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The Daily Strategist

February 26, 2015

Republican Courting Disaster on Education, Part I



Aside from the big New Deal entitlements of Social Security and Medicare, and of course national defense, the government functions most popular among Americans involve public education. Republicans, following radical conservative thinking on education, are increasingly tempted to take an ideological bender into direct attacks on public education, particularly when their lower-tax and less-government agenda forces them to find large areas of the public sector to cut. This week I've noted two examples of this dynamic. The first, involving higher education, was at TPMCafe:

Some high-profile Republican governors and legislative leaders are in a particularly deep hole of their own making, and are taking on the state version of the political "third rail" by attacking higher education spending.

There are plenty of reasons why higher ed is an unusually tough place to cut, varying from the power of alumni to football and basketball and the perceived economic payoff of a good state university system. Still, during the depths of the Great Recession, virtually all states cut higher ed subsidies, which non-coincidentally produced a large wave of tuition increases. But some cut more than others, and are doing less to replace lost funding now that the economy's doing better. Only eight states failed to increase per student higher ed spending in Fiscal Year 2014: Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Louisiana, West Virginia and Wyoming. And now in 2015 it generates headlines when significant higher education cuts are proposed, as in Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Louisiana.

You may note that these are all states with highly ideological Republican state administrations and legislatures. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback narrowly survived a reelection challenge focused on his credit-damaging tax cuts and unpopular education cuts; now, with little to lose, he's back for more. In North Carolina, a state often matched with Kansas as a deliberate conservative policy experiment station, state legislators (guided by a conservative think tank founded by highly influential billionaire Art Pope) are seeking shutdowns in ideologically unfavored parts of the university system.

And two Republican governors who are clearly running for president are distinguishing themselves in this areas as well. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal has fought with his own Republican state legislature over tax and education policy, and is now seeking heavy higher ed cuts to deal with a large budget shortfall attributed equally to his fiscal mismanagement and to lower oil prices. And Wisconsin's Scott Walker, having signed a $541 million tax cut package last year, is now pursuing $300 million in higher ed cuts, amounting to 13% of state aid to the university system.

What makes the new round of cut proposals interesting, particularly in North Carolina and Wisconsin, is that they are being justified on culture-war grounds, not just a matter of fiscal priorities.

This is clearest in North Carolina, where the most discussed cuts involve "liberal" centers attached to the university system that engage in advocacy work (as noted by the New York Times' Richard Fausset):

An advisory panel of the University of North Carolina's Board of Governors has recommended closing three academic centers, including a poverty center and one dedicated to social change, inciting outrage among liberals who believe that conservatives in control of state government are targeting ideological opponents in academia.

Conservatives are cheering the move, seeing it as a corrective to a higher education system they believe has lent its imprimatur to groups that engage in partisan activism.

"They're moving in the right direction, though I don't think they went far enough," said Francis X. De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh. "A lot of these centers were started up with a specific advocacy role in mind, as opposed to an educational role."

The full name of the Civitas Institute, by the way, is the John William Pope Civitas Institute. There are persistent rumors that Republicans want to crown his hostile takeover of the state by making him president of the University of North Carolina. You'd think conservatives would let the recently deceased Hall of Fame coach and progressive Dean Smith get settled in his grave first, but you never know.

Meanwhile, Walker has given an ideological edge to his own higher ed cuts by seeking to modify the mission statement of the university system to make it clear its job is workforce development for the state's fine corporations, not any liberal guff about "truth" or "service." He's since backed off on that proposal, but is at the same time making it clear he wants the cuts to lead to layoffs or longer hours for faculty, not tuition increases. His combative posture towards the academic circles long deplored by conservatives as a source of "liberal brainwashing" has fed a separate controversy over Walker's lack of a college degree (he dropped out of Marquette University late in his senior year to take a job). Only one prominent Democrat--Howard Dean--has made an issue of this as a problem for Walker's presidential aspirations, but dozens, maybe hundreds, of conservative voices have been raised in angry denunciation of "liberal elites" aligned with self-serving liberal academia.

Democrats should respond to such budget-driven risky gambits by Republicans by not taking the bait on culture-war attacks and instead noting the importance of public higher education at a time when parents and students are struggling to pay high tuitions, not to mention their affect on the long-rate economic prospects of the communities they serve. Nobody should care whether Scott Walker finished college. They should care if he's trying to limit the educational opportunities of the people of his state.


Political Strategy Notes



From President Obama's remarks at a Miami Town Hall, as reported by Mollie Reilly at HuffPo: "In the last election, a little over one-third of eligible voters voted. One-third! Two-thirds of the people who have the right to vote -- because of the struggles of previous generation, had the right to vote -- stayed home. I'm willing to bet that there are young people who have family members who are at risk of the existing immigration system who still didn't vote."..."Why are you staying at home?" Obama said. "Why are you not participating? There are war-torn countries, people full of poverty, who still voted 60, 70 percent. If here in the United States of America, we voted at 60 percent, 70 percent, it would transform our politics. Our Congress would be completely different. We would have already passed comprehensive immigration reform."

Apparently the Republicans are having a taste of their own meds, instead of the cakewalk they were expecting in the Senate, according to "Senate Democrats Show Limits of GOP Spending Strategy," by Tamar Hallerman and Niels Lesniewski at The Hill.

New Republican front-runner and Koch brothers errand boy Scott Walker prepares to deliver another crushing blow to unions --- and middle class living standards.

"Do you believe in evolution or not?" A 49% plurality of Republicans said they do not," reports Steve Benen at Maddowblog. He adds a quote from Paul Krugman: "For some time now it has been impossible to be a good Republicans while believing in the reality of climate change; now it's impossible to be a good Republican while believing in evolution." This is the party that wants to lead America into the information age of the 21st century?

