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April 30, 2007

Reagan Myth to Cast '08 Shadow

Tom Bevan has a post, "Reagan's Shadow" at The Real Clear Politics Blog, predicting that the current crop of GOP presidential candidates will "work to invoke his name and associate themselves with his legacy" in the months ahead, beginning with the first GOP presidential debates at the -- you guessed it -- Reagan Presidential Library on May 3rd. The idea being that the public needs to be reminded that Republicans once ruled without serial blundering, scandals and foreign policy disasters of epic proportions on an almost daily basis. Reagan nostalgia is likely to become even more of a cottage industry with conservatives and lapdog media as we approach November '08. Some polling outfits have apparently bought into the meme, as Bevan notes:

The polling firm Strategic Vision recently began asking Republicans in six states whether they believe George W. Bush is "a conservative in the mode of Ronald Reagan." The results were surprisingly consistent and overwhelmingly negative: 62% of Republicans in Florida answered "no." The numbers were even worse in the five other states: 68% in Wisconsin, 69% in Pennsylvania, 71% in Michigan, 77% in Iowa and 78% in Georgia.

Even asking such a question suggests that Reagan mythology is still thriving. Reagan, not Lincoln, is clearly the GOP's internal standard for measuring their candidates, and no doubt, the GOP's '08 field will strive to appear more "Reaganesque" as the campaign wears on, just as some Democrats tried to emulate JFK's persona over the years with less than impressive results. With a few exceptions, the MSM gave the Reagan "legacy" a free pass in the wake of his death, thereby allowing the Reagan myth to grow in stature. By the time summer '08 rolls around, it will be "Bush who?," and Reagan's name and image will be invoked ad nauseum at the GOP convention and during the fall campaign as the GOP's preeminent symbol. The Democratic attitude should be "Bring it on."

Democrats, including party leaders and the progressive blogosphere should be ready to demolish the Reagan mythology. Fortunately, this will not be hard, and there are plenty of resources. Probably no source has been more vigilant than The Nation. Start with The Nation's editorial "The Reagan Legacy," a succinct wrap-up of the damage done by the Gipper. Proceed to Alexander Cockburn's blistering essay "Reagan in Truth and Fiction."

An interesting handful of articles about the most treasured myth of Reagan-worshippers, that he single-handedly won the cold war, can be accessed at this link. For a good overview of the damage done by "Reaganomics," check out Steve Kangas' "The Reagan Years:A Statistical Overview of the 1980s." Walter Field's "No Tears for Reagan" at BlackAmericaToday.com explains how Reagan obstructed Civil Rights gains.

The GOP will almost certainly wield the Reagan Myth with increasing frequency during the campaign ahead, if only because they have nothing else to project in a positive light. Democrats are not running against Reagan, but some well-crafted sound bites about Reagan's real record whenever his name is exalted will help show voters which candidates -- and which party -- tell it straight.

April 27, 2007

Solid Content, Little Drama in First Debate

First, raspberries to NBC for broadcasting the first Dem presidential primary debate only to those who have the expensive cable TV package or cable modems/DSL hook-ups that actually perform well. This was the opening of a political campaign that has generated wide, intense interest, according to polls, and the public deserved better. So there.

Brian Williams did a good job of asking tough questions and the Dem field performed well as a whole. There are no national post-debate polls out yet, but viewers of the debate are undoubtedly clear on which party's candidates are committed to getting us out of Iraq as quickly as possible.

The consensus in the blogs and rags seems to be that no candidate leap-frogged over the others and none destroyed their chances. There were no campaign-nuking one-liners like "Where's the beef?", or gaffes like Gerald Ford calling Poland a free country.

But there were some impressive sound-bites. Hard to imagine a better answer, for example, than Joe Biden's when asked what was his worst failure. Without missing a beat, he replied “overestimating the competence of this administration and underestimating the arrogance.” The other candidates should take note. This is a good example of the kind of eloquent brevity that scores in such formats.

It ought to go without saying, but just in case anyone missed it, candidates, please do not under any circumstances compare yourself to "a potted plant." The creds you gain as a humorist probably won't last as long in voter memories as the image associated with your name.

For a sense of how the debate is being perceived by Democratic blog-readers, check out MyDD's post-debate comment string on the topic. Reports by WaPo and the Grey Lady are available here and here. South Carolina's leading rag, The State has a decent wrap-up by Aaron Gould Sheinin. OK, to be fair to MSNBC.com, they do have a pretty good debate wrap-up package here, which includes jazzy candidate response thumbnails you can vote on.

