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“Something’s Gotta Give”: A Deeper Divide In A Culture War That’s Now Spread To The Full Range Of Public Policy Issues

There’s been a lot of polling conducted about the George Zimmerman verdict, and/or the whole Zimmerman-Martin saga. And a lot of it tracks divisions on, well, most other major controversies in American politics, including partisan attachments and competitive national elections.

One way of looking at the congruence of opinion on issues directly relating to race and ethnicity and on all kinds of other issues is that it reflects a partisan and ideological polarization that’s taken on the atmosphere of a culture war. The other way, of course, is to suggest that we’re in a culture war that’s now spread to the full range of public policy issues.

In his latest National Journal column, Ron Brownstein adds the considerable weight of his judgment to the latter proposition:

Although the contrasting attitudes about law enforcement ignite more sparks, that question of Washington’s proper role now represents the most important racial divide in American life. Minorities preponderantly support government investment in education, training, and health care that they consider essential for upward mobility. Most whites, particularly blue-collar and older whites, now resist spending on almost anything except Social Security and Medicare.

This clash rings through the collision between Obama (who won twice behind a coalition of nonwhites and the minority of whites generally open to activist government) and House Republicans (four-fifths of whom represent districts more white than the national average). In their unwavering opposition to Obama on issues from health to immigration, House Republicans are systematically blockading the priorities of the diverse (and growing) majority coalition that reelected him. Without more persuasive alternatives, Republicans risk convincing these emerging communities that their implacable opposition represents a “stand-your-ground” white resistance to minorities’ own rise. In the meantime, a rapidly diversifying America risks a future of hardening disparities and enmities if it cannot forge more transracial consensus in the courts—or in Congress.

If Ron’s analysis is right, of course, there’s another scenario for the future if “hardening disparities and enmities” cannot be overcome: one side or the other might actually win for long enough to set a new course for the future. For a brief moment that seemed to have happened in 2008. I’m sure some conservatives thought they saw it happening in 2010, which is why they quite literally couldn’t believe what was happening just two years later. But whether the current gridlock leads to a currently unimaginable “transracial consensus” or something else, something’s gotta give before long.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July, 26, 2013

July 27, 2013 Posted by | Public Policy, Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republican Health Care Panic”: Willing To Risk Economic And Fiscal Crisis To Deny Essential Health Care And Financial Security To Millions

Leading Republicans appear to be nerving themselves up for another round of attempted fiscal blackmail. With the end of the fiscal year looming, they aren’t offering the kinds of compromises that might produce a deal and avoid a government shutdown; instead, they’re drafting extremist legislation — bills that would, for example, cut clean-water grants by 83 percent — that has no chance of becoming law. Furthermore, they’re threatening, once again, to block any rise in the debt ceiling, a move that would damage the U.S. economy and possibly provoke a world financial crisis.

Yet even as Republican politicians seem ready to go on the offensive, there’s a palpable sense of anxiety, even despair, among conservative pundits and analysts. Better-informed people on the right seem, finally, to be facing up to a horrible truth: Health care reform, President Obama’s signature policy achievement, is probably going to work.

And the good news about Obamacare is, I’d argue, what’s driving the Republican Party’s intensified extremism. Successful health reform wouldn’t just be a victory for a president conservatives loathe, it would be an object demonstration of the falseness of right-wing ideology. So Republicans are being driven into a last, desperate effort to head this thing off at the pass.

Some background: Although you’d never know it from all the fulminations, with prominent Republicans routinely comparing Obamacare to slavery, the Affordable Care Act is based on three simple ideas. First, all Americans should have access to affordable insurance, even if they have pre-existing medical problems. Second, people should be induced or required to buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, so that the risk pool remains reasonably favorable. Third, to prevent the insurance “mandate” from being too onerous, there should be subsidies to hold premiums down as a share of income.

Is such a system workable? For a while, Republicans convinced themselves that it was doomed to failure, and that they could profit politically from the inevitable “train wreck.” But a system along exactly these lines has been operating in Massachusetts since 2006, where it was introduced by a Republican governor. What was his name? Mitt Somethingorother? And no trains have been wrecked so far.

