Political Animal


April 24, 2014 5:12 PM “Populist” Issues Are Persuasive

As a follow-on to my last dyspeptic post disputing the idea that “anger” is the key to good Democratic midterm, and also to a post yesterday on how well issues like the minimum wage and pay equity and Medicaid expansion are polling, even in red states—maybe it’s time to rethink some really ancient memes of Democratic politics.

From time immemorial, many Democrats who are really into “base mobilization” urged the party to go big on “populist” economic issues, while many Democrats who focused on “persuasion” strategies downplayed such issues.

We may be in a cycle where the old songs are archaic. Sure, a Democratic commitment to “economic populism” will help turn out “the base” insofar as it shows a renewed willingness by Obama and congressional Democrats to do something about the economy. But the most obvious value of the “populist” issues this year are that they are popular among swing voters. It’s true that there aren’t a whole lot of “swing voters” right now, but they do exist. And as I also noted yesterday, these issues force Republicans into positions that betray their own radicalism, which helps with both “swing” and Democratic “base” voters.

All these considerations should go into the midterm mix.

April 24, 2014 4:31 PM Anger Management in ‘14

Regular readers know that I’m skeptical of election forecasts that rely excessively on assessments of voter “enthusiasm.” To put it simply, any “enthusiasm” beyond that necessary to convince a voter to vote is politically meaningless unless it is communicable to other voters who may or may not vote. So getting one’s “base” all excited, especially via strategies that help excite the other team’s “base,” is of dubious value as compared to less noisy approaches to turnout.

But at the Daily Beast today, comedian/activist Dean Obeidallah, in what I assume was not a comedic take, offers an even more dubious variation on the “enthusiasm” theory: the “anger” theory. Angry voters, he asserts, win midterms, and since Republican voters are really angry right now, Democrats are going to get waxed if they don’t get angry, too.

Obeidallah’s data set for his “angry voters win midterms” hypothesis is limited to the last to midterms. In 2006, voters angry at Bush turned out; in 2010, voters angry at Obama turned out. Trouble is, there’s not a big difference in the kind of voters who voted in this two midterms with such different results. The most important difference I can see is that in 2006 over-65 votes preferred Democrats by a 50-48 margin; in 2010 they preferred Republicans by 59-38, reflecting a sharp trend that first manifested itself in 2008. The partisan composition of the electorate in 2010 was marginally more pro-Republican than in 2006, but at some point these sorts of comparison become almost entirely circular: if the voters who turn out tilt Republican, then “Republican turnout” is up. That’s not to say a different electorate is appearing.

More to the point, even if Obeidallah is right in arguing that “anger” is key to midterm turnout and/or victory, there’s an especially germane difference between ‘16 and ‘10: the party in control of the White House, and thus (invariably) the primary object of voter unhappiness. This, and not some sort of mathematical law, is why parties controlling the White House, particularly when the economy isn’t doing well, tend to lose ground in midterms, and especially second midterms.

So what Obeidallah is really arguing for isn’t a sudden realization among Democrats that anger is powerful, but a very difficult strategy of convincing voters to be angry at the party that does not control the White House, while presumably remaining non-angry at the White House itself. That is an extremely roundabout way of describing what is often called a “two futures” election, where voters resist the natural tendency to make their vote a “referendum” on the status quo, and instead vote on their future policy preferences.

There are exactly two precedents for this sort of appeal actually succeeding. One, the most relevant, is unfortunately pretty distant in time: Harry Truman’s 1948 “Do-Nothing Congress” attack on the GOP, which (a) wasn’t a midterm, and (b) was nestled between two really bad midterms for Democrats. The second, in 1998, is relevant insofar as voters appeared to have been interested in rebuffing congressional GOP overreach mostly attributable to the Clinton impeachment effort. But it’s less relevant because the economy was booming and Clinton’s job approval ratings were over 60%.

So there’s not much evidence Democrats will win any anger-fest in 2014. That’s not to say, of course, that they should not spend a great deal of time and money reaching out to their “base” and encouraging them to vote via a combination of “happy” messages about Obama’s accomplishments and “unhappy” messages about the damage a Republican Congress might do to them. Perhaps even more importantly, Democrats need to let voters who lean their way know where and when and how to vote, and that sitting this one out isn’t acceptable. Sheer emotion, though, can be tricky and is generally overrated.

