Political Animal


April 21, 2014 9:34 AM Democrats’ Midterm Challenge

People who regularly read this blog may not learn much new from Dan Balz’ big preview on the Democrats’ 2014 strategy at WaPo yesterday, but it is a good summary of the fundamental issues: (1) Democrats need to change midterm turnout patterns to resemble more closely those of a presidential year; (2) they’re spending unprecedented money using the tools that worked so well in 2012 to do that; and (3) the focus on turnout could be coming at the expense of both the resources and the messaging normally devoted to swing voter persuasion.

Throughout Balz’ piece you can faintly discern a sort of “minority report” of Democratic operatives who don’t really think “midterm falloff” (especially among inherently down-ballot- resistant young voters) can be changed and who fret that Democrats are getting killed in the early “swing voter persuasion” television wars and are sacrificing swing-voter-friendly messages to the task of energizing “the base.”

It’s the very latest version of a very old debate in Democratic (and for that matter, Republican) circles about “base versus swing” strategies. What’s changed in this debate are two realities and one hypothesis.

The first reality is that Democrats are significantly more dependent on demographic categories vulnerable to midterm falloff than they used to be. So even if every other variable was held steady from, say, the 1990s, a greater emphasis on turnout would be appropriate. The second reality is that thanks to partisan polarization there’s not much in the way of a “move to the center” available in messaging, and Democratic “triangulation” against the Obama administration won’t work, in part because the size of the “swing vote” has declined.

The big hypothesis is that thanks to an abiding Democratic advantage in technology, along with Republican extremism and overreach, Democrats can strike the right balance in GOTV and television and offer a message that both “energizes the base” and maximizes swing-voter persuasion, for whatever it’s worth.

Complicating the picture, of course, is that so much of the crucial 2014 turf—particularly in terms of Senate races—is in such hostile territory. It’s entirely possible that Democrats could put together a midterm election strategy of epic proportions and hit all of their national markers—and still fall short in states like Arkansas and Alaska. That would, however, bode well for 2016, when the winds shift dramatically on turnout—particularly if Republicans learn the wrong lessons from easy wins on favorable turf with everything working to their advantage.

April 21, 2014 8:30 AM Daylight Video

To kick off the week, here’s Brownie McGhee performing “Good Morning Blues” on Australian television.

April 20, 2014 7:11 PM Identity politics and its discontents: when social justice movements abandon the politics of redistribution

Richard Kim has written a incisive and provocative piece in the current issue of The Nation about the current state of the LGBT rights movement. He says, “If the recent shape of mainstream gay activism is any indication, then I’m all for winding it down.” Why? This is why:

In 2012, the Human Rights Campaign honored Goldman Sachs with an award at its annual dinner, while naming Lloyd Blankfein as its national corporate spokesman for same-sex marriage. In an obscene form of pink-washing in which every banker, sweatshop overlord and oil baron gets a gay star, HRC’s most recent report on “corporate equality” proudly concludes that a record 304 of the nation’s largest businesses—including Chevron, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Comcast, Google, Monsanto, Nike, Raytheon, Boeing, Target and General Electric—have a perfect rating on LGBT issues.

Even the less corporate wing of the movement is doing LGBT people few favors, he says:

Meanwhile, those gay activists not wholly in thrall to the corporate elite are running boycott campaigns against the remaining businesses (Chick-Fil-A, Barilla) too stupid to figure out that gay is gold. Their latest target is Brendan Eich, who for two short weeks was the CEO of Mozilla. Six years ago, Eich gave $1,000 to support California’s Proposition 8, which 7 million Californians voted for and which garnered almost 6,500 contributions equal to or greater in value than Eich’s. Mozilla, it should be noted, has an anti-gay-discrimination policy, which Eich did not intend to change, and there is no evidence that he contributed to anti-gay causes beyond this one donation. I have no interest in defending his “right” to be a CEO, but the idea that his forced resignation constitutes some kind of victory for gays sets a depressingly low bar.

I find Kim’s critique of the gay rights fascinating, for a couple of reasons. Kim mentions Tony Kushner’s socialist vision of gay liberation, a tradition within the gay rights movement that over the past couple of decades has fallen by the wayside in favor of a more conservative, individualistic approach. As a result, the economic inequality and economic discrimination suffered by the LGBT community fell to the bottom of the gay rights movement’s political agenda. But it is a very real issue.

