Debate over country song is a right-wing trap for Democrats.
The debate over the song “Try That in a Small Town” is an excellent example of a particularly devious right-wing extremist trap – one that the GOP will use against Democrats again and again in 2024. Dems need to understand what the trap is designed to accomplish, how it works and how to defend against it.
The resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, coming after many months of typically stubborn Bush refusals to consider his removal, is getting puzzled reactions for its timing. But I’d say it’s par for the course for a president who has never minded flip-flopping so long as he didn’t have to admit it.
Reports that Bush is going to nominate Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as Gonzales’ replacement, however, raise a different kind of timing problem. This week will be full of reminisicences of Hurricaine Katrina, which occurred two years ago. As Douglas Brinkley’s book The Great Deluge recently reminded us, Chertoff played an especially ignominous role in the indifferent and incompetent federal response to that disaster. So I’d guess if Chertoff is the choice, the announcement will be delayed for a week or so.
But even if Bush goes with a less controversial nominee like Larry Thompson, the confirmation hearings will obviously be dominated by all the questions Gonzales has refused to answer about Justice Department political practices and the administration’s Divine Right approach to its legal prerogatives. Perhaps this will serve as a distraction to the impending Iraq debate, or perhaps it will simply intensify an atmosphere characterized by an out-of-control presidency that refuses accountability for any of its works and any of its agents. This is one moment where virtually all Democrats will agree on a full-throttle, no-holds-barred fight.
Democrats who expect a boost from the messy personal lives of GOP presidential candidates should think again, according to Ariel Sabar’s recent article in the Christian Science Monitor. Sabar’s case is mostly historical — with the exception of Gary Hart in 1988, there are no cases of Presidential candidates being undone by their failures as parents or spouses. Sabar points out that American voters were forgiving of adultery even back in the Victorian era, when Grover Cleveland admitted siring a child out of wedlock. Sabar cites the examples of Bill Clinton’s marital problems and Reagan’s status as the only divorced President, both of whom remained highly popular, and notes further:
In Pew Research Center polls this year, only 9 percent of Americans said a divorce would make them less likely to vote for a presidential candidate. The percentage who said they had “old-fashioned values about family and marriage” dropped over the past two decades from 87 percent to 76 percent.
…in the Pew polls, the biggest turnoffs in a presidential candidate – atheism and a lack of political experience – had little to do with their divorce count or the number of phone calls they get each week from their children. The most appealing traits were military service and Christian faith.
Most of the current speculation on the topic centers around the fallout of Rudy Guiliani’s divorce from his second wife, and his continuing status as a GOP front-runner. While his troubled marital history can’t help him, Sabar makes a convincing case that it’s unlikely to be the pivotal issue that turns many voters against him.
While it doesn’t represent as big a challenge as that facing Republicans in dealing with the undead legacy of George W. Bush, Democratic presidential candidates, past and present, have had to take some position on the very different legacy of Bill Clinton.
The subject was obviously central, and occasionally debilitating, to Al Gore in 2000. In 2003, Howard Dean, then the Democratic front-runner, did a speech characterizing the Clinton administration as a semi-successful exercise in “damage control” in a right-tilting Washington.
Today the Democratic candidates’ take on the Clinton legacy is complicated by the fact that the 42d president’s wife is the front-runner for the nomination.
Part of Barack Obama’s stump speech suggests that all the controversies of the Clinton Years are part of a baby boomer generational conflict that the country should simply get beyond. But he doesn’t criticize The Big He in any particular way.
Two marginal candidates have been willing to voice the semi-submerged hostility in some Left/netroots precincts to Bill Clinton’s political and policy views. Mike Gravel comes right out and says he thinks Clinton sold out the party to corporations. And Dennis Kucinich frequently suggests that Clintonism has made it hard for voters to tell the difference between Ds and Rs (an assertion, BTW, that got him booed at the YearlyKos conference a few weeks ago).
But until yesterday, no major presidential candidate Went There. In Hanover, New Hampshire, John Edwards delivered a speech that combined Obama’s anti-nostalgia rap with a Gravel/Kucinich-style assault–implicitly at least–on Clintonism, past and present, as representing a corporate-dominated Washington culture of corruption and impure compromise.
