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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Rural Voter

The new book White Rural Rage employs a deeply misleading sensationalism to gain media attention. You should read The Rural Voter by Nicholas Jacobs and Daniel Shea instead.

Read the memo.

There is a sector of working class voters who can be persuaded to vote for Democrats in 2024 – but only if candidates understand how to win their support.

Read the memo.

The recently published book, Rust Belt Union Blues, by Lainey Newman and Theda Skocpol represents a profoundly important contribution to the debate over Democratic strategy.

Read the Memo.

Democrats should stop calling themselves a “coalition.”

They don’t think like a coalition, they don’t act like a coalition and they sure as hell don’t try to assemble a majority like a coalition.

Read the memo.

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy The Fundamental but Generally Unacknowledged Cause of the Current Threat to America’s Democratic Institutions.

Read the Memo.

Democrats ignore the central fact about modern immigration – and it’s led them to political disaster.

Democrats ignore the central fact about modern immigration – and it’s led them to political disaster.

Read the memo.


The Daily Strategist

July 17, 2024

White Male Dems An Endangered Species?

Thomas F. Schaller has a provocatively titled Salon post “So Long White Boy,” in which he all but urges Democrats to write off the white male voter, or as the article subtitle asks “Could 2008 be the year that Democrats finally admit an old sweetheart is never coming back, and stop pandering to the white male voter?” Schaller trots out some interesting numbers to bolster his argument, including:

In 2004, according to New York Times exit polls, Democrat Kerry won 38 percent of the total white male vote, confirming a familiar pattern. Kerry’s share was basically the same that every Democratic presidential candidate has received since Michael Dukakis. In the four elections between 1988 and 2000, in fact, using New York Times exit poll results, the Democratic nominee won 36 percent, 37 percent, 38 percent and 36 percent, respectively, of votes cast by white men. Because white men cast between 33 and 36 percent of all votes in 2004, that means a mere 12 to 13 percentage points of Kerry’s 48 percent nationally came from white men — about one vote in four. Nevertheless, and despite running against an incumbent in the first post-Sept. 11 presidential election, Kerry still came within one state of winning the Electoral College. Four years earlier, Al Gore also came within one state of reaching the magical 270 electors, and actually won the popular vote nationally — while, like Kerry, receiving only about one-fourth of his support from white men.

Schaller concedes that Dems are still “competitive” among white women voters and that unionized white male voters are still pro-Democratic. He compares demographic trends and voting patterns for white male and African American voters and concludes:

Democrats are able to neutralize their white male voter problem with votes from African-Americans — even though the latter group is only about one-third the size of the former….today, the black vote fully compensates for the Democrats’ deficit among white men.

Schaller doesn’t say anything about what possible effect discontent over the Iraq war, GOP scandals or other issues may have on white male votes in ’08. And Democratic presidential candidates may be less eager than he to write off one out of four of their voters. But it’s an important article in terms of political strategy, and one which merits the attention of Dems concerned about the Party’s future.

Iraq’s “Empowerment” Zones

One of the strange shifts in its public posture on Iraq that’s been made by the Bush administration in recent weeks is the idea that total lack of progress on a national political settlement doesn’t matter, because progress towards a more orderly existence is being made on a local level here and there, a development that will somehow perculate up to Baghdad. The fact that Iraq’s sectarian fault lines are incredibly resistant to this kind of simple bottom-up solution, or that local “empowerment” may be completely inconsistent with national unity, doesn’t seem to enter into the equation. There’s a good, full analysis of the incoherence of what now passes for a Bush political strategy in Iraq by Dennis Ross up at the New Republic site.
Bush’s celebration of developments in Anbar Province is highly reminiscent of an earlier, grossly premature celebration over Iraq’s first “national” elections, back in January of 2005. All those GOP politicians waving purple fingers didn’t seem to be aware that the vast majority of Iraqi voters rejected every available inter-communal political option. And like Bush’s basic course of action in Iraq, that’s something that hasn’t changed at all.

