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“You Can’t Elect A President And Then Just Sit Back”: Why Democrats Should Treat Republicans Like Their Mortal Enemy

Why do Democratic voters refuse to turn out in midterms? Why is the drop-off so large? Why is it so hard to convince them that the vote is important?

This is the existential crisis for the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, and Obama.

In trying to solve it, the political world has come up with a number of provisional explanations, none of them satisfying. Democratic pollsters blame the party and its message, primarily. Liberals blame the party and its lack of a message. Political demographers attribute the disparity to the over-performance, the too-blue blushing, of Democratic voters in urban areas during presidential years. My own guess is that it has something to do with persuasion.

In the latest New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky offers an answer that has a real ring of truth to it: Republican voters think about politics differently. They see politics as an enduring contest, not a series of discrete events. They are more apt to see the big picture, and therefore are easier to motivate.

Republican voters, being older and somewhat wealthier and more likely to own property, are more apt to see politics as a continuing conflict of interests that roll over from one election to the next — they can always be convinced that some undeserving person is coming to take away what they’ve earned. [NYRoB]

Democrats, by contrast, “are less likely to view politics in such stark terms.”

Younger voters, minority voters, single women, the non-propertied, might have more to gain from an active government, but it is much easier in general to motivate people if they fear they’re going to lose rights and privileges and stuff. Especially stuff. Especially stuff that they earned.

In a way, though, progressives who identify as progressives definitely see politics as a struggle; the elites see the Republican Party as revanchist, as standing athwart progress yelling “illegal immigrant!” and generally the biggest obstacle to a fair and just society where everyone’s material dignity is respected. What Tomasky is saying, I think, is that the mass of Democratic voters who share these values do so more in theory than in operation. They don’t live like they have much to gain; they live and vote to preserve losses.

Add to this the historical facts that the Democratic coalition is broader and harder to corral than the Republican coalition, and that the GOP has become more openly conservative (and therefore closer to the real views of their base voters) in the past 20 years, and the midterm imbalance begins to make more sense as part of the deep structure of both American politics and political identity.

GOP “extremism” attracts a larger share of voters than liberal “extremism” does. Extremism here is used not as a proxy for extreme views on issues, but as a way of describing a worldview, the set of issues it encompasses, what it takes to motivate people to act on those issues, and the lengths a party is willing to go to trigger that motivation. As James Vega notes in his latest memo for The Democratic Strategist, this strategy “views politics as essentially a form of warfare and political opponents as literal enemies.” It is not a new strategy for the GOP, or for conservatives. But it works better when the party, as it has done during the past several years, actively synchronizes its actions with its words — when the party that says that government is bad actively acts like government is bad.

No wonder why Democrats have been reluctant to habitually vote in midterms — the government they see is a discredited, delegitimized government of failed promises and total dysfunction.

Can Democrats change this? Republicans are not going to abandon their strategy anytime soon, especially as demographic change slowly chips away at their ability to win presidential elections.

Well, Democrats can teach their voters to think more like Republican voters in off-year elections. Tomasky describes a “massive and very well-funded public education campaign” that would basically drill into the heads of everyone who votes Democratic during presidential years that “they can’t just elect a president and just sit back and expect that he or she can wave a wand and make change happen.”

But how?

What’s the magic formula of words and threats that somehow makes this real for Democratic voters?

Maybe the party is too broad for a single perfect message to exist. Or maybe it will take casual language like Tomasky’s, a bunch more losses, and actual pain that is easily attributed to Republicans before these drop-off Democrats will understand that they need to view the Republicans like the Republicans view the Democrats: as an enemy.

For good-government, consensus, let’s-get-along, politics-can-be-pure types, this is a horrible message.

Can it be true that the only way for Democrats to vote their true strength is to treat the opposing party just as poorly as the opposing party treats the Democrats? Can it be true that the only way to break the logjam is to embrace a politics that is even more loathsome, more unctuous and more uncivil than it is today?

Maybe, yes.


By: Marc Ambinder, The Week, December 3, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Elections, Republicans | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Political Situation In Ferguson Is Toxic”: Underlying Causes Of Ferguson Need To Be Addressed

Missouri is the Show-Me State.