NYT columnist Ross Douthat sets a new standard in windy false equivalency analysis, yet another denial of the GOP's animosity toward an African American president who dares to oppose their policies.

At Sabato's Crystal Ball Kyle Kondik reports "Ultimately, there are just 25 seats listed...where there is a consensus among Democrats and Republicans that the races should be competitive, and we're not even sure we'd go that far: Several of the seats the Crystal Ball has already categorized as Likely for one side or the other, so it is not obvious to us that they will be competitive. Another appears in the Crystal Ball as Safe Democratic (IL-17, held by Rep. Cheri Bustos). More races will obviously come into play, and remember that the Democrats have more Republican targets to unveil. However, there's little reason to expect at this point that more than about 50-60 seats -- and probably fewer -- will be truly competitive in the general election. That's barely more than a tenth of all 435 House seats."

"Why are Democrats suddenly cheering in Ohio? (+video): Ted Strickland, a Democrat and former Ohio governor, announced Wednesday he's taking on GOP Sen. Rob Portman. That will be a marquee Senate race in a cycle with lots of opportunities for Democrats," reports Linda Feldman at The Monitor.

Paige Lavender reports on the "Middle Class Prosperity Project" being launched by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Republicans get told raw by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. Jill Bond reports at Blue Nation Review:


February 25, 2015

The Possibilities and Limits of the 50 State Strategy



The second part of Le Champignon's Daily Kos post "Democrats wise up, return to 50 State Strategy" addresses the core concern of the title and opens with this observation:

The 50 State Strategy was never intended to install progressives in deep-red districts and states. This simply isn't going to happen. There's no reason for these states to vote for a local progressive if they won't vote for a non-local progressive (i.e., our president). Sure, there are exceptions. I can see why West Virginians, dependent on the extraction industry as they are, would not vote for someone who was a staunch supporter of the EPA, but would vote for a local Democrat who was progressive to the core except on environmental issues.

I agree, but have to wonder if perhaps the term "50 State Strategy" is therefore a little misleading. No doubt there is progress Dems can make in all 50 states, but at a certain point we have to marshall and direct our resources to where they can be most effective.

Le Champ cites some of the exceptional Democratic senate candidates, like Jon Tester, Jim Webb and Ray Manchin, who won in red/purple states, and there are surely many more House candidates who could be named. We should always make allowances and provide resources for good candidates who pop up in unlikely places.

In formulating overall strategy however, Dems don't have the resources to compete fully everywhere. Spreading our money and manpower too thin can deny victory to our candidates who have the best chances to win. There's no avoiding these hard choices. Let's build the Democratic parties of all 50 states, but let's concentrate our resources where we have the best chances.

Some of our best state-wide candidates like Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Wendy Davis in Texas lost in 2014, providing hard lessons about Democratic limitations, especially in mid term elections. The surprisingly large margins of their respective defeats suggest Democratic resources would be more productively invested elsewhere, at least in the short term and in the next mid-term elections. Yet, the demographic dynamics in TX and GA offer some hope that the "tipping point" for defeating the GOP is coming before too long.

Le Champignon concludes with a note of realistic optimism:

The point I'm trying to make is this. The 50 State Strategy is good. It entails us competing in districts we probably shouldn't be competing in. But these cries of apostasy have to stop, unless they're truly deserved (McCaskill, Manchin.. I'm looking at you). We will not compete in every state and district with the hope of winning them, or with the hope of "party building" or what-have-you. We won't be electing progressives to many of these positions.

But we'll be electing Democrats. And that's a good thing. Let's pick our battles carefully. Let's win the midterm of 2018, which is going to be the most important election we'll ever see. Let's win seats at the table for redistricting by electing governors, secretaries of state, legislators, and so forth. And then, when we have better maps in place, and when states like Arizona and Texas have moved further towards us, then let's try to elect progressives.

So for now, let's pick a half-dozen states where a significant infusion of resources in candidate training, campaigns and voter turnout can produce disproportionately beneficial results in a shorter time frame. Some obvious choices for the top tier include FL, NC, CO, WI, VA and MO, and good cases can be made for a few others. When these states are firmly on track, the case for a broader 50 state investment becomes more cost-effective. At the same time let's keep eyeballs peeled for promising candidates in less likely places --- and make sure they don't lose for want of resources.


Towards a Welcoming 'Big Tent' --- That Can Win Elections



A Daily Kos blogger with the handle "Le Champignon" has a post "Democrats Wise Up, Return to 50 State Strategy," which provides a pitch for unity with a diss for "pet causes...to the exclusion of everything else." The post has stimulated an interesting discussion (see comments) about the relative merits of 'big tent' inclusiveness vs. a more 'purist' progressive vision. Further,

We need to be the Coalition of the Dispossessed. We are the groups who are marginalized by sexist men, by racist whites, by homophobic straight cis people, by the uncaring rich, by the supremely powerful, by the untouchable military industrial complex, and by companies whose only purpose is profit over people. We are those who need to be helped, who have been wronged by society, and who haven't gotten a fair shake. That above all should be our rallying cry. And we should show solidarity to everyone under our banner. Feminists should look into union issues. Gay rights activists should care about disastrous free-trade agreements. Our race leaders need to look into fair taxation policies. In short, we must be as ideologically diverse as our coalition. We must be united.

A worthy insight and a good starting point for a dialogue about rallying around a central theme. But I wish Champ had explicitly included the struggling white working class or lower middle class whites, whatever you want to call it. This large, but frequently-overlooked constituency should have a welcome place in the big, inclusive tent, if we are ever going to secure a working majority that can beat back filibusters and override vetoes as needed.

