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November 30, 2004

Alabama Song

I mentioned yesterday that I was going to spend some time in Alabama at a training event for state legislators, and aside from the practical work these solons did in pursuing the DLC's values-based messaging and agenda-setting methodology, they reminded me why I'm proud to be a red-state, southern Democrat. You have to appreciate how embattled Alabama Democrats feel right now. Yes, they still control both Houses in the state legislature, and yes, in Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley, they have a potentially successful 2006 gubernatorial candidate. But aside from John Kerry's dismal performance this year, Democrats got clobbered in statewide contests on November 2, and Republicans have generally dominated the issue landscape in the state in recent years, as reflected by the popular obsession with former Judge Roy Moore's campaign to defy the U.S. Constitution by displaying the Ten Commandments on public property, and by the vociferous anti-tax, anti-government views of a majority of Alabama voters. According to exit polls, nearly half of this state's electorate self-identifies as conservative. But precisely because Alabama Republicans have made cultural issues and low- or no-government themes central to their political message, Democrats here have the painful but honorable burden of being the only people who actually talk about the challenges facing their state. Alabama remains a relatively poor state, with a regressive tax system, struggling public schools, and an corporate-welfare-based economic development strategy straight out of the 1950s. And every political issue in Alabama remains colored by the legacy of slavery and segregation; Republicans continue to indirectly but unmistakably tell white voters that decent public services are a "black thing" that they should not understand or support. And that's the ultimate handicap and opportunity that Alabama Democrats, like their counterparts all over the South, live with: their status as a biracial coalition in a biracial society. Southern Democrats stand alone in their willingness to project a message and agenda that unites their people, as my experience in Birmingham confirmed. Even the most conservative Alabama Democrats are extraordinarily proud of their party's civil rights and equal opportunity heritage. And African-Americans in this state are extraordinarily pragmatic about the need for a broad party message that appeals to white moderate and moderately conservative voters. They also tend to share the culturally conservative views that seem so alien to a blue-state-dominated national party. What you really learn by spending time with southern Democrats is the importance of projecting a party message that unites people across racial, class, and cultural lines, instead of competing with Republicans in an effort to build a coalition of selfish interest and identity groups. The more the GOP abandons its heritage as a party of national unity, the more this common ground is open to Democrats. Alabama Democrats understand this implicitly, and that's why this year's, and this decade's, political misfortunes down here are not some demographically determined permanent realignment, but a new challenge to a party that has consistently found ways to build new broad coalitions based on ideas that unite people rather than dividing them. Ultimately, the theme song for Southern Democrats is the familiar and optimistic refrain: Black and white together We shall overcome some day. Deep in my heart I do believe We shall overcome some day.

November 29, 2004

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

So, you think it's tough to be a Democrat in your red state, huh? Consider Alabama, where political life in recent years has gone into a toxic downward spiral characterized by a deep and self-fulfilling mistrust of government and a preoccupation with such pressing contemporary issues as the public posting of The Ten Commandments. Alabama's latest agony involves the apparent failure (an automatic recount of the November 2 results will be conducted this week) of a constitutional amendment, sponsored by my friend Ken Guin, the Democratic Leader in the Alabama House, that would have removed Jim Crow language about segregated schools from the state constitution. The amendment was opposed by the Christian Coalition and other conservative Republicans because it would have also removed a Jim Crow clause denying Alabama children the right to public education, reflecting the temporary 1950s segregationist strategy of shutting down public schools altogether. Much of the Christian Right, of course, is as committed to the destruction of public schools as their seggie predecessors, if for ostensibly different reasons. The public argument against the amendment was rather different, based on a conspiracy theory that "activist judges" would somehow use the constitutional right to a public education to require tax increases. The irony in all this is that Alabama conservatives are deeply devoted to the idea that the state's economic future strictly depends on doing everything imaginable to attract business investment. But a lot of businesses aren't terribly crazy about committing themselves to a community that can't quite bring itself out of the 1950s. So the defeat of Guin's amendment was really an atavistic two-fer: establishing a lack of interest in quality public education at a time when employers care more about a skilled workforce than ever before, and reminding the whole country of Alabama's unsavory history of race relations. I'll be in Alabama later today for a training event, and intend to spend some time helping my Democratic friends plot righteous retribution for the damage the GOP is doing to their state.

November 27, 2004

Hastert Bans Bipartisanship

Sorry for the lack of posts, but I've been celebrating Thanksgiving with my extended family, and hope you've had the chance to do the same. Getting back to the newspapers today was like a slap in the face. There's a Charles Babington article in the Post today that makes it clear that House Speaker Dennis Hastert put the kibosh on the 9/11 commission bill because he's applying a general principle that he won't bring anything to the floor unless a majority of House Republicans support it. Like a lot of Democrats, I tend to view Hastert as a mild-mannered, inarticulate high school wrestling coach who's sort of a figurehead for the real power in the House, Tom DeLay. But Hastert has gone considerably out of his way to put his personal stamp on this Republicans-only policy, and to make it clear he's doing this to protect his own position in the House. Whether he's the organ-grinder or the monkey on this decision, it shows exactly how far today's GOP is willing to go to make narrow partisanship a higher priority than good government, loyalty to the alleged views of the president, or even patriotism. To put it another way, unless things change, the wingnuts in the House GOP caucus now have a virtual stranglehold on the government of the United States of America. And that gives me far more heartburn than yesterday's Thanksgiving leftovers.

November 23, 2004

Scapegoating the Staff

As I used to hear old people say years ago: "You just can't get good help these days." That seems to be the refrain of the Republican Party this week, what with a $338 billion omnibus bill crashing and burning, and with intelligence reform legislation being stalled yet again--and unidentified low-level staffers appearing to take the blame in both cases. After an elaborate game of hot potato in which House and Senate GOP leaders, Rep. Ernest Istook and the IRS took turns pointing fingers and denying responsibility, everybody seems to have agreed to blame House appropriations committee staffers for the language authorizing access to taxpayers' returns that derailed the omnibus bill until December. According to CNN, "Senate GOP leader Bill Frist said Sunday that 'accountability will be carried out' against whoever slipped in the provision." Guess somebody will be leaving the Emerald City posthaste and going back to toil in Daddy's law firm. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indignantly denied widespread reports that he had lobbied against intelligence reform. This leaves reform-smashers James Sensenbrenner and Duncan Hunter, who made it clear they were acting to protect DoD's turf in this matter, looking kind of exposed, at least until such time as Rumsfeld and the White House figure out which low-level staffers at the Pentagon can be blamed for this perfidious disloyalty to the President's position. Ah, the staff makes such good scapegoats, and opportunities like these give politicians an excellent opportunity to vent their underlying irritation at having to rely on whippersnappers whom they suspect of forgetting Who's the Boss. Back when I worked in state government, every time the National Governors' Association met they would hold Governors-only sessions where staffers were strictly banned. I once asked one of my bosses what they talked about in these sessions, and he looked me in the eye and said: "We sit around and complain about our staffs."

November 22, 2004

Bad Behavior

When you're down south, you can't twirl the radio dial without running across sports talk, so I've been listening to endless discussions of the Big Brawl in Detroit last Friday night. Some gabbers think Ron Artest got a raw deal, losing roughly a million dollars per punch for his foray into the stands after those beer-and-popcorn hurling Pistons fans. Others think he should be strung up by sundown. I couldn't help but think about extending the civility rules from basketball to politics. What if Tom DeLay was subject to a suspension-without-pay for his next ethics violation? I know House Members don't get paid as well as NBA stars, but maybe DeLay could pony up some cash from one of his political action committees when he goes into the stands back home in Texas and roughs up some innocent Democrat, eh? Some kinds of poor political sportsmanship, however, deserve a penalty that goes beyond the deepest wallet. I don't know about you, but I'd love to toss a beer right now at the Honorable James Sensennbrenner of Wisconsin, or the Honorable Duncan Hunter of California, the two solons who are risking all our lives by gumming up bipartisan intelligence reform legislation in Congress over a stupid turf fight with the Senate and the White House. (A note to any zealous law enforcement agents who may be reading: this is a fantasy, not a terroristic threat). Right now the only person in a position to punish these guys for their bad behavior is the President of the United States, who in a statement from Chile, allowed as how he'd like to get things worked out when he gets home (assuming he doesn't have one of those Crawford vacations previously scheduled). This is one time I truly wish Bush was the swaggering cowboy his publicists claim he is, and that he'd hogtie these boys and drag them to the House floor to do their jobs for the American people.