It says so right on our license plates. We Missourians like to think this slogan captures our strength of character, our down-to-earth sensibility and skeptical savvy.

Very different qualities have been on display lately. Missouri has become synonymous with violence and misgovernment in the mayhem that has spiraled since the shooting death of Michael Brown in August.

We’re a national embarrassment. In the days following Brown’s shooting, protesters marched peacefully — and some looted — and police met them with excessive and militarized force.

After the St. Louis County prosecutor announced last week that charges would not be brought against Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown, again protesters marched peacefully — not just in Ferguson, Missouri but across the nation — while others looted, rioted and set buildings aflame. This time there were actual soldiers on the streets of Ferguson to face down residents.

The killing of Michael Brown has become a politically divisive issue. In some ways it is a Rorschach test for racial and political points of view. Some regard Brown as one more casualty at the hands of a racist police force that demonizes all young black men as thugs. Others see him as a genuine thug who died in a scuffle that easily could have left a policeman dead instead.

In this charged atmosphere, nobody expected the grand jury’s decision to satisfy both sides — and it didn’t. The quality of the evidence it was shown, it has to be said, was not good. Accounts were contradictory, and in the end the jurors seem to have relied on Wilson’s account most of all.

The mass media coverage, especially the 24/7 cable TV treatment, has played Ferguson for all the drama it can provide. Eventually, the media will tire of the Ferguson story, yet the resentments will remain, as will the conditions that inspired them.

Nobody believes that Michael Brown will be the last unarmed black man to be shot down by a policeman with dubious cause. This happens everywhere in the United States. That’s why, in the days following the grand jury’s decision not to indict, protests and mass demonstrations were held in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, New York, Denver, Los Angeles and many other cities.

People of every race were among the protesters marching peacefully in solidarity with similar peaceful protesters in Ferguson. Not with the rioters, not with the lawless, but with the far greater numbers that have gathered, peacefully, every day since Brown died in early August.

The object of their frustration is policing that does more to agitate communities than to protect them. People have seen too many instances of questionable encounters between police and people winding up severely hurt or dead.

This is not a new storyline.

What’s new is that many of the protest events were not led by the usual suspects—civil rights leaders, politicians and media-versed clergy. It was young people, 20-somethings often either still in college or recently graduated, who organized protests by tapping networks cultivated previously through social media.

What comes next is crucial. Mass demonstrations serve a purpose, but organizing for change is what solves problems.

The first step in Ferguson ought to be a massive voter-registration drive. This was attempted but wasn’t successful in the initial days after the shooting. The appeal should be simple. Don’t like the elected officials you have? OK, vote them out. Feel that you’re not represented on the city council or in the ranks of the police? Standing in the street yelling won’t accomplish it. You need to make change happen, and voting is the first step.

The political situation in Ferguson is toxic. Like a lot of smaller towns in America, it generates a disproportionate amount of its revenue through fines. Despite a recent decision to eliminate some fines, the city still puts police in the structural role of the Biblical tax collector, stopping and ticketing citizens for relatively minor infractions, and issuing arrest warrants when they don’t or can’t pay their fines. It also so happens that a disproportionate number of tickets are given to black residents. This heavy hand, squeezing citizens for their hard-earned money, is not just or healthy for the body politic. But it’s hard to see how it will be reformed unless the majority in Ferguson first exerts its power and throws the bums out.

Everyday misgovernment does not inspire the outrage that a police killing does. But the resentment it causes year after year adds to the explosive charge when the spark is supplied. Ferguson may have flamed out. It could very well wind up a footnote, a trivia question for future generations. Or perhaps something else may happen. Maybe once all the cameras are gone, local residents, working with national civil rights organizations and others, will do the hard work of taking government back for the people.

Ferguson might then become a laboratory of democracy … and show the rest of the country how to do it.


By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, December 2, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ferguson Missouri, Voter Registration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Disappointment Must Be Crushing”: ‘He’s Wanted To Be A Historically Significant Speaker’

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who’s unlikely to face a credible opponent when he seeks another term early next year, will soon lead a massive majority. The current House GOP caucus is pretty significant, but thanks to some modest gains in this year’s midterms, Boehner will soon sit atop a party with 247 House seats, the most for Republicans since the Great Depression.