But let's never disparage the "pet causes" of any of the constituent groups. That's their raison d'ĂȘtre, and failure to respect it as such can only lead to further disunity and defeat. Each and every constituency in the big tent should find ways of supporting fellow Democratic coalition groups, to the extent possible. MLK said it well in 1967:

The art of alliance politics is more complex and more intricate than it is generally pictured....A true alliance is based upon some self-interest of each component group and a common interest into which they merge. For an alliance to have permanence and loyal commitment from its various elements, each of them must have a goal from which it benefits and none must have an outlook in basic conflict with the others.

If we employ the principle of selectivity along these lines, we will find millions of allies who in serving themselves also support us, and on such sound foundations unity and mutual trust and tangible accomplishment will flourish.

Mutual respect between constituent groups, as well as unity around a central message, is the glue that will bind a successful Democratic Party coalition. That's the path of a pragmatically-progressive Democratic Party focused on victory.


February 24, 2015

Game On -- Battle for State Legislatures Begins



Emma Roller has some very good news in her National Journal post "Can Democrats Ever Win Back State Legislatures? One group is putting $70 million on it happening in the next five years."

The bad news is it's going to take some time. As Roller puts it, "Caring about the 2016 presidential race is so over; now all the cool kids are watching 2020...Since 2008, Democrats have lost control of 30 state legislative chambers--totaling 910 seats--and 11 governorships." Further,

...Today, Republicans control 68 out of the country's 99 state legislative chambers--every state has two chambers except for Nebraska. That's nearly 70 percent of the total. So, how feasible is it for Democrats to regain the seats that they lost, in districts that (they argue) have been tailor-drawn for Republicans' benefit?.

The better news:

Now, one group--the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee--is striking out with an ambitious goal to win many of those state legislature seats back over the next five years. Back in August, the DLCC launched Advantage 2020, a super PAC devoted to rebuilding Democratic power at the state level with the goal of eventually holding the crayons in 2021, when states will redraw congressional district lines.

It's a quixotic mission, given that many Republican legislatures redrew the maps in 2011 specifically to ensure their party's continued electoral victory. Still, with the right combination of timing, recruiting, outreach, funding, and dumb luck, Democrats might actually be able to recoup some of their losses.

...The group projects it will spend $70 million on state-level races over the next five years and plans to focus its efforts on six states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia. Those states, which draw the lines for 94 congressional seats, are all Republican-controlled at the state level, yet all favored President Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012.

Dems are hoping that next two presidential elections in combination with favorable demographic winds and the DLCC plan will overpower the Republican's expected gains in the 2018 midterm elections. Roller adds:

For the DLCC, there is a silver lining to the swell of victory Republicans saw at the state level in 2010: term limits. Lawmakers in three of Advantage 2020's six target states--Ohio, Michigan, and Florida--are term-limited, meaning that many of the seats will be wide open in five years.

All of the usual caveats apply. But Democrats should be encouraged by what appears to be an enhanced commitment to take the fight to the state legislatures.


Creamer: IL Gov Cuts His Taxes by $750K, Slashes Services for Working Families



The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," is cross-posted from HuffPo:

Illinois' new GOP Governor, Bruce Rauner, will personally receive a $750,000 per year tax cut as a result of his decision not to continue the state's temporary 1.25% income tax surcharge that expired last year.

His taxes were cut by an amount equal to the annual income of 14 families of four making the median income. And remember that after adjusting for inflation, that median income number has not materially increased in about 35 years, since virtually all of the income growth resulting from the massive increase in worker productivity over that period has been siphoned off by speculators like Rauner.

Rauner, who made $61 million in 2013 - or $29,000 per hour - is one of a small group of multi-millionaire speculators who would directly benefit enormously from lower state tax rates. Among them is his friend Ken Griffin, reputedly the wealthiest man in Illinois, who contributed $2.5 million to Rauner's campaign for Governor - and has also pitched in $10 million to a $20 million campaign war chest that Rauner plans to use to run opponents to members of the Legislature that oppose his policies.

Griffin and his soon-to-be former wife, Anne Dias Griffin, are involved in a high profile multi-million dollar divorce battle. He and Dias are fighting over the control of tens of millions of dollars.

One filing by Dias, quoted by CNBC, gives you a flavor:

Dias said she and their children have come to "enjoy a lifestyle reserved only for the very wealthy," including houses in Chicago, Aspen, Hawaii, Miami Beach and New York. They also have "unrestricted access" to two private jets "to travel to the aforementioned homes" as well as other destinations.

She said the family has a "large group of staff members assisting the family, including extensive household, security and family office employees," and their own company that employs staffers, called "Griffin Family Services."

Dias is asking a million dollars a month -- $12 million a year -- in child support. That's right, $12 million per year in child support - you can't make this stuff up.

Just by way of comparison, remember that a highway worker for the state of Illinois who makes an average income of $49,000 a year laying hot asphalt and filling pot holes, would take about 244 years to make $12 million. But Griffin's pal, Rauner, says he wants to cut the pay for such workers - claiming they make too much and should be paid something closer to the $39,000 a year he says they make in surrounding states.

None of this seems to bother Rauner one bit, since at the same time he and his friends get that big tax cut, Rauner's new state budget promises draconian cuts in services that benefit the middle class and the poor.

Rauner proposed six billion dollars in cuts for state spending on universities, health care, local governments and pensions for state employees.