April 26, 2007

Dems Prep for Orangeburg Rumble

You have to surf around to get a good overview of tonight's ((7:00 p.m. est) debate between presidential candidates in Orangeburg, S.C. We'll get you started. First, the format, from MSNBC's 'First Read' reporter Mark Murray:

The State has experts saying that tonight’s debate format will make it difficult for anyone outside the top-tier of candidates to break through. “There will be eight candidates on the stage at 7 p.m. facing 90 minutes of questions from NBC News anchor Brian Williams. There are no opening and closing statements. At most, there will be time for about 12 questions, if each candidate is given one minute to respond to each question.”

Sounds like maybe Brian Williams will be the real winner. The upside of the format from a fairness standpoint is that second tier candidates will get equal time, with no commercials. "Special software designed by the network will keep track of how long each candidate gets on the air to ensure equal time," explains Nedra Pickler in her Associated Press preview.

WaPo's Chris Cilliza has quickie what-to-look for riffs for each candidate in The Fix. A sample:

The Connecticut senator is our dark horse in tonight's debate. He's a fiery speaker who knows that he's got to peel off supporters from Clinton, Obama and Edwards in order to move his numbers. That's a combustible combination that could make Dodd the story of the night. Dodd's strongest weapon? His status as the only Democratic presidential candidate to cosponsor legislation offered by Sens. Russ Feingold (Wisc.) and Harry Reid (Nev.) that would remove funding for the war in Iraq next March. Dodd is also likely to push the frontrunners on specifics as he has touted himself as the candidate of ideas -- most notably on energy policy.

Sam Youngman speculates that hot-button issues, like gun control and abortion will set the tone of the debates in his The Hill post "Dems walk tightrope in S.C. on guns." Youngman sees Dems facing a tough dilemma:

The White House hopefuls will have to address both issues in front of what are essentially two distinct audiences: a national base that leans left on the issues, and a live audience in the crucial state of South Carolina, where Democrats tend to be more socially conservative.

While any candidate would welcome an early victory (Ja. 29) in the South Carolina primary, the debate is nationally-broadcasted, and candidates will surely be playing more to the cameras. Interest in the '08 campaign is substantially higher than usual, according to Pew Research. As the first nationally-broadcast debate (MSNBC), ratings should be high.

April 24, 2007

How Dem Candidates Should Support Gun Control

DLC President Bruce Reed takes on the conventional wisdom that gun control is a 'third rail' for Democrats in his Slate article "It Takes a Bubba: Tougher gun laws are better politics than you think." He argues that the key to successful advocacy of gun control is linking it to crime control, noting in two nut graphs,

The political case for not running for cover on guns is equally straightforward. Unlike most politicians, voters are not ideological about crime. They don't care what it takes, they just want it to go down. The Brady Bill and the clip ban passed because the most influential gun owners in America—police officers and sheriffs—were tired of being outgunned by drug lords, madmen, and thugs.

When Democrats ignore the gun issue, they think about the political bullet they're dodging but not about the opportunity they'll miss. In the 1980s, Republicans talked tough on crime and ran ads about Willie Horton but sat on their hands while the crime rate went up. When Bill Clinton promised to try everything to fight crime—with more police officers on the street, and fewer guns—police organizations dropped their support for the GOP and stood behind him instead.

Reed also thinks Dem strategists have misinterpreted the effect of support for gun control in the 2000 general election:

The current political calculus is that guns cost Gore the 2000 election by denying him West Virginia and his home state of Tennessee. This argument might be more convincing if Gore hadn't essentially carried the gun-mad state of Florida. In some states, the gun issue made it more difficult for Gore to bridge the cultural divide but hardly caused it. Four years ago, Gore and Clinton carried those same states with the same position on guns and the memory of the assault-weapons ban much fresher in voters' minds.

There's more to discuss about Reed's article, and his argument ought to generate some buzz in Democratic circles. After all, lives are very much at stake here, and Democratic inaction in response to the Virginia Tech massacre would compound the tragedy and reflect poorly on our leadership.

April 23, 2007

Frontloaded Primaries Provide Advantages

Chris Bowers has a pair of posts at MyDD in support of frontloaded primaries, and provides a couple of compelling arguments in his first post. Regarding frontloading's longer focus on candidates:

If anything, frontloading and the long campaign are actually good things for our democracy...Giving the public more information on the candidates vying to hold our most important elected office, and more information on those candidates, are also good things for any democracy...

Concerning the financial advantages of frontloading, and who gets them:

...Inexpensive, early states are still just as available to every underfunded, longshot candidates as they ever were. If you have a full year and several million dollars, your inability to break through to 35% of the small caucus and primary electorates in Iowa, where only 50,000 caucus goers would be enough to win, or New Hampshire, where 100,000 primary voters would be enough to win, is not the fault of a corrupted political system. In 2004, even Dennis Kucinich raised $13,000,000, which would be enough to spend over $85 on each of the voters needed to win both states. Don't come cryin' to mama about frontloading, a long campaign, or too much money in the process if you can't win in Iowa or New Hampshire.