But the New York Times noted the other day that there’s uncertainty lurking behind the numbers.

[W]hat he is able to do with that power will determine whether he is remembered as something more than the House leader during a stretch of frustrating gridlock and deep partisanship.

“He’s never wanted to just be Speaker,” said Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a close ally. “He’s wanted to be a historically significant Speaker.”

The quote surprised me a bit. Several years ago, before the Ohio Republican was elevated to his current post, a friend of mine who works on Capitol Hill told me, “John Boehner cares about three things: cutting taxes, playing golf, and smoking cigarettes – and not necessarily in that order.”

Boehner, the argument went, didn’t have grand ambitions about becoming a historically significant figure. He welcomed promotions and leadership posts, but it was widely assumed that he saw the stature and prestige as their own rewards. In this vision of Boehner, we see a guy who didn’t intend to leave an imposing legacy – there would be no buildings named after him following his tenure.

But Tom Cole, one of Boehner’s closest allies, suggests this perception is all wrong. This Speaker actually does care about his place in history and he wants to be seen as a success.

Which in some ways makes the last four years something of a tragedy.

If Boehner set out to be a historically significant Speaker, he succeeded in the worst possible way: Congress, at least since the Civil War, has never been quite this dysfunctional. Congress has never failed quite so spectacularly to complete routine tasks. Congress never, in rapid succession, threatened to trash the full faith and credit of the United States, then repeatedly threatened to shut down the government, following through in one ridiculous case.

The most notable aspect of Boehner’s record is a complete inability to lead his own members and govern effectively. When this Speaker manages to pass spending measures that keep the government’s lights on, much of the country considers it a minor miracle, thanks entirely to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

After four years with the gavel, Boehner’s total of major legislative accomplishments remains stuck at … zero. Simon Maloy noted yesterday, “His record of leadership to date is defined almost entirely by its reflexive opposition to the president, and in the process he’s helped turn Congress into a dysfunctional morass in which elected representatives don’t actually know how to do their jobs.”

It didn’t have to be this way. There have been any number of opportunities for Boehner to tackle real legislative initiatives – up to and including immigration reform, which the Speaker promised to act on before he broke his word – and just as many chances to sit down with President Obama to strike meaningful compromises.

But Boehner, fearful of far-right revolts and members who ignore his attempts at leadership, has generally been loath to even try. If he genuinely “wanted to be a historically significant Speaker,” the disappointment must be crushing.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 2, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pain For The Afflicted, Benefits For The Rich”: The Republican Party’s Top Priority Is To Raise Taxes On The Poor. Literally.

Following their convincing victory in the 2014 elections, everyone is wondering what Republicans will do with their new majority in the Senate and House. Well, their policy agenda is becoming clear. It will be unrestrained class warfare against the poor.

This priority was made apparent over the last week during the negotiation of a colossal tax cut package. Senate Democrats and Republicans had been doing some low-key negotiations to renew a slew of tax cuts for corporations and lower- and middle-income Americans, according to reporting from Brian Faler and Rachel Bade at Politico.

Then President Obama announced his executive action on immigration. Enraged Republicans promptly took vengeance on all the goodies for the working poor (as well as for clean energy), cutting them out of the deal and proposing a raft of permanent tax cuts for corporations alone worth $440 billion over 10 years. Cowed Democrats, led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), were about ready to go along, prompting a decidedly justified outcry from liberals. Obama then threatened a veto, and the negotiations broke down entirely.

A few takeaways from this. First, it’s yet another reminder that Republicans don’t care about the national debt. Conservative carping about the debt is 100 percent of the time a rhetorical cudgel deployed with utter cynicism against programs they dislike for other reasons. When the topic is food stamps or unemployment insurance, they demand offsets to pay for them. (Because “we’re broke,” as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) put it in a similar context.) But when it comes to dropping planeloads of money on corporations and rich people, Republicans will casually blow a half-trillion hole in the 10-year budget without blinking.

We can safely assume that should Republicans win in 2016, they’ll take all the reduction in the budget deficit accomplished over the Obama years (at great cost and for no benefit, but that’s another story) and do the same thing that George W. Bush did: hand it immediately to the rich.