Here are some high points:

  • Limiting eligibility for Department of Aging Community Care Programs.
  • Cutting health care benefits for homecare workers.
  • Slashing funding for the Department of Children and Family Services.
  • Eliminating all Department of Children and Family services for youths 18-21.
  • Cutting adult dental and podiatry services as well as kidney transplants for undocumented children.
  • Eliminating exemptions for drugs for severe mental illness from a state 4-prescription limit.
  • Reducing payments to facilities for children on ventilators, supportive living facilities and children with severe mental illness.
  • Cutting Medicaid spending by1.5 billion - including735 million in cuts to hospitals serving Medicaid patients.
  • Eliminating assistance to families with Hemophilia.
  • Freezing intakes on childcare for children over 6.
  • Increasing childcare copays for working parents.
  • $27.5 million in reductions to community substance abuse programs.
  • $82 million reduction to community mental health programs.

Continue reading "Creamer: IL Gov Cuts His Taxes by $750K, Slashes Services for Working Families " »


Politico Report on Gallup Poll Emits Whiff of Partisanship



We don't hide our partisan leanings here at TDS, but we reserve the right to call out media which profess nonpartisanship, but appear to practice otherwise. Kendall Breitman's report, "Gallup poll: Democrats losing sympathy for Israel" at Politico provides an example.

Lydia Saad's Gallup post, "Seven in 10 Americans Continue to View Israel Favorably" reports on the 2/8-11 poll Breitman references:

A key reason Americans' sympathy for Israel has solidified at a sizable majority level is that Republicans' support for the Jewish state has increased considerably, rising from 53% in 2000 to more than 80% since 2014 -- with just 7% choosing the Palestinian Authority. A particularly large jump in GOP sympathy for Israel occurred in the first few years after 9/11 and at the start of the 2003 Iraq War.

Democrats' support for Israel has also risen since 2000, but not quite as sharply as Republicans'. Additionally, the percentage of Democrats sympathizing with Israel fell 10 points this year to 48%, possibly reflecting the tension between Obama and Netanyahu...The percentage of Democrats viewing Israel favorably is also down, currently at 60%, vs. 74% a year ago. Positive views of the Palestinian Authority are fairly scarce, but no lower than they have been in recent years.

Saad's report does not reveal exactly how the questions were phrased. Gallup leaves it to the reader to figure out the precise meaning of the terms "support for the Jewish state," "sympathizing" and "viewing Israel favorably," devoid of any real context. Would it take up to much space to provide the wording of the questions, or at least a link to them? Really?

Despite contradictions in the Gallup report, Politico's headline writer goes with "Gallup poll: Democrats losing sympathy for Israel." Breitman has no mention of the "60 percent of Democrats viewing israel favorably," nor the increase in Democrats support for Israel since 2000.

The Politico report provides a convenient handout for Republican fund raisers targeting Jewish donors, right on time in the wake of the Netanyahu dust-up. I scanned a few dozen of the more than 2400 comments following the Politico article, but saw little besides splenetic pro- and anti-Zionist rants.

Yet, if ever there was a topic that cried out for serious nuanced analysis, but rarely gets it these days, public attitudes toward Israel's policies and those of it's adversaries could be exhibit "A."

In my view, Politico often demonstrates a conservative bias, though I have posted comments on some of their articles which seem even-handed enough, and even a few which slant from the left. Their business model seems to be "conservative to centrist slant with an occasional liberal post." There is nothing wrong with partisan commentary, as long as it doesn't pretend to be objective reporting.

UPDATE: I lamented the lack of nuanced analysis too soon. TDS co-founding editor William A. Galston does exactly that in his Brookings.edu post "The complex American and Israeli politics of Netanyahu's address to Congress." As Galston notes:

...Last November, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 67 percent of Americans--including majorities of Republicans and Independents as well as Democrats--support U.S. leaders meeting and talking with the leaders of Iran. And 62 percent support the current interim agreement with Iran, which they understand to ease some international sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran restricting but not eliminating its nuclear program and submitting to tougher inspections of its nuclear facilities.

This solid support for the interim agreement suggests that the American people are inclined to accept the best results the current negotiations can achieve--namely, a long-term deal that leaves Iran with a substantial nuclear infrastructure, subjects it to rigorous inspections, and phases out sanctions over an extended period.

What should happen if the Iranians commit a major violation of the agreement? According tothe Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 60 percent of Americans (including 55 percent of Democrats) would favor a UN Security Council resolution authorizing a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Previous surveys--by CBS News, the Pew Research Center, and Reuters, among others--have found that Americans would favor a U.S. strike to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons.

These clear but complex public views will shape the American reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahu's forthcoming speech. On the one hand, Americans' support for Israel remains very strong, and there will be visceral sympathy for Israel's desire to abate what it sees as an existential threat. On the other hand, the evidence suggests that the American people would like to see their leaders strike a deal with Iran, even if it leaves some nuclear infrastructure in place, impose the toughest possible inspection regime--and harshly punish major violations. In short, Americans are willing to use force against Iran, but only after they have tested the consequences of a negotiated deal and found them wanting. If Americans regard Netanyahu as trying to block any agreement that is feasible in the real world and to set the United States on an inexorable course to war with Iran, they are unlikely to support him.

Galston's analysis could be a template for nuanced and balanced poll analysis of highly complex attitudes of Americans toward the conflict between Israel and it's neighbors.


February 23, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



Brad Knickerbocker's Monitor article, "Democrats: 'Why we got shellacked in the 2014 elections' offers a couple of well-stated insights, including: ""So many people can rattle off easily and succinctly what it means to be a Republican," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who chairs the DNC. "The perception of what it means to be a Democrat has really evolved to be a laundry list of policy statements and disparate ideas."

On the same topic, AP's Ken Thomas quotes KY Governor Steve Beshear: ""I am here to tell you the Democratic Party has lost its way...The problems are not with the "party's core beliefs," he said, but relate to "our inability to convey our principles to the American people in a precise, concise and passionate way."

An AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults conducted online from 1/29 to 2/2 found that 68 percent of respondents believed that "wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes; only 11 percent said the wealthy pay too much...Also, 60 percent said middle-class households pay too much in federal taxes, while 7 percent said they paid too little...One proposal would increase capital gains taxes on households making more than $500,000. In the survey, 56 percent favored the proposal, while only 16 percent opposed it."

Laura Clawson's Kos post, "Famously awful pollster shows how to fake majority support for Netanyahu speech" provides an object lesson in absurdly biased poll questions. The question, from a McLaughlin poll: "Republican House Speaker John Boehner has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on March 3rd. President Obama and some Democrats think it should be cancelled because it is 2 weeks before an Israeli election. Israeli Prime Minister wants to speak to the American Congress to try to stop a deal that would give Iran a nuclear weapon. These negotiations are set to conclude 3 weeks after the Prime Minister's speech. Knowing all of this is true, do you support or oppose Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress on March 3rd?" Clawson's capper: "Politico, by the way, reported this as if it was a serious poll."

Paul Krugman shreds the "education is power" meme treasured by class conflict-averse pundits and politicians: "...What I keep seeing is people insisting that educational failings are at the root of still-weak job creation, stagnating wages and rising inequality. This sounds serious and thoughtful. But it's actually a view very much at odds with the evidence, not to mention a way to hide from the real, unavoidably partisan debate...We should recognize that popular evasion for what it is: a deeply unserious fantasy...The inflation-adjusted earnings of highly educated Americans have gone nowhere since the late 1990s...All the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn't about who has the knowledge; it's about who has the power."

NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof's "Straight Talk for White Men" sheds rare light on a topic that merits more discussion, unconscious bias, which likely is responsible for most discrimination and undermines prospects for Democratic political consensus.

Those who believe the time is now ripe for a strong Democratic emphasis on infrastructure upgrades should read Albert R. Hunt's New York Times article "U.S. Struggles to Build a Strong Infrastructure." Hunt explains, "There is a broad consensus that infrastructure investment is a significant job-creator. It is embraced by the Chamber of Commerce, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and many governors and mayors of both parties...Republican congressional leaders want selective big accomplishments to prove they can govern. President Obama wants a few more successes in his final years. Infrastructure is one of the very few areas where they are on roughly the same page." Hunt sees a gas tax hike as the logical funding vehicle. But the GOP's knee-jerk opposition to anything that involves spending or tax hikes, or anything Democrats have long advocated, suggests that Republican support for infrastructure upgrades may be more limited when votes are tallied.

Hats off to John Legend and Common for using the Oscar ceremonies to bring needed attention to an issue that doesn't get enough media coverage --- felon disenfranchisement.

Whatever hopes Republicans were entertaining about projecting Columba Bush as Jeb Bush's "keeping' it real" anchor will not be well-served by her jewelry shopping expeditions, as reported by WaPo's Karen Tumutly and Alice Krites: "a $25,600 pair of diamond stud earrings set in platinum; an 18-karat white-gold and diamond bracelet by the Italian designer Bulgari, priced at $10,500; an 18-karat white-gold and diamond necklace, costing $3,200; and another pair of diamond earrings, for $3,300. The records indicate that she received discounts and price adjustments totalling $2,780 and paid $2,491.70 in sales tax...That was one of at least five such loans made by the store to Columba Bush between 1995 and 2009. The most recent was for an $11,700 Rolex watch and a $5,900 pair of earrings...In 1997, when she bought a Roman coin necklace for $15,000 and a $16,600 Rolex watch studded with diamonds...While the 2000 purchase listed the governor's mansion as her home address, documents suggest that, on at least one earlier occasion, Columba Bush wanted the paperwork sent to a postal box." Upwards of $90K in all --- And that's just the stuff that's been reported...


February 22, 2015

Debating the relationship between Islam and ISIS




The current criticism of Obama for defining the threat to America as "violent extremism" rather than specifically identifying Islam as the source of violent radicalism has focused renewed attention on the question of the relationship between the religion and the actions of ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

Fareed Zakaria offers an intelligent analysis of the issue in the Washington Post but J. M. Berger, writing in the Brookings Institution Brief, adds a distinct perspective that also deserves attention.

He frames the issue as follows:

A new article about ISIS in The Atlantic has reignited the perennial debate over the relationship between jihadist terrorism and the religion of Islam. The article, by Graeme Wood, repeatedly emphasizes the "Islamic" in Islamic State, calling out what it describes as "well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State's medieval religious nature."

Berger argues, however, that the two key characteristics that define ISIS and other Islamic radical groups - a belief in their own superiority and an apocalyptic vision of history -- are actually present in extremist groups within many religious and quasi-religious traditions.

...What is the relationship between Christianity and Christian Identity? What does being German mean to Nazi ideology? What about the neo-Nazi movement Golden Dawn, a Greek identity movement heavily influenced by German Nazism? How does Hinduism inform Abhinav Bharat, and how does Abhinav Bharat inform our understanding of Hinduism? The 969 Movement in Myanmar is led by a Buddhist monk, and its very name refers to the Buddha and his teachings. It is very Buddhist. But is its xenophobia very Buddhist?

...Whiteness and white supremacy are, in fact, intertwined, and it was Germany that gave birth to the Nazi movement. Islamic extremists arise from the Muslim world, and there is no question that a variety of conditions in the Muslim world have contributed to the problem.

Understanding whiteness is relevant to understanding white supremacy, just as understanding Islam is relevant to jihadism. And to be sure, religion matters to ISIS. A lot. But the concept of an exclusive identity matters far more, to the point that ISIS will engage in virtually unlimited theological gymnastics to justify it.