November 21, 2004

Profiles in Hubris

I’m down in Georgia for an extended Thanksgiving holiday with family, so the shenanigans in Washington seem a little remote. But when the wind blows south, I can catch a distinct whiff of Republican hubris, which smells like brimstone inadequately covered by overpriced perfume. Last week we all gazed in awe at the House GOP’s passage of the DeLay Rule, which proffered the unprecedented idea that Republicans in Washington had the power to decide which state legal proceedings were legitimate or not. This was followed by the passage of one of those obnoxious omnibus appropriations bills that treat all investments of taxpayers’ dollars as pretty much identical knots on rolling logs. There’s no telling how many legislative stinkbombs were included in this unread and undebated mess of a bill, though thanks to vigilant Democratic staffers and Josh Marshall, we do know about a provision sponsored by the reliably scary Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), which would allow the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees access to anybody’s federal tax returns. And for dessert, House Republicans decided to block action on a desperately needed intelligence reform bill, loosely modeled on the 9/11 commission recommendations, because they wanted to protect the turf of the massive, shadowy, and unaccountable proliferation of intelligence operations being run out of the Pentagon. But the supreme act of hubris is now under consideration by Republican Senators: the first modification of filibuster rules in 20 years, and the most significant enhancement of raw majority power in the Senate since 1917. Republicans, of course, had no problem with filibusters, and often used them, until the moment when (1) they gained control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, and (b) their top priority became stocking the federal judiciary with conservative judges requiring Senate confirmation. There are hundreds of legitimate arguments for and against the Senate tradition of unlimited debate, and the limited but real power of the minority to slow down legislation and force compromise through actual or threatened filibusters. But there’s no question that the power of a party controlling both executive and legislative branches to control another branch for decades through a host of lifetime appointments to the federal bench is one of those contingencies that make filibusters respectable. And the willingness of today’s Republicans to throw out more than two centuries of precedent, and subject the Senate to raw majority power like the House, makes you wonder how they can continue to call themselves "conservative."

November 19, 2004

The Christian Right and the Sanctity of Marriage

As we all know, the Christian Right has now made defense of the institution of marriage, as defined as a union of a man and woman, not only its top political priority, but the very touchstone of Christian moral responsibility. I've always found this rather ironic, since the Protestant Reformation, to which most Christian Right leaders continue to swear fealty, made one of its own touchstones the derogation of marriage as a purely religious, as opposed to civic, obligation. Virtually all of the leaders of the Reformation denounced the idea of marriage as a scripturally-sanctioned church sacrament, holding that baptism and the Eucharist were the only valid sacraments. Luther called marriage "a secular and outward thing,"which he did not mean as a compliment. Calvin treated marriage as a "union of pious persons," and while he did consider marriage a "covenant," he used the same term for virtually every significant human relationship. More tellingly, throughout Protestant Europe, from the earliest days, one of the most common "reforms" was the liberalization of divorce laws. And even today, in America, conservative Protestants have the highest divorce rates of any faith community, or un-faith community. My point is not to accuse today's conservative Christians of hypocrisy, though there's room for that; it's that the Christian Right has made a habit of confusing secular cultural conservatism--the simple and understandable impulse to resist unsettling change--with fidelity to their own religious traditions. "Defending marriage" is far down the list of concerns, historically, of the Reformation tradition, and indeed, that tradition has done far more to loosen the bonds of matrimony, for good or for ill, and to "de-sanctify" the institution, than all the gays and lesbians who have ever lived.

Crawl Before You Walk

Those of you watching this story probably know that Arlen Specter seems to have passed whatever hellish test his Senate GOP colleagues laid out for him before letting the Pennsylvanian ascend to the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. There's no way of knowing what abject acts of submission he had to perform to achieve this "victory," but his public statement's pretty sweeping. There are a goodly number of words in this statement, but they all add up to a public promise that Specter will do absolutely nothing to annoy or inconvenience the administration or the Republican Right on any subject whatsoever, whether it's judges or constitutional amendments or tort reform. Specter said one particular thing that will seem especially perverse to anyone to the left of Jimmy Dean Sausage: "I have long objected to the tactic used in bottling up civil rights legislation in the Judiciary Committee when it should have gone to the floor for an up-or-down vote. Accordingly I would not support committee action to bottle up legislation or a constitutional amendment, even one which I personally opposed, reserving my own position for the floor." What he's talking about, of course, is a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. It's just wonderful of him to analogize a constitutional amendment denying Americans rights to "civil rights legislation." Let's all hope Specter really enjoys that chairmanship, now that he's stripped it of much of anything meaningful other than preserving the pleasure of browbeating witnesses hostile to the will of his new masters.

November 18, 2004

Respect Does Not Mean Submission

In the debate among Democrats about how to overcome conservative-bred stereotypes of us as cultural nihilists, there's a persistantly false idea circulating that we have to choose between a "moving to the right" on hot-button cultural issues or just accepting that the hostility of culturally conservative people is the price we pay for doing the right thing. If this truly were the only choice, you could mark me down for the "hang tough and take the heat" position. But it's not the only choice, as I have explained at redundant length in this blog every other day since November 2. Some of the people pushing this false choice are Democrats who (1) don't understand there are people with cultural concerns about the direction of the country who aren't devotees of the theocratic Christian Right; (2) don't really care what "those people" think of us, or (3) persist in the failed strategy of treating cultural issues as phony and changing the subject to more material matters. But the "move right or move on" choice is also being pushed by those on the Right who have their own reasons for pretending they speak for many millions of people who've never heard of James Dobson and would be horrified by the idea of a theocracy. The New Republic's Peter Beinart does a brilliant job in an online piece today in dissecting the Christian Right's claims that respecting their religion means submitting to their point of view. Indeed, he accurately accuses them of the same type of "identity politics" and "political correctness" that the Right has long attacked among those on the Left who argue that respecting who they are means suspending any criticism of what they want to do. Here's a sample: "It's fine if religion influences your moral values. But when you make public arguments, you have to ground them--as much as possible--in reason and evidence, things that are accessible to people of different religions, or no religion at all. Otherwise, you can't persuade other people, and they can't persuade you.... [Harsh] cricitism is not disrespect--and to claim it is undermines democratic debate." I'll go Beinart one better: the Christian Right's effort to make "respect" equal "agreement" is even more deeply disrespectful to people who actually share their religion. I'm a Protestant Christian myself, and read the same Bible that James Dobson reads, and I see no evidence at all that the message (much less the primary message) of Scripture to the faithful of this time is to outlaw abortion and stigmatize gay people. So it really offends me to be told I'm an "anti-Christian bigot" for disagreeing with the Christian Right on such subjects. It behooves Democrats to challenge Christian conservatives for playing identity politics and refusing to engage in civil discourse about the intersection of faith and policy, and to challenge themselves to reject the false choice of disrespect or submission.

November 17, 2004

Zell No

Attentive Hotline readers today might have noticed a little item reporting that Bill Shipp of the Athens Banner-Herald had urged Georgia Democrats to make Zell Miller their next chairman. I had to go check this out. Shipp is generally known as the "dean of Georgia political journalists," primarily because his byline has been appearing somewhere since approximately midway through the Spanish-American war. But he's no wingnut, by any measure. Turns out Shipp was joking, though you had to get to the end of his column to figure that out: "As chairman, Miller would help mount a Democratic-sponsored initiative for a constitutional amendment requiring the teaching of creationism in all Georgia schools. Such a measure could do for Democrats what stopping gay nuptials have done for the GOP. Besides, young people everywhere would love Miller. The creationists' dramatic story line on how we got here is much more gripping than the dull and arcane text of Charles Darwin, an elitist snob still revered by Harvard liberals." A real knee-slapper, eh? But I'm glad no one really seems to be taking Zell up on his offer to rebuild the Democratic Party on the solid foundation of total surrender to the Republican Right. Georgia Dems have had a pretty bad century so far (though they did knock off one of the two Republican House incumbents to lose this year), but you don't recover from a knifing by hiring one of the perpetrators as your surgeon. POSTSCRIPT: Registering on the Banner-Herald site brought back fond memories of my years in Athens, when this paper--universally called the "Banana-Herald"--vied for the honor of being the worst newspaper in Christendom. Their site today doesn't look at all bad, but they had a lot of room for improvement. Once they ran a front-page photo of newly elected Roman Pontiff John Paul II over the caption: "John Paul II--the first non-Catholic Pope."

What's A Little Indictment Among Friends?

Well, they went ahead and did it: House Republicans voted today to repeal their 1993 caucus rule requiring leadership figures to step aside temporarily if indicted for a felony involving a potential sentence of two or more years. The step was taken in anticipation that House GOP Whip Tom (The Hammer) DeLay might be about to hear from a grand jury in Austin, Texas, in reference to a DeLay-related shakedown effort to (1) get corporate money to (2) elect enough Republican legislators to (3) re-redistrict Texas House seats to (4) further entrench DeLay and his colleagues in control of the House. This vote protects DeLay's power against an indictment, but if he is indicted, he'll have to stand trial, unless he pulls an Adam Clayton Powell and just stays the hell away from his home state for the foreseeable future. And if he's convicted, nothing short of a get-out-of-jail-free card from his buddy the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, could keep him hammerin' away in DC. But at this point, friends and neighbors, I wouldn't put much of anything past these guys. They are truly out of control and drunk on power, apparently believing they have a mandate to do whatever they want. I can't add much in vitriol to what the DLC said today in the New Dem Daily, or what my colleague The Moose, who knows these guys like St. Augustine knew the Manichees, said as well. In my experience, the two sins the Good Lord tends to punish most rapidly are self-righteousness and hypocrisy. When you've got both, from the party that styles itself as the guardians of moral values and godliness, I think we'll see some thunderbolts pretty soon.