In his second post, Bowers provides data from a recent Pew poll showing that voters are already paying a high level of attention to the presidential campaign, thus the argument that there isn't enough time for voters to make thoughtful choices is bogus. Bowers notes further:

This increased public interest in the campaign is matched by the rapidly increasing amount of campaign donors and the number of people attending campaign rallies, both of which are easily on record pace compared to other recent elections.

Bowers predicts:

...significantly higher levels of voter turnout than previous primary/caucus seasons. This also means voters will spend more time, not less, making a decision on who to support. And yes, because of the frontloading, far more people will potentially have a say in who is nominated. Increased turnout, more informed voters, a greatly expanded electorate and increased grassroots activism -- this is why it is a good thing the campaign is receiving so much attention early in the season.

Democratic bloggers and opinion leaders seem to be evenly divided pro and con about frontloading, and it would be interesting to see a poll of rank and file Democrats on the topic. Meanwhile, it's a done deal, and candidates have to factor it into their '08 strategy. The turnout in primaries will be a fair measure for evaluating frontloading, and a Democratic victory in November '08 will make it a permanent part of presidential campaigns.

April 21, 2007

Second-Tier Candidates Redux

With respect to yesterday's post, we missed a good link, actually two good links. We refer you to Edward B. Colby's "Stop the Winnowing Already!" in the Columbia Journalism Review's CJR Daily, which has this to say about the MSM's weak coverage of second-tier candidates:

It is way too early for...narrowing the field. In fact, as Time's Karen Tumulty wrote in a recent blog post, "the media seem to be getting ahead of the voters" already: "What's the hurry, ten months before the first caucus, to winnow the field to a few candidates deemed viable -- say, three at most from each party?" While Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Richardson "are getting all but ignored by the national media," Tumulty wrote, celebrity has defined the leading candidates in the press narrative, while "actual issues" have of course been shortchanged.

2008 is supposed to be the most "wide open" presidential race Americans have seen in eighty years. This election is of crucial importance -- the winner will have to deal with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, massive environmental issues, a staggering deficit, etc. But the country will only get the kind of national debate it desperately needs if the political press resists the time-honored temptation to put the horserace above all else. Cast the media spotlight to the wider field of candidates and let them duke it out for a while. That just might give journalists on the campaign trail better stories, too.

Readers are encouraged to take up the cause and email the editors of the top rags, mags and tube news programs, urging them to report more on the whole field.

April 20, 2007

Media-Dissed Second-Tier Candidates Deserve a Look

With their perspective based on early polls of questionable relevance, the MSM does a lousy job of giving the "second-tier" presidential candidates fair coverage, and niether voters or the democratic process are well-served. As a result most voters probably know more about the most trifling details of the personal lives of "front-runners" Clinton, Obama and Edwards than the policy positions of second-tier candidates Biden, Dodd, Gravel, Kucinich or Richardson.

The Democrats have a strong field competing for the '08 nomination, and the second-tier candidates more than match the front-runners in terms of experience and accomplishments. To find out more about the second tier, who get relatively little ink or face time on TV, voters have to do their own research. Google and Yahoo search engines are great resources for this quest. But time-challenged voters may prefer Wikipedia, which does a surprisingly good job of presenting link-rich political biographies that present both the positive and negative aspects of their respective careers. We'll even save you some typing. Just click on the links below to get up to speed on the second-tier Dems running for President. In reverse alphabetical order:

Bill Richardson

Dennis Kucinich

Mike Gravel

Chris Dodd

Joe Biden

Yes, we know that there have been some problems with accuracy in some Wikipedia entries. But the links in each article provide a handy resource for double-checking controversial statements of fact.

April 19, 2007

How Frontloading, Electoral College Trash Democracy

Our March 23 post tried to provide a balanced perspective on the pro and con arguments with respect to the Feb 5 mega-primary and frontloading of primaries in general. Today we'll just refer you to Hendrik Hertzberg's New Yorker article "Pileup," an exceptionally well-reasoned and well-articulated critique of primary frontloading. Hertzberg notes for example in this truncated excerpt:

This development has two aspects, both of which have been widely deplored. One is the bunching of primaries, which magnifies the need to raise very big money very early, pretty much guarantees that dark horses will stay dark, and makes it harder for someone to enter the race late....For all practical purposes, the primaries disenfranchise voters in “late” states and privilege voters in “early” states, while the general election disenfranchises voters in “spectator” states and privileges voters in “battleground” states. In both cases, the disenfranchised far outnumber the privileged...a schedule that (a) locks up both parties’ nominations in one fell swoop and (b) requires the country to devote two out of every four years to Presidential politicking is completely insane.

Hertzberg also takes a quick shot at an even greater injustice -- the winner-take-all electoral college:

The primaries, of course, are only half the story, and not the more important half. Thanks to the winner-take-all allocation of each state’s electoral votes—another of those informal constitutional amendments nowhere to be found in the parchment—the only voters who count in November are the ones in the dozen or so battleground states.

