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February 25, 2014 Midterm Signals and Noise

Why Democrats Could Do Better in November Than Everyone Thinks

By Curtis Gans

Public Policy and the Lack Thereof on Three Levels: On one level, the public understands that it was the GOP that forced the government shut-down and has engaged in brinksmanship to no positive end. On another, the Republicans give the appearance of having an agenda of cruelty to the least fortunate in America - cutting food stamps for an estimated 850,000 who need them (and wanting to cut more); opposing extended unemployment benefits, leaving 1.4 million (a number that is growing daily) without any reliable source of income; and blocking any increase in the minimum wage — while protecting the most fortunate. On still another level, they have been the party of “No,” - “No” to any further stimulus to the economy that might put many unemployed back to work and deal with the nation’s crumbling infrastructure; “No” to taxes and/or loophole closings that might narrow the economic inequality gap and “No” to virtually any regulations that might mitigate the effects of climate change.

Demography: The non-white share of the American population is growing, and the GOP is doing its best to alienate that share. Latinos voted Democratic in 2012 by a 70-30 margin. African-Americans voted by more than 90-10 for Obama. Latinos know which party has xenophobia as part of its grassroots appeal, which party has announced that it will not consider immigration reform this year, which party has rebelled against offering the possibility of citizenship to any of the more than 11 million undocumented people residing in the United States. African-Americans know which party is attempting to erect barriers to their voting participation not just in requiring photo identification as a prerequisite to casting a ballot, but in making such identification difficult to get. (What the Republicans forget is that when Georgia and Indiana initiated the first round of photo ID legislation, African-Americans turned out in record numbers in both states.)

The GOP also has a gender problem. More women than men are eligible to vote; since 1980, they have voted in higher percentages; and they have given a majority of their votes to the Democrats in every recent election. While women, in general (as opposed to activists) might not go along with the Democratic characterization of a Republican “war on women,” they are very much aware that the current dominant elements of the GOP are seeking to impose narrow, puritanical and unachievable approaches to morality and sex on the nation, in general, and women, in particular.

Trouble in the States: If the Democrats have more vulnerable U.S. Senate seats to defend, Republicans have more governors whose re-election is in danger, including but not necessarily limited to: Corbett of Pennsylvania, LePage of Maine, Scott of Florida, Snyder in Michigan and Walker in Wisconsin. They may serve as a drag on down-ballot contests. The GOP also has to defend what many see as extremist advocacy and policies in the states - attempting to make contraception illegal (North Carolina), requiring sonograms and their images of fetuses to be presented to women seeking abortions (several states), advocacy of secession (Colorado and Texas), making enforcement of federal laws regarding guns a crime (Missouri), adopting a tax code that puts a greater burden on the poor and middle class while advantaging the rich (North Carolina and Kansas), mandating photo identification for voting while making the availability of those IDs only in Department of Motor Vehicle offices where the non-driving majority of those without IDs never go (a number of states), refusing federal funds for expanding access to Medicaid for millions who need such access and protection (21 states, all with Republican governors) and, attempting to mandate the teaching of “creationism” in schools (several states).

Divisions: Viewing current politics, it is by no means clear that the divisions between Republicans and Democrats are greater than the divisions within the GOP. Moderate and conservative Republicans seem to be treated with as much animus and intransigent opposition by the party’s radical right as are Democrats. While the views of the radical right are supported by less than a third of the nation and are viewed unfavorably by 80 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents, they have sufficient support in the states to challenge moderate and legitimate conservative incumbents, to intimidate those whom they have not yet actively challenged, to threaten the party leaders in the House of Representatives with removal from their leadership perches and to drive extreme policies in several states. The result of this is a Congressional party so divided that no legislation on major problems can be proposed or passed, statewide candidates who can secure party nominations but cannot be elected, and the image of a party engaged in civil war without a clear image of what it stands for.

The old adage is that you can’t beat something with nothing.

The Democrats, including Obama, have a record to run on: rescue from a free falling economy (with help from Ben Bernanke); steps toward financial regulation to reduce systemic risk; saving the domestic auto industry; generating several positive environmental initiatives including higher fuel economy standards and regulation of some of the greenhouse gases thought to contribute to climate change; ending the misguided American involvement in Iraq; reducing or eliminating combat involvement in Afghanistan; helping to remove Qaddafi from Libya which also made possible the destruction of Libya’s stockpile of chemical weaponry; with Russia’s assistance, removing and destroying Syrian chemical weapons; finding and killing Osama Bin Laden; reversing the Bush Administration’s permissive torture policy; repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and paving the way for an integrated military; expanding national service and wilderness and watershed protection; improving school nutrition and reducing the national deficit.

The signature achievement of the Obama administration was the Affordable Care Act which allows children up to the age of 26 to be included in their parent’s health insurance, greatly expands coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, pays for an expanded Medicaid, forbids denial of insurance coverage for persons with pre-existing medical conditions, eliminates overall dollar limits to coverage and will, within three years, provide health insurance - through insurance exchanges, business health plans, family insurance and Medicaid - to as many as 30-plus million citizens who previously lacked it. Like the roll-out of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, there are flaws in the program that need to be overcome, but like those earlier programs, the ACA is likely to be seen as a major contribution to a safety net for all Americans.

It is also possible, but by no means certain, that by election day 2014, the Administration can claim an enforceable agreement eliminating the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons; a clear road to a durable agreement between Israel and Palestine and, perhaps, even an end to the war in Syria.

Against this backdrop, the GOP, by choice, is offering nothing but attacks on the ACA, scandal-mongering on the Benghazi and IRS missteps and a roadblock against any fiscal initiative that would improve the economy and put the many unemployed, under-employed and out-of-the -labor force to work.

Curtis Gans has been a student and analyst of American politics for the past 38 years as director of the non-partisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate. Prior to that he challenged the conventional wisdom of the time by providing the theory for and helping to organize the "Dump Johnson" movement and serving as staff director of Eugene McCarthy's 1968 presidential campaign.


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