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“The Dangers Of Democratic Complacency”: The Last Thing Democrats Need Is To Be Lulled Into Complacency

It’s only mid-April, but with “Why Hillary Clinton Is Probably Going to Win the 2016 Election,” New York‘s Jonathan Chait has zoomed into the lead in the race to win this year’s chutzpah-in-punditry award.

Don’t get me wrong. Even with the general election still 19 interminable months away (that’s 571 days, but who’s counting?), Chait makes a strong case for a Clinton victory. But I still wish he hadn’t written the column. The last thing Democrats need is to be lulled into complacency. Yes, they have a number of demographic advantages going into the next election cycle. But that doesn’t mean Clinton will coast to victory.

Chait relies heavily on a new Pew poll, and much of his analysis is sound. Democrats are indeed likely to benefit from two demographic trends: the “emerging Democratic majority” (which is a product of liberal-leaning segments of the population growing at a faster rate than conservative-leaning ones) and the replacement of more conservative older voters by more liberal younger voters.

But Chait fails to note a finding in the Pew poll that should give him pause — namely, that 39 percent of the public now identifies as independent. That’s the highest level in over 75 years of polling.

It’s true that many of these independents are “closet partisans” — functionally Republicans or Democrats in their ideological leanings. But not all of them are, and even some of those who lean one way or the other are persuadable by the other side under the right circumstances and by the right candidate.

This appears not to trouble Chait because, as he notes at the conclusion of his column, he has faith that the Democrats are the only “non-crazy” party in the U.S. at the moment, and thus the only party that will appeal to non-crazy voters.

I submit that this might make a decisive difference if the GOP ends up nominating Ben Carson — which it won’t. It may also prove important if they go for Ted Cruz — which is highly unlikely. And it may even have some effect if they put up Scott Walker or Rand Paul.

But bland-and-boring Jeb Bush? Or Cuban-American pretty boy Marco Rubio? I don’t think so.

Sure, Chait — a loyal Obama supporter and merciless scourge of the right — thinks the GOP nominee doesn’t matter, because the party (as displayed most vividly by its congressional brinksmanship since 2011) is fundamentally nuts. Even a temperamentally moderate Republican president would have to ride the Tea Party tiger while in office.

I largely agree. I just doubt most voters will. If Republicans can manage to nominate a candidate who sounds halfway reasonable, Hillary Clinton will have a real fight on her hands.

Democrats are going to have to work hard to prevail in 2016. The left’s sharpest minds would be well advised not to encourage Democrats to deny this fact.


By: Damon Linker, The Week, April 16, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Independents | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How John Roberts Made Hillary Clinton President”: The Irony Is So Rich, Thank You Citizens United!

During Hillary Clinton’s first campaign event in Iowa, the (finally) announced presidential candidate laid out the four main goals of her campaign, including the need to fix our “dysfunctional” political system and to get “unaccountable” money out of politics, even if it requires a constitutional amendment. And thus we have the latest chapter in Clinton’s unique and evolving relationship with Citizens United v. Federal Exchange Commission.

It may be easy to forget that the basis for the claim that led to the controversial Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC was a barely watchable film titled Hillary: The Movie, featuring prominent conservatives such as Dick Morris and Ann Coulter that was trying to damage Hillary Clinton on eve of the January 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. The film was produced by Citizens United, a D.C.-based conservative nonprofit organization.

The film was supposed to be distributed on cable television and video on demand, but the federal government blocked the airing of the film because it violated the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that prohibited corporate and nonprofit funded advocacy ads that mentioned a candidate’s name within 30 days of a primary or caucus, or 60 days of a general election.

At the time, no one could have predicted that Clinton would finish third in the Iowa caucuses behind Barack Obama and John Edwards, so many conservatives thought that more than just attack ads would be needed to defeat her eventual rise to the presidency: Attack movies were the new and necessary medium.