To be sure, Edwards doesn’t mention either Clinton by name. But the speech is loaded with all sorts of dog-whistle code phrases for Left-activist criticisms of the Clinton administration’s politics and policies, denouncing “triangulation,” “legislative compromises,” “corporate Democrats,” “Democratic insiders,” “Washington establishment,” and a “corrupt system” that was prevelant long before Bush took office. And these phrases were generally deployed in a way that suggests moral equivalence between Bush and both Clintons (“We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other.”).
Lest someone think he was talking about, say, Ben Nelson, Edwards broke code with one phrase: “The American people deserve to know that…the Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent.” And the MSM certainly hasn’t had any problem understanding what Edwards was talking about.
IMHO, this should be troubling to any Democrats concerned about party unity and winning in 2008. It’s one thing for Edwards to argue that his (often-impressive) policy platform is more thoroughly progressive than HRC’s, or even that HRC is captive to a timid, incremental approach appropriate to the 1990s but not to today’s circumstances. And had Edwards couched his remarks with one-sentence acknowledgements of the vast differences between Clinton and Bush administration policies, and the even vaster differences between HRC’s approach to every major domestic issue (the sole subject of the speech) and that of every GOP candidate, nothing he said would be objectionable to unity-minded Democrats.
But he didn’t do that. And speaking as someone with no personal stake in anybody’s campaign, I hope he backs off this tack and at least gets into the habit of defending all Democrats against the sure-to-emerge Republican claim (especially if they nominate a candidate with no prior congressional service) that Bush’s sins were attributable to a Washington culture he shared with his predecessor and his predecessor’s wife. Edwards can emulate Obama and simply argue it’s time for a new politics and new policies. But if Hillary Clinton winds up being the Democratic nominee, it will not be helpful if her GOP opponent can quote John Edwards to the effect that she can’t possibly offer change.
Google is the biggest search engine on the planet. In the month of June, in the U.S. alone, its algorithms delivered answers to 3.9 billion questions. That’s fully half of the search traffic in the country. AdWords is the service that enables Google to pay for all those searches. If you use Google, you’ve seen AdWords — it powers the text advertisements that show up on the right side of your search results.
AdWords works like this: the advertiser bids in an auction for search terms, creates a block of text to display with the search results, and then pays a cost per click every time someone follows the ad to their website. Even though Google only makes pennies on each ad, this service is the reason for the company’s billions in revenue. And because advertisers only pay when someone actually clicks on their text, hundreds of people can see the ad, and it won’t cost the buyer a thing.
This is all to say that Google and its ads are one of the most important media outlets on the web. You’d think that the presidential campaigns would recognize that, but for the most part, you’d be wrong.
Aside from relative merits of Wikipedia as a source of information, the recent development of Wikipedia Scanner—a program that tracks the IP of addresses of computers where edits to the site originate—raises new questions about information management for campaigns and elected officials in a cycle awash in information.
The ability to easily identify who is making changes to Wikipedia has made all kinds of news—with little interesting analysis. On Capitol Hill, Congressional Quarterly says the thousands of edits made on House computers mean staffers have “too much time on their hands.” For Tennessee Congressman David Davis’ press secretary, editing his boss’ profile on Wikipedia led to a House Ethics Committee inquiry, punishment in the form of classes in “appropriate conduct”, and one really embarrassing AP story.
So, does this mean staffers should leave Wikipedia alone? No. They can’t—if only because the site is too well-known and widely-used to let errors and unfair comments stand.
Louisiana politics is never dull, and rarely conventional. And we’re seeing a fresh example of that in an ad being run by the state’s Democratic Party criticizing Republican gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal for his hostility towards–you’ll never guess this one–Protestants.
The ad, part of a series aimed at cutting into Jindal’s lead over the gubernatorial field heading towards the October 20 open primary, focuses on a 1996 Jindal article published by the New Oxford Review, that hardy outlet for Catholic “traditionalist” polemics. According to the ad, Jindal called Protestants depraved, selfish and heretical. It directs viewers to a web page offering links to that and other Jindal writings on religion, much of it also from NOR.