November 16, 2004

Another Cross to Bear for Santorum

Even as he struggles to convince his fellow conservatives that his PA colleague, Arlen Specter, is, so to speak, kosher as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman at a time when the Right is eagerly looking forward to a raft of lifetime appointment to the federal bench for True Believers, Sen. Rick Santorum is in a bit of trouble on the home front. As AP reporter Jennifer Yates explains, the Penn Hills school district in suburban Pittsburgh is investigating complaints that taxpayers have spent about $100,000 providing Santorum's children with internet-based educational services even though the family actually lives in Virginia. The Santorum kids are benefitting from a "cyber-charter" law in PA that allows frequently travelling famlies to avail themsleves of distance learning opportunities at public expense. But the question is whether the Santorums are "residents" of Penn Hills in any meaningful way. They own a modest house in the school district, but don't appear to have lived there, preferring a much posher residence in tony, horsy Leesburg, VA. I do not believe in visiting the sins of the father on his children, and wouldn't for a moment try to interpose political objections at the expense of the education of the Santorum clan; maybe the kids will become Democrats with enough schooling. But the junior Senator from Pennsylvania really does need to figure out, like every other Member of Congress, where he lives. I know it's vitally important to him to become a Big-Time Washington Player, and he is said to look in the mirror and see a future President of the United States. But for this apostle of "family values," family values ought to trump ambition. If he cannot bring himself to live in Pennsylvania (some Members of Congress actually sleep in their offices Tuesday through Thursday, and spend most of their time back home), then he should make it clear he lives elsewhere and act accordingly. The public schools in Leesburg are pretty good, and there are a variety of fine private and parochial schools in the vicinity as well. And moreover, as a fervent supporter of charter public schools, it honks me off that Santorum is doing his own part to undermine the credibility of his own state's charter laws. Charter public schools are primarily intended to offer new choices and a better guarantee of achievement for disadvantaged kids being failed by traditional schools. Their purpose is not to give United States Senators the opportunity to pretend to live in their home states, and to educate their children in the wealthiest exurbs of The Imperial City, with the taxpayers of their abandoned domiciles footing the bill.

More About The Late Electoral Unpleasantness

While waiting breathlessly for the smoke from the Senate chimney signalling the outcome of Arlen Specter's baptism of fire today, I caught up on some web reading, and ran across Noam Scheiber's "&c" post about the comments that Ruy Teixeira and yours truly had made on Democracy Corps' analysis of late-breaking voters. Noam suggested that national security, not "culture issues" per se, were the key to Bush's surprising success with late-deciding voters, but also argued (and I agree completely) that security and cultural concerns tend to merge. Indeed, I would submit that all the issues that hurt Kerry and that have so persistently hurt Democrats--security, "culture," and the role of government--are "trust" issues on which our candidates have too often failed the credibility test and exposed themselves to GOP attacks on "elitist, soft-on-defense, big-government liberals." But let's dig a little deeper here. DCorps suggested that seniors were especially disappointing for Democrats on November 2. And there's no disputing the numbers: Kerry lost over-60 voters by 8 points, a 12-point negative swing from both Gore's performance in 2000 and Clinton's in 1996. That's amazing, when you think about what the Kerry campaign was about during the last phase of the campaign: Iraq, Rx drugs, and Don't Touch Social Security. Seniors were famously the age cohort least likely to support the invasion of Iraq, from the very beginning. They were also unhappy with the administration-supported Rx drug benefit. And they are supposed to vibrate like tuning forks at any suggestion of changes in Social Security. Maybe the results indicate that cultural issues were more important to seniors than Noam thinks. Maybe it means that they thought that trusting Bush on the war on terror trumped their concerns about his Iraq policies. But it almost certainly means that years and years of Democratic efforts to target seniors with a negative message about evil GOP designs on Medicare and Social Security aren't getting us anywhere. Hell, that's just about all Democratic congressional candidates in 2002 ever talked about. And whether or not you agree with DCorps' apparent belief that Kerry didn't focus enough on domestic issues in the home stretch, he sure focused on those domestic issues thought to work magic with seniors. I know this is a radical thought, but maybe Democrats should focus on developing a broad, national message for change on all the challenges facing the country, since our "targeted" messages, some of which violently oppose "change," don't seem to be succeeding very well. I know for an absolute fact that John Kerry's campaign considered that option, but his pollsters and consultants hooted it down. This is not a "recrimination," but simply an observation about a long-standing way of thinking among Democrats that is not standing up well to the test of time after time.

November 15, 2004

What Must Specter Do?

Tomorrow's apparently the big day when Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) must "make his case" to his GOP colleagues about why they should allow him to ascend to the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, as dictated by the seniority system. Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist laid out a pretty high hurdle for the prickly Pennsylvanian: to preside in a way that reflects "the feelings, the beliefs, the values, the procedures that are held by the majority of that committee." In other words, Specter must have the courage of other people's convictions. It's hard to imagine what sort of servile gesture would suffice for Specter at this point. Agree to weild a papier-mache gavel? Get himself wired up with one of those instructional devices that George W. Bush was suspected to have worn during the first presidential debates? Recuse himself when any actual business comes before the Judiciary Committee? About the only thing I can think of that would do the trick is for Specter to dramatically announce a conversion: no, not just to Movement Conservatism, or to the views of the Right to Life Committee, but to Christianity. Imagine the cries of joy that would ensue in Virginia Beach and Colorado Springs and other precincts of the theocratic Right! It would be like that scene in The Apostle when Billy Bob Thornton succumbed to the Call just as he was preparing to bulldoze Robert Duvall's church! Victory is mine! Victory is mine! Like the president himself, Specter would be forgiven his decades of "youthful indiscretions," such as his career-long support for abortion rights. But such are Specter's sins that I would not recommend a mere recitation of creeds or a high-church "sprinkling." Nothing short of a Full Immersion will likely convince his critics. Imagine the scene: the Senate Republican Caucus gathers on the banks of the Anacostia River, and robed in white, the senior Senator from Pennsylvania, accompanied by Brother Frist and Brother Coburn and Brother Santorum and Brother Novak, wades into the greasy waters.... If, as France's Henry IV was reported to have said upon agreeing to convert to Catholicism to become King, "Paris is worth a mass," then perhaps Arlen Specter must decide whether "Judiciary is worth a swim." NOTE TO THE CREDULOUS: THIS IS A JOKE!

November 14, 2004

The Dobson Difference

Josh Marshall among others has taken special note of the unusually abrasive comments made during and after the election by James Dobson, patriarch of the huge, Colorado-based Focus on the Family radio ministry. There is unmistakably a totalitarian tone to Dobson's lurid arguments that gay people not only threaten the institution of marriage, but the survival of Planet Earth, along with his description of Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) as a "God's people hater." This is nothing new for Dobson. I wrote a piece six years ago for The New Democrat magazine (the predecessor to the DLC's Blueprint) noting that Dobson represented a new and dangerous strain of the Christian Right, based on the frequent parallels he drew between (Clintonian) America and Nazi Germany, and his corresponding claims that Christian conservatives were, like the Confessing Church of Nazi Germany, a rare beacon of conscience in a satanic society that was determined to wipe them out. I know that for many secular or Catholic or Jewish or "mainstream" protestant people all the Christian Right leaders pretty much sound alike, but Dobson is different: in the kulturkampf, he's the apostle of Total War. Dobson first came to my attention in 1996, for his part in a famous public controversy launched by Richard John Neuhaus' First Things magazine, entitled "The End of Democracy?" Neuhaus posed the question whether legalized abortion and gay rights and other affronts to traditional culture justified civil disobedience and other extra-legal forms of resistance. In a subsequent issue of First Things, Dobson was by far the most emphatic in rejecting the "legitimacy" of "the current regime," and of constitutional democracy as well, so long as the courts continued to defy "divine law." One of the enduring ironies of this controversy was that it created a serious split between hard-line Christian conservatives and the largely-Jewish neoconservatives who expressed horror at the theocratic views of Neuhaus, Dobson, and their allies. Yet little more than seven years later, Dobson and at least the most prominent neocons are yoked together to the political fortunes of George W. Bush's Republican Party. It's a truism--and like all truisms, partially true--that the GOP is an ideological party, while Democrats represent a coalition party. But underneath the surface of Republican harmony, there are serious differences that cannot be perpetually suppressed. I will defer to my colleague The Moose in analyzing the fault lines of contemporary conservatism. But I can't help but wonder what doubts privately afflict Bush's neocons. They have succeeded in convincing the president to rhetorically embrace their vision of America as a militant advocate of secular democracy and liberty in the Islamic world. But when they look down the party line, they cannot help but see their ally James Dobson, who so fervently believes that democracy and liberty are mere disposable tactics for the imposition of "divine law."

