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September 4, 2015

A Plan for a Counter-Revolution At SCOTUS



Are you one of those Democrats who don't think it ultimately matters that much who wins the 2016 presidential contest, especially if someone you consider a corporate lackey wins the Democratic nomination? You really, really need to pay attention to Republicans plans for the Supreme Court, which encompass vast economic as well and social and civil rights issues. I discussed one very prominent conservative blueprint for remaking America via SCOTUS at Washington Monthly today:

I really do appreciate the efforts of Constitutional Conservative legal beagles Randy Barnett of Georgetown and Josh Blackman of South Texas College of Law in laying out in some detail--and not in a legal journal but in the Weekly Standard--rules for examining future Republican Supreme Court appointments. It's not just a litmus test in the making--which presidential candidates in both parties typically say they do not want to administer--but a rationale for a litmus test. And their piece has the advantage of being very clear on the key points.

To Barnett and Blackman, who first discuss the notorious history of Republican SCOTUS appointments they view as betrayals, the big thing is that prospective Justices have a clearly documented willingness to ignore both other branches of government--the principle behind the receding Republican doctrine of "judicial restraint"--and stare decisis--the principle against overturning well-settled Court precedent--in pursuit of the "original" meaning of the Constitution. That means treating SCOTUS as an all-powerful institution communing with eighteenth century Founders--or worse yet, Con Con mythologies about those Founders--and empowered to kill many decades of decisions by all three branches of government, precedent and democracy be damned. No wonder they talk repeatedly about needing Justices--and presidents--with courage! And the dividing line between good and bad "conservative" Justices could not be made much clearer: Alito goooood! Roberts baaaaaad! Barnett and Blackman even suggest their rules should be made clear to and then demanded by presidential primary voters!

If that actually starts happening, it will be as or even more important to watch as any other discussions of any other issues. As Brian Beutler recently noted in an important piece at TNR, Barnett and Blackman are among other things leading advocates for a return to the Lochner era of jurisprudence, whereby most regulations of private economic activity by the executive or legislative branches would be declared unconstitutional as an abridgement of "natural law" concepts in the original Constitution and an exotic understanding of the due process clauses in the 5th and 14th amendments. These are dangerous people to let anywhere near a Supreme Court nomination. But they and many others like them, who now play a dominant role in the very powerful conservative legal fraternity the Federalist Society, are likely to be right there with their litmus test in hand.

Think about that before uttering any "not a dime's worth of difference" assessments this year.


How the GOP Demonizes BLM for Political Ends



The New York Times editorial board explains the politics behind Republican posturing about the Black Lives Matter movement, and calls out several of their presidential candidates in particular for trying to stir up white resentment:

The Republican Party and its acolytes in the news media are trying to demonize the protest movement that has sprung up in response to the all-too-common police killings of unarmed African-Americans across the country. The intent of the campaign -- evident in comments by politicians like Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky -- is to cast the phrase "Black Lives Matter" as an inflammatory or even hateful anti-white expression that has no legitimate place in a civil rights campaign.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas crystallized this view when he said the other week that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were he alive today, would be "appalled" by the movement's focus on the skin color of the unarmed people who are disproportionately killed in encounters with the police. This argument betrays a disturbing indifference to or at best a profound ignorance of history in general and of the civil rights movement in particular. From the very beginning, the movement focused unapologetically on bringing an end to state-sanctioned violence against African-Americans and to acts of racial terror very much like the one that took nine lives at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June.

The civil rights movement was intended to make Congress and Americans confront the fact that African-Americans were being killed with impunity for offenses like trying to vote, and had the right to life and to equal protection under the law. The movement sought a cross-racial appeal, but at every step of the way used expressly racial terms to describe the death and destruction that was visited upon black people because they were black.

It's a shameful legacy for a political party which once included leaders who actively supported civil rights reforms. Republicans like Sens. Jacob Javitz, Lowell Weicker, and Everett Dirksen, Governor Nelson Rockefeller and others all had impressive records of supporting racial justice and equality, even though they were conservative on most economic issues. Today GOP leaders are all active and tacit supporters of suppressing of African American votes. Huckabee has even advocated illegal measures to suppress voting on several occasions.

In reality Dr. King and the Movement were deeply concerned about violence targeting Black Americans and spoke out about it many times. As the Times editorial notes, in his eulogy for the four little girls who were killed in the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, Dr. King "did not shy away from the fact that the dead had been killed because they were black, by monstrous men whose leaders fed them "the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism." He said that the dead "have something to say" to a complacent federal government that cut back-room deals with Southern Dixiecrats, as well as to "every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice..."

