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“A Study In Contrasts”: Take A Moment To Think About How It Is We Chose People To Be Our Political Heroes

I’m about to write something that will likely get me in hot water with a lot of my progressive friends. But in the end, if I make you pause to think, it will be worth it.

What I want to do is contrast the records of two fairly new Democratic Senators: Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Senator Warren has 10 months of seniority on Senator Booker – but they both began their terms in 2013. Other than that, their names are rarely mentioned together.

As we’ve seen, Senator Warren has become the hero of progressives, while Senator Booker became persona non grata when he criticized Democrats and the Obama campaign for going after Romney over his connections to Bain Capital just prior to the 2012 election.

It’s interesting to note what these two have achieved in their short history in the Senate. On Warren’s web site, you can see what bills she has sponsored. There is one of note having to do with student loan refinancing. The other three appear to be symbolic in nature. Looking a bit deeper, we can see who Warren has recruited to be cosponsors on the bill related to student loans. The list is long…all Democrats. On the other issue Senator Warren is known for – going after Wall Street – she sponsored the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013,” which was never voted out of committee and has not been re-inroduced.

Booker has made criminal justice reform his signature issue. On that front, he has cosponsored legislation called the REDEEM Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act. The former takes six steps to help those coming out of the criminal justice system be more successful in their attempts to re-intigrate back into society. The latter gives judges more leeway to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences.

Other than tackling different issues (all of which are important to progressives) the other big difference is that Booker is cosponsoring the REDEEM act with Republican Senator Rand Paul. The list of cosponsors on the Smarter Sentencing Act is nothing short of mind-blowing: Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Dick Durban (D-IL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

I know that many names in that group are odious to progressives. But the question is this: Who do you think is more likely to get their sponsored legislation passed in this Congress, Senator Warren or Senator Booker?

I point all this out because I’d like progressives to take a moment to think about how it is that we chose people to be our political heroes. Are they more likely to be those who master the bully pulpit to speak out strongly against our opponents? Or are they those who do the dirty job of building coalitions with people on the other side in the hopes of making life better for Americans? Does it need to be either/or?

When it comes to the political icon whose seat Elizabeth Warren now inhabits in the Senate, I think I know what he would say.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Fracturing Democracies”: The Dominant Tendency Now Is toward ‘Disaggregation’

The world’s democracies, perhaps especially our own, face a peculiar set of contradictions that are undermining faith in public endeavor and unraveling old loyalties.

There is a decline of trust in traditional political parties but also a rise in partisanship. A broad desire for governments to reduce the levels of economic insecurity and expand opportunity is constrained by a loss of confidence in the capacity of government to succeed. Intense demands for change are accompanied by fears that much of the change that is occurring will make life worse for individuals and families.

These crosscurrents are undercutting political leaders and decimating political parties with long histories. In Europe, movements on the far right and left (along with new regional parties) gain traction with disaffected citizens. Concerns about immigration reflect uneasiness among some over the social and cultural tremors in their nations. At the same time, discontent about the economic decline that afflicts regions not sharing in the global economy’s bounty calls forth protest against the privileged and the well-connected. In both cases, anger is the dominant emotion.

The convergence of these forces is especially powerful in Britain, which holds a national election on May 7 and where neither of the long-dominant Conservative and Labour Parties is likely to win a parliamentary majority. In 1951, the two parties together secured 96.8 percent of all the votes cast. This year, they are struggling to reach a combined 70 percent.

In Scotland, long a Labour stronghold, the pro-independence Scottish National Party could take as many as 50 of the region’s 59 seats, which would block British Labour leader Ed Miliband from securing a majority. But Miliband, who has run a better campaign than his foes expected, could still end up in power, partly because Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives are hemorrhaging votes to the UK Independence Party, which is critical of both immigration and the European Union.

In Greece, the traditional social democratic Pasok party was nearly destroyed after the country’s economic collapse. The left-wing Syriza party took power this year because of deep frustration with economic austerity and anger over the terms being set by the European Union for a financial rescue. Far-right parties have gained ground in France and even in usually moderate Scandinavia.

In the United States, partisan splits have rarely been so deep and acrimony across party lines so intense. But these feelings don’t come from wildly positive views about the parties voters embrace. In a widely discussed paper released earlier this month, Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, Emory University political scientists, noted that “one of the most important trends in American politics over the past several decades has been the rise of negative partisanship in the electorate.”

It occurs, they write, when “supporters of each party perceive supporters of the opposing party as very different from themselves in terms of their social characteristics and fundamental values.” Yes, our current form of partisanship leads us to dislike not only the other side’s politicians but even each other.

And the frustrations voters feel provide each camp with ideological rocks to throw at their adversaries. In a PRRI/Brookings survey I was involved with in 2013, two findings locked horns: 63 percent of Americans said government should be doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, but 59 percent also believed government had grown bigger because it had become involved in things people should do for themselves. We want government to do more about injustice, but we also seem to want it smaller.

Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, argues in the current issue of The American Prospect that this tension is partly explained by a widespread view that “special interests” have too much of a hold on government. He argues that voters “are ready for government to help — if the stables are cleaned.”

This makes good sense, but in the United States, as elsewhere, little of what’s happening in politics is reweaving frayed social bonds. The title of Princeton University historian Daniel T. Rodgers’ revelatory 2011 book, Age of Fracture, captured what’s happening to us. In our era, he wrote, “Identities become fluid and elective,” and if the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were a time of political and social “consolidation,” the dominant tendency now is toward “disaggregation.”

This is a big problem for self-government, since aggregating sustainable majorities is the first task of politicians in democratic countries. They are not doing a very good job, and the unfolding 2016 campaign doesn’t inspire much confidence that they’ll do better.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 26, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Partisanship, Politics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Maybe Unity Is The Last Thing Republicans Need”: We Love The Lord And Hate His Enemies

It’s the season for pandering to the base, which is as good a time as any to ask whether the glorious, fascinating mess that is today’s Republican Party can ever unify enough to win back the White House—or whether unity is something they should even be after. Because it may well be that a fractured, contentious GOP is the only kind that can prevail next November.

You probably missed it, but over the weekend nearly all the Republican presidential candidates (with the notable exception of Jeb Bush) hotfooted it back to Iowa to participate in the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition Forum, where they testified to the depths of their love for the Lord and their hatred for His enemies, particularly Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The entreaties to this band of the base—important in primaries everywhere, but critically so in Iowa, where 57 percent of the attendees at the Republican caucuses in 2012 identified as born-again or evangelical Christian—are a good reminder of the internal and external challenges the candidates face.

According to multiple reports, the biggest ovations were given to two candidates who are almost certainly not going to win the primaries: Bobby Jindal, who has already made clear that he wants to be the most sectarian candidate in the race, and Carly Fiorina, whose pitch many of the assembled probably hadn’t heard before. But Scott Walker, the son of a Baptist minister, was enthusiastically received as well. Walker’s message, the New York Times reported, “is that in an unusually fractured Republican field, with 10 or more candidates potentially on the ballot in the Iowa caucuses next year, he is best positioned to unite the party.”

And he may well be, since he is liked by everyone from evangelicals to Tea Partiers to the plutocrats waiting to anoint the candidates with a shower of cash. The problem is that if you haven’t ticked off some faction of the Republican Party, you’ve probably put yourself in a dangerous place for the general election.

Think about where Republican candidates have gotten in trouble within their party. Jeb Bush has been attacked for talking about undocumented immigrants with compassion, and Marco Rubio alienated many by seeking comprehensive immigration reform. Rand Paul ruffled feathers by questioning whether a return to Cheneyite foreign adventurism is really in America’s interests. Ted Cruz got criticized for attending a fundraiser at the home of two gay supporters. Rick Santorum (yes, he’s back) raised eyebrows by advocating an increase in the minimum wage.

What do all these little dissents and blasphemies have in common? In every case, the thing that the candidate did to upset Republican primary voters would make him more attractive to voters who aren’t Republicans—and the Republican nominee will need a healthy chunk of them to win. So the candidate who can unify the Republican Party may by definition be the one who will start the general election at a disadvantage.

Not that any candidate wants significant portions of his party disgruntled and disillusioned after a bitter primary campaign. But by next summer, unifying the party with real enthusiasm from all sides will probably mean proposing tax cuts for the wealthy, last-ditch opposition to marriage equality, an interventionist foreign policy, a crackdown on immigration, and doing nothing on climate change (among other things)—and doing so with the zeal of the true believer. That’s not a program likely to win many converts who aren’t already committed to the conservative cause.

The response that most Republicans are gravitating toward (which has been expressed most forcefully by Cruz and Walker) is that this isn’t really a problem at all, because capturing independent votes isn’t about lining up with them on issues, it’s about having confidence in your conservatism. It’s the kind of advice you can find in a hundred self-help books: Keep your chin up and your chest out, walk in like you own the room, give everyone a firm handshake and a hearty clap on the back, and they’ll be drawn to your powerful electoral charisma, with success inevitably to follow.

This argument has obvious appeal. It says that winning is about attitude, and requires no compromise on the things you (or the primary voters) find important; even if an independent voter disagrees with you, they’ll be so impressed by your firm gaze that they’ll rally to your side. And there’s some truth to it, at least insofar as voters don’t just tally up a checklist of issues and determine which candidate they agree with more.

The irony is that winning the primary is in significant part about issues. Primary voters are paying attention, and with so many candidates to choose from, they’ve got plenty of opportunities to eliminate some based on even one area of disagreement. Stray from what they want to hear, and you can be punished—and it won’t do much good to say that a year from now, independent voters might find precisely that heresy appealing.