November 12, 2004

Dean and the Long Green

There's a buzz around Washington that former Gov. Howard Dean has decided to make a run for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. And out in the blogosphere, former Deaniacs are getting excited about this possibility as a way to resume their Long March to control of the party and eventually the country, which was so rudely interrupted by the caucus-goers of Iowa last January. No, dear readers, I'm not going to break my self-imposed cease-fire by saying anything nasty about Dean or his supporters, though they are hardly reciprocating this spirit of comity. But I would like to suggest that maybe the Doctor is in danger of making a mistake, in terms of his own stated principles and objectives. Some Deaniacs may imagine that conquering the DNC would represent an "outsider" assault on the ramparts of The Party Establishment and the Washington Cabal of corporate interests and Clintonites who keep dragging Democrats into (sic!) cooperation with Republicans. But let's remember what the DNC is: a fundraising operation. It has little or no involvement in policy or ideas, and its role in electioneering is strictly at the sufferance and the direction of presidential nominees and congressional campaign committees. For that very reason, the Deaniacs may be bringing up the battering rams to attack a half-open door. As DailyKos noted today, 100 DNC members formally endorsed Dean for president last year. Aside from the bandwagon effect of early Dean success in the opinion polls, the enthusiasm of these fundraisers for the Doctor was pretty clearly attributable to his remarkable ability to--surprise!--raise money. And today, I strongly suspect that DNC interest in Dean is not about his ideas, or his reformist credentials, or even his grassroots support. I doubt they look at this born-again liberal from the bluest of blue states and see the face that will launch an assault on the Red State Fortress the Republicans have been building. I betcha money they look at Howard Dean and see Green, as in Long Green. Now I doubt that's the legacy, or the mission, that the Governor wants to identify his movement with going forward. And even more generally, I can't imagine a less suitable vehicle for genuine reform than the DNC, at least as it's currently constituted. Since so many Deaniacs self-consciously identify with the efforts of the conservative movement to take over the other party, I'll remind them of an acute comment made by Theodore White about the bitter disappointment of Goldwater activists when their leader, Cliff White, was passed over for the chairmanship of the RNC in 1964: "Party chairmanships are the fool's gold of American politics." That's one thing that hasn't really changed in the last 40 years.

Window of Opportunity in the Middle East

Yasir Arafat's death may create a brief moment of opportunity in the Middle East, so long as Europeans, Israelis, and most of all Palestinians wake up from the illusions Arafat embodied and enabled for so many years. Read all about it in today's New Dem Daily.

November 11, 2004


If I sometimes seem obsessed with the cultural dimensions of contemporary politics, it's because I am in a continuing rage over two dumb ideas that far too many Democrats are determined to embrace, losing election after losing election: (1) economic issues, if you scream about them loudly and abrasively and "populistically" enough, will trump cultural issues, which are essentially phony, and (2) there's no way to deal with voters' cultural anxieties without abandoning Democratic principles, since cultural issues are all about banning abortion and gay marriage and so forth. The first idea is palpably, demonstrably wrong, as established by frequent trial and constant error. And the second idea misses the whole point of cultural anxiety, which has far less to do with abortion or gays than with a widespread sense that a whole host of traditional values are being threatened and perhaps extinguished by cultural forces ranging from globalization and commercialization to sex-and-violence saturated entertainment products and the moral flatulance of the celebrities whose "lifestyles" and views assault us from every direction. But when it comes to the political impact of cultural angst, hey, don't listen to me, listen to a real witness who has just personally experienced the kulturkampf. Listen to U.S. Rep. Brad Carson, who lost to conservative wild-man Tom Coburn in a Senate race in Oklahoma last week, and who has penned a remarkable article for The New Republic on the subject. Please read it all, but here's a pertinent passage: For the vast majority of Oklahomans--and, I would suspect, voters in other red states--these transcendent cultural concerns are more important than universal health care or raising the minimum wage or preserving farm subsidies. Pace Thomas Frank, the voters aren't deluded or uneducated. They simply reject the notion that material concerns are more real than spiritual or cultural ones. The political left has always had a hard time understanding this, preferring to believe that the masses are enthralled by a "false consciousness" or Fox News or whatever today's excuse might be. But the truth is quite simple: Most voters in a state like Oklahoma--and I venture to say most other Southern and Midwestern states--reject the general direction of American culture and celebrate the political party that promises to reform or revise it. We're the "wrong track" party when it comes to the cultural direction of the country, and we have to decide whether to bravely swim upstream out of loyalty to hip-hop and Michael Moore and Grand Theft Auto IV and Hollywood campaign contributions, or do something else, like at least expressing a little ambivalence about it all. Changing the subject is cowardly and insulting no matter how you look at it.

Late Break to Bush

I know that you, like me, are probably tired of reading post-election analysis, but there's one more you should check out: Democracy Corps' final interpretive memo. What's most interesting about this piece is that it documents from its own polling data how late-breaking voters actually broke. Like just about everybody else in politics, I thought late-breakers would move to Kerry, because (1) they generally do break against incumbents, and (2) all year long, undecided and shaky decided voters were showing very high "wrong track" numbers, which normally indicates they are likely to move away from the incumbent if they move at all. Yet DCorps says a surprising array of voters moved towards Bush in the last 10 days, including white rural voters, older non-college-educated white voters, and white senior voters. As the memo's subtitle--"Why Americans Wanted Change But Voted for Continuity"--indicates, those "wrong track" numbers did not translate into votes to change the track by firing Bush. The memo strongly suggests these voters got focused on cultural issues down the stretch. As Ruy Teixeira notes: "Lacking, however, is much of an explanation for why this cultural surge at the end of the campaign took place and what, if anything, Democrats could have done to forestall it." Democrats will undoubtedly disagree about that, with some saying Kerry should have re-distracted these voters towards their pocket-books by relentlessly pounding Bush on the economy, and others (like me) saying you have to meet the cultural issues head-on instead of perpetually and insultingly trying to change the subject. But it's increasingly clear that the weight of informed opinion, despite many efforts to claim otherwise, is that Democrats can no longer rationalize away cultural issues as a big part of the systemic political problem we now face. Unless we prove otherwise, no matter who runs Washington, we are part of the "wrong track" when it comes to cultural concerns.

Nominating Process Reform?

As attentive readers know, the DLC is spending a lot of time right now arguing for a "reform insurgency" agenda for Democrats, including a specific agenda for political reform. One thing we haven't gotten into yet is the possibility of reforming the nominating process for president, which is, by any measure, strange if long-settled. But now comes DailyKos with a welcome argument for opening this question as well. I find it particularly interesting that Kos likes the idea of rotating regional primaries, which I've personally supported for about a quarter of a century. This is the sort of topic we ought to be discussing now, because, like election procedure reform, it is an issue that people tend to forget about between cycles, and an issue that gets caught up in machiavellian calculations about which candidate would benefit or suffer from reform as we get closer to the next cycle. And unlike election procecure reform, Democrats can, if they choose, change their system for nominating presidential candidates without much cooperation from the GOP. The legendary Iowa Caucuses, of course, would be the first "casualty" of any change in the nominating process, and I have a lot of political friends there myself who probably wish I would never mention the subject. But in their hearts, even Iowans and New Hampshirites know our current nominating system is the last thing anyone would come up with if he or she were designing a rational, fair system. And Iowans in particular should understand this, since they hail from the one state that has designed a rational system for congressional redistricting aimed at ensuring fair, competitive races at a time when in most of the country House members and many state legislators are totally insulated from competition or the popular will. I applaud Kos for raising this subject, and after watching him agonize throughout the 2004 cycle about the difficulty of overcoming entrenched Republican control of the U.S. House, I hope he'll get on the bandwagon for redistricting reform as well.


It's Veterans Day, and I hope one thing that survives the defeat of John Kerry is the widespread appreciation of vets--if not SwiftBoatVetsFor"Truth"-- among Democrats. Personally, I'm one of those baby boomers who, like Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney and a lot of other truculant civilians, never had to go into harm's way. Unlike the president, my family connections had nothing to do with my safety; it was pure luck, as in drawing Draft Lottery Number 265. I have no idea how many veterans read this blog, but to any of you out there, thanks. Sacrificing oneself for the ease and prosperity of others is the essence not only of patriotism, but of virtually every major religious tradition. And in this country, as in others, as is evidenced by the ongoing sacrifices of our troops in Iraq, those who serve rarely have the civilian leadership they need and deserve. In addition to remembering and honoring veterans, the best thing the rest of us can do is to change that.

November 10, 2004

Upper-Class Warfare

There's a bit of a buzz in the blogosphere about a New Republic Online article by Hamilton College professor Phillip Klinckner arguing that rich folks provided George W. Bush with his real margin of victory on November 2. Using the usual 2000 baseline, he shows that most of the religiously-motivated voters who went for Bush this time did so last time, while the GOP significantly improved its performance among top earners. It's not terribly surprising, of course, that after throwing money at top earners for four straight years, Bush pried some of them away from Democrats. But there's actually a double-whammy going on here: Gore's strong performance among the same category of voters owed a lot to the fact that wealthy people, like everybody else--and despite the "confiscatory" tax rates of that time--did pretty damn well during the Clinton administration. It isn't terribly surprising that John Kerry did not benefit from that particular "right track" vote. As an editorial in Blueprint magazine pointed out way back in July of 2001: "There's no doubt at all that Democrats in 2004 will suffer from the absence of the remarkable Clinton record of economic, social, and fiscal accomplishment -- the 900-pound gorilla at the kitchen table during the 2000 campaign. Without the ability to run as incumbents on that record -- whose power nearly lifted Al Gore to the presidency -- Democrats must aggressively and consistently promote a pro-growth, pro-opportunity agenda that unites the party base with swing voters. Or they must risk debilitating losses among the growing ranks of well-educated suburban voters who were trending heavily toward Democrats in the 1990s." The evidence is mixed about John Kerry's success in advancing that kind of "pro-growth, pro-opportunity" message; he often did, but the campaign's obsession with job loss numbers and outsourcing may have narrowed it a bit too much for parts of the country (e.g., Florida and the Southwest, and even some parts of Ohio) that were doing relatively well. But in any event, the predictable losses among high earners make it that much more important that Democrats come to grips with the cultural and security issues--the non-economic "populist" issues, if you will--which kept so many downscale voters from supporting Democrats in both 2000 and 2004.