Well, roughly a year into President Obama’s first term, the Supreme Court made its decision on Citizens United v. FEC, saying that certain provisions in the McCain-Feingold BCRA were unconstitutional, and this brought us into the modern era of a nearly unrestricted and confusing flow of cash into our electoral process through various 501(c)(4)s, PACs, and Super PACs.

Stephen Colbert may have actually best explained how this absurd network of constantly flowing political money works when he announced on his show that he was officially forming an exploratory committee for his potential candidacy for President of the United States of South Carolina, and therefore could no longer run his Super PAC. See the videos here and here.

And here we are today. Less than a week into Clinton’s second official presidential bid, she has already done two things that may completely alter Citizens United v. FEC and our electoral process. Her support of a constitutional amendment limiting or regulating campaign finance is a smart and popular decision among liberal voters, but her campaign’s announcement that it intends to raise a staggering $2.5 billion combined by the official campaign, Hillary for America, and various unaffiliated 501(c)(4)s, PACs, and Super PACs has completely altered our political landscape.

Roughly eight months before the Iowa caucuses, the fundraising machine that will drive or greatly influence Clinton’s campaign has set goals that dwarf those of Obama’s in 2012, and may scare away potential Democratic challengers.

The 2012 presidential election between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney was the most expensive campaign in history, with each candidate’s election team and supporting groups raising $1.123 and $1.019 billion respectively. Clinton’s campaign intends to surpass that entire amount on its own, and she is allowed to do so because of a case brought to the Supreme Court because a conservative group wanted to have a larger impact on hopefully preventing her from winning the presidency in 2008. The irony is so rich.

Who knows if Clinton will be able to defeat the GOP and Republicans at the game they insisted on creating, but she most likely will at least be able to match them dollar-for-dollar in the general election.

The brilliance surrounding all of this is the fact that Clinton has steadfastly been against this sort of external influence into politics. She articulated her objections on her first day of campaigning in Iowa, and the main reason why campaign finance laws have changed in recent years was due to her objection to the previously unlawful attempt to disseminate a campaign attack video denouncing her in 2008.

Clearly, her campaign’s $2.5 billion fundraising estimate may point to the contrary, but the fundraising strategy of her campaign is actually based around small donations. Additionally, she has not named a finance chair for her campaign.

According to an internal campaign memo obtained by Politico, Hillary for America intends to have a “flat fundraising structure” and a “grassroots donor base and a merit-based finance organization.”

“The campaign will have the resources needed to compete,” continued the memo. “Initially fundraising will be a challenge—with lower limits and a smaller list than Obama in 2011.”

The campaign has moved away from her 2008 strategy of seeking mega-donors, but it also knows that it has the support of unaffiliated organizations such as Ready PAC, formerly Ready for Hillary, that desperately want a Hillary Clinton presidency. (According to FEC regulations, Ready for Hillary was forced to change its name once Clinton officially announced her candidacy.)

Arguably against the wishes of many Clinton supporters, two Clinton 2008 volunteers launched Ready for Hillary in 2013 and have raised more than $15 million for Clinton’s campaign and amassed a 4 million strong grassroots fundraising list that will be given to Hillary for America. Clinton’s campaign has already hired six Ready for Hillary staffers, including co-founder Adam Parkhomenko. These former staffers can no longer coordinate with remaining staffers, and Ready PAC intend to shut down completely in the coming days.

Essentially, Hillary Clinton’s campaign can develop only the fundraising strategy that the candidate supports, but the numerous other political groups that independently support her can fundraise how they see fit. Independent of each other they all collectively believe that these various efforts should enhance candidate Clinton’s chances of moving back into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

All told these fundraising efforts may make her the unstoppable, inevitable candidate that she wanted to be in 2008. The big difference now is that she did not have Citizens United v. FEC to support her campaign.

If Hillary Clinton becomes the 45th president of the United States, the GOP may want to give themselves a nice pat on the back for all the hard work they indirectly have done to fund her presidential campaign.