Polling “the Petraeus Plan”

Now that Petraeus Week is over, and Bush has made his Big Speech announcing he’s willing to consider withdrawing enough troops by next July to bring us back to exactly where we were the day after the 2006 elections, the spin wars over how Americans (and Iraqis) will react are beginning in earnest. And for those of us who like the idea of clarity, one of the first shots out of the block, a Rasmussen poll on “the Petraeus Plan” for Iraq, is truly infuriating.
In fairness, the pollsters quizzed Americans about the “Petraeus recommendations” for Iraq, to wit that the U.S. “withdraw 30,000 soldiers from Iraq but leave 130,000 troops in place at least through the summer.” But the initial media report on the poll, in The Hill, changed “recommendations” to “plan,” so we have poll results supposedly showing a plurality of Americans–43 percent to 38 percent–supporting the self-same “Petraeus Plan” that Bush “embraced” last night. That looks like a pretty big shift in sentiment on Iraq, eh? Particularly when the poll shows only a bare majority of Democrats oppose the Petraeus Plan.
The problem with the poll, of course, other than enabling Bush’s effort to make it look like the military, and a particularly popular general, are actually controlling the overall war strategy, is this: are people responding to the question focused on the idea of withdrawing troops, or the idea of leaving troops? Do they know the “Petraeus Plan” makes troop withdrawals contingent on political progress, or that most of the the withdrawals would occur nearly a year from now? And do they know the relationship of pre- and post-surge troops levels?
I’m sure other polls, using better methodology and better questions than Rasmussen’s, will soon come out. But the last thing America needs right now is “evidence” that seems to support the already rampant idea in GOP circles that Bush’s massive bait-and-switch tactics for continuing the same policies indefinitely are producing some sea-change in public opinion. We are talking about people, as Ron Brownstein reminded us in a L.A. Times column today, who have convinced themselves that their 2006 defeat was a mandate for a more right-wing Republican Party (and even, as you may recall from the early conservative line on the “surge,” for an escalation of military action in Iraq). They don’t need any further encouragement for their delusions.

Op-Ed Study Shreds GOP Myth

There has been a fair amount of blog buzz about the interesting and graphically-gorgeous Media Matters study “Black and White and Re(a)d All Over:The Conservative Advantage in Syndicated Op-Ed Columns.” The Media Matters team, lead by Senior Fellow Paul Waldman, pretty much shreds the GOP claim of liberal bias in the print media, at least as far as op-ed columnists are concerned. (And, in recent years GOP presidential candidates have gotten the most newspaper endorsements on editorial pages) The conclusion should not come as too much of a surprise to those who read op-eds widely. But some of the blog commentary about the study raise some interesting questions. In The Plank, TNR’s Josh Patashnik asks, for example:

…The real question then would be, if nearly one in two Americans identifies as “moderate”, why are only two of the top ten columnists in America centrists?

And Ezra Klein observes

…a liberal op-ed editor may be quite hard on other liberals, who don’t sound, to him, like they’re saying anything new. Conversely, he could be quite easy on conservatives, because even their basic arguments are, to him, analytically fresh and innovative.

And Matthew Yglesias wonders if:

…maybe opinion columns have little measurable economic value (does anyone really believe Washington Post circulation would change in either direction if they sacked Krauthammer and hired Rosa Brooks away from the LA Times?) and basically exist to put forward ideas that newspaper owners find congenial.

And Tapped’s Kate Shephard speculates:

…complex arguments don’t generally make for the same hard-lined, concise, and easy-to-read column fodder that our ever-more-dumbed-down mainstream media tend to favor. Conservative columnists tend to lean on the most basic, unexamined, talking-point-specific arguments – quick, easy to digest, appealing to reader’s basest instincts. Liberals tend to explore the issue and construct a case for the merits of their arguments, which fewer and fewer papers have the space for, and fewer and fewer readers have the attention span to get through.

Here’s another question: Since Dems kicked butt in the ’06 elections, might that mean that conservative columnists, or even op-ed columnists in general, have little influence on swing voters? Or would Dems have done even better if there was more political balance in op-eds?

Partisan and Ideological Rorschach Test

I’ve written earlier about the long-running but intensifying debate within the blogosphere about the netroots’ orientation towards a purely partisan or more ideological stance. Mark Warner’s announcement that he’s running for the U.S. Senate in Virginia is proving to be something of a Rorschach Test for this difference of opinion.
At OpenLeft.com (a site founded in no small part to push netrooters towards an ideological orientation), Matt Stoller greets Warner’s “disgusting, Lieberman-esque” announcement with this categorical judgment:

Warner’s a centrist, not a partisan, and my guess is that this will turn a lot of people off who had previously ‘loved’ Mark Warner. If the Republicans can find a candidate, I think he’s going to have a bumpier ride than expected. He’ll still win, in all likelihood, but he’s going to be a bad Senator.