Did Rove Win for the Wrong Reasons?

Dr. Donkey himself, Ruy Teixeira, is putting the gradually-refined-towards-truth exit polls under the surgeon's knife in recent posts, and is coming up with some important findings, though none of them are that surprising. You should read all his stuff, but the bottom line is that Bush's biggest improvements over his 2000 performance were among women, especially married women, and especially white working class women, and senior women. And although there remains some methodology-based arguments about the Hispanic vote, it's pretty clear Bush made gains there, too, despite a variety of pre-election polls showing Kerry running about as well as Gore. Hmmmm. Married women, seniors, Hispanics--geez, weren't these precisely the three categories that Karl Rove's original 2004 "swing voter" strategy focused on? I mention this because I am one of the Democrats who heaped scorn on this strategy during most of the last year. I suggested that because No Child Left Behind (aimed at married women), an Rx Drug Benefit (Bush's candy for seniors) and a guest worker proposal (supposedly magic among Hispanics) all seemed to have failed as popular initiatives, Rove had to shift to a different strategy of revving up his conservative base and demonizing Kerry. Post-election, Rove and other conservatives are explaining Bush's success as attributable to cultural and national security issues. So it makes you wonder: was this Rove's intention all along? Did he simply adopt a different strategy aimed at the same targets? Or did he just get lucky? And in any event, does this mean that in the future Rove will stop manipulating administration policy in the pursuit of voter categories and just rely on cultural issues and pure viciousness in promoting the GOP's political fortunes? I guess we'll soon see.

November 9, 2004

Attention CSPAN Junkies!

The DLC held its official post-election event today, entitled "The Road Back," with Ron Brownstein, Donna Brazile, Doug Sosnik, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, and our own Al From and Will Marshall, with Bruce Reed as toastmaster and moderator. It will be aired on CSPAN tonight at 9:15 EST. If you are so inclined, you can stay tuned to CSPAN for a replay of this morning's Washington Journal, where the entertaining but fundamentally misguided Thomas Frank argues that Democrats can trump cultural issues by coming out for public ownership of grain elevators and free coinage of silver at a 16-1 ratio. (Yes, that's a parody of Frank's argument, but so, too are all the insults he's hurled at New Democrats lately). And for reviews of the entertaining but fundamentally misguided Frank book, What's the Matter With Kansas?, which has vaulted him into the ranks of Washington Punditry, you can go here and here.


It's been a busy day around the ol' DLC Corral, so I haven't been in posting distance until now. You might enjoy today's New Dem Daily about the greater meaning of the frantic conservative effort to purge Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) from his seniority-destined chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. It's a must-read for those who get a kick out of watching Rick Santorum experience an acute case of political indigestion.

November 8, 2004

Is the South Hopeless for Democrats?

While some Democrats continue to wax sanguine about the 2004 election results, arguing that a nip here and a tuck there and a little better performance among Hispanics everywhere could elect a Democratic president in 2008, I think it's safe to say that all of us are more than a little nervous about the skewing of the electoral battlefield in favor of the GOP. As Ron Brownstein persuasively argues today, Democrats start every presidential election at a serious disadvantage if they are simply playing defense in a host of "blue states" while trying to pick off one or two key "red states." And the perils of the electoral status quo are even more evident down-ballot, where it will be very difficult for Democrats to make gains in Senate, House, gubernatorial and state legislative races if they begin each cycle by conceding 30 states. But where to go in expanding the battlefield? The most pressing question involves the South, where we've gotten skunked in two straight presidential elections, while losing a majority of statewide races from 2000 through 2004. There is a legitimate argument that can be made that the whole region, with the exception of the quasi-southern state of Florida, has just gotten impossible, at least for the national party, and/or that the kind of issue positions necessary for success in the South would involve a sacrifice of party principle. But I would remind Democrats that we've been here before, and that predictions of the Democratic Party's demise in the states of the Former Confederacy have been notoriously premature for four decades. In presidential elections, the Democratic share of the popular vote dropped precipitously from 1960 to 1972. It rebounded dramatically in 1976, and then declined steadily through 1988, rebounding yet again in 1992 and declining steadily through 2004. Down-ballot, the ebbs and flows of Democratic strength have been even more regular. As early as 1966, it looked like the party was toast throughout much of the region, but by 1970, Dems were winning most Senate and gubernatorial elections. 1980 was another year when obituaries were read for statewide Democratic candidates, who rebounded nicely in 1986. 1994 was a disaster; 1996 and 1998 showed a partial rebound. The constant element in this drama has been the relative ability or inability of Democrats to build and rebuild biracial coalitions that drew on the loyal support of African-Americans, who make up about a fifth of Southern voters, combined with varying combinations that added up to roughly 40 percent of white voters. In the 1970s and the 1980s, Democrats managed to hold onto a significant share of rural white voters. In the 1990s, they improved their performance in the suburbs. The point is: so long as Democrats continue to earn the support of African-Americans (and part of that equation is to support African-American candidates in the South), it's not that big a stretch to get to 50 percent, and in the long run, certainly no harder than winning nearly half of white voters in places like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire with limited numbers of minority voters. One example of why Democrats shouldn't give up on the South is this: in Georgia, in 2002, a now-legendary Republican blowout that defeated Sen. Max Cleland and Gov. Roy Barnes, two African-American centrist statewide candidates (Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond), and two white centrist statewide candidates (Lt. Governor Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox), all won. And this year, Southern Democrats did not exactly get destroyed in Senate races: with the exception of Oklahoma and a lopsided race in Georgia, Dems lost pretty narrowly in a tough year on tough terrain. There's also reason to believe that time is on our side in the South, for several reasons: 1) The more the Republicans become the majority, governing party, the more they will have to defend their records in office (viz., a whole series of failed Republican governors in the region dating back to the 1960s). 2) There are a variety of slow but sure demographic and economic changes, including the growth of "knowledge industry" jobs, the rapid expansion of the Hispanic population, and a reversal of African-American outmigration, that favor Democrats in the region, as explained by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira in their 2000 book, the Emerging Democratic Majority. 3) The current Republican boom in southern exurbs will almost certainly be moderated by time; new suburbs are always heavily Republican, but invariably are influenced by fears about over-development; intra-GOP factional fights; and the gradual aging and diversification of population. I am not arguing that national Democrats need to obsessively focus on the South, and I do not believe we have to nominate a southernor for president to become competitive there, though it clearly helps. But at a time when Democrats are rightly looking at the whole map and wondering where they can reverse the Red Tide, it's no time to "look away" from the South without considerable reflection.

November 7, 2004

Brain Food

This is another one of those occasional Sundays when it's worth the effort to heft those fat newspapers through the front door and read them. At some point I'll find time to check out some regional papers online, but there's plenty of brain food in the Papers of Record, WaPo and The New York Times. In the Post, The DLC's Bruce Reed assesses where Democrats need to go in an Outlook column, and as usual, he says more in fewer words than about anybody in the business. His money quote about the basic lesson of the election for Democrats is typically concise: "We ran a good campaign against a bad president and still got beat." Sad but true. Opposite Bruce's article is one by National Review's Kate O'Beirne, that argues rather unconvincingly that the GOP is not an ideological party, but a coalition party, in which "social liberals" like Ah-nold and Rudy have a real home. We'll see about that in the immediate future. Elsewhere in WaPo, there's a front-page piece about Karl Rove that was painful to read. Written by the excellent Dan Balz and Mike Allen, it's relatively free of puffery, but does let Rove and his friends express a DeLay-ish rejection of Democratic "demonization" of the Boy Genius, while not exactly providing a whole lot of evidence that Dems are wrong about his basic character. Sure, there's some anecdotes about Rove's "goofiness," along with a photo of Rove dressing up like a hunter to mock Kerry's goose-bagging incident in Ohio, but "goofiness" in the pursuit of the destruction of one's political enemies is in my opinion no particular virtue. Caligula had his "goofy" and fun-loving moments as well. Here's the passage in the article that most disturbs me: "Those around him expect he will stay at Bush's side for the foreseeable future. They note that his interest in policy is as deep as his interest in politics. 'Karl sits at the intersection of politics and policy, and that's where real power is exercised in a White House,' said a Republican official who works closely with him." The one thing we know for sure about Rove is that he views policy as little more than a lever for producing political advantages. That he will remain "at the intersection of politics and policy" is a very bad if unsurprising sign about where the Bush administration is likely to go. Over at The New York Times, Adam Nagourney provides a clear assessment of Democratic thinking about the election and its implications. The quotes from Democratic governors Janet Napolitano, Mark Warner and Jennifer Granholm are especially blunt and instructive. In the top Times editorial, the Grey Lady usefully lays out an agenda for making voting procedures more uniform, in the accurate anticipation that interest in this subject tends to fade after each screwed-up election, until the next election, when it's generally too late to do anything about it. The conservative warhorse Lyn Nofziger implicitly responds to O'Beirne's WaPo piece by arguing that Bush will not be able to accomplish much of anything unless he suppresses the socially liberal and fiscally conservative views of his "coalition partners" of the GOP center, especially in Congress. And there's lots of interesting micro-political analysis as well, especially the piece on Florida which shows that Bush won that key state by boosting both turnout and the GOP share of the vote in in exactly the places you'd expect it to happen: the panhandle and the I-4 corridor. There's a lot more in both papers, including Dana Milbank's sober assessment of the chiliastic tendencies that have led Christian conservatives into such a passionate alliance with Bush, and buried in the Post book section, a review of the latest Tom Wolfe novel that shows you don't have to be a Bible-thumper to be worried about the moral and cultural condition of American adoloscents. All of us Donkeys are still partially in recovery, partially unwilling to think about what happened on November 2, and partially hostile to any intepretation of events that strays from the comforting line that the bad people beat the good people through evil and cynical tactics and strategy. It's good that Dems aren't melting down, freaking out, or going after each other with knives. But it is time to read and think.