Back in the early 2000s, groundbreaking work by the economist M.V. Lee Badgett busted the myth that gays and lesbians are more affluent than other Americans. Badgett found that gay men earn significantly less than straight men with the same observable characteristics (education, race, occupation, etc.), and that wage disparities between lesbians and their straight female counterparts were statistically insignificant. Subsequent research confirmed her findings about gay men, but found that lesbians tend to earn more than straight women (albeit still less than straight men).

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, with which Badgett is affiliated, studies the economic status of LGBT individuals and their families. Some of their recent findings include the following:

— Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) Americans are more likely to be poor than other Americans.

— One-third of lesbian couples are poor.

read more »

April 20, 2014 3:05 PM Mad Men ratings are down. I have a “bad fan” theory as to why.

Last Sunday, Man Men began its seventh and penultimate season. As always, the season premiere revealed a few surprises, but perhaps the biggest surprise of all this year turned out to be the show’s low ratings. The Huffington Post reports that only 2.3 million viewers tuned in last week, a number that is down almost one third from last year’s season premiere.

Many explanations have been offered for the ratings plunge. Some of the excuses were weak: maybe people were watching something else? or they didn’t realize the new season had begun? And some sounded more plausible: perhaps more people DVR’d it? The latter theory even turned out to be true, but not enough to make up for the fall-off in viewers. There was also some speculation that last season was weak, which might have driven away potential viewers. Again, there’s a grain of truth to that. Though last season ended on a strong note, it was uneven overall (the flashbacks to Don Draper’s traumatic childhood in a whorehouse were tiresome and excessive. Many of us got the point the first time — it didn’t need to be hammered home repeatedly).

However, my theory is that there’s a deeper reason why fewer people are watching. It’s simply this: as the show’s historical setting moves forward in time and nears closer to our own, watching Mad Men may become a less pleasurable viewing experience. There are two reasons for this. One is that the novelty effect is no longer in play. The lure of the early scenes lay in how dramatically different the world depicted was from our own. That was a time when men wore hats, women wore bullet-point bras, and Americans drove cars as big as boats. There’s an undeniable charm in the radical difference in style — the beauty and formality of that world. And of course, for many viewers, it’s endlessly fascinating to contemplate how different the social mores were, concerning everything from smoking and drinking to gender roles and sex. The time the show depicts wasn’t that long ago. Some viewers are even old enough to remember it. Others were raised by parents who grew up in that era, and so in a sense are products of it, albeit once removed.

At some point, though, the world the show depicted began to radically change. Soon, that old world had vanished forever. Since that time was not so distant chronologically, yet seemingly very far from us in social attitudes, it’s little wonder that a show like Mad Men, that is set in that world, can wield enormous dramatic power (and be a lot of fun, besides).

But now that Mad Men’s world is catching up, both chronologically and in terms of social mores, to our own world, there’s no longer quite that frisson of difference. So the situations it deals with seem less exotic and more banal. In short, Mad Men world seems more familiar, and therefore more dramatically boring, and so that may be one reason why viewership has dropped off. That’s the more sympathetic reading, at least.

The less sympathetic reading is not so flattering to viewers, and here’s where the “bad fan” part of my theory comes in. I think some Mad Men fans — scratch that, just about all Man Men fans — enjoy the show, especially the early seasons, because of the opportunities it affords us to feel superior — historically superior, if you will. We can watch those early seasons and think, we have overcome! In American society, it’s no longer socially acceptable to discriminate against women and people of color in the workplace, to uphold a sexual double standard, to neglect or abuse your kids, to litter, to smoke yourself into an early grave, etc. Many viewers will look back and say, good job, America! Real progress has been made. Others no doubt feel a sneaking nostalgia at all the guilt-free patriarchy, office grab-assery, adultery, and heavy drinking and smoking the show depicts.

read more »

April 20, 2014 12:52 PM Must-read of the day: Tom Frank on why we don’t want a plutocracy — even a liberal, “benevolent” one

Yesterday, when I wrote about a White House gathering of young billionaire philanthropists, I did so with a healthy dose of snark. However, I didn’t make an argument about the many things that are terribly wrong with government-by-billionaire. But if you’re interested in reading such an argument, you’re in luck. Tom Frank has written one that was posted at Salon.com today, and it’s excellent.