April 24, 2014 3:14 PM Campaign ‘14: Writing Tomorrow’s Spin Today

At TNR today, Brian Beutler spells out the flip side of the monomania with which some of us have been writing about the structural advantages Republicans should enjoy in this midterm elections, especially in Senate races:

It’s a ripe year for Republicans, and everyone has known it would be since 2008, when Democrats picked up Senate seats in states like Alaska and held on to others in Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Montana.
But Republicans don’t want to pick up seats in 2014—perhaps even enough to capture the Senate—only to be met with shrugs from an unimpressed media. “So you won a bunch of Romney states. So what?” Not that the media is naturally disinclined to concoct dubious narratives, but that Republicans want the media to be primed to adopt one narrative in particular: that a GOP victory in November will be synonymous with a mandate to reopen the legislative debate over Obamacare.
To that end, you won’t find many GOP operatives willing to confess the existence of any Republican structural advantages this cycle. As long as polls show Republicans poised to win seats, and the slight favorite to capture the Senate, it is because Obamacare is a #trainwreck, and voters are itching to hold Democrats accountable for it.

Beutler thinks this pre-spin is (or at least was, prior to all the recent good news about Obamacare) intended to rationalize a post-election assault on the Affordable Care Act as being the subject of a “mandate.” Maybe that’s right. But beyond that, Republicans remain deeply invested in the claim that they have some sort of national majority that was temporarily and unnaturally interrupted by the two Obama presidential elections. So instead of acknowledging that the two parties are in roughly equal positions with one dominating presidential elections and the other midterms, Republicans appear very likely to claim that a good 2014 guarantees a good 2016. Democrats are probably hoping this makes GOPers over-confident about 2016, and/or more likely to nominate a less-electable presidential candidate who warms the ideological cockles of their hearts.

April 24, 2014 2:13 PM Lunch Buffet

Aside from my Twitter dialogue over Nate Cohn’s piece on southern white voters, I also did a conference call with an old friend, so I’m a bit behind the curve.

Here are some midday news/views items rushed from the pantry:

* Texas jury makes multi-million dollar award to family claiming medical injurities from fracking operations. A trend?

* Harvard University Press struggling to keep up with demand for Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

* Prospect’s Paul Waldman suggests high priests of Right’s “religion of unreason” aren’t clergy.

* Obama’s playful interaction at Tokyo factory gets this treatment from Drudge: “OBAMA BOWS TO JAPANESE ROBOT.”

* More detail on Georgia’s new “guns everywhere” law, which Republicans and Democrats alike are using to fend off attacks from Right.

And in non-political news:

* Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda ejected from game after umpires found “brown goo” on his neck.

As we break for lunch, here’s more rebel music from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem: “Legion of the Rearguard.”

April 24, 2014 1:43 PM Digging In With Cliven Bundy

For the most part, conservatives have dealt with cowboy libertarian folk hero Cliven Bundy’s racist outburst yesterday ignoring it or (in the case of pols) “hating the sin” while figuring out if it’s okay to still love the sinner.

But aside from the usual “so’s your old man” stuff about Robert Byrd or other long-dead Democrats making racist comments, a few conservatives are trying to snatch Bundy’s fighting-the-feds chestnuts from the racial fires. Charlie Pierce has an amusing description:

For the appetizer, here’s gun-totin’ dame Dana Loesch. Dana was one of the first enlistees in the 101st Vicarious Twitter Commando Brigade, and she stalwartly stood a post along Freeloader Ridge, which is a place of the mind to which meeker souls dare not go.
First, to take the quote at face value it’s odd and sounds offensive. You’re talking about government overreach and you go into this story? Secondly, I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn’t media trained to express himself perfectly. He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family - which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity - so perhaps he included that in his remarks against big government? I’m just trying to figure out how he even got to the point of discussing it and yes, it’s justified to have a healthy suspicion of the New York Times….
But the entree today is Kevin Williamson, who writes for the longtime white-supremacist National Review. He has found a stage, hired a cast, and mounted his own road show production of Bad Historical Analogy Theater.
“Mr. Bundy’s racial rhetoric is lamentable and backward,” Williamson said in an email. “It is also separate from the fundamental question here, which is the federal government’s acting as an absentee landlord for nine-tenths of the state of Nevada…I very strongly suspect that most of the men who died at the Alamo held a great many views that I would find repugnant; we remember them for other reasons.”

The Williamson defense is a predictable if not very compelling effort to treat Bundy’s racism as incidental, made hilarious by the choice of an antebellum southern example. But it’s Loesche’s take that shows conservatives digging themselves into a deeper hole. If media training is the main thing that separates Bundy from, say, Paul Ryan in his rap about the enslaving nature of dependence on Big Government, that probably reflects pretty poorly on Ryan and others who claim they want to liberate po’ folks from any help from their government. As Pierce notes, Bundy was pretty clear in his views. Are others we suspect of blowing racial dog whistles the ones who are misspeaking? It’s a question worth asking.