Help is on the way, explains Hertzberg, in the form of a national movement to render this most archaic of our institutions irrelevant:

...the fledgling National Popular Vote plan—a proposed interstate compact...would confine the electoral college to a ceremonial role, like the Queen of England’s. The idea is that once enough states have signed on to put together a majority of electoral votes, those states agree that their electors will always vote for the winner of the popular vote in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. From that moment, for the first time, Presidential elections would be truly national. Every citizen’s vote would be worth casting, and worth campaigning for, no matter what state it happened to be cast in. Grassroots politics would be worth the trouble everywhere, not just in a dozen swing states. No more red states and blue states, just the red-white-and-blue United States, its Constitution unchanged but its constitution made worthy of a mature democracy.

We're stuck with the primary frontloading for 2008. But there is now a real chance to dump the electoral college and get rid of this rancid abomination forever -- a cause tailor-made for blogosphere leadership and internet activism.

April 18, 2007

Public Opinion on Gun Laws Tracks Crime Rates

Is it OK that a student whose professors and fellow students believed was potentially violent can walk into a store and walk out with a semi-automatic handgun after only a few minutes? Is this right really what "The Framers" meant to protect in the 2nd amendment? Should Dems try to do anything about it? Could any gun control law have stopped the massacre in Blacksburg? These and other tough question surrounding the tragedy at Virginia Tech are being addressed on editorial pages all across the nation.

It's not hard to name presidential candidates of both parties who have staged silly photo-ops to portray themselves as The Great American Hunter. And there is no question that most national and statewide Democratic candidates have dodged the issue in recent years or just rolled over for the NRA. Rep. Jane Harman(D-CA) is not one of those politicians, as she makes clear in her post at TPM Cafe, supporting passage of the the Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act (HR 1022), which would re-enact the ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004.

Up until this latest tragedy, public opinion had turned very slightly against gun control. This CNN post features a video link, "Watch how crime rates affect public support for gun laws" which graphically demonstrates a strong relationship between crime rates and public opinion on gun control. It will be interesting to see where public opinion goes from here --- and how Dems respond.

April 17, 2007

Tax Reform Can Add Leverage to Dem Agenda

For your tax day reading pleasure, Alternet features a trio of articles illuminating the partisan and gender bias that undergirds the tax game and the political spin that keeps it afloat. Start with Lucy Komisar's "How Tax Cheats Are Using Your Money to Fund Republicans," which spotlights the shenanigans of one of the '04 swift boaters and includes such nuggets as:

Every major private banking department offers a product called the "private placement offshore of variable annuities."...According to the IRS, business executives have used such shelters to evade taxes on $8 billion in income. Assume that means "at least." And that's just one swindle in the panoply of tax cheating which the IRS says contributes to the loss of $40 billion to $70 billion a year from individual use and $30 billion from corporate use of tax havens....16.2 percent of the private wealth of North Americans, $1.6 trillion, is held offshore. The overwhelming reason for that is tax evasion.

Komisar also discusses a promising tax reform proposal, Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act (S-681). Moving along, check out Martha Burk's "How the Income Tax System Shortchanges Women," reprinted from MS Magazine. There may be an angle here for Dems looking for ways to mine the gender gap. As Burk explains:

Taxes are something women and men face with unequal pain, let alone gain...For example, a married couple faces a "marriage penalty" if their two incomes are similar and they file a joint return, since the second income (usually the wife's) is taxed at a significantly higher marginal rate than if she filed as an individual. But if a couple forgoes the wife's second income (or if one person's income is appreciably lower), they may pay less as joint filers than they would have as singles (the marriage "bonus"). Both situations can reduce the incentive for a married woman to work outside the home.

Interesting take, and Burk offers five corrective reforms that merit consideration. It takes a lot of spin to to keep an unfair system afloat and it's going to take a lot of reframing to get it fixed. Who better to lay it out than George Lakoff and Bruce Budner, whose "Progressive Taxation: Some Hidden Truths" makes this distinction:

America's government has at least two fundamental functions, protection and empowerment. Protection includes the police, firefighters, emergency services, public health, the military, and so on. Empowerment includes the infrastructure needed for business and everyday life: roads, communications systems, water supplies, public education, the banking system for loans and economic stability, the SEC for the stock market, the courts for enforcing contracts, air traffic control, support for basic science, our national parks and public buildings, and more. We are usually aware of protection. But the empowerment infrastructure, provided by taxes, is usually taken for granted, hidden, or ignored. Yet it is absolutely crucial, a fundamental truth about America and why America provides opportunity...This is a basic truth. That is what framing should be about: revealing truths and allowing us to reason using them.