The question is whether the Massachusetts success story can be replicated in other states, especially big states like California and New York with large numbers of uninsured residents. The answer to this question depends, in the first place, on whether insurance companies are willing to offer coverage at reasonable rates. And the answer, so far, is a clear “yes.” In California, insurers came in with bids running significantly below expectations; in New York, it appears that premiums will be cut roughly in half.

So is this a case of something for nothing, in which nobody loses? No. In states like California, which have allowed discrimination based on health status, a small number of young, healthy, affluent residents will see their premiums go up. In New York, people who don’t think they need insurance and are too rich to receive subsidies — probably an even smaller group — will feel put upon by being obliged to buy policies. Mainly, though, those insurance subsidies will cost money, and that money will, to an important extent, be raised through higher taxes on the 1 percent: tax increases that have, by the way, already taken effect.

Over all, then, health reform will help millions of Americans who were previously either too sick or too poor to get the coverage they needed, and also offer a great deal of reassurance to millions more who currently have insurance but fear losing it; it will provide these benefits at the expense of a much smaller number of other Americans, mostly the very well off. It is, if you like, a plan to comfort the afflicted while (slightly) afflicting the comfortable.

And the prospect that such a plan might succeed is anathema to a party whose whole philosophy is built around doing just the opposite, of taking from the “takers” and giving to the “job creators,” known to the rest of us as the “rich.” Hence the brinkmanship.

So will Republicans actually take us to the brink? If they do, it will be crucial to understand why they would do such a thing, when their own leaders have admitted that confrontations over the budget inflict substantial harm on the economy. It won’t be because they fear the budget deficit, which is coming down fast. Nor will it be because they sincerely believe that spending cuts produce prosperity.

No, Republicans may be willing to risk economic and financial crisis solely in order to deny essential health care and financial security to millions of their fellow Americans. Let’s hear it for their noble cause!

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 25, 2013

July 27, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Health Care | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fire One, Fire Two, Fire Three”: GOP Circular Firing Squad Locked And Loaded

Apparently, it’s Republican circular firing squad week here in Washington. Item 1: David Corn of Mother Jones got hold of the proceedings of a secret group of conservatives scheming to take hold of American politics and shove it where it needs to go:

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and “clueless” GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks.

I have to commend Corn for getting these documents, but unfortunately, Groundswell isn’t exactly the right-wing A-Team. It’s more like the C-Team. Members include Ginny Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas; anti-Muslim zealot Frank Gaffney; religious nutball and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell; and some reporters from the Washington Examiner and Nevertheless, despite their lack of actual influence, it’s interesting just to see what these kinds of folks do when they get together and try to conspire.

And the answer is, pretty much exactly what liberals do when they try the same thing. They complain about their enemies. Everyone offers their own brilliant messaging ideas, few of which anyone ever uses. They say, “If I were making a 30-second ad, this is how it would go…” They begin with a sense of urgency that gradually fades. And eventually, attendance at the meetings declines, people stop bothering to contribute as much to the email lists, and it just peters out.

In my previous work as a partisan, I was part of some efforts that were similar to Groundswell, though none of them had such a snappy name. Some consisted of nothing more than a monthly meeting of various liberals to share gripes and toss around ideas, few of which were ever implemented. Others were a little better-organized, meaning they produced—prepare yourself—the occasional memo. None resulted in dramatic political change.

So if this is the group that’s gunning for Karl Rove — which apparently is their main focus—I don’t think he has much to worry about. Rove may be overrated, but he’s still a professional, and these people are amateurs.