April 24, 2014 12:56 PM Once More, With Feeling: A Vote’s a Vote

If you happen to follow me on Twitter (@ed_kilgore), you may have noticed I’ve gotten into an elaborate discussion with Nate Cohn and others over Nate’s piece today at The Update about the defection of white southerners to the GOP. As I noted in an earlier post, levels of white support for Democratic presidential candidates in the South vary quite a bit state-by-state. Nate and other commentators don’t think that’s remotely as significant as the overall decline in white southern Democratic voting, and maybe they are right in terms of prospects for Democratic majorities in the Deep South any time in the near future.

But as regular readers know, I’m a bit obsessive in insisting that “a vote’s a vote,” and votes in demographic categories a given party is “losing” are just as important as those in categories it is “winning.” It matters a great deal if Democrats have a voting base in a given state of 25% of the white vote as opposed to 10%, just as it matters exactly how poorly Republicans do with, say, Latinos. So instead of just dismissing southern white voters as “lost,” Democrat would be smart to figure out what they have and what they need, in combination with nonwhite voters, to create winning coalitions in any given state. Some they won’t have a chance of winning in presidential elections any time in the foreseeable future; some are more promising. But in my experience, overgeneralization about voting trends is more dangerous than too much precision.

April 24, 2014 12:20 PM Mitch Hearts Rand

I get it that the innovation in TIME’s latest edition of its “100 Most Influential People” feature is getting celebrities to write about celebrities. But still, there’s something especially disingenuous about getting Mitch McConnell to tout Rand Paul:

Any political party worth its salt is always on the lookout for converts. But no one in either party today brings the level of missionary zeal to the task that Rand Paul does. From Berkeley, Calif., to Detroit, my Kentucky colleague has been cheerfully clearing a path for Republican ideals in the unlikeliest precincts. And he’s done it with rare magnanimity, making common cause with anyone who agrees that an all-powerful government in Washington is a threat to individual liberty — and to the American project itself.

Yawn. But the next sentence gets to the heart of the matter:

He has also embraced the 11th commandment made famous by Reagan, “not to speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

Rand Paul’s endorsement of McConnell, however lukewarm it has undoubtedly been, is worth its weight in gold to McConnell in his so-far-successful battle to put down primary challenger Matt Bevin. So of course he (or his staff) have jumped at TIME’s offer to go all kissy-face on the guy who croaked McConnell’s hand-picked Kentucky Senate candidate in 2010, Trey Grayson.

April 24, 2014 11:23 AM Southern Polarization by Race and Party: Not a Simple Picture

At The Upshot, Nate Cohn provides some empirical data for a reality most of us already understood: the Deep South’s partisan polarization is to an significant extent correlated with race, which in turn has made southern white folks with their characteristic cultural concerns more powerful than ever in the counsels of the GOP.

Some of this data—Cohn’s fascinating map of counties where Democrats won less than 20% of the white vote in 2012—has been, and continues to be, obscured by the decision of the media consortium doing ‘12 exit polling not to bother with noncompetitive states, which meant no statewide exits in SC, GA, AL, AR, TN, MS, LA, or TX.

But for the same reason, lumping together southern white voters as uniformly Republican—with the exception of three states, VA, NC and FL, where migrants from outside the region supposedly make all the difference in the world—may oversimplify the picture. According to the 2008 exits, the Democratic percentage of the white vote in the former Confederate States varied significantly, and not just in the three states carried by Obama: FL: 42%; VA: 39%, NC: 35%; TN: 34%; AR: 30%; SC: 26%; TX: 26%; GA: 23%; LA: 14%; MS: 11%; AL: 10%. Were these pretty impressive differences wiped out in 2012? I doubt it.

A state-by-state estimate of the white vote in 2012 done by a diarist at DailyKos (based on backing out heavily pro-Obama nonwhite votes and looking at the remainder) shows an unsurprising uniform slide in the Democratic percentages of white voters throughout the South, but again, big variations persist; SC still shows double the percentage prevailing in MS and LA.

Levels of in-migration from outside the region may have something to do with these variations, but so, too, could urbanization, unionization, the effort exhibited by the Obama campaign, and the strength or weakness of the underlying Democratic organization in this or that state.

It would be helpful if Nate Cohn addressed these variations in a future article for The Upshot. If you’re going to equate white Republican with black Democratic voting levels in an entire region, it’s important to examine places where that is simply not true.