A little wonky, but interesting nonetheless. Lakoff and Budner bring it home nicely:

Taxes provide and maintain the protecting and empowering infrastructure that makes our income possible.

Our tax forms hide this truth. They do not indicate the extent to which taxes have created and sustained the common wealth so you could earn what you have. They make it look like the empowering infrastructure was just put there by magic and that the government is taking money out of your pocket. The most likely truth is that, through the common wealth, America put more money in your pocket than it took out -- by far.

But this situation is threatened by conservative tax policy. Through unfair cuts in taxes paid by the wealthy, through payment for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and through borrowing abroad to pay for the tax cuts and Iraq, the common wealth is being drained and the infrastructure allowed to fall apart. We need to return to a fair tax policy that recognizes financial responsibility incurred by the compound use of America's empowering infrastructure.

We'll leave it to the politicians to boil it all down to manageable sound-bites and catchy slogans. Now, better get to the post office.

April 15, 2007

Centrist Gains in Evangelical Movement May Help Dems

Is the evangelical movement evolving into more of a bipartisan force? Frances Fitzgerald thinks so and presents a persuasive case for this viewpoint in her New York Review of Books article "The Evangelical Surprise." This trend has been noted before, but Fitzgerald does a particularly good job of bringing it all together and up to date. Fitzgerald explains:

Statistically, the extreme conservatism of the traditionalists skews the picture of the community as a whole. In fact, "modernist" evangelicals—defined as those who go to church infrequently and don't hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible—have more liberal views on all issues, including abortion and gay rights, than the American population as a whole, but there are relatively very few of them. "Centrists," or those who fall somewhere in the theological middle and make up almost half of all evangelicals, are no more conservative than Americans generally except on abortion and gay rights, and even on these issues they are far more moderate than the traditionalists.[9] In other words, half of the evangelical population doesn't see eye to eye with the other half. In the future the division may become more acute because while the Christian right leaders have become more ambitious and more aggressive as a result of their victories, centrist leaders have, for the first time, begun to assert themselves.

Fitzgerald discusses a number of surprisingly liberal initiatives launched by moderate evangelical leaders, including some that should make Republicans a little nervous about their base. One example:

In October 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization of denominations and churches that claims thirty million members, issued a position paper laying out ten principles for Christian political engagement. The document, "For the Health of the Nation," called upon evangelicals to seek justice for the poor, to protect human rights, to seek peace, and to protect God's creation—as well as to protect the sanctity of human life and nurture families. Carefully drawn up so as not to provoke right-wing opposition, the document gave official sanction to the efforts of the more progressive leaders to move, at a national level, beyond both the religious right agenda and the traditional evangelical approach to good works.

Fitzgerald quotes John Giles, president of Christian Action Alabama, in defining key wedge issues that can break the GOP's leverage with evangelicals:

We can all unite around a few core issues, such as abortion, pornography and gambling," he said. "But when you start talking about global warming, the minimum wage or the death penalty, the consensus breaks down."...Dobson and Perkins have said much the same thing.

If Fitzgerald is right, the widening political fissures in the evangelical movement are an invitation to Democratic strategists looking to mine potential sources of new support.

April 13, 2007

Responding to GOP Diss of Dems As 'Elitist'

Bill Maher has a Salon post on the Administration's mediocrity/incompetence fetish that provides more belly laughs per column inch than anything you're likely to find on the internet today. A sample (excerpted for brevity) from Maher's riff on Monica Goodling's educational qualifications for her post overseeing the job performance of 95 U.S. attorneys:

I'm not kidding, Pat Robertson, the man who said gay people at DisneyWorld would cause "earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor," has a law school. It's called Regent...U.S. News and World Report, which does the definitive ranking of colleges, lists Regent as a tier-four school, which is the lowest score it gives. It's not a hard school to get into. You have to renounce Satan and draw a pirate on a matchbook.

Maher's larger point is that the GOP is forever blasting Democrats for being 'elitists,' while they staff high-level government posts with empty suits. "The problem here in America," notes Maher "isn't that the country is being run by elites. It's that it's being run by a bunch of hayseeds." Not a bad one-liner retort for progressives, when slimed with the GOP's "elitist" critique in political debates, although it might be better to substitute "dimwits" for hayseeds, since these numbskulls come from everywhere. More chuckles await readers at Maher's post. Go there and grin.

April 12, 2007

Suburban Poverty Growth May Alter Dem Strategy

Eyal Press has an article in The Nation, "The New Suburban Poverty," noting a demographic milestone that should elicit the attention of Democratic campaign strategists:

For the first time ever, more poor Americans live in the suburbs than in all our cities combined.

The implications for political strategy in federal, state and local elections are substantial. In terms of policy, it means elected officials and political aspirants will have to rethink the delivery of needed social services to less dense areas. Funding those services adequately will be an increasing concern in the years ahead, especially for the growing number of middle class families who have fled the cities, expecting lower property taxes.