That’s not all, though. Unlike Bush, who gave his eye-wateringly regressive tax cuts a patina of democratic legitimacy by cutting the non-rich in on a small fraction of the spoils, Republicans are now firmly committed to the idea that poor people don’t pay enough in taxes. The Earned Income Tax Credit was originally a conservative alternative to the welfare state, but increasingly only Democrats support it. Republicans are convinced that the EITC is riddled with fraud, and that voting for it means giving welfare to unauthorized immigrants. (In reality, the EITC results in quite a lot of technically improper payments, but mostly as a result of unnecessary complexity.)

Massive transfers of money to the rich are one half of the Republican economic policy agenda; massive transfers of money away from poor are the other half. And the cuts would be cruel indeed:

For example, a single mother with two children working full time in a nursing home for the minimum wage and earning $14,500 would lose her entire [Child Tax Credit] of $1,725 if the CTC provision expires. [CBPP]

Apparently, cutting the income of a poor working single mother by 12 percent is good and proper conservative policymaking in 2014. Because immigration.

Finally, we see that Republicans are still incapable of the basics of political governance. They can’t maintain any sort of agenda outside of being against what Obama is for. Once the president drives them into a frenzy — which is to say, anytime he does anything at all — any negotiations on deck will be blown up as punishment. These days, divided government means constant high-stakes conflict, as everything, including tax credits for working moms, is weaponized in a naked struggle for power.

But should Republicans ever get the run of things, we now have a very good idea of what’s in store: pain for the afflicted, and benefits for the comfortable.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, December 3, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Poor and Low Income, Republicans, Tax Cuts | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Justice Is Not An Unreasonable Desire”: Eric Holder; Problems Exposed By Ferguson ‘Threaten The Entire Nation’

The problems put on display after the death of Michael Brown in the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, in August “are truly national in scope and that threaten the entire nation,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech on Monday.

Holder, speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, said the nation needs to confront the broken relationship between many law enforcement agencies and the communities that they are supposed to serve.

“Broadly speaking, without mutual understanding between citizens — whose rights must be respected — and law enforcement officers — who make tremendous and often-unheralded personal sacrifices every day to preserve public safety — there can be no meaningful progress,” Holder said in prepared remarks. “Our police officers cannot be seen as an occupying force disconnected from the communities they serve. Bonds that have been broken must be restored. Bonds that never existed must now be created.”

Holder, who plans to resign as the nation’s top law enforcement official if the Senate confirms U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as his replacement, visited Ferguson back in August. His Justice Department has launched an investigation into the practices of the Ferguson Police Department, in addition to a separate ongoing federal investigation into the shooting of Brown by former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

In his speech on Monday, Holder said that the “overall system of justice must be strengthened and made more fair” to ensure faith in the justice system.

“Without that deserved faith, without that reasoned belief, there can be no justice. This is not an unreasonable desire — it is a fundamental American right enshrined in our founding documents,” Holder said.

Calling 18-year-old Brown’s death a “tragedy,” Holder said it “sparked a significant national conversation about the need to ensure confidence in the law enforcement and criminal justice processes” and exposed rifts that “must be addressed — by all Americans — in a constructive manner.”

Holder condemned the looting and destruction that took place around Ferguson last week, saying it was “deeply unfortunate that this vital conversation was interrupted, and this young man’s memory dishonored, by destruction and looting on the part of a relatively small criminal element.”

Holder said that “acts of mindless destruction are not only contrary to the rule of law and the aims of public safety; they threaten to stifle important debate, ‘adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars,'” referencing a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “They actively impede social progress by drowning out the legitimate voices of those attempting to make themselves heard. And they are not consistent with the wishes of Michael Brown’s father, who asked that his son be remembered peacefully.”

Holder called on “those who seek to lend their voices to important causes and discussions, and who seek to elevate these vital conversations, to do so in ways that respect the gravity of their subject matter.”

“These are the moments that remind us of the values that bind us together as a nation. These are the times — of great challenge and great consequence — that point the way forward in our ongoing pursuit of a more perfect union,” Holder continued. “And these are the lights that will help us beat back the encroaching darkness — and the stars that will guide us, together, out of this storm.”


By: Ryan J. Reilly, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 1, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Eric Holder, Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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