establishment colleagues in supporting Hakeem Jeffries for Speaker, though many consider him too “centrist.” And it’s not the left that spawned an assault on the Capitol just two years ago or whose votes to overturn the 2020 election results represented an endorsement of the rioters’ motives, if not their violent excesses. (All of the anti-McCarthy rebels then in Congress, along with McCarthy himself and a majority of House Republicans, voted against counting state-certified Biden electors.) In a very real sense, the men and women who have prevented the swearing in of the 118th Congress for so long represent not “the American people” but an anti-democratic faction that recognizes no authority but its own will to power.

Time for Dems to Deepen The GOP Brand

Recent years have witnessed lots of hand-wringing about the Democratic “brand,” paired with anxieties about a lack of clarity regarding the Democrats’ mission, along with questions like “what do the Democrats stand for?” It’s a fair gripe – it hasn’t been easy for Dems to project a clear, concise message that gives them a positive image. But now that the Republicans are in glorious 3D ‘disarray,’ it’s time for Democrats to craft some new GOP branding irons, so Republicans will have to display a deeper imprint on their foreheads.

Branding is not a one-way strategy. It’s just as important to brand the adversary as oneself.

G.O.P. stands for “Gridlock, Obstruction and Paralysis” is a particularly good fit at the moment. That’s fine for bumper stickers and headlines. But it’s also time for Dems to sear the “do-nothing GOP” and “Chaos party” brands deeply into the Republican public image. Pair it with a reminder that the The GOP leaders are marinating in their own chaos to the point where they can’t even get newly-elected members, most of whom are Republicans, sworn-in, let alone do the peoples’ business.

As Stephen Collinson put it at CNN Politics, “McCarthy is becoming the latest example of a political leader consumed by a revolution the “Make America Great Again” radicals helped to stage. For the radical lawmakers now blocking his ascent to his dream job, he’s become the political establishment he once condemned….The Californian, who has lost a stunning 11 consecutive House roll call votes in his bid to become speaker, was the first major GOP leader to embrace ex-President Donald Trump after the January 6, 2021, insurrection.”

“The speakership stalemate is not just a fresh indication of the turmoil still racking the GOP after the far-right forced out two previous GOP speakers,” Collinson adds. “It suggests the new GOP House majority will be perennially dysfunctional and – given the capacity of a few lawmakers to grind the chamber to a halt at any moment – chaotic political crises are likely to dominate the next two years.”

What Dems must do is something more than sit on the couch enjoying the spectacle and noshing on popcorn. Every single Democratic elected official ought to be out there branding the Republicans as the incompetent do-nothing party. It’s long been true. But never before has there been a better political moment for making the brand stick. Some Democratic leaders are doing this. But all of them need to make it the ‘message du jour.’

Eventually, the Republicans will elect a speaker and they will be able to make Democratic reforms D.O.A. in the House, no matter what Dems are able to accomplish in the senate. They will launch investigations targeting Democrats, and they will dominate the media narrative when it comes to House coverage. For Dems not to take full advantage of this political moment, would be political malpractice. Attack, attack, attack.