November 6, 2004

Bush and Bipartisanship

Predictably, perhaps, George W. Bush is making noises about reaching out to Democrats, and healing partisan divisions and serving as "president of all the people." And there's a debate among Democrats in Washington, at least, about how they respond these suspect overtures. We've been here before, folks. Bush said similar things upon becoming president in 2001, and, with the exception of the No Child Left Behind law (which he betrayed after the fact), his primary strategy for bipartisanship was to pick off handfuls of Democrats in the U.S. Senate who were willing to pocket small concessions while giving Bush most of what he wanted. Bush's party then proceeded to demonize those very "bipartisan" Democrats as obstructionists whenever they came up for re-election. But what is bipartisanship? Back at the beginning of the Bush presidency, the DLC published an analysis of the ten very different meanings of that term, and a pessimistic evaluation of Bush's intentions, that's held up pretty well over time. It makes for good and relevant reading today. The most important question for Democrats in Congress today is not their attitude towards Bush or his party, but their willingness to become an insurgent, outsider party devoted to genuine reform of Washington, and focused on communicating a positive, alternative agenda to the American people. Yesterday's New Dem Daily outlines the kind of reform agenda Democrats ought to embrace, even if--perhaps especially if--they are forced to fight Bush and the GOP like wolverines.

The Culture Gap, Continued

There's a reasonably strong consensus now that an inability to address cultural concerns is one--not the only, but one--of the reasons Democrats are struggling to build an electoral majority despite the extremism and failed policies of the Republicans who run Washington these days. But the debate over the "culture gap" among Democrats remains mired in imprecise thinking about what we are talking about, and who we are talking about. Beliefnet's Steve Waldman, who, along with The Washington Monthly's Amy Sullivan, remains the best advisor for Democrats on culture and religion, has penned an excellent Slate piece that slices and dices the problem with real precision. Democrats cannot and should not try, says Waldman, to win the votes of self-consciously Christian Right voters who think abortion is murder, feminism is disobedience to God's will, and homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. Yet there are millions of voters, including Catholics and "freestyle evangelicals" who don't share the views of the American Taliban, but who simply want to know that Democrats have some sense of moral resolution about good and bad behavior, and not just for the executives of Enron and Halliburton. Waldman cites Bill Clinton's success in making personal responsibility (at least prior to the moment when his own failures of personal responsibility became manifest) a key theme for Democrats as a model for the future. In a separate article for Beliefnet, Waldman usefully warns Democrats that just dressing up liberal policy nostrums in "God Talk" is not going to solve the party's problems, and could actually make them worse. Some of you may recall that a couple of weeks before the election, I did a post quoting from John Kerry's campaign book A Call to Service that discussed the meaning of his Catholicism. It focused on the two "Great Commandments" laid down by Jesus--love God and love your brother as yourself--and interpreted the first as an injunction to seek out right from wrong, and the second as an injunction to make love and justice the most important truth. When Kerry discussed his faith during the campaign, the second "Great Commandment" came through clearly, but the first was ignored or muted. It was all Gospel, no Law; all New Testament, no Old Testament; all Christmas and Easter, no Advent and Lent; all love and justice, no moral clarity. That was the missing signal to culturally-oriented religious voters that Waldman is talking about. And it's not a problem that's attributable to Kerry personally; it's a systemic problem Democrats have in talking about the political implications of faith. To those of you who aren't religious at all, I'm sure this sounds like superstitious gobbledygook, but trust me on this, it matters to a lot of people who wouldn't give Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson the time of day. Democrats can reduce the "culture gap" without compromising their principles--indeed, maintaining our principles is the only way we can speak and talk authentically about values--but it must begin with an understanding of how the people we are talking to actually think and believe.

The Anti-Recrimination Tide

I was glad to see that Paul Glastris of The Washington Monthly and Garance Franke-Ruta of The American Prospect took note of the DLC's no-circular-firing-squad advice to Democrats, and echoed it. Garance made an interesting comment after quoting NewDonkey on the subject: "The DLC and the Prospect, which have historically been at odds over the direction of the Democratic Party, formally buried the hatchet earlier in the year. Leading liberals and centrists may have ongoing disagreements on specific policy prescriptions, but the younger generation of thinkers, writers, and consultants, regardless of where they hang their hats, seems to me to have experienced a kind of convergence of thought that greatly diminishes the likelihood of future intraparty conflicts like those that ripped through the party in the 1980s and 1990s." That "bury the hatchet" moment--the product of a series of quiet center-left discussions that began at the beginning of this year--didn't get much attention at the time, but it showed the center-left convergence that Franke-Ruta is talking about was not just a battlefield compact in the heat of the general election campaign. Of course, I'm also amused to discover myself among the ranks of "the younger generation of thinkers, writers and consultants." Maybe 50 is indeed the "new 30."

November 5, 2004

Please, No Phony Debates

I guess I should have expected this, but there have already been two major published articles preemptively criticizing the DLC for arguing that Democrats need to "move to the right" in response to this year's losses. First came the normally reasonable Tim Noah of Slate, who simply assumed that's what the DLC would say and then devoted several graphs to why is was a dumb idea. And today, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman interpreted Al From's rather obvious suggestion that Democrats need to close the "cultural gap" with Republicans as a call for "Democrats to blur the differences between themselves and Republicans" and then, like Noah, Krugman was off to the races with a long diatribte about how dishonorable and politcally useless this would be. People, people, we've got enough to argue about without making up positions and then knocking them down. I work at the DLC every single day, and I've never heard a soul say anything about "moving to the right," and pace Krugman, we've gone way out of our way on many occasions to say that dealing with our culture problem is not a matter of "moving to the right" on abortion or guns or gay marriage or anything else. And if by "blurring the differences" between Democrats and Republicans on cultural issues means challenging the perception that they care about cultural stresses on the American family and we don't, then hell, yes, we need to blur that difference, but it has nothing to do with aping conservative positions on hot-button issues. What it means is taking seriously the belief of millions of people, not just religious fundamentalists, that they are competing with a toxic and increasingly amoral culture for the character of their children. What it means is addressing those concerns in a progressive way, instead of conveying the sense that we believe they should put aside all their silly superstitions about the moral order of the universe and chow down on a prescription drug benefit. To those of you who don't see anyway to express solidarity with culturally stressed voters other than "moving right," think about this: we always tell middle-class families we want to "fight for them" against powerful interests, especially corporations who place profits ahead of people. We rightly say HMOs and tobacco companies should be accountable for the pain they inflict on consumers. What about the giant, profit-seeking corporations of the entertainment industry? Does our willingness to stand up to corporate America stop at the borders of Hollywood? And if so, is it because we want their campaign contributions? Now that's a "blurring of the differences" between D's and R's sho nuff! So long as Democrats continue to think the world of public policy is divided into "our issues" and "their issues," and can't come up with a progressive way, consistent with our values, to deal with every issue, then we're going to lose when voters decide we really don't just give a damn about the issues they care about.

November 4, 2004

Reflect and Reform, Don't Recriminate

Sorry once again for the lack of posts, but (1) the posting problems have continued, (2) the Day Job has been frantic, between helping formulate the DLC's official take on what happened Tuesday, and dealing with an incredible number of press calls, and (3) like many of you, I am still in recovery from Election Night. After a good night's sleep Wednesday, I felt pretty good until I made the mistake of reading today's morning papers, and the previous night's bad dreams came flooding back. To those of you who think of the DLC as an organization that wants to engage in intra-party warfare, and that perennially advises Democrats to "move to the right," I suggest you give today's New Dem Daily a thorough and dispassionate read. We do not think this is a good time for a "struggle for the soul" of the Democratic Party; the unity we achieved in this campaign is a precious asset that it would be stupid to throw away, and moreover, we are all complicit in the mistakes our party keeps making. Moreover, and I will say this personally, you won't get any argument from New Democrats that the Dean/MoveOn legacy of this campaign--the ability to build passionate grassroots organizations, and to raise money from small donors--should be thrown away, either. But in the end, the problem we had this year was not a shortage of money, volunteers, organization, excitement, or candidate charisma: it was a shortage of message. An electorate poised to fire Bush and his Republican allies was never convinced it understood exactly what Democrats would do with the power they sought, and that was the killer. The GOPers had a clear message, and a mobilization strategy as well. We just had a mobilization strategy, and it wasn't enough. You have to persuade as well as "energize," and we didn't do it. It's time, finally, for Democrats to understand that we have to walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to persuade and mobilize; we have to appeal to voters on cultural and economic issues; we have to make inroads in red states without sacrificing blue states; we have to turn out our base and reach out to expand it. And there's another point on which Democrats of every ideological tendency ought to be able to agree. We're the "out party" now. Republicans control every nook and cranny of the federal government they still pretend they are fighting. Why on earth can't Democrats finally take advantage of hostility to Washington, supplementing anti-corporate populism with anti-government populism? Polls consistenly show that more than a third of Americans don't know who controls Congress. But how often did you hear any Democrats--not just Kerry, but congressional Democratic candidates as well--remind voters of that fact, or pledge to reform all the patent abuses of power in Washington, from corporate welfare to strong-arm partisanship to fiscal profilgacy? Why are we defending government programs, and demonizing every dishonest Republican claim to reform them, when Washington is being run by Republicans like a country club? Beats me. Reviving Democratic fortunes is not a matter of moving left or right. And it's not a matter of money or mechanics or organization, important as they are. It's a matter of reconnecting the party with the mainstream values, the economic aspirations, the openness to reform, and the craving for security and unity, that Americans want, and that we can and should be able to supply.