The 1996 piece basically reads like a first draft of Catholic Apologetics For Dummies. Relying heavily on scriptural citations, Jindal trudges through a defense of Catholic teaching on such topics as justification-by-faith, tradition-versus-scripture, the sacraments, the papacy, the apostolic succession of bishops, and Rome’s claims to universality. Other than its leaden, pre-Vatican II writing style, the only jarring thing about the article is that a guy like Jindal–at the time the wunderkind secretary of health services for Louisiana–is the author.
Unsurprisingly, the Democratic ad is running in three Northern Louisiana media markets. This is a heavily Protestant (especially Baptist and Pentecostal) region, and also where Kathleen Blanco exceeded expectations in her upset win over Jindal in 2003. Indeed, Jindal and other Republicans are probably screaming bloody murder over the ad in order to make sure the heavily Catholic population of southern LA knows he’s being attacked for his fidei defensor scribblings. Since Louisiana Democrats knew they couldn’t really microtarget the ad, you have to figure they calculated that many Catholics ain’t that jazzed about old-school Catholic-Protestant polemics, either.
My own feeling is that having forced some poor grad student researcher to read back issues of the New Oxford Review, the state Democratic Party might have done better to contrast that publication’s–and for that matter, the Vatican’s–chronic hostility to the Iraq War and Bush foreign policies generally with Jindal’s thousand-percent support for same. But perhaps the whole thing is just an effort to suggest that Bobby is, well, just a strange dude, because of, not despite, his remarkably precocious career. We’re talking about a twenty-five-year old running a Medicaid program in one of America’s poorest states, who apparently has enough spare time from his day job to pen a 16th-century style theological tract for a publication considered a extreme even by other right-wing Catholics.
Louisiana Democrats are clearly trying to suggest Jindal’s “not one of us” without getting into the vieled racial issues that likely played a role in Bobby’s loss in 2003. I’m skeptical that this latest tack will work, but Jindal had best be careful that in reacting to such criticisms, he doesn’t reinforce the larger point.
Time was, even uttering a favorable comment about normalization of relations with Cuba resulted in a political death sentence for aspiring candidates in Florida. But it looks increasingly like those days may be coming to a close, according to recent opinion survey data and comments by presidential candidates.
Obama is leading the charge toward normalization for Democrats, calling for an easing of travel restrictions for Cuban-American family members and increasing the amount of money they can send to relatives back in Cuba. Obama also has indicated a willingness to meet with Cuban leaders. Edwards agrees that travel restrictions should be eased for family members, but supports a “cap on remittances to use as leverage against the regime,” according to an article by Beth Reinhard and Lesley Clark in yesterday’s Miami Herald. Clinton opposes any easing of travel restrictions, except for “humanitarian cases,” until Castro’s rule ends, but she supports allowing family members to send more money to Cuban relatives. The Herald article did not discuss views of “second tier” Democratic candidates.
Obama’s postion appears to be closest in line with current political opinion among south Florida’s Cuban American population, according to the 2007 Florida International University poll. Among the findings reported in the executive summary of the 2007 FIU annual survey:
Approximately 65 percent of respondents signal that they would support a dialogue with the Cuban government, up from 55.6 percent in the 2004 Cuba poll. The percentage of survey respondents supporting such a dialogue has risen from approximately 40% in the 1991 poll to the current year’s mark which is the highest in the history of the poll.
Approximately 57.2 percent would support establishing diplomatic relations with the island.
55.2 percent would support allowing unrestricted travel to Cuba .
Although only 23.6% feel that the embargo has worked well, 57.5 percent of the Cuban-American population expressed support for its continuation. The percentage of the respondents supporting the embargo declined from 66 percent in the 2004 poll. In fact, this is the lowest percentage of the population ever expressing support for the embargo.
About 65 percent of the respondents are U.S. citizens. Of these, 91.1 percent report being registered to vote. And of these, 66.1 percent are registered with the Republican Party 18.3 percent are registered Democrats and 15.2 percent are registered as Independents.