The Times editorial also emphasizes the clear connection between voter suppression and the racial violence that occurred during the Movement:

During this same period, freedom riders and voting rights activists led by the young John Lewis offered themselves up to be beaten nearly to death, week after week, day after day, in the South so that the country would witness Jim Crow brutality and meaningfully respond to it. This grisly method succeeded in Selma, Ala., in 1965 when scenes of troopers bludgeoning voting rights demonstrators compelled a previously hesitant Congress to acknowledge that black people deserved full citizenship, too, and to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Along the way, there was never a doubt as to what the struggle was about: securing citizenship rights for black people who had long been denied them.

During the Civil Rights Movement most southern Democratic elected officials were a huge part of the problem of racial injustice and they worked together with right-wing Republicans to relentlessly suppress the votes and civil rights of African Americans. It was a coalition of progressive Democrats and Republicans who opposed and finally overcame them to secure passage of the great Civil Rights reforms of the sixties.

But the Democratic Party has matured to the point where no Democratic political leaders advocate voter suppression or rolling back the clock on civil rights. Conversely, with very rare exceptions, no Republican leaders oppose voter suppression and most of them actively support it.

The Times editorial goes on to underscore the fact that Black Lives Matter "focuses on the fact that black citizens have long been far more likely than whites to die at the hands of the police, and is of a piece with this history."

They are not saying that white lives don't matter; they are calling needed attention to the outrage of racially-motivated violence, committed by police and others, and they are demanding corrective action, in keeping with the best traditions of the American Civil Rights Movement. And despite media focus on riots and civil disturbances in the wake of police violence, the overwhelming majority of Black Lives Matter protesters have remained exclusively nonviolent.

Republicans are trying to suggest otherwise. But this lie won't stand the test of honest scrutiny.

The modern Republican Party now sees its hope for survival being based on energizing white resentment toward people of color, particularly those who dare to protest for their basic civil rights. As the editorial concludes, "politicians who know better and seek to strip this issue of its racial content and context are acting in bad faith. They are trying to cover up an unpleasant truth and asking the country to collude with them."

The Republicans have deployed this strategy for decades with mixed results. But it is especially shameful when directed at a group of citizens whose central concern is their right to be free from racially-motivated violence.


September 3, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



The Obama Administration and the cause of Democratic unity chalk up a huge victory with Sen. Barbara Mikulski's decision to support the Iran nuclear deal, which should provide the margin needed to secure approval of the agreement. "Opponents of the agreement said they could not remember another recent policy battle where the White House and Ms. Pelosi were so driven. In tandem, they made the Iran vote a strong test of party loyalty.," report Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn at The New York Times. "Our ability to build coalitions, to lead, to have credibility when we enter into a negotiation was really on the line," said Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who organized the Iran deal strategy with Ms. Pelosi, with whom she consulted almost daily while lawmakers were scattered in their districts around the country. "To walk away now would diminish our ability to lead on future issues."

Greg Sargent comments on several recent polls showing substantial support for draconian immigration policies, like Trump's call for mass deportations. Sargent boils it down to a disturbing conclusion "...perhaps the better way to understand what's happening here is that Trump's supporters like the story he is telling them, which is largely that immigrants are to blame for the suffering of American workers."

The GOP front-runner continues to rack up endorsements from hate-mongers and their groups, but Dean Obeidallah argues at the Daily Beast that "Behind Trump, the GOP Really Is Becoming the Racist Party."

Will Trump Cave? He meets with GOP chair Priebus today, and they will no doubt discuss whether he will sign the "loyalty" pledge to support the the Republican presidential nominee (and publicly reject an independent campaign). Dana Bash and Tom LoBianco of CNN Politics write that it's likely he will sign it. But it's hard to see all that much upside for Trump in caving so early, other than short term good-will from his competition.

The most populous state may be on the verge of securing automatic voter registration for residents who have drivers licenses, reports Alice Ollstein at ThinkProgress.

NYT's conservative columnist Ross Douthat ponders "The End of the Republican Party?," and strains to be "a little less pessimistic" about the prospect. But it's not a good sign for the GOP that he and others quoted in his column are talking about it.

Campaign for America's Future Dave Johnson offers some insight into "What Bernie Sanders Has Already Won," including "...Fixing our country's problems is not just about electing a president. Billionaire money has taken over many statehouses - where they gerrymander the districts to keep themselves in power. Sanders likes to say that there are two primary sources of power, "organized people and organized money," and that when people across lines of race, gender, class, nationality, and sexual orientation reject right-wing wedge politics and come together, "there is nothing, nothing, nothing that we cannot accomplish." In addition to proving a presidential candidate can still run a formidable campaign without fat-cat contributions, Sanders has shown how Democratic Socialist ideas can get a hearing, even with all of Trump's theatrics distracting the media.