Berger argues that, regardless of the particular religion that is pressed into service as an ideological rationale for violent extremism, what unites such movements are two key elements: an exclusionary identity and a millenarian vision of being a chosen group that will survive an apocalyptic disaster

...While radicalization is a multifaceted process, with many dimensions and attendant complexities, the establishment of an exclusionary identity group is a nearly universal characteristic, whether the extremists are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist, and whether the extremists are religious, racial, or nationalist.
... Millenarian sects may (or may not) rely on religious texts as importance sources, but their defining quality, and what makes them dangerous, is an unshakeable belief that history is coming to an end. Millenarian beliefs are often wedded to identity-based extremism through the narrative device of a chosen group that will triumph in an apocalyptic war or survive an apocalyptic disaster. Again, the traits of these groups are remarkably consistent across a variety of belief structures. Their commonality is their Millenarianism, not the theological background from which those End Times beliefs are derived.

Therefore, Berger concludes:

To understand and counter ISIS's threat and appeal, frame it properly. Identity-based extremism and millenarian apocalyptic cults provide a far more useful framework for understanding ISIS than Islam does.

February 21, 2015

Pinning Down Scott Walker's Ideology



During the last decade, as the Republican Party slid remorselessly towards the extremist Right, its tribunes have had an obvious motive to deny that phenomenon and proclaim the GOP as situated firmly in the sensible center, and/or to make the false equivalence claim that Democrats have matched or exceeded the lurch into questionable territory. So if only in self-defense or for purposes of analytical clarity, Democrats need to pay attention to arguments over ideology and the GOP.

That's why I paid attention to a polite argument this last week between liberal blogger Kevin Drum of Mother Jones and conservative analysts Sean Trende and David Byler of RealClearPolitics, about where to situate Scott Walker on the ideological spectrum. I wrote up my observations at Washington Monthly:

I somehow missed Kevin Drum's February 11 post quoting a San Francisco State political scientist who in turn was using a Stanford professor's methodology to argue that Scott Walker's more conservative than any GOP presidential nominee since before Ronald Reagan.

This post definitely caught Sean Trende and David Byler's attention, leading to a very elaborate (if polite) dashing of cold water on the Scott-Walker-as-the-New-Barry-Goldwater hypothesis, if that's what you want to call it. Trende and Byler come at it from several different directions, illustrating the advantage columnists with relatively few time and space limitations have over a blogger who has to make do quickly with the news material at hand. As it happens, I agree with one of their arguments against the underlying DIME system of Stanford's Adam Bonica, which assigns ideological "scores" to politicians based on the characteristics of his or her donors.

While donors probably tend to support candidates who generally share their ideology, other factors might affect donor decisions - what issues the candidate focuses on the most, the candidate's public persona and life history, how much a donor simply "likes" a candidate - and all of these preferences are rolled into this rating.

As Trende & Byler note, Barack Obama's pre-convention "rating" in 2008 was very far to the "left." Does that mean lefty donors (assuming that can really be measured accurately) thought he was as lefty as they were? Or simply that he got them all? Or perhaps that they knew he was "moderate" but was less "moderate" than Hillary Clinton? Or maybe that they thought he was more electable? Or because of the historic character of his candidacy? It's entirely unclear, but it is clear rating a candidate's ideology on his or her donors is perilous and ignores all sorts of context issues, particularly in terms of the choices available to donors.

In the end, though, my only real disagreement with Kevin involves his conclusion: that Scott Walker is a lot more conservative than he seems. He could have that backwards in a way that helps explain why conservative donors are attracted to Walker: he's conservative for a blue state governor. Why is Walker, and not, say, Rick Perry, famous for ferocious attacks on the collective bargaining rights of public employees? Because public employees in Texas don't have any collective bargaining rights to begin with. The same is true of Walker's famous conservative evangelical religiosity, with God telling him to do this and that. Deep South Republicans talk that way all the time. So thanks to his context Walker seems more conservative than he necessarily is, and--here's a big bonus for him--in a way that simultaneously creates an electability argument. If he can get re-elected in Wisconsin after taking positions that nobody would think twice about in deep-red states, he's a brave conservative warrior and one who has proven he can persuade swing voters either despite or because of his hammer-headed characteristics.

So measuring ideology is tricky. Scott Walker is vastly more conservative than blue-state Republicans used to be by any objective measure. And so he exerts an appeal to conservative donors that some (objectively) even more conservative red-state politicians struggle to match. Part of his appeal is attributable to the attention he naturally gets; part comes from the thrill conservatives get from watching him beat the hated enemy on its home turf; and part is indeed an electability argument, made even more attractive because it does not involve compromise or "moderation." He seems more conservative than he probably is, and in today's GOP, it's hard to look too conservative.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



February 26: Republicans Courting Disaster on Education, Part I


Aside from the big New Deal entitlements of Social Security and Medicare, and of course national defense, the government functions most popular among Americans involve public education. Republicans, following radical conservative thinking on education, are increasingly tempted to take an ideological bender into direct attacks on public education, particularly when their lower-tax and less-government agenda forces them to find large areas of the public sector to cut. This week I've noted two examples of this dynamic. The first, involving higher education, was at TPMCafe:

Some high-profile Republican governors and legislative leaders are in a particularly deep hole of their own making, and are taking on the state version of the political "third rail" by attacking higher education spending.