In his piece, Frank makes a smart historical analogy between today’s reformist billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, and the sanctimonious “Mugwumps” the nineteenth century:

During the nineteenth century, a long string of saintly aristocrats fought to reform the state and also to adjust the habits and culture of working-class people. These two causes were the distinctive obsessions of the wealthy liberals of the day: government must be purified, and working people must learn to behave. They had to be coerced into giving up bad habits. They had to learn the ways of thrift and hard work. There had to be sin taxes. Temperance. Maybe even prohibition.
On the single greatest issue of the time, however, these sanctimonious reformers were of no use at all. They were in favor of clean government, to be sure, but when it came to organized money’s war on the world, which was then bringing impoverishment and industrial combat and dislocations of every description, they were indistinguishable from the most stalwart conservatives. Describing the patrician “Mugwump type,” the historian Richard Hofstadter writes,
[T]he most serious abuses of the unfolding economic order of the Gilded Age he either resolutely ignored or accepted complacently as an inevitable result of the struggle for existence or the improvidence and laziness of the masses. As a rule, he was dogmatically committed to the prevailing theoretical economics of laissez faire… . He imagined that most of the economic ills that were remediable at all could be remedied by free trade, just as he believed that the essence of government lay in honest dealing by honest and competent men.
If that description hits uncomfortably close to home, well, good. We’ve returned to the Gilded Age, laissez-faire is common sense again, and Victorian levels of inequality are back. The single greatest issue of then is the single greatest issue of now, and once again people like Bloomberg—a modern-day Mugwump if ever there was one—have nothing useful to say about it, other than to remind us when it’s time to bow before the mighty. Oh, Bloomberg could be relentless in his mayoral days in his quest for sin taxes, for random police authority, for campaigns against sugary soda and trans fats. But put a “living wage” proposal on his desk, and he would denounce it as a Soviet-style interference in private affairs.

I like Frank’s parallel of the moralism between plutocrats then and now — his comparison of the temperance movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the anti-Big Gulp crusades today is a particularly inspired touch. His point that wealthy reformers both today and in the past conveniently ignore the most important issue of all — economic inequality — is also a crucial one. It reminds me of a great quote by economist Branko Milanovic, one of the world’s leading authorities on global economic inequality:

I was in a think tank in Washington. The president of the think tank told me: “Well, you can do whatever you want, but just don’t call it inequality. Put the word poverty there. Because we have many rich people on our board, and when they see the word poverty that makes them feel good, because [it means] they’re really nice people who care about the poor. When they see the word inequality it makes them upset, because [it means] you want to take money from them.”

This section from the Tom Frank essay is very good as well:

To say that there is no solidarity in this form of liberalism is to state the obvious. This is not about standing with you, it is about disciplining you: moving you out of the desirable neighborhoods, stopping and frisking you, prodding you to study the right things. Or, at its very noblest, it is about enlisting you in some fake “grassroots” effort whose primary purpose is to demonstrate the supreme moral virtue of the neo-Mugwump who’s funding the thing—to foam the runway for him as he makes his final approach to Heaven International Airport.

The closing sentences of Frank’s piece are also spot-on:

But I can’t help but suspect that the Bloombergs of the world have the whole thing upside down. That the way to improve a place—or to get folks to eat better food—actually starts with proper pay for the people who live there. And that this antiquated form of organizing, in which the disenfranchised come together to help one another, is the only truly promising way to avoid the disasters of the last Gilded Age.

What it comes down to, very simply, is whether you prefer democracy or aristocracy. I thought we settled that question long ago. But perhaps it will never ago away.

April 20, 2014 10:48 AM Yet another reason to hate the Supreme Court: a recent ruling makes it easier for payday lenders to prey upon the poor

The Supreme Court doesn’t like poor people very much.

Recent rulings by the Court have had a profoundly harmful impact on the health, lives, and livelihoods of poor folks. The best-known example is the Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act, which allowed states to opt out of Medicaid. That is an option that 24 states have chosen to take. It will leave nearly six million low-income Americans without health insurance. They would have had that insurance were it not for the Supreme Court. How many people will lose their health, and their lives, because the Supreme Court denied them health coverage? I would love to know.

Moreover, the ACA decision was hardly the Court’s only front in its war on the poor. In another recent ruling, SCOTUS bent over backwards to make it easier for payday lenders to rob poor people blind. As Emily Bazeldon reports in today’s New York Times Magazine, class action lawsuits can be a powerful tool to crack down on predatory lenders. However, one thing the payday lenders usually do is to force borrowers to sign away their rights to file lawsuits and to agree to lender-friendly “individual arbitration” instead.