In terms of election strategy, Party leaders and candidates will have to rethink everthing from redistricting to GOTV logistics. It also requires some mental housecleaning regarding existing stereotypes of suburban life, as Press notes:

Stories of downward mobility in America's suburbs have not exactly cluttered the headlines over the past decade. Gated communities of dream homes, mansions ringed by man-made lakes and glass-cube office parks: These are the images typically evoked by the posh, supersized subdivisions built during the 1990s technology boom. Low-wage jobs, houses under foreclosure, families unable to afford food and medical care are not. But venture beyond the city limits of any major metropolitan area today, and you will encounter these things, in forms less concentrated--and therefore less visible--than in the more blighted pockets of our cities perhaps, but with growing frequency all the same.

And it's not just the inner 'burbs, as Press explains:

Last December the Brookings Institution published a report showing that from Las Vegas to Boise to Houston, suburban poverty has been growing over the past seven years, in some places slowly, in others by as much as 33 percent. "The enduring social and fiscal challenges for cities that stem from high poverty are increasingly shared by their suburbs," the report concludes. It's a problem some may assume is confined to the ragged fringes of so-called "inner ring" suburbs that directly border cities, places where the housing stock is older and from which many wealthier residents long ago departed. But this isn't the case. "Overall...first suburbs did not bear the brunt of increasing suburban poverty in the early 2000s," notes the Brookings report, which found that economic distress has spread to "second-tier suburbs and 'exurbs'" as well.

Savvy demographic and polical analysts have seen this trend coming for a while. Still, the milestone should ring a few bells in the war rooms of Democratic political campaigns. We'll resist the temptation to quote more of Press's excelent article -- a must-read for those who want a more realistic vision of America's political geography.

April 9, 2007

Dems Gain on '08 Congress Vote, Security Image

Republicans hoping that their long slide into public disfavor had hit rock bottom have been sorely disappointed by a DCorps survey of LV's conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner 3/20-25. The DCorps poll found that Dems now enjoy a 14 point advantage among LV's asked to state their preference "if the election were held today" for a named Dem congressional candidate vs. a generic GOP opponent. This is the highest margin recorded since November and double the margin reported in 2006. And, in districts that switched parties in '06, the margin favoring Dems was an astounding 35 percent. The GOP's image as the best party for "keeping people safe" is looking a little ragged as well. Asked which party "you associate more" with "security and keeping people safe," respondents chose the GOP by a margin of 6 percent -- down from 17 percent. The DCorps survey, which was conducted between the House of Reps passage of the Iraq Supplemental Spending Bill and the Senate's version, also found strong support for troop reductions. But respondents were "fairly divided" on the pace of withdrawall, with 49 percent concerned that Republicans will "wait too long" and 45 percent worried that "Democrats will leave Iraq too quickly."

April 8, 2007

Will 'Identity Voters' Decide '08 Outcome?

Jeffrey Feldman's post "Frameshop: The Identity Voter" at his website frameshopisopen.com sheds light on an elusive group Democratic campaigns may need to consider in developing strategy. Feldman defines the identity voter thusly:

A person who chooses to support a political candidate primarily for the social and cultural aspects of the person (e.g., gender, race, geography, class, etc.), and only secondarily if at all for the policies of the politician.

It would be difficult to come up with a meaningful estimate of how many identity voters there are in the U.S., since many would not like to admit that issues and policy are not their top priorities. Yet we probably all know a few identity voters.

It's not as simple as supporting candidates who have the voter's background, as Feldman explains:

Being an identity voter does not mean, of course, voting for a candidate who is the same identity as oneself. Blacks vote for blacks, women for women, whites for whites--this would be more a form of mechanistic political tribalism than identity voting.

...There are, in other words, plenty of white identity voters, for example, who will support Barack Obama "because he is African-America" and plenty of male identity voters who will support Hillary Clinton "because she is a woman."

Feldman could have added middle class liberals who support Edwards because they like his working class background, or WASPs who like Richards because they want to see more Hispanic leadership. Feldman sees both good and bad sides to identity voting -- good that more Democratic voters are open to greater diversity of candidates, but bad that issues and policy are subordinate or worse, distant priorities.

Because of the diversity of the field of Democratic presidential candidates, Feldman believes that identity voters may play an unprecedented role in determining the '08 outcome. If he's right, the Democratic ticket will be challenged to craft an appeal to identity voters that doesn't alienate those who vote for different reasons -- not an easy task. (The first chapter of Feldman's new book "Framing the Debate," appears in today's New York Times Sunday Book Review and a review of the book appears here.)