So anyone who could be a uniter will also be a divider: Unite the party and you’ll put up a wall between yourself and the general electorate. In the right circumstances and from the right candidate, that wall might be low enough to leap over. But it might be better to leave behind at least a few bruised feelings and ideological doubts.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 27, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What’s Partisan About Fact?”: When You Throw Away A Regard For Fact, You Throw Away The Ability To Have Effective Discourse

“Obama is a Muslim,” it said. “That is a FACT.”

As best I can recall — my computer ate the email — that was how the key line went in a reader missive that had me doing a double take last week. It was not the outlandish assertion that struck me but, rather, the emphatic claim of its veracity. We’re talking Shift-Lock and all-caps so there would be no mistaking: “Obama is a Muslim. That is a FACT.”

Actually, it is not a fact, but let that slide. We’re not here to renew the tired debate over Barack Obama’s religion. No, we’re only here to lament that so many of us seem to know “facts” that aren’t and that one party — guess which — has cynically nurtured, used and manipulated this ignorance for political gain.

Consider a recent trio of studies testing the effectiveness of fact-checking journalism. They were conducted for the nonpartisan American Press Institute, and their findings actually offer good news for those of us who fret over the deterioration of critical thinking and the resultant incoherence of political debate.

Researchers found, for instance that, although still relatively rare, fact-checking journalism has been growing fast and saw a 300 percent rise between 2008 and 2012. Also: Most Americans (better than 8 in 10) have a favorable view of political fact checking. Best of all, exposure to fact checking tends to increase respondents’ knowledge, according to the research.

But like stinkweed in a bouquet of roses, the studies also produced one jarringly discordant finding: Republicans are significantly less likely to view fact checkers favorably. Among those with lower levels of political knowledge, the difference between Republican and Democratic voters is fairly small — 29 percent of Republicans have a favorable view, versus 36 percent of Democrats. Surprisingly, among those with higher levels of knowledge, the gap is vast: 34 percent of Republicans against 59 percent of Democrats.

The traditional rejoinder of the GOP faithful whenever you bring up such disparities in perception is that they mistrust “mainstream media” because it is biased against them. Putting aside the dubious validity of the claim, it’s irrelevant here. Fact-checking journalism is nonpartisan. One would be hard pressed, for example, to paint PolitiFact as a shill for the donkey party, given that it regularly dings Democrats and gave President Obama (“If you like your health plan, you can keep it”) its uncoveted Lie Of the Year award for 2013.

That being the case, one can’t help but be disheartened by this gap. What’s not to like about journalism that sorts truth from falsehood? What’s partisan about fact?

Nothing — you’d think. Except that for Republicans, something obviously is.

Perhaps we ought not be surprised., given the pattern of party politics in recent years. On topics as varied as climate change, health care, terrorism, and the president’s birthplace, GOP leaders and media figures have obfuscated and prevaricated with masterly panache, sowing confusion in the midst of absolute clarity, pretending controversy where there is none, and finding, always, a ready audience of the fearful and easily gulled.

As political strategy, it has been undeniably effective, mobilizing voters, and energizing campaigns. As a vehicle for leadership and change, it has been something else altogether. When you throw away a regard for fact, you throw away the ability to have effective discourse. Which is why American political debates tend to be high in volume and low in content. And why consensus becomes impossible.

The API statistics documenting the lack of GOP enthusiasm for fact checkers, ought to tell you something. Who could have a problem with a fact checker? He or she is your best friend if what you’re saying is true.

You would only feel differently if what you’re saying is not.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 27, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Fact Checking, Journalism, Republicans | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Who Threatens Our Privacy?”: The Onslaught On Our Privacy Rights — Surreally, In The Name Of Transparency

The whole Snowden affair has receded into the background by now. But recently Michael Cohen made an important point that seemed to get totally lost in the discussion about privacy.

This week, the group Wikileaks posted on its website the entire archive of data and information stolen from Sony Pictures last fall — and it seems every day there’s a new, earth-shattering scoop…

I needed only 20 minutes on the Wikileaks site to find a credit card number, medical information, private e-mail addresses, salary data, and plenty else that most people wouldn’t want available on a searchable database.

This kind of cyberattack is a greater threat to people’s privacy than anything revealed in the Snowden/NSA leaks, which became a cause celebre for some of the same people chortling over the Sony leaks…

Today, it is harder and harder to stay outside the omnipresent eye of social media, surveillance cameras, and smartphone videos. Wikileaks is only adding to the onslaught on our privacy rights — surreally, in the name of transparency.

I always found it interesting that many of those who were most closely involved with the Snowden leaks (including Wikileaks) have pretty deep ties to the hacker community – people whose raison d’etre is to invade privacy. From their reaction to this inquiry from Cohen, it appears that only certain people’s privacy is important to them.

It’s true that the concerns raised by the leaks about NSA are worrisome in regards to the possibility that the government might have access to private information. But the prospects of everyone else having access is equally (if not more) concerning.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Edward Snowden, Privacy, Wikileaks | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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