On to item 2: According to Politico, there’s a feud a-brewin’ between, on one side, congressional Republicans who hate Obamacare so much they want to cry, and on the other side, congressional Republicans who hate Obamacare so much they want to stamp their feet. The strategic question at play has to do with the fact that in order for the government to keep functioning, Congress is going to have to pass a continuing resolution in September. A CR is what you do when you haven’t passed an actual budget; it says that funding for everything will continue at its current level. Congress passes CRs all the time, because if you don’t, it’s kind of disastrous. But where you and I see disaster, someone like Marco Rubio, desperate to restore his Tea Party cred in the wake of immigration reform apparently failing, sees an opportunity. So he and a few other GOP senators like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are pushing their colleagues to make this threat: They’ll block the CR and thus shut down the government unless Congress votes (and President Obama agrees!) to defund the Affordable Care Act, for all intents and purposes repealing it.

So threatening to shut down the government has become the all-purpose means by which some Republicans believe they can achieve almost any policy goal. Can’t cut food stamps? Shut down the government! Can’t repeal Obamacare? Shut down the government! “Mr. Chairman, if our proposal to declare August to be National Ted Nugent Appreciation Month is not passed by this body, we will have no choice but to shut down the government!”

Fortunately, many Republican senators are sane enough to realize that shutting down the government in an attempt to stop Obamacare would be a political catastrophe for the GOP, so they’re not going to let it happen. But the whole thing is sure to breed plenty of displeasure and resentment. Just what the party needs.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 26, 2013

July 27, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Carving Up the Country”: An Incontrovertible Fact, As We Drift Back Towards Bifurcation

Our 50 states seem to be united in name only.

In fact, we seem to be increasingly becoming two countries under one flag: Liberal Land — coastal, urban and multicultural — separated by Conservative Country — Southern and Western, rural and racially homogeneous. (Other parts of the country are a bit of a mixed bag.)

This has led to incredible and disturbing concentrations of power.

As The New York Times reported after the election in November, more than two-thirds of the states are now under single-party control, meaning that one party has control of the governor’s office and has majorities in both legislative chambers.

This is the highest level of such control since 1952. And Republicans have single-party control in nearly twice as many states as Democrats.

This is having very real consequences on the ground, nowhere more clearly than on the subjects of voting rights and women’s reproductive rights.

Almost all jurisdictions covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the section that requires federal approval for any change in voting procedures and that the Supreme Court effectively voided last month — are in Republican-controlled states.

So, many of those states have wasted no time following the court ruling to institute efforts to suppress the vote in the next election and beyond.

Within two hours of the Supreme Court ruling, Texas announced that a voter identification law that the Department of Justice had blocked for two years because “Hispanic registered voters are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic registered voters to lack such identification” would go into effect, along with a redistricting map passed in 2011 but blocked by a federal court.

The department is trying to prevent those actions in Texas, but it’s unclear whether the state or the feds will prevail.

Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have also moved forward with voter ID bills that had already passed but were being held up by the Justice Department. (Virginia has passed a bill that’s scheduled to go into effect next year.)

And on Wednesday, a federal court gave Florida the go-ahead to resume its controversial voter purge by dismissing a case filed against the state that had been rendered moot by the Supreme Court decision.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not surprised by this flurry. She voted with the minority on the Voting Rights Act case, and she wrote in a strongly worded dissent: “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proved effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed.”

She continued, “With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”

History does appear to be doing just that. In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Ginsburg reiterated her displeasure with the court’s decision and her lack of surprise at what it has wrought, saying, “And one really could have predicted what was going to happen.” She added, “I didn’t want to be right, but sadly I am.”

While Republicans may claim that voter ID laws are about the sanctity of the vote, Republican power brokers know they’re about much more: suppressing the votes of people likely to vote Democratic.

Last week Rob Gleason, the Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman, discussed the effects of his state’s voter ID laws on last year’s presidential election, acknowledging to the Pennsylvania Cable Network: “We probably had a better election. Think about this: we cut Obama by 5 percent, which was big. A lot of people lost sight of that. He won — he beat McCain by 10 percent; he only beat Romney by 5 percent. I think that probably voter ID helped a bit in that.”