"Democracy Is Top Economic Growth Strategy, Says Study," explains Terry Jones at The Investors Business Daily. Jones quotes study authors MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and University of Chicago economist James A. Robinson: "Our central estimates suggest that a country that switches from autocracy to democracy achieves about 20% higher GDP per capita over roughly 30 years." Might it follow that eliminating voter suppression in the U.S. would help improve the economy?

Granted, the presidential campaign season is too damn long. But I doubt that scheduling a few more Democratic presidential debates would hurt the party nominee's chances, and it's quite possible that doing so could actually help Democrats to unify and toughen up for the general election. A little extra battle-testing can be a good thing.


September 2, 2015

Behind the Friendly Face of Dr. Ben Carson



It's time to take a really good look at Dr. Ben Carson, as I noted today at Washington Monthly:

Now that Ben Carson is all the rage in the GOP presidential nominating contest, sharing the spotlight with Donald Trump without a trace of the negative vibes The Donald brings to the table, I figure my little hobby of trying to understand what the man means with his incessant references to "political correctness" is becoming a public utility...

One of my exhibits for describing Carson as a "wingnut with a calm bedside manner" was his reference in the Fox News GOP presidential debate to Hillary Clinton as a denizen of the "progressive movement" who was following "the Alinsky Model" for destroying the country. Even as they declared him the winner or one of the winners of the debate, MSM observers slid right over the ravings about Alinsky as though they couldn't hear The Crazy or, more likely, didn't understand what he was talking about. That sure as hell was not the case with right-wing media, who heard the dog-whistle loud and clear. Indeed, at National Review, John Fund even called it that:

The award so far in this Republican debate for dog-whistle rhetoric goes to Ben Carson. He answered a a question about Hillary Clinton by referring to her belief in "the Alinsky model," a topic of great interest in the conservative blogosphere.

Named after Saul Alinksy, the late community organizer who inspired both Hillary and Barack Obama, the model calls for destabilizing the existing system from the inside and paving the way for radical social change.

Despite his mild manner and soft voice, it may be that Ben Carson is the candidate on tonight's stage who is privately the most deeply ideological.

According to people like Carson, a big part of the Alinsky Model is "political correctness:" disarming opponents by deriding their utterances as small-minded and offensive.... [H]ere's a fine description of the core idea in a Tea Party take on Carson's well-received 2014 CPAC speech:

Dr. Carson says that the good news is that the majority of people in this country have common sense, but the problem is that they've been "beaten into submission by the PC (political-correctness) policemen," which has kept people from speaking up about what they believe.

To thunderous applause, Dr. Carson revealed one of Saul Alinsky's (author of leftist bible, Rules for Radicals) more deceptive tactics that he taught to his progressive, Marxist followers:

"One of the principles of Saul Alinsky, he said you make the majority believe that what they think is outdated and nobody thinks that way, and that the way they think is the only way intelligent people think. And if you can co-opt the media in the process, you're far ahead of the game. That's exactly what's happened, and it's time for people to stand up and proclaim what they believe and stop being bullied!

So every time Carson denounces "political correctness," which he does in just about every other sentence, that's what he's talking about: a conspiracy by "progressives" to suppress common-sense (i.e., hard-core conservative) "solutions" by pitting people against each other through talk about race, gender, income inequality, etc. etc. In Carson's heavily Glenn-Beckish worldview, all his talk about "unity" and "civility" means the kind of country we can have once the snakes (i.e., you and me and HRC) have been thrown out of Eden.

It would be nice if political reporters would play closer attention.


Further Evidence That Low-Information/Paranoid Voters Rule GOP



A nugget from Steve Benen's Maddowblog post, "GOP base: Obama wasn't born in US, but Cruz was":

While top-line results are usually the most important takeaway from polls like these, that's only part of what's amazing about these new results. Consider this excerpt from the latest PPP report:

...51% [of Republican voters] overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. 54% think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the United States. That's less than the 40% who think Canadian born Ted Cruz was born in the United States.

Let that one roll around in your head for a moment. Nearly seven years into the Obama presidency, less a third of Republican voters believe the president was born in the United States. A significantly higher percentage believe Ted Cruz was born in the U.S - and he wasn't.

Piling on, Benen adds that 54 percent of GOP respondents in the poll believe that President Obama is not a Christian and "32 percent aren't sure," beliefs echoed by Scott Walker and other GOP presidential candidates, despite numerous reports of the Obama family attending churches across the nation. Further, 66 percent of Trump supporters believe the President is a Muslim.

Take your pick of these stats, parse them any way you can. But but you won't be able to avoid concluding that an awfully large percentage of self identified Republican rank and filers are dummies or paranoid. Republican leaders are, to some extent, merely reflecting the irrational suspicions and ignorance, willful and otherwise, of their "base."