A disturbing 2011 5-4 Supreme Court decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia stripped away consumers’ rights to file class action lawsuits if they’d agreed to mandatory arbitration — no matter how fine the print on the agreement they might have signed. Writes Bazeldon:

The text of the law was clear, Scalia said — it “was designed to promote arbitration,” and states couldn’t get in the way. Judith Resnik, a professor at Yale Law School, told me that Scalia’s interpretation was “in no way consistent with what we know Congress was doing in 1925.” Back then, “arbitration was negotiated between merchants, not imposed by merchants on their customers and employees.” Nevertheless, at least 139 class-action lawsuits have been thrown out by courts, according to the nonprofit group Public Citizen. Burke’s suit, which was against one of the lenders who had not settled, was dismissed in February.

Payday lenders are a modern-day scourge for poor folks. As Bazeldon reports, it is common for one loan to turn into a string of ten (or more!), and for interests rates to soar as high as 500 percent. A number of states have banned payday lenders, but the lenders are able to get around the law by affiliating with out-of-state banks. Lawsuits have been effective in reining in the worst excesses of these lowlifes, but now they’re unavailable as a policy tool. What to do?

Obviously, the poor need far better access to low-interest loans and good credit markets. Most importantly, they need more money — and we need to help them make a lot more of it via a higher minimum wage, monetary and fiscal policies that create a full-employment economy, and making it easier to join a union, to name just a few of the most important items on the policy agenda.

But in the struggle for social justice, lawsuits also play an important role, which is why the Court’s actions in this case, as in so many others, is so deeply troubling. As Bazeldon notes, only the Supreme Court can reverse one of its rulings. However, she also reports that Senator Al Franken has introduced a bill to bar mandatory arbitration. That is an excellent idea, and I hope he gets somewhere with it. I notice that Franken has also taken a leading role opposing the Comcast-Time Warner merger. It looks to me like he’s playing smart politics. If the Democrats could re-invent themselves as the pro-consumer party in American politics, that would be an excellent thing. Currently, American politics lacks a party that is strongly and consistently pro-consumer.

I’ll close with these thoughts from New York University law professor Arthur R. Miller, who is quoted in Bazeldon’s article:

“This is all about access to justice . […] In a way it’s part of a class struggle. We are privatizing justice to the point the rich can afford it and every one else can’t.”


April 19, 2014 9:57 PM Morning music, Patti Smith, “Easter”

Here is the magnificent Patti Smith song, “Easter.”

Isabelle, Frederick, and Vitalie were Rimbaud’s brother and sisters, by the way.

She was raised Catholic and there are many traces of Catholicism in her life and work. Among other things, there’s this song; there’s the title track of her album Wave, which is about Pope John Paul I; and last year, there was this.

Happy Easter to one and all!

April 19, 2014 5:02 PM Step aside, Hillary shoe truthers! Here come the Hillary grandbaby truthers!

Earlier this week, Chelsea Clinton revealed that she was pregnant. Before that announcement, in the current issue of The Washington Monthly, Haley Sweetland Edwards had speculated about how such an announcement would play out amongst the Hillary-haters:

Of course, regardless of how deftly she plays her new role, Hillary’s many critics will complain. They will accuse her of using the child as a campaign tool, and any references to her adorable grandkid will be marshaled as further proof that she is the most calculating person in politics. Indeed, because she’s a Clinton, and hence presumed by many on the right to be capable of anything, we can expect all kinds of conspiratorial accusations, especially among our unhinged friends on right-wing radio. Did she pressure Chelsea to have that baby? How was it that the timing so perfectly coincided with the 2016 election? Did Bill and Hillary have their daughter artificially inseminated?

Well, it’s funny Haley should mention that. Because on the very same day Chelsea made her announcement, a brand spanking new wingnut industry was born: the Hillary Clinton grandbaby truthers! Take it away, Talking Points Memo:

Newsmax host Steve Malzberg on Thursday speculated that Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy was no accident, and that Hillary Clinton’s grandchild would arrive just in time to serve as a “prop” for a widely expected 2016 presidential run.
“Now pardon the skeptic in me,” Malzberg said. “Oh I can see Media Matters, I can see everybody going crazy on me now. Malzberg thinks this was a staged, planned pregnancy?”
“Well, now I’m not saying, when I say staged I have to believe she’s pregnant, if she says she’s pregnant,” he continued. “I don’t mean that they’re making up she’s pregnant. But what great timing! I mean purely accidental, purely an act of nature, purely just left up to God.”
“And God answered Hillary Clinton’s prayers and she’s going to have the prop of being a new grandma while she runs for president,” he added. “It just warms the heart, it brings a tear to my eye. It really does.”