There are plenty of reasons why higher ed is an unusually tough place to cut, varying from the power of alumni to football and basketball and the perceived economic payoff of a good state university system. Still, during the depths of the Great Recession, virtually all states cut higher ed subsidies, which non-coincidentally produced a large wave of tuition increases. But some cut more than others, and are doing less to replace lost funding now that the economy's doing better. Only eight states failed to increase per student higher ed spending in Fiscal Year 2014: Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Louisiana, West Virginia and Wyoming. And now in 2015 it generates headlines when significant higher education cuts are proposed, as in Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Louisiana.

You may note that these are all states with highly ideological Republican state administrations and legislatures. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback narrowly survived a reelection challenge focused on his credit-damaging tax cuts and unpopular education cuts; now, with little to lose, he's back for more. In North Carolina, a state often matched with Kansas as a deliberate conservative policy experiment station, state legislators (guided by a conservative think tank founded by highly influential billionaire Art Pope) are seeking shutdowns in ideologically unfavored parts of the university system.

And two Republican governors who are clearly running for president are distinguishing themselves in this areas as well. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal has fought with his own Republican state legislature over tax and education policy, and is now seeking heavy higher ed cuts to deal with a large budget shortfall attributed equally to his fiscal mismanagement and to lower oil prices. And Wisconsin's Scott Walker, having signed a $541 million tax cut package last year, is now pursuing $300 million in higher ed cuts, amounting to 13% of state aid to the university system.

What makes the new round of cut proposals interesting, particularly in North Carolina and Wisconsin, is that they are being justified on culture-war grounds, not just a matter of fiscal priorities.

This is clearest in North Carolina, where the most discussed cuts involve "liberal" centers attached to the university system that engage in advocacy work (as noted by the New York Times' Richard Fausset):

An advisory panel of the University of North Carolina's Board of Governors has recommended closing three academic centers, including a poverty center and one dedicated to social change, inciting outrage among liberals who believe that conservatives in control of state government are targeting ideological opponents in academia.

Conservatives are cheering the move, seeing it as a corrective to a higher education system they believe has lent its imprimatur to groups that engage in partisan activism.

"They're moving in the right direction, though I don't think they went far enough," said Francis X. De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh. "A lot of these centers were started up with a specific advocacy role in mind, as opposed to an educational role."

The full name of the Civitas Institute, by the way, is the John William Pope Civitas Institute. There are persistent rumors that Republicans want to crown his hostile takeover of the state by making him president of the University of North Carolina. You'd think conservatives would let the recently deceased Hall of Fame coach and progressive Dean Smith get settled in his grave first, but you never know.

Meanwhile, Walker has given an ideological edge to his own higher ed cuts by seeking to modify the mission statement of the university system to make it clear its job is workforce development for the state's fine corporations, not any liberal guff about "truth" or "service." He's since backed off on that proposal, but is at the same time making it clear he wants the cuts to lead to layoffs or longer hours for faculty, not tuition increases. His combative posture towards the academic circles long deplored by conservatives as a source of "liberal brainwashing" has fed a separate controversy over Walker's lack of a college degree (he dropped out of Marquette University late in his senior year to take a job). Only one prominent Democrat--Howard Dean--has made an issue of this as a problem for Walker's presidential aspirations, but dozens, maybe hundreds, of conservative voices have been raised in angry denunciation of "liberal elites" aligned with self-serving liberal academia.

Democrats should respond to such budget-driven risky gambits by Republicans by not taking the bait on culture-war attacks and instead noting the importance of public higher education at a time when parents and students are struggling to pay high tuitions, not to mention their affect on the long-rate economic prospects of the communities they serve. Nobody should care whether Scott Walker finished college. They should care if he's trying to limit the educational opportunities of the people of his state.


February 21: Pinning Down Scott Walker's Ideology

During the last decade, as the Republican Party slid remorselessly towards the extremist Right, its tribunes have had an obvious motive to deny that phenomenon and proclaim the GOP as situated firmly in the sensible center, and/or to make the false equivalence claim that Democrats have matched or exceeded the lurch into questionable territory. So if only in self-defense or for purposes of analytical clarity, Democrats need to pay attention to arguments over ideology and the GOP.

That's why I paid attention to a polite argument this last week between liberal blogger Kevin Drum of Mother Jones and conservative analysts Sean Trende and David Byler of RealClearPolitics, about where to situate Scott Walker on the ideological spectrum. I wrote up my observations at Washington Monthly:

I somehow missed Kevin Drum's February 11 post quoting a San Francisco State political scientist who in turn was using a Stanford professor's methodology to argue that Scott Walker's more conservative than any GOP presidential nominee since before Ronald Reagan.

This post definitely caught Sean Trende and David Byler's attention, leading to a very elaborate (if polite) dashing of cold water on the Scott-Walker-as-the-New-Barry-Goldwater hypothesis, if that's what you want to call it. Trende and Byler come at it from several different directions, illustrating the advantage columnists with relatively few time and space limitations have over a blogger who has to make do quickly with the news material at hand. As it happens, I agree with one of their arguments against the underlying DIME system of Stanford's Adam Bonica, which assigns ideological "scores" to politicians based on the characteristics of his or her donors.

While donors probably tend to support candidates who generally share their ideology, other factors might affect donor decisions - what issues the candidate focuses on the most, the candidate's public persona and life history, how much a donor simply "likes" a candidate - and all of these preferences are rolled into this rating.

As Trende & Byler note, Barack Obama's pre-convention "rating" in 2008 was very far to the "left." Does that mean lefty donors (assuming that can really be measured accurately) thought he was as lefty as they were? Or simply that he got them all? Or perhaps that they knew he was "moderate" but was less "moderate" than Hillary Clinton? Or maybe that they thought he was more electable? Or because of the historic character of his candidacy? It's entirely unclear, but it is clear rating a candidate's ideology on his or her donors is perilous and ignores all sorts of context issues, particularly in terms of the choices available to donors.