But real leadership is not about pandering to the worst instincts of constituents. It's about educating them and bringing out the best in people, challenging them to a higher level of awareness and common concern for their fellow citizens. Measured by that standard, 21st century Republican leaders have failed miserably. The interesting question is, when do more enlightened conservatives in the rank and file become too embarrassed to call themselves Republicans?


September 1, 2015

Moody's Election Model Sees Blue Wave Forming



All of the usual caveats about it being too early to discern meaningful political trends for the 2016 general election notwithstanding, Moody's Election Model has some very good news for Democrats. From Ryan Sweet's "Democrats to Win in a Landslide in 2016, According to Moody's Election Model" at The Street.com:

Our Moody's Analytics election model now predicts a Democratic electoral landslide in the 2016 presidential vote. A small change in the forecast data in August has swung the outcome from the statistical tie predicted in July, to a razor-edge ballot outcome that nevertheless gives the incumbent party 326 electoral votes to the Republican challenger's 212.

...It takes 270 electoral votes to win a U.S. presidential election. Our July forecast predicted a Democratic win with 270 electoral votes, to 268 for the Republican, regardless of who wins either party's nomination.

"Democratic landslide" --- an appealing concept, that. Not a bad mantra for some creative visualization, looking toward 2016. But the why of it is interesting and maybe a little worrisome, according to Sweet:

The primary factor driving the results further to the incumbent party in August is lower gasoline prices. Plummeting prices and changing dynamics in global energy markets from Chinese weakness and the Iranian nuclear deal have caused us to significantly lower our gasoline price forecast for the next several years. This variable is very significant to voter sentiment in the model, with lower prices favoring incumbents.

Good to know that. There's also the converse to worry about, as when soaring gas prices helped defeat Jimmy Carter in 1980. Sweet also points out that the model does not predict what would happen if the election was held today; it is rooted in what is known about economic, demographic and political realities coming in 2016, which is more than a little dicey.

Another cautionary note from Sweet:

Just three states account for the change in margin, with Ohio, Florida and Colorado swinging from leaning Republican to leaning Democrat. The margin of victory in each of these important swing states is still solidly within the margin of error though, and will likely swing back and forth in Moody's monthly updates ahead, underlining the closeness of the election to come. Furthermore, three of the candidates for the Republican nomination enjoy favorite-son status in Ohio or Florida, potentially making the outcome of those important states even more unpredictable.

Still the model has an impressive track record, as Sweet notes: "The model successfully predicts every election back to 1980, including a perfect electoral vote prediction in the 2012 election."

For Democrats worried about the Trump card, Rob Garver and Eric Pianin, reporting on a new Quinnipiac Poll, also have some good news at The Fiscal Times. Despite Trump's antics dominating the GOP field,

In a hypothetical matchup with Vice President Joseph Biden, Trump loses 48 percent to 40 percent in the new poll. He does little better against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the current Democratic frontrunner, losing 45 percent to 41 percent. Even in a matchup with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Democratic socialist, Trump comes up short, 44 percent to 41 percent.

The upbeat reports in this post could have a very short shelf life, as with pretty much anything you read about politics at this early stage the 2016 campaign. But it's not just Republicans screwing up. Neither the Moody's study or the Quinnipiac poll would be so encouraging if Democrats weren't doing a pretty good job of maintaining civility, keeping focused on the issues and generally behaving as adults, in stark contrast to the GOP. We can hope that is worth something to an increasing percentage of voters who would prefer to live in a country run by grown-ups.


August 31, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



In The Jacobin, via TNR, Touré F. Reed, associate professor of history at Illinois State University, explains why "Liberals Are Wrong to Separate Race from Class," and presents a compelling argument that "the now-commonplace claim at the heart of the recent Black Lives Matter protests against Sanders is that white liberals have long reduced racism to class inequality in order to deflect attention from racial disparities...This is not just wrong, but the formulation--which ultimately treats race as unchanging and permanent rather than a product of specific historical and political economic relations--undermines both the cause of racial equality in general and pursuit of equitable treatment in the criminal justice system in particular."

From Kate Kaye's AdAge post "Democrats to Kick Off Digital Voter Targeting Effort at Summer Meeting": "At the DNC's behest, data services firm Experian and political data company TargetSmart Communications have spent the past several months turning the Democratic Party's voter file into data that can be used readily to aim video ads, addressable TV spots and mobile and desktop display ads at specific voters...Voter File 2.0 reflects the party's broader strategy of steering Democratic campaigns toward a preferred set of tools and vendors...The approach stands in contrast to that of the GOP, which historically has fostered a more competitive environment among multiple tech vendors. On the Republican side, firms including i360, the data company funded by the Koch Brothers, and Targeted Victory enable clients to send digital ads to specific voters using voter file data."