By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, April 16, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pretending To Care About Inequality”: Indisputable Proof That Republicans Are Warriors For The Aristocracy

It’s been quite interesting to see Republicans embrace the notion that wealth inequality (or any inequality) is something to worry their pretty little heads about. Over the winter we heard numerous reports of various GOP luminaries expressing serious concern that average Americans were getting the short end of the stick while the wealthy few reaped all the rewards. Ted Cruz might as well have put on a blond wig and called himself “Elizabeth” when he railed against it after the State of the Union:

“We’re facing right now a divided America when it comes to the economy. It is true that the top 1 percent are doing great under Barack Obama. Today, the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our national income than any year since 1928,”

And here we thought that was supposed to be a good thing. Aren’t they the “job producers”? That’s how weird the GOP’s messaging has gotten lately. Mitt “47 Percent” Romney clutched his very expensive opera-length pearls, wailing that “under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before.” Rand Paul channeled his heretofore unknown inner Bernie Sanders, proclaiming that “income inequality has worsened under this administration. And tonight, President Obama offers more of the same policies — policies that have allowed the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer.” It seemed to many observers at the time that this was a very odd choice of issue for potential Republican presidential aspirants to take up, since every item in the domestic GOP agenda would make wealth inequality even worse. This certainly wasn’t something they lost any sleep over before now.

As Brendan Nyhan at the New York Times explained in February, this sort of thing is called “issue-trespassing,” where one party attempts to co-opt an advantage of the other by pretending to care about something nobody thinks they care about. In this case, the GOP seemed to be admitting that their reputation as the party of the 1 percent wasn’t helpful to their cause, so they decided to try to shift the blame to President Obama. Nyhan points out that data suggests this rarely ever works, because people rely on party stereotypes no matter how hard those parties try to co-opt the rhetoric of the other side for their own use.

Certainly, it’s hard to see how anyone can possibly believe that the Republican Party, which fetishizes low taxes for the rich above all other priorities, truly cares about wealth inequality; but perhaps this is one of those times when the mere pretense of caring signals that they understand how badly their reputation of callous disregard for everyday Americans’ economic security has hurt them.

In any case, this shallow attempt at appearing to give a damn was short-lived. This week the GOP is voting, as they always do, to ensure that the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune won’t be faced with the terrible responsibility of having to pay taxes on their inheritances. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post pointed out just how successful these protectors of the progeny of the one percenters have been in recent years:

It had long been a conservative ideal, and the essence of the American Dream, to believe that everybody should have an equal shot at success. But in their current bid to end the estate tax, Republicans could create a permanent elite of trust-fund babies. The estate tax was a meaningful check on a permanent aristocracy as recently as 2001, when there were taxes on the portion of estates above $675,000; even then there were plenty of ways for the rich to shelter money for their heirs. As the son of a schoolteacher and a cabinetmaker, I’d like to see the estate tax exemptions lowered — so that taxes encourage enterprise and entre­pre­neur­ship while keeping to a minimum the number of Americans born who will never have to work a day in their lives. The current exemption of $5.4 million (the current estate tax has an effective rate averaging under 17 percent, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center) does little to prevent a permanent aristocracy from growing — and abolishing it entirely turns democracy into kleptocracy.

No, that wasn’t a mistaken cut and paste from the World Socialist Website. That really was Dana Milbank writing in the Washington Post, which is a testament to just how outlandish these Republicans have become. When mainstream columnists start using words like aristocracy and kleptocracy you know that something’s in the air.

This is nothing new, of course. The conservative project has always been fundamentally about aristocracy. Sure, they love to wax on about freedom and liberty but the freedom and liberty they care about is the freedom to attain property and pass it on to their heirs. Everything else is secondary. What’s more interesting is the way they are able to make ordinary people who will never benefit from this scheme — in fact, they will suffer  – agitate for it as if it meant the bread on their own table and the roof over their own heads.