Meanwhile, Dems should vigorously deploy a grand strategy directed at all voters. In his book "Being Right Is Not Enough," Democratic strategist Paul Waldman argues, for example, that Dem candidates must above all communicate character and values to voters, with policy and "framing" serving as tools to support this greater goal. Candidates who master this challenge will likely win the support of most identity voters, since good character and values are respected in all cultures.

April 7, 2007

Republican Leader Shows Integrity

Knew that headline would get your attention. We speak here of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who last Thursday approved a measure to restore voting rights to an estimated 950,000 Floridian ex-felons, about 9 percent of the voting-age population of the Sunshine State. Crist's initiative has political observers scratching their heads. How much of a political impact could it have? Salon's Farhad Manjoo puts it this way:

The ex-cons belong to traditionally Democratic demographics -- many are African-American, and many are poor. If they're allowed to vote, they'll likely go to the polls at lower rates than everyone else; Uggen and Manza's work suggests felons turn out to vote at about the half the general turnout rate in any given election. But in a state as closely divided politically as Florida, that could still make all the difference. In the past several decades, say Uggen and Manza, at least two Senate races in Florida would have gone to Democrats instead of Republicans had felons had the right to vote. Buddy McKay would have beaten Connie Mack in 1988, and Betty Castor would have beaten Mel Martinez in 2004. And, of course, the 2000 presidential election would have gone to Al Gore. Uggen and Manza's research suggests Gore might have picked up 60,000 votes from felons......if the state's ex-cons had been allowed to vote in 2000, George W. Bush would now be the commissioner of baseball.

Also check out Nancy Scola's take on the topic at MyDD, "Felon Enfranchisement: Florida Vs. Rhode Island," which puts the movement to restore voting rights to America's ex felons in perspective.

April 6, 2007

Dem Strength Shows in Generic Poll

Horse-race polls will get more interesting in September when voters pay increased attention. In evaluating the Party's preparedness for a full-scale campaign, the Dems overall political image looks very good. Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal reports, for example, that a new Diageo-Hotline survey shows a generic Dem candidate leads a generic GOP candidate 47%-29% in a white house '08 matchup.

Blumenthal's link-rich article also provides some instructive insights about how generic candidate polls work, along with this thoughtful appraisal of their limitations:

...This far out, I believe that a generic vote question tells us mostly about the way voters perceive the national political parties. While those images apparently give the Democrats a huge early advantage - a finding that is certainly informative about the voters' current attitudes - the ultimate nominees of each party and their campaign messages will likely reshape those images. So, for my money, the generic vote remains something of questionable value in tracking where the race will be in 18 months.

Very true about the limited predictive value, and same goes for candidate horse-race polls this far out. But any poll that gives Dems an 18 percent advantage with voters is welcome news in assessing the Party's image, which needs to be strong if Dems want an '08 sweep. Now it would be interesting to see polls showing which themes are resonating with those who prefer a generic Democrat and which motivate those favoring Republicans.

April 4, 2007

Strategy Articles Challenge Dems

The first hump-day in April yields a trio of blogosphere articles of interest to political strategy-watchers. Start with the buzz about DLC Chair Harold Ford's pitch for Democratic consensus on a half-dozen key issues at TPM Cafe, and the broad range of friendly and hostile reactions to his overture. (New Donkey Ed Kilgore fleshes out Ford's proposal, and a progressives have at it.) The tone of discussion around Ford's proposals gets a little strident on both sides, but, hey, that's what Dems do.

Over at Slate, Joshua Glen has a provocative review article on Stephen Duncombe's book 'Dream.' Glen's review, entitled "Grand Theft Politics: Should Democrats look to video games for inspiration?" has this to say about the state of progressive activism:

In a new book, Dream, NYU media professor and political activist Stephen Duncombe laments that progressives have become … well, tedious. The people who built the New Deal and led the civil rights struggle are now engaging in old-fashioned, top-down political practices. These days, whether you attend a rally, sign a petition, or forward a MoveOn e-mail, it can be a disempowering experience. Duncombe is not contemptuous of the traditional anti-war demonstrations against Iraq, but, he argues, obscured within these and other well-intended political actions is "a philosophy of passive political spectatorship: they organize, we come; they talk, we listen."

It does sometimes seem as if the day when big progressive demos were influential has come and gone, and the GOP is nowadays more imaginative with their political "spectacles." On the other hand, there is probably more creative grassroots activism going on now than ever before through netroots projects, which have proven to be quite effective, judging by the '06 elections.

Rob Richie and Ryan O'Donnell report on an innovative effort at electoral reform in their TomPaine.com article, "Making the Popular Vote a Winner." The authors explain how the new initiative works:

Today most states give their electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote, but they could just as easily award them to the national vote winner in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. If a group of states representing a majority of the Electoral College entered into a binding agreement to do so, then the nationwide popular vote winner would achieve an Electoral College victory every time.