The Upshot's Josh Barro has a primer on "anchor babies," and notes "According to Pew, in 2012 there were 4.5 million American children with at least one parent who was an unauthorized immigrant, and four million unauthorized immigrants living with an American child....There is one other myth in the debate: A citizen child is not necessarily a shield against deportation. In the second and third quarters of 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that over 46,000 parents of citizen children were deported, accounting for 22 percent of all deportations."

NYT columnist Frank Bruni sorts through the GOP rubble and pulls up John Kasich, explaining why Dems should not worry too much about him. Polls suggest he is electable in the general election -- in the highly unlikely event he survives the primaries.

Marking the 10th anniversary of Katrina, NYT columnist Paul Krugman notes, "...Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn't...It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration's cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble." Krugman adds some devastating snapshots of GOP presidential candidates as "political poseurs," including: "...Consider Jeb Bush, once hailed on the right as "the best governor in America," when in fact all he did was have the good luck to hold office during a huge housing bubble. Many people now seem baffled by Mr. Bush's inability to come up with coherent policy proposals, or any good rationale for his campaign. What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed."

Ezekiel J. Emanuel, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, explains why "Why Republicans' health-care plans are bad deals for Americans," rooted as they are in three basic "reforms": stingier subsidies, tax employer contributions to health care plans and allow plans to cross state borders (the ACA already has a provision, with regulatory standards). As Emanuel concludes, "Republican thinking on health-care reform has hardly advanced since 2008. The deals proposed then were bad and were defeated at the ballot box. And they remain bad deals for average Americans. This may be why few are willing to trust the "replace" part of the Republican pledge to "repeal and replace" the ACA."

In addition to overwhelming public support for tougher background checks for gun purchases, here's an even better reason why Dems could be bolder in their gun control messaging: "Among the 18 states that impose extra background check requirements for private gun sales, the average rate of gun deaths in 2013 was five fewer (out of every 100,000) than the rate among states that do not regulate background checks beyond the federal requirements," according to Libby Eisenstein, writing in the National Journal.

At The Plum Line Greg Sargent posts on a new Democratic ad designed to obliterate whatever fading hopes for getting a respectable share of the Latino vote the GOP was harboring. "The GOP has given Democrats the raw material, if used properly, to potentially take the Hispanic vote off the table in 2016," Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg tells me. "These ads signal that Dems understand they can dig the hole so deep for the GOP with Hispanics now that they will never get out no matter who the nominee is in 2016."

The good bank.


August 28, 2015

Jimmy Carter's Forgotten Fight For Voting Rights



On this 50th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Democrats are remembering that epic development and the protests and sacrifices that produced it, even as they intensify efforts to defend and restore voting rights under attack today. But we sometimes forget battlefronts in this fight that occurred between then and now.

In honor of Jimmy Carter's current condition at death's door, journalist and historian Rick Perlstein wrote a powerful column at the Washington Spectator reminding us that the 39th president launched a major push for expanded voting rights back in 1977. Carter aimed at goals we have yet to achieve, thanks to a conservative counter-revolution--still underway today--against what had been a bipartisan effort to vindicate everyone's right to vote.

Everyone loved to talk about voter apathy, but the real problem, Carter said, was that "millions of Americans are prevented or discouraged from voting in every election by antiquated and overly restricted voter registration laws"--a fact proven, he pointed out, by record rates of participation in 1976 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, where voters were allowed to register on election day. So he proposed that election-day registration be adopted universally, tempering concerns that such measures might increase opportunities for fraud by also proposing five years in prison and a $10,000 fine as penalties for electoral fraud.

He asked Congress to allot up to $25 million in aid to states to help them comply, and for the current system of federal matching funds for presidential candidates to be expanded to congressional elections. He suggested reforming a loophole in the matching-fund law that disadvantaged candidates competing with rich opponents who funded their campaigns themselves, and revising the Hatch Act to allow federal employees "not in sensitive positions," and when not on the job, the same rights of political participation as everyone else.

Finally, and most radically, he recommended that Congress adopt a constitutional amendment to do away with the Electoral College--under which, three times in our history (four times if you count George W. Bush 23 years later), a candidate who received fewer votes than his opponent went on to become president--in favor of popular election of presidents. It was one of the broadest political reform packages ever proposed.

It was immediately embraced. Legislators from both parties stood together at a news briefing to endorse all or part of it. Two Republican senators and two Republican representatives stepped forward to cosponsor the universal registration bill; William Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called it "a Republican concept." Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker announced his support, and suggested going even further: making election day a national holiday and keeping polls open 24 hours. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, a conservative disciple of Barry Goldwater, predicted it would pass "in substantially the same form with a lot of Republican support, including my own."

But then the conservative movement, led by Carter's eventual successor, Ronald Reagan, struck back with every weapon at its disposal, including the Senate filibuster, and stopped the initiative, after polarizing Republicans against it. And under the lash of the conservative movement, Republicans have been at the very best fair-weather friends of voting rights ever since, before becoming outright enemies during the Obama administration.