November 3, 2004

Exit Here

Sorry for the lack of Post-Decision Posts on this dreadful day, but I've been experiencing technical problems with posting, wasting valuable time I should have spent screaming in my sleep. Weighty analysis of the election will have to await the dawn's early light. But I did want to explain the bizarre backstory of the odd tone of so much Election Night analysis in the blogosphere. Us Washington Insiders, and many other Political Savvies, spent much of November 2 staring at black-market exit poll data that showed Kerry winning the popular and electoral vote. Throughout much of the evening, the networks seemed to be covering a different election, in which Bush was marching inexorably towards victory, and Kerry was only carrying the bluest of blue states. Righteous in our wisdom, most of us Democratic Insiders spent hours shouting "Call New Hampshire! Call Pennsylvania!" at the nearest television, while phoning non-insider friends and family members to let them know the Red Tide on their living room screens was a chimera. While many of those uncalled states did indeed eventually break to Kerry, the ironic truth is that all our unenlightened friends and family, bereft of exit poll data, had a better sense of what was actually happening than we did. Sic Transit Gloria, so to speak. Alan Abramowitz has offered a quick read on why the exits were off, but the bottom line is that we all got bamboozled by the scientific mystique, and the special cache, of being able to know something that others would not know for, God, six or seven hours! The folks at Edison who conducted the '04 exits quickly tried to atone for the embarassment they caused the chattering classes yesterday, by usefully re-weighting their data to reflect the actual results. This step preserves the value of the exits for their more legitimate and enduring use as tools for interpreting why voters did what they did, once it's clear what they did.

Ohio Math

The Ohio Secretary of State's office has released an official talley of provisional ballots issued in each county of the state yesterday. The total is 135,000. Bush's current margin in the state is 136,000, and many overseas (largely military) absentee ballots haven't been counted. I'm sure people better informed than me are triple-checking these numbers, but we can all do the math.

Meanwhile, Back in the States

I'm going to do a quick post on this because you're not likely to hear anything about it from the talking heads on the tube: there was a whole lot of shakin' going on in state races around the country. Democrats apparently won control of the Oregon Senate, the Washington Senate, the Vermont House, the Colorado Senate, and the North Carolina House. Republicans appear to have won control of the Oklahoma House, the Indiana House, the Tennessee Senate, and the Georgia House. In gubernatorial contests, there was no clear partisan pattern. Democrats held West Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina easily; the GOP held North Dakota, Vermont and Utah easily. Dems knocked off an incumbent in New Hampshire, and won Montana, but lost the governorship in Missouri and Indiana. Washington, which Dems currently control, is still disputed, with less than a 1,000 votes separating the candidates. If you can see any clear pattern in these results, you're obviously in better mental shape than I am this morning.


Well, sports fans, after three big hours of sleep, I'm probably feeling like a lot of you--especially those of you suffering from an Exit Poll Hangover. More about that later, along with lots more about non-presidential results from yesterday. But despite what you are hearing from many quarters this morning, the presidential contest has not been decided, and in another example of Things I Wish I Hadn't Been Right About, it's all coming down to provisional votes in Ohio. Forget about Iowa and New Mexico; they just don't matter. If Kerry manages to pull ahead in the final vote in Ohio, then all the hype, all the red ink on the network maps, all the stuff we're going to (ironically) hear about Bush's popular vote margin, are irrelevant; Kerry will be inaugurated as POTUS 44. Can it happen? Sure, though the stupidity of our electoral system makes it hard to know whether the odds resemble a full court hook shot at the buzzer, or something a little more likely. Bush's "final" margin in Ohio is about 130,000 votes. Nobody knows exactly how many provisional ballots were cast in the Buckeye State yesterday, but Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican with no particular reason (other than national media exposure) to guess on the high side, says the number may approach 175,000. For reasons too numerous to go into right now, Kerry will get a very high percentage of those ballots if they are counted. There are also maybe 100,000 absentee ballots that haven't been counted yet, with no real indication how those may cut. And finally, there were enough election-night irregularities in Ohio--including lots of extraordinary delays in allowing people to vote--to suggest a statewide recount would be in order, especially given the high stakes. So far Bush has eschewed a definitive victory claim, but as the picture in Ohio gets clearer, we may see the White House and its media allies go into full cry about all the godless liberal trial lawyers who are trying to "steal" the election by completing the count. And the situation will not be helped by the leisurely pace that Blackwell seems to be signalling for adjudication of provisional ballots. But John Kerry did not create the mess in Ohio; it's been building for months, and many of us have been frantically signalling for quite some time that getting a full and honest count there might be very difficult. So let's wait and see, and in the interim, gird up our loins for a serious effort in the immediate future to bring this country into the modern era of election procedures. It's insane that we are once again in the dark about the identity of the president-elect on the day after.

Back to Ohio Provos

The late worm may be turning. In Ohio, estimates are that somewhere between 125,000 and 200,000 provisional ballots--which aren't being counted right now-have been cast. These could turn the state. The other states where exits polls showing Kerry beating Bush are trending towards Kerry in late returns. Don't believe the hype.

November 2, 2004

Tube Blues

This has changed a bit, since the nets finally called PA for Kerry, but the picture of the presidential election coming across on the tube and the underlying reality are pretty different. Unless you buy into the theory that the exit polls have systematically and nationally undercounted Bush's vote, most of the key states still out lean Kerry. In Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin--states where the raw vote being shown on television gives Bush the lead--much of the key Democratic counties are still out. Kerry's pulling ahead in New Hampshire. And we don't know much from the west. Turn off the tube, take a nap, and check back in the middle of the night.

More Exit Poll Brain-Teasers

The CNN web site has posted final exit poll data for Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. It has Kerry winning men by 52-48, and women by 56-43 in PA. He wins men by 52-47 and women by 58-41 in NH. But neither state has been called yet for Kerry. What do you think's going to happen in these states in the end, Mr. Holmes?

You Want Cautious Calls?

Well, it's clear the networks are not exactly going out on any limbs in calling races. The polls closed in South Carolina more than an hour ago, and they haven't called it for Bush yet. At 8:00, briefly at least, Wolf Blitzer said CNN "didn't have enough information"' to call the District of Columbia for Kerry (they did eventually). But here's the weird thing about the media web sites (at least the two I checked: CNN and MSNBC). They're publishing exit poll data, including candidate numbers, when the polls close, whether or not they've made a call. What's sneaky about it is they don't show totals, just all the breakdowns. So you can check out Ohio, and see that the exits have John Kerry leading Bush among men by 51-49, and among women by 53-47. Doesn't take a statistician to figure out that the final exits for Ohio show Kerry winning 52-48. And Ohio, folks, is the ball game.

Tension City

Well, the polls are beginning to close, and so far, the only competitive race that's been called is a Kentucky House contestwhere GOPer Ann Northrup has survived again. But all the evidence, actual and anecdotal, suggests a very close national election, with Kerry having an advantage in the presidential race. There's some buzz that fewer provisional ballots were cast today than some (including myself) had feared, and if so, that's a good thing.

The Right's Parallel Universe

One of the weirdest phenomena of this election day is the drumbeat of reports on conservative web-sites (Drudge, National Review Online) and Fox News about how Democrats are intimidating Republican voters. There was a breathless anecdote on NRO a while ago about some Pennslyvania GOPer being forced to--gasp!--cast a provisional ballot. Now I don't know if these folks are just continuing the pre-election GOP so's-your-old-man effort to establish moral equivalency for their own strong arm tactics, or it's just all they can think of to write or talk about. The latest conservative media security blanket is the claim that pro-Kerry early exit poll results are meaningless because the sample is skewed heavily towards women. I'd bet you a ride to the polls that many of the people promoting this interpretation were warbling just a few days ago about how Bush's appeal to "security moms" has wiped out the gender gap. I guess you reach for the bottle that gives you the belt you need.

The Crazy Hours

Ah yes, here we are at that magic moment when every Washington Insider is frantically trolling for exit poll data. And numbers are flying around the phone lines and the internet. But don't get too excited. Some of the numbers are obviously garbled (the above link, for instance, has two separate sets of numbers from Wisconsin and Michigan). It's unclear when they were harvested. We don't know if they include early voting data (which is critical in places like Florida and Iowa). And if past experience is any indicator, this stuff morphs as it is transmitted from mouth to ear to web. The first semi-official idea we'll have of what's really going on is when the networks begin their coverage and start to release voter responses to questions posed in exit polls. A big "wrong track" number would be a broad hint that Kerry's doing well. A big plurality for "terrorism" as the prime voter concern would be good news for Bush. But here are some things to keep in mind when the numbers actually start coming in: 1) The networks have said they won't call a state until all polls are closed in it (e.g., no 7:15 calls for Florida this time). 2) They've also said they won't call a state if the margin is within 1%. 3) They will be comparing exit poll data, which will probably include provisional ballots, with raw vote data, which won't. Because of the conservative nature of the decision desk rules this time, and the fact that provisional ballots counted later will probably break heavily for Kerry, I think it's safe to say that if the race is called for Kerry tonight or in the wee hours of the morning, it will stick, and there's nothing James Baker or the United States Supreme Court can do to change it. If the race isn't called when most of the non-provisional votes are in, then we could be, as so many of us have feared, back in banana-republic-land.