Paul Waldman tackled this phenomenon in a piece for the American Prospect a while back. He concluded that voters didn’t understand that the tax only kicks in for very high amounts, and that most people instinctively think it should be okay to bequeath your fortune to your kids — regardless that the consequences of vastly wealthy people doing this are fundamentally un-American.

Waldman mentioned this silly notion as well:

Americans tend to think that no matter what their current situation, eventually, they’re going to be rich. Most of us are wrong about that, but that’s what we think. It’s practically our patriotic duty to believe it. So most everyone thinks that this tax will apply to their estate upon their death, no matter how modest that estate might be at the moment.

I will never forget hearing a caller tell Rush Limbaugh one day that he was happy for his CEO to make a lot of money because that meant the company was doing well and would probably give him a raise someday. Rush, needless to say, sagely agreed with his assessment, although he sounded a bit distracted. (I believe it was around the time he had negotiated his several-hundred-million dollar contract, so he was likely engaged in counting his fortune.)

This is one of the main keys to the perpetuation of the aristocratic project: Convincing average people to support “their betters” with the promise that they will themselves benefit. In the old aristocracy, this used to be a simple pledge of fealty to ones noble house, but American conservatives have “democratized” it to make the serfs and peasants believe that they too will be nobles one day if only they agree to allow the rich to keep every last penny of their wealth. It’s a very sweet scam.

Unfortunately for the conservatives, inequality is becoming impossible to ignore and the people are starting to wake up to what is happening. The confusion on the right about how to handle it is a sign that it’s verging out of their control. And again, as Nyhan pointed out in his NYT piece, simply paying lip service to a democratic, egalitarian concern is probably not going to be enough to give them cover when the Republican stereotype of being servants of the rich is so deeply embedded in our political culture. (Thanks Mitt!) Voting for the Paris Hilton tax exemption bill certainly won’t help.

On the other hand, it could be worse. The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is now saying outright that democracy isn’t working and is calling for benevolent dictatorships. It’s convenient that the United Kingdom maintained their monarchy isn’t it? It will be so much easier than building one from the ground up.


By: Heather Digby Parton, Contributing Writer, Salon, April 16, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Aristocracy, Inequality, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Promises Not Yet Recognized”: Enshrine The Right To Vote In The Constitution

Flags flew at half mast, schoolchildren recited the “Gettysburg Address” and for a few hours on April 15, America paused to remember that a century and a half ago this country lost its 16th president to an assassin’s bullet.

Now, Americans can finish with the pause and begin to fully honor Lincoln.

The place of beginning is with an embrace of the work of reconstruction that was imagined when Lincoln lived but that is not—even now—complete.

President Obama proclaimed April 15 as a National Day of Remembrance for President Abraham Lincoln, declaring, “Today, we reflect on the extraordinary progress he made possible, and with one voice, we rededicate ourselves to the work of ensuring a Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Obama was right to focus on Lincoln’s great preachment on behalf of American democracy. It directs our attention toward the mission to which small “d” democrats of all partisanships and ideologies must rededicate ourselves.

One hundred and fifty years after the moment when a still young country saw the end of a Civil War and the assassination of a president, the events of April 1865 continue to shape and challenge the American experience.

With Lincoln’s death, an inept and wrongheaded vice president, Andrew Johnson, succeeded to the presidency. Had it been left to Johnson, who vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the progress extending from the great sacrifices of the Civil War would have been imperiled. But the rough outlines for securing the victory were not left to a president. They were enshrined in the US Constitution.

Three amendments to the founding document were enacted during the five-year period from 1865 to 1870. These “Reconstruction Amendments”were transformational statements—even if their promise has yet to be fully recognized or realized.

The first of the amendments addressed the great failure of the founding moment: a “compromise” that recognized—and effectively permitted—human bondage.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution affirmed that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Those words confronted the indefensible “Three-Fifths Compromise,” which was outlined in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution as it was framed in 1787. That paragraph did not speak specifically of slavery, but instead referred to two groups of Americans: “the whole Number of free Persons” and “all other Persons.”