You know, if Hillary Clinton really were such a scheming, Machiavellian genius, you’d think she’d be president by now, right?

There definitely is something about Hillary Clinton that brings out the crazy on the right. Probably it boils down to nothing more than being a Democrat with XX chromosomes. At any rate, expect Hillary derangement syndrome to ratchet up the closer we get to Election Day, 2016 (assuming she runs) and for it to become a cottage industry after that (assuming she wins).

UPDATE: Here’s another Hillary grandbaby truther. No doubt are countless more.

April 19, 2014 3:52 PM An idea whose time has come: jail time for wage theft

Catherine Rampell’s new economics and business blog at the Washington Post, Rampage, is excellent (and boy was the New York Times stupid to let her get away). Take, for instance, her latest column, which is about wage theft. The human-interest reporting is very good:

Take Ashley Cathey, 25, a six-year McDonald’s employee who participated in a national one-day strike last December. A couple of months later, she got a 25-cent raise, to $8 an hour from $7.75. But something about her next paycheck looked fishy: Her pay seemed short given her raise and new, longer hours. She usually works overnight, and in recent months her shifts have frequently stretched to 12 or 14 hours because her Memphis restaurant has been short-staffed. (Perhaps because its wages are still too low to retain enough employees.)
She asked a friend who is a manager to print out her time sheet and noticed that someone had clocked her out for breaks she never took. Other co-workers spotted hours shaved from their time sheets, too. When employees brought this to the attention of a more senior boss, they were told the wrongly subtracted hours would appear in their next paychecks. Meanwhile, the helpful manager who had printed out the time sheets was reprimanded for sharing official time records with workers and told that he’d be fired if he did it again, Cathey said. Now Cathey keeps a personal record of the hours she clocks in and out.
“I never paid attention before,” she told me in a phone interview. She suspects that someone has been doctoring her hours for years, but she doesn’t want to endanger her manager friend’s job by asking for help obtaining proof. Even without proof she is convinced: “They’re hiding something, obviously,” she said.

Even better is Rampell’s putting this story in a systemic context — multiple McDonald’s and Domino’s stores have recently settled wage theft cases with the New York state attorney general, and there are multi-state class action suits against McDonald’s afoot — and her bold policy prescription to crack down on wage theft, which is jail time against the perpetrators. Rampell argues that the wage thieves often get away with their crimes, for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, as she notes, the crime often goes undetected. Also, as she doesn’t point out, but I will, the victims are often among the most vulnerable and least powerful workers in our economy: low-wage workers and undocumented immigrants. In addition, we’ve defunded our government’s administrative capacity to regulate, so which makes it difficult to investigate wage theft complaints even when they’re reported. Finally, says Rampell:

The consequences for wage theft are rare, small and not particularly deterring. Even when government investigators pursue these complaints, for example, criminal charges are rarely filed.
Harsher penalties, including prison time, should be on the table more often when willful wrongdoing is proved. Thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s home can go to jail; the same should be true for thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s paycheck.

Though some people might argue that hard time for the wage thieves is a harsh penalty, I’m not one of them. We call this practice “theft” because that is what it is. Just as anti-choicers who refer to abortion as “murder” should either embrace the logic of their own argument and support prison time for women who undergo abortions, or abandon the use of the “murder” label altogether when applied to abortion, the opponents of wage theft should stand firmly in favor of prison sentences for those convicted of this sleazy, bottom-feeding crime. Low-wage workers have a world of problems; a society that lets the theft of their hard-earned dollars go lightly punished, or not punished at all, should not be one of them.

April 19, 2014 12:21 PM Did someone say patrimonial capitalism? The White House hosts a meeting of teenage billionaire “philanthropists”

Thomas Piketty, call your office!

Today’s New York Times — in the Fashion and Style section, but of course! — reports on a White House meeting of “100 young philanthropists and heirs to billionaire family fortunes.” Some of the people quoted in the article are as young as 19, and they are from family names you’ll recognize: Marriott, Pritzker, Rockefeller, etc.