As Perstein notes, Carter is more concerned about voting rights than ever:

This spring, when only those closest to him knew of his illness, Jimmy Carter made news on Thom Hartmann's radio program when he returned to the question of democracy reform. In 1977, he had pledged "to work toward an electoral process which is open to the participation of all our citizens, which meets high ethical standards, and operates in an efficient and responsive manner." In 2015, he was still at it.

He declared our electoral system a violation of "the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it's just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president."

It's no time to give up the fight.


Republicans' 'Summer of Donald' Merits Ridicule



The New York Times has not one, but two K.O. punches for the Republican presidential campaign and the Summer of Donald. First Krugman:

...Go back to the politics of 2009, when the new Obama administration was trying to cope with the most terrifying crisis since the 1930s. The outgoing Bush administration had already engineered a bank bailout, but the Obama team reinforced this effort with a temporary program of deficit spending, while the Federal Reserve sought to bolster the economy by buying lots of assets.

And Republicans, across the board, predicted disaster. Deficit spending, they insisted, would cause soaring interest rates and bankruptcy; the Fed's efforts would "debase the dollar" and produce runaway inflation.

None of it happened. Interest rates stayed very low, as did inflation. But the G.O.P. never acknowledged, after six full years of being wrong about everything, that the bad things it predicted failed to take place, or showed any willingness to rethink the doctrines that led to those bad predictions. Instead, the party's leading figures kept talking, year after year, as if the disasters they had predicted were actually happening.

...How would the men and women who would be president respond if crisis struck on their watch?

And the answer, on the Republican side at least, seems to be: with bluster and China-bashing. Nowhere is there a hint that any of the G.O.P. candidates understand the problem, or the steps that might be needed if the world economy hits another pothole.

And then there is this, from Timothy Egan:

In a few weeks, Pope Francis will visit our fair land, a fitting pivot from the Summer of Trump, closing out a gluttonous episode of narcissism, rudeness, frivolity and xenophobia. For all that the orangutan-haired vulgarian has done to elevate the worst human traits a public figure can have, Francis is the anti-Trump. He has more power, media magnetism and authenticity in his lone functioning lung than Donald Trump has in his entire empire of ego.

...But for saying things that the darker elements of the Republican Party believe, but rarely voice, Trump is their clear front-runner -- a dangerous moment for a troubled party. He's drawn praise from ex-Klansmen like David Duke. The Daily Storm, a neo-Nazi website, urged its followers "to vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents us."

Egan is no doubt correct that the Pope's visit will certainly set a stark contrast to the Summer of Donald, reminding the American public of the dignity that is now sorely lacking among Republican leaders. That's what it has come to -- a once great political party reduced to groveling for any kind of media coverage while their ring-master hogs the limelight with increasingly lame pronouncements. The Democratic Party has its problems, but it can't be denied that the modern GOP sets a matchless standard for well-earned ridicule.


August 27, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



In Jon Per's "GOP a threat to U.S. economy, say economists" at Daily Kos, he writes, "While all eyes have been focused on the worldwide stock market plunge, a recent survey of economists by the Wall Street Journal identified a different threat to the vitality of the U.S. economy. But it's not the instability of Chinese stock prices, the devaluation of our currency, the Eurozone's Greek tragedy, or even a premature Fed interest rate hike that has WSJ's economists so concerned. Instead, the fear is that the GOP-controlled Congress will once again precipitate a fiscal crisis this fall."

It doesn't sound like the Vice President and his family are ready for yet another run for the White House. A remarkably candid admission from Vice President Biden about his "emotional fuel" deficit will leave many lamenting that such honesty, sanity and soul are exactly what is missing -- and needed -- in American politics.

Jeb Bush is giving Trump a run for the GOP's gaffer-in-chief.

After giving Jesse Jackson due credit for his energetic and inspiring leadership, this post seems overstated and somewhat backwards in that Rev. Jackson's influence was more a product of demographic transformations than a self-contained game-changer.

Ashley Lopez explains why "Why Republicans Might Not Get A Voter Turnout Surge in Kentucky Next Year."

At Slate.com Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump is tapping into a vast undercurrent of public animosity toward wealthy donors, lobbyists and special interests corrupting American politics. "In an analysis for the Democratic Strategist and the Washington Monthly published earlier this year, pollster Stan Greenberg drew a connection between the high-dollar fundraising of modern political campaigns and the deep government distrust from working-class whites, working-class white men in particular...For Greenberg, it's this--more than anything else in politics--that fuels anti-government cynicism. ...There's almost no chance that Trump or his team has read Greenberg. But if Greenberg is right--and millions of Americans are open to an explicit message against the wealthy donors and fundraisers that dominate American politics--then Trump's message of financial independence could be his key to a broader constituency."