Note the planted axiom here that “centrists” can’t be “partisans.”
Meanwhile, over at DailyKos, Markos Moulitsas expresses zero ambilvalence over Warner’s decision:

Mark Warner was the most popular governor in Virginia history. Republicans, on the other hand, will face a bloody primary that will pit not just “moderate” versus conservative, but NoVa versus Southern Virginia. This Tom Davis versus Jim Gilmore contest should be positively bloody, and further deplete and demoralize a Virginia Republican Party in retreat.
About the only Republican happy today is George “Macaca” Allen, who is eyeing the 2009 gubernatorial contest. With Warner probably out of the picture, his chances for a comeback are much greater. But that’s a bridge we’ll cross in 2009. As for now, and with all caveats about getting too cocky and all, this seat will remain in the hands of a senator named “Warner”.

As some of you may remember, Mark Warner’s relative merits have always been a contentious issue in the progressive blogosphere. Matt Bai’s book The Argument has an entire chapter about Warner’s famous appearance at the first YearlyKos conference, which began as a lovefest and concluded with some mutual reassessment of Warner’s relationship to the netroots (Bai even suggests that Warner’s experience at YearlyKos had a significant impact on his decision to fold his presidential campaign).
Now we’re talking not about a Warner presidential run, but about a red-state Senate campaign. And it’s a road-sign in the partisan/ideological debate that such a candidacy is being hooted at in a prominent progressive site.
We’ll probably see even sharper disagreements if Bob Kerrey, an inveterate defier of ideological orthodoxy, decides to run for the Senate in Nebraska.

Dems’ Untapped Unity Issue: Kids

Cultural historian Riane Eisler talks some practical politics in her Alternet post “The Ignored Issue That Can Get Progressives Elected.” Eisler makes a point that has been made many times before, though less frequently in recent years — that the health and well-being of America’s children is a unique coalition issue that can bring diverse constituencies together and empower progressives (read Democrats) to win big next year. Eisler cites polling data from an unusual source, The Barna Group, “a Christian polling organization,” noting:

The poll asked conservatives and liberals, whites and blacks, men and women, Christians and non-Christians which of 11 changes were “absolutely necessary” for the United States to address within the next 10 years. The 11 ranged from national security and environmental protection to the state of marriage and families and the spiritual state of the country. But the issues that emerged as the frontrunners were “the overall care and resources devoted to children” and “the quality of a public school education.” That was the response by 82 percent of the adults surveyed.

Eisler feels strongly that progressives have underemphasized child health and welfare in recent political campaigns, and the Barna Group poll suggests she may be on to something. Republicans as a whole have been downright negligent in addressing the needs of American children, and now we have President Bush threatening to veto an expansion of health care coverage for uninsured kids under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Meanwhile, the Children’s Defense Fund has a post up reporting new data indicating that in 2006 more than 700,000 children were added to the uninsured — more than double the increase from 2004-5.
The proposed $50 billion expansion in funding for the SCHIP program in the House of Reps. version would insure millions more vulnerable American children. It would cost what taxpayers shell out to pay for 5 months for the Iraq quagmire, according to the latest figures of the Congressional Budget Office (Some observers believe $10 billion per month is less than half of the real cost).
So far, Senator Dodd has probably been the leading advocate for children in the U.S. Senate, and all of the Democratic presidential candidates supported SCHIP increases and other health and welfare initiatives to help children. By raising the well-being of children from a continuing concern to a top priority, Dems can not only help solidify progressive support, but also win some votes from moderates and other swing voters who have the compassion and/or good economic sense to help children in need.