The whole article is creepy beyond belief. Let me count a few of the ways:

1. A Democratic White House is hosting this plutocrats’ party? Really?

2. While the article does emphasize the youth of the “philanthropist” attendees, in a way that seems to demonstrate skepticism, it does not examine the truth value of their do-gooding claims. For example, this is briefly mentioned, but goes unanalyzed:

One topic that seemed to generate intense interest among the wealthy heirs was impact investing, which refers to a socially conscious form of investing that seeks to generate both a social benefit and a meaningful financial return.

I for one would like to hear more about this. Without knowing more, I’m extremely dubious. It sounds like another variation of those “public-private partnerships” we hear so much about, that so frequently end up doing little more than enriching private actors, creating bad jobs, and robbing taxpayers blind.

3. There is of course the Piketty angle, which has to do with the rise of patrimonial capitalism, or capitalism dominated by inherited wealth. These kids are the nouveau American version of ancien regime European aristocracy. As the Times reports, this class of young plutocrats is about to inherit a virtually unprecedented amount of loot:

Policy experts and donors recognize that there’s no better time than now to empower young philanthropists. Professionals in the field, citing an Accenture report from 2012, estimate that more than $30 trillion in wealth will pass from baby boomers to younger generations by around 2050. At the same time, the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy (no relation to this reporter) and the nonprofit consulting group 21/64 have concluded in a recent study on philanthropic giving that heirs are becoming involved in family foundations at an earlier age — specifically in their 20s and 30s — and imprinting them with the social values of their generation.

4. Finally, this section of the piece, by reporter Jamie Johnson, is beauty itself. Oh the irony!

(Disclosure: Although the event was closed to the media, I was invited by the founders of Nexus, Jonah Wittkamper and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company.)

Atrios recently wrote, “If only it could be revealed that the New York Times Style section has actually been fiction penned by Andy Kaufman for the past several decades [!]” If only!

UPDATE: Digby and Harold Pollack have more, and both are extremely astute as usual. Digby really gets to the heart of it, I think:

It’s very nice that many of these young idealistic aristocrats want to do good deeds. But this is really nothing more than good old fashioned noblesse oblige which basically leaves the betterment of man to the whims of rich people. One of the big improvements democracy was supposed to bring was that the people themselves decided how to organize society rather than depending on the kindness of aristocrats. Even great philanthropists of the gilded age like Andrew Carnegie believed in a huge confiscatory tax of great estates in order that the government of the people might make the decisions rather than the heirs of great fortunes.
But we’re going the wrong way again. So if you have a good idea or want to help people or just need a job —- figure out which of the wealthy young scions of the new aristocracy might be amenable to your needs and figure out a way to kiss their asses in exactly the way they like them kissed. That’s the major skill we’re all going to need in our so-called “meritocracy”.
April 19, 2014 10:19 AM Morning music, The Cosmopolitans, “(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy”

There’s no doubt about it: with the Democrats’ decision to run on women’s issues and the gender pay gap this election is making Republicans very, very nervous. So far, they’ve have two basic responses to Democrats: one is to flat-out lie about the GOP’s record on women, pretending that it’s pro-equality. But the reality is anything but, as Talking Points Memo’s Lauren Rankin argues here. As Rankin demonstrates, that the last time the Republican Party supported women’s rights in any significant numbers, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, earth shoes, and fondues were all the rage.

Besides lying, the GOP’s other strategy where women’s rights are concerned has been to double down on the old school gender essentialism, hard. Perhaps the most notable example of the latter strategy is that they’ve rolled the 89-year old Phyllis Schlafly out of mothballs to argue, essentially, that if you girls start making more money, you’ll never catch a man. “The pay gap between men and women is not all bad because it helps to promote and sustain marriages,” she claims.

Given the Republicans’ unabashed nostalgia for the gender apartheid of the 1950s, I thought it would be a great time to post an unsung punk/new wave feminist classic: “(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy” by The Cosmopolitans. Am I the only person who knows about this song? I’ve mentioned it to other knowledgeable punk/post-punk/alternative rock fans, and none of them had ever heard of it. Be that as it may, The Cosmopolitans were a female-fronted, New York City-based band active between 1979 and 1982. Like The dBs, who played on some of their records (and who are another great band from that era), they were originally from North Carolina. This is their best-known song, and it is a demented delight: think feminist B-52s. Apparently, the lyrics are based on an exercise record from the late 1950s that actually existed, and that was owned by the mother of the band’s frontwoman, Jamie K. Sims.