...The National Popular Vote compact will go into effect only if in July of a presidential election year the number of participating states collectively have a majority of at least 270 electoral votes. At that point, the compact is triggered, with states accepting a blackout period during which they cannot withdraw from the agreement until the new president takes office. That new president is guaranteed to be the candidate who won the most votes from Americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

National Popular Vote has had remarkable success since going public in February 2006. California 's Assembly and Senate in California passed the plan in 2006, as did the Colorado Senate, Hawaii Senate and Arkansas House this year. Nationally nearly 300 state legislators representing nearly every state have sponsored the plan or pledged to do so.

...While it's unlikely that enough states will be on board by next July to affect the 2008 election, we think it will be the last state-by-state election for president in our history. It couldn't come any sooner. In today's climate of partisan polarization, the current system shuts out most of the country from meaningful participation by turning naturally "purple" states into simple "red" and "blue."

Sounds like a plan which could prevent a replay of the 2000 debacle, and that's a good thing.

April 3, 2007

Medical Marijuana Reforms Gaining Ground With Dems

Presidential candidates, including Democrats, have historically been a little gun-shy when it comes to supporting liberalization of archaic drug laws. That may soon change, thanks to Governor Bill Richardson, who just signed into law a bill making New Mexico the 12th state to protect patients using medical marijuana from arrest. The other states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Asked by the Associated Press about the political risk involved, Richardson replied "So what if it's risky? It's the right thing to do...This is for medicinal purpose, for ... people that are suffering. My God, let's be reasonable."

It's not likely that Richardson's presidential campaign will suffer as a result. Opinion polls taken in the 21st century indicate that between 70 and 80 percent of the public supports protecting medical marijuana users from arrest. Indeed, the interesting question is whether Richardson may win votes as a result. Federal government statistics indicate that 80 million Americans admit they have smoked marijuana, 20 million during the last year.

Yet more than 5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses during the last decade, 90 percent for simple possession. About 700,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses during the last year. As former President Jimmy Carter has said "Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use." In singing the legislation, Richardson may have enhanced his image as a practical problem-solver. Democratic Presidential candidates John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich have said they oppose arresting and jailing patients who use medical marijuana, as did former Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry. Kucinich supports decriminalization of marijuana smoking. Senators Obama and Clinton have no information about their positions on medical marijuana on their web pages. Former President Clinton came out in favor of decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2000, softening his previous hard line position against medical marijuana.

April 2, 2007

Communications Skills May Trump Policy With Most Swing Voters

Democratic communications consultant John Neffinger has an interesting piece at the HuffPo on the power of communications skills to trump positions on the issues, especially with swing voters. Riffing on a recent post by Slate's chief political correspondent John Dickerson pooh poohing the candidacy of former Senator Fred Thompson, Neffinger makes a convincing argument that Dems who think issues positions are more important for winning elections than communication skills are courting defeat. Neffinger cites three studies to back his argument and says:

...Swing voters by definition are not strongly committed to the policy views of one side or the other. For many of them, compelling language and policy positions are as important for how they shape their feelings about the candidate as they are for their own virtues. (Just to be clear, no one is disputing that sound ideas are critical to governing well. We're just talking about getting elected.)

Is this scary? Sure. Unwelcome? Clearly. Contrary to everything we ever learned about democracy, from kindergarten through the Federalist Papers? Absolutely. And even though it can work in our favor too (e.g., Bill Clinton), it is profoundly dispiriting, to say the least, to realize how unhinged the process is from the issues that ultimately matter in governing.

But better to face that reality now, while we can still do something about it, than to place our faith in the fairy-tale version of democracy and be left grasping for excuses after we lose.

Neffinger notes the irony that the 'party of science' ignores studies that show how voters make their choices, while the 'party of faith' takes it very much into their political calculations:

Democrats feel wronged when swing voters let emotion cloud their view of reality, but our side often doesn't grasp the reality of how swing voters make up their minds because we can't get past our own emotional attachment to the power of ideas. We accuse swing voters of voting capriciously, irrationally, but if we were only rational ourselves, we could easily see why they do.

In fact, unlike blinkered Democrats, in some ways swing voters are acting perfectly rationally by voting with their gut (yet another irony, if you're still counting). For voters who don't pay close attention to issues, it's not easy to figure out which positions are best (not least because conservative think tanks and media do an excellent job at muddying the waters of debates democrats would otherwise win). So what can a casual voter do? Go with what they know. Every day they make judgments about people they interact with, size 'em up, trust their instincts. So they use the same method to pick a candidate.

Most Democrats old enough to remember Reagan's first campaigns will recall how he was dismissed by many Dems who said "Oh come on. He's an actor," or something similar. Large groups of voters screwed by Reagan again and again still voted to re-elect him, beyond all reason. Let's not make the same mistaken assumptions about Thompson.