Florida is always tricky for presidential candidates. But the stakes may be even higher this year, thanks to Florida joining the early primary states — Florida will likely be the first of the ten largest states to hold a primary.
Democrats interested in supporting change in U.S. Cuba policy should check out Paul Waldman’s post at American Prospect’s Tapped blog. Waldman offers this frame for Obama’s policy, which might also work for anyone else who supports a decisive change in our Cuba policy:
“After 45 years, we know the embargo is not working. My opponents are too afraid of losing a few votes to tell you the truth. But I’m not afraid. I will tell you the truth. Let’s do what we’re doing with China: engage the Cubans, trade with them, show them the virtues of capitalism and democracy. I’d like to see any of my opponents tell us just how continuing a policy that has failed for nearly half a century is in our interest or the interest of the Cuban people. This is why the public gets cynical about politics: when politicians won’t do what they know is right because they’re scared they’ll lose a few votes. That’s the kind of politics we need to put behind us.”
Presidential candidates are often reluctant to stake out such bold positions on controversial topics like Cuba-U.S. relations. This is a mistake, Waldman believes:
The reason the candidates can’t see the political advantage in this is that they’re still taking a reductionist view of the electorate and their own candidacies. They look at an issue like this and say, the only voters who care about the embargo are the ones that favor it, so there’s no advantage in opposing it. But doing so communicates something about who you are — brave, innovative, etc. — to everyone, whether this is their most important issue or not. It’s a political winner.
An interesting point of view — one which merits serious consideration by Democratic candidates who want to be seen as strong innovators. For background information on Florida’s Cuban-American demographic, see FIU’s Cuban Research Institute web page here.
Here’s a surprising statistic from a recent U.S. Census report, which has significant implications for Democratic electoral strategy and immigration policy. Of the 25 fastest-growing cities in the nation, 24 are located in the sunbelt (sole exception: Joliet City IL). Even more striking, few of the top 258 cities are not in the sunbelt. It appears that time is not on the side of the “northeastern strategy.”
The tremendous influx of Hispanics into sunbelt states is a large part of the story, recounted here and elsewhere. But it also appears that African American “reverse migration” back to the south is another phenomenon of increasing interest to Democrats. New York City, for example, had 30,000 fewer African American residents in 2004 than in 2000. An estimated 70 percent “left the region altogether” and most of them went south, according to Democratic Underground.com.
And, as William Frey of the Brookings Institution reports:
Hispanic and Asian populations are spreading out from their traditional metropolitan centers, while the shift of blacks toward the South is accelerating…Fully 56 percent of the nation’s blacks now reside in the South, a region that has garnered 72 percent of the increase in that group’s population since 2000.
Strategy-wise, reasonable Democrats can disagree about whether or not Democratic presidential candidates should invest significant time, money and effort in winning southern electoral votes in this cycle. By ’12, however, the argument should be over.
One of the defining moments of the 2006 congressional elections was when Sen. George Allen of Virginia interrupted his own campaign speech, looked into a handheld camera, and mockingly referred to the young man behind it as “Macaca.”
That young man, of course, was a campaign operative for now-Sen. Jim Webb — fulfilling a role that has come be called a tracker. He was hardly the first to catch a bad moment on video, but because of YouTube, he changed the modern campaign.
Trackers are now ubiquitous — politicians see them at every public campaign stop, and smart campaigns have begun filming their own events so that they can respond quickly to any “macaca” moment and have the chance to put quotes back into context.
In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins is running a tough race for reelection. She’s a Republican in New England – already an endangered species. As such, she’s one of the Democrats’ top targets for 2008. And her opponent, Rep. Tom Allen, already has more than $2 million in the bank.
Sen. Collins has a tracker; the Maine State Democratic Party begun sending someone to record her public events. And Collins’ handlers would like to see that stop. In an open letter sent last week to the Allen campaign, Collins’ chief of staff, Steve Abbott, says, “Tactics such as tracking demean the political process, contribute to voter cynicism, and have no place in the type of substantive issues-oriented campaigns that our voters deserve.” For the next 15 months, Abbott suggested that both campaigns agree to keep the cameras turned off.