I can easily imagine some of the Mad Men ladies listening to the original recording and earnestly attempting to follow the tips, can’t you? (Well, in the early seasons, anyway).

Though the song is over 30 years old, I fear the irony might still be lost on some. The rest of us can enjoy it in the spirit in which it was intended.

April 18, 2014 4:30 PM Day’s End and Weekend Watch

As indicated, I’m wrapping up early today in observance of Good Friday.

* As we speak, ambitious reporters and oppo researchers are probably pouring over the major document dump executed by the Clinton Library earlier this afternoon.

* State Department extends its review of Keystone XL Pipeline again, which means final administration decision may well not happen until after midterms.

* Greg Sargent acutely observes that failure of Obamacare to collapse may make it easier for Democrats to de-nationalize midterm contests in red states.

* At Ten Miles Square, Henry Farrell offers a meditation on becoming an American citizen.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer considers the plight of a sociologist specializing in zombie-related research who cannot seem to find a stable academic job.

And in non-political news:

* U.S. Air Force reports its drone pilots are suffering from poor morale. Not sure I really want to know why.

OK, that’s it for the day and week. Kathleen Geier will be in tomorrow for Weekend Blogging. I wish all of you who are celebrating Easter or Passover a spiritual weekend, and if not, then a good rest. Let’s close with my favorite piece of Good Friday music—or maybe any music—“O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded,” with music from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, as performed by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.


April 18, 2014 4:08 PM Another Cycle That Breaks the Mold?

Speaking of “Goldwaterism”…Ross Douthat published a column yesterday expressing the fear that the “unprecedented unsettleness” of the early 2016 Republican “invisible primary” might produce a “nearly unprecedented, not-since-Goldwater outcome” in the presidential nominating contest.

What Douthat was doubting was the “usual pattern” taken by the GOP:

[This is] the path that every post-1970s Republican primary campaign has ultimately taken, in which a candidate who seems reasonably electable, performs well with “moderate conservative” primary voters (to use Henry Olsen’s helpful typology) and wins the blessing of the party’s donor class, successfully fends off a more right-wing challenger, and sometimes a more moderate challenger as well.

But as Jonathan Bernstein notes, there’s no obvious frontrunner for 2016 (“no former nominee, no former or sitting vice president, no acknowledged longtime leader, no close runner-up from a previous cycle”). And the putative Establishment candidates—Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio—all have unusually large handicaps (though perhaps no larger than the 2012 nominee’s “Obamneycare” problem, which he overcame).

Douthat doesn’t buy into the mystical notion that the “Establishment” has iron control of the nominating process; he acknowledges the narrow escapes made by Romney and especially McCain in the last two cycles, which might have gone in another direction. And Bernstein is always careful to define “the party” in ways that include ideological groups and other organized factions—not just shadowy Beltway elites—as important decision-makers.

In my own opinion, what separates “the party” from random rank-and-file voters is most likely a superior interest in electability. But even then, the principle of “high risk, high reward” can well come into play, with entirely rational people deciding it’s worth trading some degree of electability for the ideological payoff of a less-electable-but-not-hopless candidate. And let’s don’t forget a decent number of great-big-grownups in the Republican Party buy into “move right and win” theories whereby a more ideologically consistent candidate can not only “energize the base” but can offer a clearer appeal to swing voters (this is, for example, a big part of Scott Walker’s rap about why he is politically successful).

So all in all, I think it’s safe to say this really could be a cycle that breaks the mold and offers general election voters the kind of “choice not an echo” that Barry Goldwater rightly said he represented. Partisan allegiances being what they are, even an extremist GOP nominee almost certainly won’t do as poorly as Goldwater did. But it remains to be seen how many Republican movers-and-shakers decide they’d better get behind one of the tarnished “somewhat conservative” candidates, or go for broke. Foreign policy and immigration aside, it’s not like they really disagree on much that matters.