April 24, 2014 9:33 AM Racist Liberal Media Invent More White Racism

Wouldn’t you figure it would be Adam Nagourney of the New York Times who would ruin the splendid living theater of patriotism being acted out in Nevada by quoting everybody’s hero Cliven Bundy as having views about black folks that might embarrass your local Grand Dragon:

[I]f the federal government has moved on, Mr. Bundy — a father of 14 and a registered Republican — has not.
He said he would continue holding a daily news conference; on Saturday, it drew one reporter and one photographer, so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Since Nagourney’s story came out late yesterday, you can imagine the consternation in conservative-land, which has for the most part adopted Bundy as a sort of sage-brush counterpart to Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. What to say? Dean Heller’s staff was smart enough to immediately distance The Boss from Bundy’s racist rant. It took Rand Paul a bit longer to get there. Texas GOP gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott’s people also disavowed an earlier effort to link his cause to Bundy’s. It’s probably a matter of moments before someone accuses Nagourney of inventing the quote about “the Negro,” and it’s probably crossed more than a few minds that Bundy is an agent provocateur. Seems to me the old cowboy really, really wanted to say what he said; he had to understand he was blowing up his own game.

All I know for sure is that the next ten or a hundred conservative gabbers who claim the only racists in America are liberals who play the “race card” are going to have to deal with Bundy’s example. They, not liberals, made the man an icon. Let them explain how his racism is unconnected with all the other reactionary features of his world view, which are pure as ever.

April 24, 2014 8:39 AM Daylight Video

The Easter Rising began in Ireland on this day in 1916. Here are the Wolfe Tones performing “Foggy Dew.”

April 23, 2014 5:53 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Had about decided the $199 Chromebook I’ve been using since November was biting the dust when sound suddenly shut down, but it was just teasing me. Thing is, I wouldn’t have been that upset if I’d had to buy a new one. That’s value.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Jeb Bush says: “I’m thinking about running for president.” Better get cracking on your Common Core flip-flop, Jebbie.

* Word to Dinesh D’Souza: Don’t tell cuckolded husband of your lover about your illegal campaign donation schemes!

* Nate Cohn responds to Republican criticism of new Times poll showing Mark Pryor with big lead. He’s a bit more credible on—well, everything—than Bill Kristol.

* At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humphreys discusses the tendency to treat addicted criminal offenders with simple-minded horror or sympathy.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer evaluates a pop music parody complaint about student loan debt.

And in non-political news:

* As a fan of Iowa culture and of bulldogs, I want to draw attention to this year’s Beautiful Bulldog winner at Drake University, Lucey.

That’s it for Wednesday. Let’s close with one more from Garry Moore, “Enough of the Blues.”


April 23, 2014 4:58 PM Unraising Cain

About three-and-a-half years ago, Herman Cain leaped into the lead in polling for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Yes, his boomlet soon ended, but via the kind of heavily sexual allegations you’d figure might have made him even more famous.

I mention this in connection with the following story from the Daily Caller’s Alex Pappas:

No one remembers Herman Cain anymore. At least on Jeopardy.
During the gameshow’s airing on Tuesday night, none of the contestants attempted to answer the clue, “This pizza magnate and 2012 presidential candidate was a math major at historically black Morehouse College.”
That led Jeopardy host Alex Trebek to remark, “How quickly you have forgotten Herman Cain.”

Now this could be a reflection less of Cain’s unraising than of the interests of Jeopardy contestants, who are too busy memorizing the periodic table or lists of French Impressionists to follow the news. Last time I watched the show, a contestant from Durham, North Carolina identified the “canine nickname” of the North Carolina State University sports teams as “Huskies” rather than “Wolfpack.”

Still, you have to wonder if Cain will be tempted to run again, if only to raise his name ID. After all, there are books and tapes to sell, and endorsement deals to be made. Clearly one presidential campaign is not enough.

April 23, 2014 4:31 PM Medicaid Expansion and the “Socialized Medicine” Underground

I noted in a post earlier today that in conservative Texas, where li’l chirrens are taught to hate liberalism from infancy, PPP finds that a solid 49/35 plurality thinks the state should accept the ACA Medicaid expansion. A bit later I ran across a big annual poll conducted by Georgia College in that state which showed Georgians favoring the Medicaid expansion by a 60/30 margin, even as they opposed Obamacare by a 50/45 margin.