More About Provos

Here's some more info about the provisional ballots that could decide this election. CNN's legal beagle Jeffrey Toobin says this about the provos: "Congress did not say how the states were to decide whether the votes cast by provisional ballot are valid. Some states already had provisional ballot laws, and thousands of those votes have been cast in the past. But states have varied widely in what percentage of provisional ballots ultimately are included in the final totals -- from 10 to 90 percent. If one candidate is behind by fewer votes than the number of outstanding provisional ballots -- and that could happen in at least a few states -- the result of the state's vote probably will not be known for a few days at the earliest."

Voters Versus Organized Chaos

Early on this election day, reports from everywhere show incredibly long lines at polling places. And in many, many places, voters will be battling not only impatience and fatigue--and in some cases, bad weather--but disorganized and organized chaos in voting procedures. The legal situation surrounding voting procedures remains chaotic going into election day. Last night a federal court of appeals panel, on a 2-1 vote (with the deciding vote being cast on procedural grounds) struck down two earlier federal district court rulings that would have banned partisan challenges of voter eligibility in Ohio. In New Jersey, a federal judge ruled that Republican efforts to use old voter registration lists as the basis of polling place challenges violated a 1981 agreement by the national Republican Party to no longer pull this sort of crap. (The impact of this decision is questionable, since GOPers will be in the clear if they don' obviously use such lists). But here's the Big Bertha of brewing controversies, and a big part of the reason the GOP is investing in polling place chaos: the status of "provisional ballots." Under the grossly misnamed Help America Vote Act of 2002, voters whose names aren't on polling place registration lists, or whose eligibility is otherwise in question (e.g., because partisan goons have challenged them), will be handed a provisional ballot that legally cannot be counted until after election day, when the voter's eligibility is adjudicated according to whatever system the jurisdiction has worked out. Try to wrap your mind around the following number: an estimated 5 percent of votes cast nationally today will be "provos." That's more than 5 million votes, and an estimated 250,000 in Ohio alone. I've seen no evidence to suggest that exit polls have been designed to systematically include or exclude provos, but since the networks and other news organizations will be using AP-complied raw vote totals to "adjust" exit poll projections, it probably doesn't matter. Here's the bottom line: tonight's vote totals in many states will in all probability significantly undercount the Democratic vote, not only for president, but for Senate, House, and state and local offices as well. And that means (1) we can count on Republicans to issue victory claims in such cases, as in Florida in 2000; and (2) the adjudication and counting of provos could very well be the ball game, and will certainly be the subject of post-election day legal maneuvering and local election board shenanigans. Decisive Democratic margins of victory, even without the provisional ballots, are about the only way this scenario can be avoided.

November 1, 2004

Sympathy for the Devil

Sometimes you just have to hate it when you're right. I went a little over the top a few days ago, and predicted that Republicans would respond to Democratic and civil rights attorneys' efforts to stop their voter suppression campaign by "pretending their goons are being intimidated and harassed." Sure enough, Josh Marshall reports that robo-calls in the Philly suburbs are telling voters that Democratic "trial lawyers" are trying to intimidate Republican campaign workers through lawsuits and such. The "campaign workers" we are talking about are, of course, trying to intimidate and harass Democratic, and especially minority, voters. Part of Karl Rove's M.O. is to pull deliberately outrageous stunts and then use the opposition's outrage to suggest moral equivalency between the two parties. But this is even worse: arguing that those poor, bedraggled GOP vote suppressors are actually victims whose plight should command sympathy. Unbelievable, but it's happening.

Bush's Big Gamble

If I might stand back for a moment from all the last-minute hysteria and offer a big picture observation, it seems clear that both the photo finish in this presidential election, and the incredibly savage tone of so much of the campaign, go back to a momentous decision that George W. Bush and his handlers made not once, but twice, since he took office. Upon becoming president in the most controversial decision since 1876, and having lost the popular vote, Bush could have governed in a way that reflected a genuine commitment to bipartisanship, and a genuine humility about the lack of any real mandate for the conservative ideology that, after all, he mostly hid during the 2000 campaign. But he chose otherwise, and on September 10, 2001, looked well on his way to being a one-term president. After 9/11, Bush had a second opportunity to unite the country, move beyond his conservative base, and maybe even get a few important things done outside a right-wing agenda of perennial tax cuts for the wealthy. But instead, he saw in the understandable preoccupation of the electorate with national security a path to re-election based on even greater partisanship, suppemented by an audacious effort to reward powerful constituencies and use the prerogatives of office to entrench himself and his party through any means possible. From beginning to end, Bush has sought to do something which no major party presidential candidate in living memory has succesfully done: win by abandoning the political center altogether. Now, many people on the Right, and even some on the Left, will tell you this supreme gamble is admirable because it shows Bush, Cheney and Rove would rather stick to their principles than compromise. But Bush's re-election tactics show otherwise: they have heavily depended on things that have nothing to do with conservative principle, including relentless efforts to smear his opponent and distort his record and platform; appropriation of religious and patriotic symbols; deliberate promotion of divisive and phony cultural controversies; scare tactics that warn voters that a change of administration could lead to their fiery deaths; and construction of a cult of personality aimed not simply at mobilizing conservative voters, but at whipping them and their opponents into a frenzy of passion and hate. They've done this because it's the only way they have a chance of winning without compromise or quarter--of elevating "our team" over "their team" as though this was the Thirty Years War rather than a democratic election. And the Republican leadership of Congress, and increasingly, Republicans around the country, have adopted the same savage approach. These thoughts occur to me because part of my day job is to think beyond the election to what Democrats and the country as a whole can do to deal with two immediate crises--in Iraq and in the federal budget--and innumerable long-range challenges ranging from the global economy to climate change to the baby boom retirement, in an atmosphere of anger and mistrust that exceeds anything I've ever seen. If there is a purgatory, lots of us will be doing some hard time to cleanse our souls of the nastiness of this campaign. Lord knows I haven't felt this partisan in my life, and I've been an obsessive political junkie since 1960. But if anyone should be fearing actual hellfire for political sins, it's the president and his people, who have deliberately, with malice aforethought, engineered this situation, in the pursuit of raw power. Should Bush win his big gamble, there's absolutely no reason to believe it will lead to anything other than more of the same.

Straws in the Wind

I just did a large conference call with DLC elected officals from around the country, and picked up a couple of interesting tidbits: (1) One influential Iowa Dem said Democrats"absolutely cleaned their clocks" in early voting in that state. (2) Another influential Dem from South Florida reported that minorities weren't the only ones to heavily participate in early voting there; the "condo vote"--strongly pro-Democratic elderly voters in places like Broward County--also heavily voted early, with Dem operatives on hand with chairs and bottled water to help participants deal with long waiting lines.

A Second Shoe Drops in Ohio

Now there are two federal court rulings in Ohio declaring the state's law allowing party reps to challenge voter eligibility at the polls unconstitutional, as a judge in Akron echoed a Cincinnati judge's ruling late last night. GOPers are still trying to get a federal appeals court to intervene and overturn the rulings, but now they won't have the excuse of divergent decisions at the district court level. For once, maybe the good guys will be able to run out the clock.

Up-to-the-Minute Coverage of Ohio Hijinks

If you've gotten as obsessed as I am about the legal and political maneuverings over voter suppression in the Buckeye State, you should be aware there's now a blog up totally devoted to the topic.

Quote of the Day

Political scientist Bill Binning of Youngstown State University told USA Today that Kerry has a good chance to win Ohio, but then said: "I don't know if it's going to be within the margin of litigation." Pretty funny, eh? Funny like Moe hitting Larry in the head with a mallet.

High Noon on Voter Intimidation

The legal situation with respect to GOP plans to challenge Democratic and/or minority voters in Ohio and elsewhere has gotten as frenzied as the election itself. In the wee hours of this morning, Ohio federal district judge Susan Dlott ruled that the state's law allowing party representatives to challenge voter eligibility at the polls is unconstitutional. Even though the suit only involved voter challenges in Hamilton County (Cincinatti), the constitutional ruling would, if it stands, ban such challenges statewide. A separate ruling by a different federal judge is expect today, involving Summit County (Akron). The state GOP, natch, is asking the federal court of appeals to reverse Dlott's ruling, and could be aided in the appeal if there's a different outcome in the Summit case. Meanwhile, in a separate case with potential national impact, a federal judge in New Jersey will hold a hearing today on a Democratic suit alleging that the GOP's voter challenges in Ohio and other states violate a 1981 consent order by the national Republican Party agreeing to abandon such efforts in the future, after evidence the GOP had engaged in minority voter intimidation in the Garden State. Litigation this close to election day is obviously unusual, but better now than on November 3.