The 13th Amendment was an essential step toward an official embrace of Thomas Jefferson’s “immortal declaration”of 1776—that “all men are created equal.”

But it was not enough.

To the 13th Amendment of 1865 was added the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, which confirmed that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The 14th Amendment, remarkable in its clarity and detail, provided for due process and equal protection under the law.

But it was not enough.

To the Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 and the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 was added the 15th Amendment of 1870, which avowed that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Congress was given the power to enforce these articles by appropriate legislation.

But that was still not enough, as became obvious with the collapse of Reconstruction and the establishment of “Jim Crow” segregation in states that had been part of the Confederacy. With these ruptures came overt discrimination against voting rights.

It took more than a century of litigation, boycotts, protests and marches to restore the promise of equal protection and voting rights.

But that was not enough.

Despite the protections delineated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (which in 1964 formally banned poll taxes), headlines remind us that the right to vote is “still threatened.” The US Supreme Court has mangled the Voting Rights Act, and the Congress has failed to repair the damage done. The Brennan Center for Justice has determined that at least 83 restrictive bills were introduced in 29 states where legislatures had floor activity in 2014, including proposals to require a photo ID, make voter registration more difficult, reduce early voting opportunities, and make it harder for students to vote.

“The stark and simple truth is this—the right to vote is threatened today—in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” said President Obama.

The great American process of forming a more perfect union is far from complete. The events of 150 years ago were not the end of anything. They were a pivot point that took the United States in a better direction. But the was incomplete, and insufficient to establish justice. So the process continues.

That is why Congressmen Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, have proposed to amend the Constitution to declare clearly and unequivocally that

“SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

“SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

The Pocan-Ellison amendment will not, in and of itself, form a more perfect union. But it provides a tool for those who understand that we best honor our history by recognizing unmet promises—and seeking, finally, to keep them.

“A core principle of our democracy is the ability for citizens to participate in the election of their representatives,” explains Pocan. “We have seen constant attempts by some states to erode voting rights and make it harder for citizens to vote. This amendment would affirm the principle of equal participation in our democracy for every citizen. As the world’s leading democracy, we must guarantee the right to vote for all.”


By: John Nichols, The Nation, April 16, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Democracy, U. S. Constitution, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Me, And The Family”: George W. Bush Concedes His Brother Has ‘A Problem’

Former President George W. Bush was in Chicago yesterday, giving a paid speech and reflecting briefly on the 2016 presidential race.

Jeb Bush’s candidacy has a problem, says brother George. “Me.”

“It’s an easy line to say, ‘Haven’t we had enough Bushes?’ After all, even my mother said, ‘Yes,’” the former president told an audience of 7,000 health IT experts here on Wednesday.

As the Politico report noted, the former president told the audience that voters won’t see him “out there” on the campaign trail in order to help put some distance between the two Bushes.

The former Florida governor, meanwhile, was in southern Ohio yesterday, stressing a similar point.

Republican White House prospect Jeb Bush kicked off a speech to business leaders on Tuesday with a series of personal recollections, saying he’s his “own person.” […]

He told the crowd he’s blessed to be the son of one president and the brother of another but “I’m also my own person. I’ve lived my own life.”

There’s more than one reason this is such a tough sell.

As we discussed a few weeks ago, even as Jeb urges voters to see him as his “own person,” he’s also relying on his mother, father, brother, and son to raise big bucks for his super PAC.

At the same time, he’s surrounded himself with the Bush family team of foreign-policy advisers, and reportedly brought on his brother’s chief economist to help shape his 2016 economic agenda.

As for Jeb’s claim that he’s lived his “own life,” the New York Times reported last month that he spent much of his adult life taking advantage of his family connections to advance his interests. In Florida, people went out of their way to get close to Bush in the hopes that he’d relay messages and suggestions to his powerful relatives – which he routinely did.

This isn’t going away.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 16, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | George W Bush, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , | Leave a comment

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