Now it’s possible that this typical gap between support for Medicaid expansion and for the overall Affordable Care Act reflects a shrewd appreciation of the excellent fiscal deal states could get from going along with the expansion. It’s also possible that it’s at least partly attributable to support for Medicaid as opposed to the private insurance-centered Obamacare as a way to provide health insurance. Republicans almost never, ever talk about this, but it’s been obvious all along that a sizable chunk of Obamacare opponents are supporters of more socialism in health care—Medicare for All, or a strong public option, at a minimum. It shouldn’t be surprising at all that the Medicaid expansion is popular both among these kind of people and among Obamacare supporters. And it’s another data point for the argument that nothing like a majority exists in support of the kind of market-oriented/pay-your-own-way “replacement” proposals Republicans kick around when they are willing to address the issue at all.

April 23, 2014 3:41 PM Show Me Some Posturing

Readers of WaPo today may have run across this wild-sounding report by Reid Wilson from the Show-Me State:

A Missouri state House committee will hold hearings Wednesday into three proposed articles of impeachment against Gov. Jay Nixon (D), whom some Republicans say has committed offenses worthy of being removed from office.
One legislator has lodged a complaint over Nixon’s executive order last year that directed state tax officials to accept joint tax returns from same-sex couples who were legally married in other states. Nixon said in November, when he issued the order, that the state should accept the same sorts of tax returns as the Internal Revenue Service, which accepts joint returns from same-sex couples.
Another legislator said Nixon hadn’t moved fast enough to call special elections in three state House districts and a Senate district left vacant by resignations. State law directs the governor to call elections “without delay”; state Rep. Mike Moon’s (R) legislation accuses Nixon of breaking that law.
And a third legislator says Nixon deserves the boot for insufficiently punishing officials at the state Department of Public Safety for releasing a database of Missourians with permits to carry concealed weapons. In 2013, the state Highway Patrol said it had given the list of 163,000 concealed carry permit holders to a Social Security Administration agent in relation to an investigation into fraudulent disability claims.
The list of permit-holders was to be compared to a list of Social Security recipients collecting benefits for mental illness claims. A top Highway Patrol official said at the time the state considered the federal request a part of a criminal investigation. Nixon didn’t immediately fire the officials responsible, as House Republicans had demanded.

OMG, Nixon is disrespecting guns by failing to fire people with the unimaginable view that they should perhaps not be in the hands of people with mental illness! Is the Second Amendment on its last legs in Mizzou?

Actually, our good friend from Missouri Blue Girl puts the impeachment talk in perspective today at Show Me Progress:

Jay Nixon was elected by over 1.5 million Missourians in 2008 and re-elected by almost 1.5 million in 2012. He is perhaps the most popular, most successful elected official in the history of the state. By contrast, the state representatives making all the noise - the crazy relations who escaped the attic - garnered the votes of less than 25,000 Missourians total.
This is about ideology and making a name for themselves back home in the district, but in reality it is nothing more than a publicity stunt to get the name of a few wingnut state legislators in the weekly paper back home.
It’s true that the GOP holds super-majorities in both the state senate and the general assembly, but those super-majorities aren’t, for the most part, insane. The crazies are loud, but they’re few in number, by comparison, so the bills that are being shrieked about now have very little chance of getting to the floor of either chamber for a vote before the session ends in just a few days.

I guess the bottom line is that for some “constitutional conservatives” any Democratic executive is presumed impeachable for the horrible high crime and misdemeanor of being a Democrat. Elections be damned: Democrats are violating the eternal rules of governance handed down by Almighty God and the Founders, according to which gay people are abominations unto the Lord and maximum gun ownership is essential to the preservation of freedom—you know, if impeachment doesn’t succeed.

April 23, 2014 2:29 PM Richly Earned Awards

Political writing is often an unrewarding line of work, in more ways than one. So I’m very pleased today to report that two people I consider friends have been recognized by the Sidney Hillman Foundation with Hillman Awards for distinguished journalists “whose work promotes social justice and public policy for the common good.”

In the Magazine Journalism category, the 2014 Hillman Award went to TNR’s Jonathan Cohn for his much-discussed piece last April on America’s terrible daycare system. And for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, the Hillman winner is Hullabaloo’s Digby (a.k.a. Heather Parton). Both are exceptionally worthy recipients.

I might also mention that former Washington Monthly senior editor Haley Sweetland Edwards is a finalist for the 2014 MOLLY National Journalism Prize awarded by the Texas Observer and the
Texas Democracy Foundation in memory of Molly Ivins. Haley’s award-nominated article was her March-April 2013 WaMo piece on Dodd-Frank implementation.

Too bad there’s not a red carpet for these awards. It would be fun to see progressive journalists—or at least those who could afford to show up—on parade.

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