In the end, though, my only real disagreement with Kevin involves his conclusion: that Scott Walker is a lot more conservative than he seems. He could have that backwards in a way that helps explain why conservative donors are attracted to Walker: he's conservative for a blue state governor. Why is Walker, and not, say, Rick Perry, famous for ferocious attacks on the collective bargaining rights of public employees? Because public employees in Texas don't have any collective bargaining rights to begin with. The same is true of Walker's famous conservative evangelical religiosity, with God telling him to do this and that. Deep South Republicans talk that way all the time. So thanks to his context Walker seems more conservative than he necessarily is, and--here's a big bonus for him--in a way that simultaneously creates an electability argument. If he can get re-elected in Wisconsin after taking positions that nobody would think twice about in deep-red states, he's a brave conservative warrior and one who has proven he can persuade swing voters either despite or because of his hammer-headed characteristics.

So measuring ideology is tricky. Scott Walker is vastly more conservative than blue-state Republicans used to be by any objective measure. And so he exerts an appeal to conservative donors that some (objectively) even more conservative red-state politicians struggle to match. Part of his appeal is attributable to the attention he naturally gets; part comes from the thrill conservatives get from watching him beat the hated enemy on its home turf; and part is indeed an electability argument, made even more attractive because it does not involve compromise or "moderation." He seems more conservative than he probably is, and in today's GOP, it's hard to look too conservative.


February 18: Multiple Overlapping Majorities

Earlier today J.P Green addressed one argument against the "Emerging Democratic Majority" hypothesis that has emerged since John Judis' expressed second thoughts about the projections made in the 2002 book he co-wrote with TDS co-founder Ruy Teixeira. I addressed others at TPMCafe:

[W]hen John Judis "recanted" his "prophecy" in a National Journal article a few weeks ago with the provocative (if carefully chosen) title "An Emerging Republican Advantage," joy broke out all over the conservative chattering classes. One of the best and most honest of conservative analysts, however, Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics, who had been writing about the Judis/Teixeira hypothesis for years, noted that the book itself had never supported the myth of "demographic destiny" with which it was associated:
While the debates over demographics and future elections have become filled with triumphalist rhetoric about ascendant coalitions and Republicans potentially suffering a Whig-like extinction, these are the views of popularizers and partisans who have latched onto the book for their own purposes.

He might have added that the Judis/Teixeira hypothesis also became confused with the eternal argument in both parties between those wanting to focus national campaigns on "base mobilization" rather than swing voter persuasion: If the "base" is growing naturally without any special cultivation, all the messy compromises involved in growing the coalition via conversion may not be necessary (again, the opposite conclusion might be reached by Republicans looking at the same trends). This isn't at all what Judis and Teixeira actually said.

Aside from inadvertently enabling Republicans to claim a phony victory over the straw man of demographic destiny, Judis' "recantation" wasn't much accepted by Democrats. His argument for a GOP "advantage," based partially on a worrying trend he found among college-educated voters, and partially on anecdotal musings over the 2014 gubernatorial victory of Larry Hogan that so stunned Maryland Democrats like himself, drew a response from New York's Jonathan Chait, relying in part on emailed advice from none other than Ruy Teixeira:

[T]he core insight of the emerging democratic majority thesis has held up remarkably well. And Judis does not actually refute it in any convincing way. He does not mention continuing Democratic strength among the fast-growing bloc of Latino voters. He does cite exit polling that showed Republicans splitting the Asian-American vote in 2014, a shocking finding that is almost certainly wrong. He does cite a Harvard poll of young voters, which appears to show weakening support for Democrats. But that poll has yielded unusual findings in comparison with other surveys. (The Harvard poll predicted a majority of young voters would vote for Republican House candidates in 2014; in reality, they voted Democratic at the same rate as in 2010.

Judis focuses on white middle-class voters, whom he sees as moving steadily toward the GOP. But the trend he cites begins with (depending on which example he uses) either 2006 or 2008, which were Democratic wave elections, a high point from which at least some regression both would be expected and would still allow a margin of error, given the massive Democratic sweep in both elections. Judis does not mention that Republicans need to ratchet up their share of the white vote continuously, or else dramatically improve their standing among nonwhites, merely to remain competitive.

Like Trende, though, Chait not only concedes but emphasizes one question about "majority" projections that has steadily become more relevant since 2002: a majority of what?

The [Democratic] party's new base is heavily concentrated in urban areas, whose voting strength underrepresented in both the House and the Senate. Additionally, they are far more likely than core Republican voters to stay home during midterm elections. This has allowed the Republican Party to gain a near lock on holding the House, and a strong geographic advantage in holding the Senate. The Emerging Democratic Majority thus comes with the very important caveat that it applies only to one branch of government. (Likewise, Phillip's Emerging Republican Majority coincided with a period of continuous Democratic control of the House.)

Indeed, Sean Trende argues that the true "Republican" advantage in the immediate future is that the GOP is more likely to win the White House than Democrats are to win Congress. But the deeper reality is that neither party commands anything like a stable majority, and the long-term Democratic advantage created by demographic trends is countered by a long-term Republican advantage created by the Founders' decision to give every state two Senate seat and by the superior efficiency in distribution of Republican votes among House districts, reinforced by gerrymandering.

If American politics were a tennis game, we'd be in the final game of the final set, at "Deuce."

It's possible, then, for the two parties to enjoy multiple overlapping majorities over a relatively short period of time, depending on how you define "majority." As Chait indicates, nothing Judis and Teixeira said originally needs to be "recanted;" the picture is just more complex than ever, and there are enough counter-forces to cast doubt on how quickly and thoroughly the Democratic demographic advantage manifests itself.


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