This ABC video breaks the little press secretary heart in me. Not only is President Bush on yet another vacation. Not only is the traveling press corps sitting around Crawford, TX doing nothing. Now ABC has tried to turn the press—and their tedious adventures in Crawford—into a story.
ABC: What do you do between stories?
BLOOMBERG REPORTER: I write poetry. You know, short form… and haiku.
Democrats generally don’t like attacking the press; I think we have a stronger than average belief in the institution and its possibilities. But this kind of nonsense shakes the confidence, no?
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that in spite of the revolutions in broadband technology and 24-hour cable, Americans aren’t noticeably better informed about current affairs.
Democrats could do well to be both stronger advocates for a better press corps and to train our grassroots advocates to take full advantage of the avenues out there for influencing the mainstream media. Democracy for America’s Night School provides an excellent tool kit for reaching the media. It’s clear that even ABC is badly in need of material.
Fortunately, the federal government will stay open through the holidays, but Democrats must stay vigilant, since the nihilist forces that keep bringing Congress to the brink have not gone away, as I explained at New York:
After his success in passing a two-tiered stopgap spending bill with a ton of Democratic votes and quiet concurrence from the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House, freshly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson hastily retreated into a Thanksgiving recess with angry shouts from his erstwhile hard-core MAGA allies echoing in his ears, as Punchbowl News reports:
“Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), policy chair for the House Freedom Caucus, went to the House floor and angrily bashed the GOP leadership after members had bolted town on Wednesday, a bitter ending to a grueling 10-week marathon for the chamber.
“’I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one — that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!’ Roy yelled during a speech in an otherwise empty House chamber.
“’Anybody sitting in the complex, you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done besides, well, I guess it’s not as bad as the Democrats.’”
Among the “material, significant things” Roy and others among the 93 House Republicans who voted against Johnson’s plan wanted were deep spending cuts in disfavored areas of the federal government and perhaps some symbolic policy shibboleths smiting abortion providers or transgender athletes or tax collectors. Such items would have been treated by Democrats and even some Republicans as poison pills, which is why Johnson’s “clean” stopgap bill didn’t include them. The new Speaker’s support for a “clean” bill and his reliance on Democratic voters are precisely the actions that got old Speaker Kevin McCarthy tossed out on his ear. Thanks to Johnson’s past record of rigorous right-wing orthodoxy (and perhaps exhaustion following the long fight over McCarthy’s successor), his rebellious friends appear to have given him a mulligan. But it probably won’t last.
A new government shutdown threat will likely appear once the first “tier” of the stopgap bill expires on January 19. Indeed, the hard-liners are already firing shots across Johnson’s bow, as Politico reports:
“Hardliners sunk any chances of passage for two additional funding bills this week — marking a major setback for Speaker Mike Johnson less than 24 hours after working with Democrats to pass a bill that would thwart a shutdown deadline Saturday …
“GOP leadership then canceled the rest of the votes for the week, with Republicans predicting that Johnson’s spending headache won’t get any easier once they return at the end of the month.
“Instead, members of the Freedom Caucus vowed to continue blocking House Republicans’ remaining five funding bills. They urged Johnson to come up with a plan that would cut spending for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, without any accounting tricks.”
What makes this revolt even more significant is that Freedom Caucus types are really obsessed with the need to enact individual appropriations bills instead of the catchall measures they believe endemic to out-of-control federal spending. A big part of the rationale for Johnson’s two-tiered stopgap was to provide enough time — and no more — for passage of these individual bills. But now HFC leaders are sabotaging that very possibility out of a fit of pique, in an exceptional example of what it means to cut off your nose to spite your face.
The thing is, Senate Democrats and the White House aren’t going to bend to Chip Roy’s definition of what the American people want or need between now and the time the next shutdown crisis arrives (indeed, a collision over aid to Ukraine and border policy contained in the president’s supplemental spending proposal will likely come to a head before Christmas). So the shutdown threat may have simply been deferred for a bit even as House GOP hard-liners flagellate themselves for letting Johnson off the hook for the exact sins that damned McCarthy. Enjoy the holidays, federal employees. But stash away some provisions for what could be a stormy winter.