Bad Company

As I wrote about last month, placing political ads linked to search terms on widely used web sites is a smart and rapidly growing practice. But you do have to be careful about the inadvertant associations such ads sometimes create, as Barack Obama’s campaign has just learned.
A reporter for the New York Sun happened to notice that an Obama ad appeared as a “sponsored link” on the Amazon.com page for The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, the highly controversial book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that some observers have claimed reflects ancient anti-semitic conspiracy theories. Whatever you think of the book, it’s definitely not one that a candidate for president (unless Pat Buchanan runs again) would want to snuggle up to.
Contacted by the Sun, the Obama campaign quickly took down the ad and foreswore any endorsement of the Mearsheimer/Walt book.
The Amazon ads are run by a subsidiary of the retailer called Clickriver, which associates advertisements with keywords that customers use to search for products on the Amazon website. The Obama camp purchased “politics” as a keyword, and thus, their ad got placed beside lots of political books — one of which happened to be particularly controversial. The whole thing was done by computer and was obviously unintentional and unavoidable.
This is going to happen more and more often. And who knows what the reaction will be next time? But when an algorithm determines the link between content and an advertisement without any human input — what’s a campaign to do? You might think to avoid the situation altogether, but that’s the wrong answer.
Here and now, I think we need to decide on a rule — when computers fail to anticipate a controversy, we don’t blame campaigns. Through the course of a modern election, there will be plenty of times when candidates legitimately stumble — an operative will develop foot-in-mouth disease, a senator will fall off a stage, or a nominee will completely underestimate the importance of an attack and go a solid month without refuting the charges. These are the times at which a media circus will be quasi-justifiable. But not when an innocuous ad is automatically linked to a contentious book.

Bush’s Iraq Bait-and-Switch

By the time of the president’s “address to the nation” on Iraq tomorrow night, it should be apparent to just about everyone that the man is in the process of executing a bait-and-switch tactic on the war that is truly breathtaking in its audacity and cynicism.
There are two major aspects to the bait-and-switch. The first and most obvious is that whatever else it represented, the “surge” was designed to make it possible for Bush to embrace the possibility of troop withdrawals from Iraq without changing course or actually reducing troop levels. The fact that Bush’s best-case scenario is now a return to pre-surge troop levels exposes the circular nature of the whole exercise.
Secondly, the administration has managed to turn David Petraeus into the alleged architect of Bush’s entire war policy. He was sent to Iraq to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign designed to produce a political breakthrough. His “report” to Congress unsurprisingly noted that since no such breakthrough had occurred, he’d have to continue it for an indefinite period if people expected it to produce political gains. Now Bush is about to “embrace” the “Petraeus Plan” for military action, as though it’s some sort of end in itself. Thus, he’s offloading responsibility for his war policies to the military.
It’s hard to imagine these tactics will have any significant effect on public opinion at large, or on Democrats and independents, other than a gullible few. But all the hype about the surge has clearly boosted support levels for Bush’s Iraq policies among conservative “base” voters, which has in turn helped prevent nervous Republican members of Congress from leaving the reservation. More ominously, the “surge” campaign has had a large effect on the GOP presidential contest, in which the candidates are now falling over each other in bellicose “victory” language about Iraq, despite earlier expectations that they’d find ways to distance themselves from this political albatross. Indeed, the emerging role of one-time frontrunner John McCain in this campaign is to serve as a commissar who will sic right-wing media and angry “base” voters on any candidate who dares to inch away from the Iraq disaster.
And finally, there’s the distinct possibility that Bush’s latest Iraq gambit will lead to a major split among Democrats over how, exactly, to respond, since no one can even begin to pretend any longer that Bush will himself change course.
All in all, the sheer perversity of Bush’s political strategy on Iraq has to make you wonder if it was the final, diabolical gift of Karl Rove.