At The Guardian Daniel Pena explains why "It's not just Trump: Latinos should boycott the Republican party en masse" and notes, ""Illegal" and "Mexican" have come to be used interchangeably by both Republican supporters and the candidates themselves. This should set off alarm bells in the minds of Latino voters and Americans everywhere. The Republican Party is not designed to include people like us. And it's quickly becoming a promoter of and platform for white supremacist, hate group rhetoric."

Meanwhile, Washington Post editorial writer Harold Meyerson has a primer for the media who will be conducting "the next GOP debate" and notes "the insularity of the discourse in conservative media is such that economic issues on which substantial numbers and, on occasion, majorities of Republicans agree with their Democratic and independent compatriots are rarely brought up for fear they'll run afoul of GOP political correctness. It's all the more incumbent for the moderators in the upcoming Republican debates to pose such questions."

At Moyers & Company Richard Schiffman's interview with Norwegian psychologist and economist Per Espen Stoknes probes a question of increasing importance to progressives, "How Do We Get People to Care About Climate Change?" Says Stoknes, "There are five main psychological barriers: distance, doom, dissonance, denial, and identity...And the reason climate science communication is so difficult is that it triggers these barriers one after the other."






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



September 4: A Plan for a Counter-Revolution at SCOTUS

Are you one of those Democrats who don't think it ultimately matters that much who wins the 2016 presidential contest, especially if someone you consider a corporate lackey wins the Democratic nomination? You really, really need to pay attention to Republicans plans for the Supreme Court, which encompass vast economic as well and social and civil rights issues. I discussed one very prominent conservative blueprint for remaking America via SCOTUS at Washington Monthly today:

I really do appreciate the efforts of Constitutional Conservative legal beagles Randy Barnett of Georgetown and Josh Blackman of South Texas College of Law in laying out in some detail--and not in a legal journal but in the Weekly Standard--rules for examining future Republican Supreme Court appointments. It's not just a litmus test in the making--which presidential candidates in both parties typically say they do not want to administer--but a rationale for a litmus test. And their piece has the advantage of being very clear on the key points.

To Barnett and Blackman, who first discuss the notorious history of Republican SCOTUS appointments they view as betrayals, the big thing is that prospective Justices have a clearly documented willingness to ignore both other branches of government--the principle behind the receding Republican doctrine of "judicial restraint"--and stare decisis--the principle against overturning well-settled Court precedent--in pursuit of the "original" meaning of the Constitution. That means treating SCOTUS as an all-powerful institution communing with eighteenth century Founders--or worse yet, Con Con mythologies about those Founders--and empowered to kill many decades of decisions by all three branches of government, precedent and democracy be damned. No wonder they talk repeatedly about needing Justices--and presidents--with courage! And the dividing line between good and bad "conservative" Justices could not be made much clearer: Alito goooood! Roberts baaaaaad! Barnett and Blackman even suggest their rules should be made clear to and then demanded by presidential primary voters!

If that actually starts happening, it will be as or even more important to watch as any other discussions of any other issues. As Brian Beutler recently noted in an important piece at TNR, Barnett and Blackman are among other things leading advocates for a return to the Lochner era of jurisprudence, whereby most regulations of private economic activity by the executive or legislative branches would be declared unconstitutional as an abridgement of "natural law" concepts in the original Constitution and an exotic understanding of the due process clauses in the 5th and 14th amendments. These are dangerous people to let anywhere near a Supreme Court nomination. But they and many others like them, who now play a dominant role in the very powerful conservative legal fraternity the Federalist Society, are likely to be right there with their litmus test in hand.

Think about that before uttering any "not a dime's worth of difference" assessments this year.


September 2: Behind the Friendly Face of Dr. Ben Carson


It's time to take a really good look at Dr. Ben Carson, as I noted today at Washington Monthly:

Now that Ben Carson is all the rage in the GOP presidential nominating contest, sharing the spotlight with Donald Trump without a trace of the negative vibes The Donald brings to the table, I figure my little hobby of trying to understand what the man means with his incessant references to "political correctness" is becoming a public utility...

One of my exhibits for describing Carson as a "wingnut with a calm bedside manner" was his reference in the Fox News GOP presidential debate to Hillary Clinton as a denizen of the "progressive movement" who was following "the Alinsky Model" for destroying the country. Even as they declared him the winner or one of the winners of the debate, MSM observers slid right over the ravings about Alinsky as though they couldn't hear The Crazy or, more likely, didn't understand what he was talking about. That sure as hell was not the case with right-wing media, who heard the dog-whistle loud and clear. Indeed, at National Review, John Fund even called it that:

The award so far in this Republican debate for dog-whistle rhetoric goes to Ben Carson. He answered a a question about Hillary Clinton by referring to her belief in "the Alinsky model," a topic of great interest in the conservative blogosphere.