April 18, 2014 2:54 PM “The Spirit of Goldwaterism”

For all the hagiography directed at Ronald Reagan, I’ve always thought the real idol for the newly radicalized conservative movement of the Obama Era was Barry Goldwater, the original “constitutional conservative.” Mike Gerson agrees, and it worries him:

The 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act is also the 50th anniversary of the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, voting against the Civil Rights Act.
Goldwater, his defenders effectively argue, was not a racist, only an ideologue. True enough. He had been a founding member of the Arizona NAACP. He helped integrate the Phoenix public schools. His problems with the Civil Rights Act were theoretical and libertarian — an objection to the extension of federal power over private enterprise.
But some political choices are symbolic and more than symbolic. Following Goldwater’s vote, a young Colin Powell went out to his car and affixed a Lyndon Johnson bumper sticker. “While not himself a racist,” concluded Martin Luther King Jr., “Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racists.” Jackie Robinson, after attending the GOP convention in 1964, helped launch Republicans for Johnson.
In the 1960 election, Richard Nixon had won 32 percent of the African American vote. Goldwater got 6 percent in 1964. No Republican presidential candidate since has broken 15 percent….
Announcing his candidacy, Goldwater had pledged: “I will not change my beliefs to win votes. I will offer a choice, not an echo.” The choice was generally libertarian and Jeffersonian (in its resistance to federal power). The echo consisted of Republicans who had accommodated federal power on the welfare state, civil rights and much else. The energy of Goldwater’s movement was directed against compromised members of the GOP — the RINOs of their time. According to Goldwater, President Dwight Eisenhower had embraced “the siren song of socialism.” Goldwaterites accused the Republican establishment of “me-tooism” and advocating a “dime store New Deal….”

Sound familiar? No question about it.

The political events of half a century ago have current echoes. The spirit of Goldwaterism is abroad among tea party activists. Their ideological ideal is often libertarian and Jeffersonian. A few — Rand Paul (R-Ky.) briefly during his Senate campaign; Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) at a recent town hall — balk at accepting the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act. More generally, they believe that the GOP’s political recovery must begin with the defeat of compromised GOP elites. Never mind that those elites, by any historical standard, are conservative….

But it gets worse:

The problem comes in viewing Goldwater as an example rather than as a warning. Conservatives sometimes describe his defeat as a necessary, preliminary step — a clarifying and purifying struggle — in the Reagan revolution. In fact, it was an electoral catastrophe that awarded Lyndon Johnson a powerful legislative majority, increased the liberal ambitions of the Great Society and caused massive distrust of the GOP among poor and ethnic voters. The party has never quite recovered. Ronald Reagan was, in part, elected president by undoing Goldwater’s impression of radicalism. And all of Reagan’s domestic achievements involved cleaning up just a small portion of the excesses that Goldwater’s epic loss enabled.

That’s exactly right, in both respects. The continuities between the Goldwater and Reagan campaigns—and especially the 1976 Reagan campaign that viewed itself as a purge of RINO Gerald Ford—are impossible to ignore, up to and including the signature “Viva/Ole” call and response of the shock troops in both. From within, Reagan’s ascent looked like a consummation of the 1964 crusade, not a correction. But had that impression been more general in the electorate, Reagan would likely not have won, even with all the advantages he had in 1980.

But the “spirit of Goldwaterism” is indeed alive in the activist “base” of the GOP. And 50 years after the original, it’s no more likely that “constitutional conservatism” is the basis for any real popular majority, and its advocates’ disdain for “popular majorities” supplies the final proof.

April 18, 2014 2:06 PM Lunch Buffet

Today is Good Friday, a solemn holiday for many of us. So I will curtail blogging a bit this afternoon.

Here are some midday and week-ending news/views items:

* At Weekly Standard, Jeffrey Anderson posts about the 50,000th conservative piece that touts Obamacare’s unpopularity without noting that many who don’t like it want something more “socialistic.”

* Costa/Rucker WaPo item on Mitt Romney’s reemergence quotes one friend as suggesting that Mitt wants to be “the anti-Jim DeMint” within GOP. Well, they could use one, but let’s remember DeMint was a key Mitt endorser in 2008.

* Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer leaves post to join Matt Bevin campaign in Kentucky. Bringing down the Great White Father Mitch McConnell does seem to be a Tea priority.

* Prospect’s Paul Waldman comments on the financial arrangements between conservative groups and radio talk show hosts.

* At the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb discusses the mixed legacy of desegregation.

And in non-political news:

* NASA lunar probe crashes into dark side of the moon—as planned.

As we break for lunch, here’s more T-Bone Walker, with “Goin’ to Chicago.”

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