And on women’s reproductive rights, as the Guttmacher Institute reported earlier this month, “In the first six months of 2013, states enacted 106 provisions related to reproductive health and rights.” The report continued, “Although initial momentum behind banning abortion early in pregnancy appears to have waned, states nonetheless adopted 43 restrictions on access to abortion, the second-highest number ever at the midyear mark and is as many as were enacted in all of 2012.”

A substantial majority of the new restrictive measures — which include bans on abortion outside incredibly restrictive time frames (at six weeks after the woman’s last period in North Dakota), burdensome regulations on abortion clinics and providers, and forced ultrasounds — were enacted in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.

These are just two issues among many in which the cleaving of this country is becoming an incontrovertible fact, as we drift back toward bifurcation.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 26, 2013

July 27, 2013 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Frightening Step Backwards”: What “Conservatives Gone Wild” Looks Like In North Carolina

Guest host Ezra Klein noted on the show last night that some key legislative fights were “down to the wire” in North Carolina, as the state legislative session neared its adjournment. After the show aired, there were some important developments, so let’s take a moment to recap — and explain why this matters in the larger context.

First up are the most sweeping voter-suppression efforts seen anywhere in the United States in generations, which, much to the disappointment of voting-rights advocates, garnered the support of literally every member of the Republican majority in both chambers, who voted to keep more North Carolinians from being able to participate in their own democracy.

As lawmakers rushed to adjourn for the summer, lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to drastic changes in how voting will be conducted in future elections in North Carolina.

After more than two-and-a-half hours of debate, the House voted 73-41 on party lines late Thursday to agree with dozens of changes made by Senate Republicans to a bill that originally simply required voters to show photo identification at the polls. It was approved by the Senate earlier Thursday, 33-14, also on party lines.

As we’ve discussed, the proposal is remarkable in its scope, including a needlessly discriminatory voter-ID provision, new limits on early voting, blocks on voter-registration drive, restrictions on extended voting times to ease long lines, an end to same-day registration, new efforts to discourage youth voting, and expanded opportunities for “vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters.”

How many North Carolina Republican lawmakers supported these suppression tactics for no apparent reason? Each and every one of them.

State Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-N.C.), who fought for voting rights in the 1960s, told the GOP majority, “I want you to understand what this bill means to people. We have fought for, died for and struggled for our right to vote. You can take these 57 pages of abomination and confine them to the streets of hell for all eternity.”

And then, of course, there are the new limits on reproductive rights.

Late last night, they were approved, too.

The state Senate has given final legislative approval to a bill that imposes new regulations and restrictions on abortion providers.

Senators voted 32-13 Thursday evening, sending the measure to Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who has said he will sign the measure as it was passed.

For his part, the Republican governor, just six months into his first term, promised voters as a candidate last year that he would oppose any new restrictions on women’s reproductive rights in the state. Now, however, McCrory is prepared to sign this bill anyway — his public vow apparently came with fine print that voters might have missed

The result is a new regulatory measure, known as a TRAP law, that will likely close 15 of the 16 clinics where abortion services are provided.

Let’s also not lose sight of the context for this radicalism. For the first time since the Reconstruction era, Republicans control the state House, state Senate, and governor’s office, and as we recently talked about, GOP officials had an opportunity to govern modestly and responsibly, making incremental changes with an eye on the political mainstream.

What the state has instead seen is what Rachel described as “conservatives gone wild.” North Carolina Republicans gutted unemployment benefits despite a weak economy; they imposed the most sweeping voting restrictions anywhere in the United States; they cut funding for struggling public schools; they blocked Medicaid expansion despite the toll it will take on the state hospitals and poor families, they repealed the Racial Justice Act; and then they closed nearly every women’s health clinic in the state.

And really, that’s just a partial list.

It’s a microcosm of a national political crisis of sorts — North Carolina, a competitive state perceived as a burgeoning powerhouse with some of the nation’s finest universities, became frustrated with a struggling economy, so it took a chance on Republican rule. The consequences of this gamble are proving to be a frightening step backward for the state.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 26, 2013

July 27, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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