Old School and New School Clinton Critics

The problem that Democratic presidential candidates not named Hillary are having in dealing with her husband’s legacy, and presence, on the campaign trail is a perennially interesting topic. I’ve written about the varying approaches of Edwards and Obama to their “Clinton problem,” with Edwards recently essaying a full-frontal assault on Clintonism (by clear inference rather than by name), and Obama choosing a “that was then, this is now” generational-change argument. This is also the topic of a large new Ryan Lizza piece in The New Yorker.
Lizza adds quite a bit of insider reporting about the quandry these candidates (and HRC herself) are in concerning Bill Clinton’s outsized political persona. He attributes Edwards’ anti-Clintonism gambit to adviser Joe Trippi, one of the few major Democratic strategists with no ties to the Clintons, and presumably a man who had something to do with Howard Dean’s effort in 2003-4 to diss Clintonism without unduly offending Bill Clinton.
Reading Lizza, I kept getting a nagging deja vu sensation about the Edwards and Obama strategies towards Clinton. And it finally hit me: back in December of 1997, Dick Gephardt and Ted Kennedy delivered back-to-back, dueling speeches representing alternative liberal takes on Clintonism that in many respects anticipated the Edwards and Obama approaches.
Gephardt’s speech, delivered at the Kennedy School, was much trumpeted at the time as a testing-the-waters effort to see if the Gepster could launch a 2000 presidential challenge to Al Gore based on a repudiation of Clinton’s “Republican Lite”, “triangulating” heresies against traditional liberalism by a champion of the Democratic Base. It came after a 1996 campaign in which Clinton’s signing of welfare reform legislation, and his pointed differences of opinion with House Democrats on policy and political strategy, were often blamed by the latter for causing their failure to retake the House. And it also came immediately after House Democrats had inflicted a rare defeat on Clinton, who lost his bid for “fast-track” trade negotiating authority. But the speech bombed, and Gephardt got barbecued for being unnecessarily divisive.
Kennedy’s speech, at the National Press Club, was widely considered a response to Gephardt (and indeed, one story has it that Clinton specifically asked Kennedy to do it). He began with a ringing defense of Clinton’s accomplishments up to that point, and then, without missing a beat, he went into a recitation of a liberal agenda for the future that was basically the same as Gephardt’s. Reading it at the time, I imagined I could see Teddy winking and saying, “See, Dick? That’s how you do it.” And indeed, Kennedy’s basic approach to Clintonism was to say: “That was then; this is now.”
Franklin Foer, in the article I linked to above (the only thing I’ve been able to find on the internet that discussed both speeches), reported the juiciest tidbit of all about Gephardt and Kennedy’s “warring” approaches to a liberal critique of Clintonism: the principal wordsmith in both was apparently Bob Shrum, who has far exceeded Joe Trippi in having a successful Democratic consulting career without involvement with the Clintons.
There’s one living link between the Gephardt and Edwards assaults on Clintonism: David Bonior, who in 1997 was Gephardt’s deputy in the House Democratic leadership, and who today is chairman of John Edwards’ campaign. Actually, Trippi may be a second, since he worked for Gephardt’s 1988 campaign, and also for Jerry Brown’s left-bent late primary challenge to Clinton in 1992,
But the differences between yesterday’s and today’s Democratic critics of Clintonism are as instructive as the similarities.

Politics and 9/11–Six Years After

Like anyone else who writes for publication on- or off-line, I feel an obligation to say something about a subject–the sixth anniversary of 9/11–about which all the obvious points have already been made by people far more eloquent than me. I was also initially reluctant to write about politics on a 9/11 anniversary, but given the heavy politicization of that event during the past six years, that seems to be a bit cowardly. So while remembering and mourning the victims of 9/11, and also remembering the obligation to do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again, I’d like to mention the role of that event in what has been a decade of monumental public events in the United States.
Think about it. Since 1998, we’ve witnessed the first presidential impeachment since the 1860s, the first presidential election to go into “overtime” since the 1870s; the first attack on the continental United States since 1812; the first major preemptive “war of choice” in U.S. history; and the first televised destruction of an American city. I don’t mean to equate any of these non-9/11 occurances with what we witnessed that day, but it has been an extraordinary span of time.
If you want to truly understand why Democrats (especially those whose entire formative political experience has been the last decade) are so often “angry,” remember the behavior of the leadership of the Republican Party in all of the non-9/11 events I’ve mentioned. And then remember what the president and vice president have done to destroy the national unity and worldwide symphathy this country enjoyed just after 9/11, typically viewing domestic unity and global approval with ill-disguised contempt.
I’m not one of those who is interested in blaming George W. Bush or Dick Cheney for allowing 9/11 to occur. I will will never get confused into thinking that any American politician, even the worst, can be remotely compared in moral depravity or fanaticism with 9/11’s perpetrators. And I don’t want to blame all Republicans for their leadership’s vices, any more than I would excuse any Democrats from the responsibility to demonstrate positive virtue.
But what motivates me to ask Republicans as well as everyone else to reflect on this subject is the simple fact that with the Tom DeLay class of congressional Republicans gone or in disgrace, and Bush and Cheney’s departure from office growing nigh, we’re now witnessing a presidential nominating contest in the GOP wherein most candidates are competing to show how avidly, even defiantly, they’d continue the current administration’s worst habits and policies, including its politicization of terrorist threats and efforts to impugn the patriotism of critics.
I’d love to see the day when genuine “bipartisanship” is occasionally possible, within the context of a vibrant, principled party system. But that won’t be happen so long as we accept, much less seek to emulate, national leaders capable of using the kind of bipartisanship we briefly saw six years ago as little more than a political capital fund in the pursuit of raw, partisan power.