Named after Saul Alinksy, the late community organizer who inspired both Hillary and Barack Obama, the model calls for destabilizing the existing system from the inside and paving the way for radical social change.

Despite his mild manner and soft voice, it may be that Ben Carson is the candidate on tonight's stage who is privately the most deeply ideological.

According to people like Carson, a big part of the Alinsky Model is "political correctness:" disarming opponents by deriding their utterances as small-minded and offensive.... [H]ere's a fine description of the core idea in a Tea Party take on Carson's well-received 2014 CPAC speech:

Dr. Carson says that the good news is that the majority of people in this country have common sense, but the problem is that they've been "beaten into submission by the PC (political-correctness) policemen," which has kept people from speaking up about what they believe.

To thunderous applause, Dr. Carson revealed one of Saul Alinsky's (author of leftist bible, Rules for Radicals) more deceptive tactics that he taught to his progressive, Marxist followers:

"One of the principles of Saul Alinsky, he said you make the majority believe that what they think is outdated and nobody thinks that way, and that the way they think is the only way intelligent people think. And if you can co-opt the media in the process, you're far ahead of the game. That's exactly what's happened, and it's time for people to stand up and proclaim what they believe and stop being bullied!

So every time Carson denounces "political correctness," which he does in just about every other sentence, that's what he's talking about: a conspiracy by "progressives" to suppress common-sense (i.e., hard-core conservative) "solutions" by pitting people against each other through talk about race, gender, income inequality, etc. etc. In Carson's heavily Glenn-Beckish worldview, all his talk about "unity" and "civility" means the kind of country we can have once the snakes (i.e., you and me and HRC) have been thrown out of Eden.

It would be nice if political reporters would play closer attention.


August 28: Jimmy Carter's Forgotten Fight for Voting Rights

On this 50th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Democrats are remembering that epic development and the protests and sacrifices that produced it, even as they intensify efforts to defend and restore voting rights under attack today. But we sometimes forget battlefronts in this fight that occurred between then and now.

In honor of Jimmy Carter's current condition at death's door, journalist and historian Rick Perlstein wrote a powerful column at the Washington Spectator reminding us that the 39th president launched a major push for expanded voting rights back in 1977. Carter aimed at goals we have yet to achieve, thanks to a conservative counter-revolution--still underway today--against what had been a bipartisan effort to vindicate everyone's right to vote.

Everyone loved to talk about voter apathy, but the real problem, Carter said, was that "millions of Americans are prevented or discouraged from voting in every election by antiquated and overly restricted voter registration laws"--a fact proven, he pointed out, by record rates of participation in 1976 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, where voters were allowed to register on election day. So he proposed that election-day registration be adopted universally, tempering concerns that such measures might increase opportunities for fraud by also proposing five years in prison and a $10,000 fine as penalties for electoral fraud.

He asked Congress to allot up to $25 million in aid to states to help them comply, and for the current system of federal matching funds for presidential candidates to be expanded to congressional elections. He suggested reforming a loophole in the matching-fund law that disadvantaged candidates competing with rich opponents who funded their campaigns themselves, and revising the Hatch Act to allow federal employees "not in sensitive positions," and when not on the job, the same rights of political participation as everyone else.

Finally, and most radically, he recommended that Congress adopt a constitutional amendment to do away with the Electoral College--under which, three times in our history (four times if you count George W. Bush 23 years later), a candidate who received fewer votes than his opponent went on to become president--in favor of popular election of presidents. It was one of the broadest political reform packages ever proposed.

It was immediately embraced. Legislators from both parties stood together at a news briefing to endorse all or part of it. Two Republican senators and two Republican representatives stepped forward to cosponsor the universal registration bill; William Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called it "a Republican concept." Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker announced his support, and suggested going even further: making election day a national holiday and keeping polls open 24 hours. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, a conservative disciple of Barry Goldwater, predicted it would pass "in substantially the same form with a lot of Republican support, including my own."

But then the conservative movement, led by Carter's eventual successor, Ronald Reagan, struck back with every weapon at its disposal, including the Senate filibuster, and stopped the initiative, after polarizing Republicans against it. And under the lash of the conservative movement, Republicans have been at the very best fair-weather friends of voting rights ever since, before becoming outright enemies during the Obama administration.

As Perstein notes, Carter is more concerned about voting rights than ever:

This spring, when only those closest to him knew of his illness, Jimmy Carter made news on Thom Hartmann's radio program when he returned to the question of democracy reform. In 1977, he had pledged "to work toward an electoral process which is open to the participation of all our citizens, which meets high ethical standards, and operates in an efficient and responsive manner." In 2015, he was still at it.

He declared our electoral system a violation of "the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it's just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president."

It's no time to give up the fight.


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