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“The Tough Reality Of Politics For Women”: Learning From My 2014 Mistakes; A Year Of Reckoning For Democrats

Thanksgiving is a great time for writers to reckon with whatever we got wrong over the year – and to be grateful that in this day and age we get to write every day, and put mistakes behind us quickly. So with the 2014 midterm election rapidly disappearing in the rearview mirror, I thought I’d reckon with my one big political mistake this past election cycle, as well as one big thing I got, sadly, right.

In July 2013, long before the midterm, I wrote this piece: “Red state women will transform America.” I was pretty darn excited about the prospect of Wendy Davis, Alison Lundergan Grimes and Michelle Nunn stepping up and running in Texas, Kentucky and Georgia. In hindsight – or maybe even at the time – I showed some irrational exuberance. So did a lot of Democrats.

Maybe more significantly, I participated in wishful thinking shared by many more Democrats – believing that the women’s vote is the party’s ace in the hole and that, in addition to solid support from non-white voters, it will give them a lock on the White House, and will even turn red states blue over time. I’m less optimistic about that now. The Democrats’ continuing troubles with white women, and white married women, doomed all three once-promising white female Democratic candidates.

Of course, none of them were perfect candidates. I will always be grateful for Davis’s brave filibuster of horrible Texas anti-abortion legislation. But I overestimated her political skills. Reams have been written about her poor campaign; I don’t need to kick her here. In the days before the election, silly #tcot folks tried to pretend I’d written my Davis praise recently, not more than a year before the race. But I did get overexcited.

Likewise, Grimes wasn’t quite the pro I thought she was, although she had admirable political skills. Michelle Nunn, who actually came closest to being elected of the three, had little to recommend her besides her father’s famous name and her detachment from partisan bickering thanks to a career in business, not politics.

Even at the time, I overlooked what is still the tough reality of politics for women: Frequently, they get their big political breaks only when more experienced men size up a race and find it too dangerous. I still believe Texas will turn blue again, but state and national Democrats knew it wouldn’t happen in 2014. In Kentucky, experienced pols like Rep. John Yarmuth and Gov. Steve Beshear didn’t take on Mitch McConnell. And in Georgia, ambitious Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed knew he was at least a cycle too early for Georgia to turn blue.

I’m not blaming any of these men, by the way, for making the women in question sacrificial lambs or scapegoats. But the truth is, women often get their big “chances” when they run as sacrificial lambs. I should have reined in my optimism about their political potential much sooner.

My faith that white Democratic women could win over red state white women voters was particularly misplaced. CNN exit polls showed that Michelle Nunn lost white women to David Perdue 69-27; Wendy Davis lost them 66-31; Alison Grimes lost them 55-41. For now, the Democrats’ oft-touted advantages with “women” – which should always be described as “all women except for white women” — are outweighed by their difficulties with whites.

Right now, for complicated historical, cultural and racial reasons, white women vote more like “whites” – mostly Republican, though less than white men – and less like other women. Single white women and college-educated white women defy that trend more than others, but any 2016 prognosticating that relies on white women as Hillary Clinton’s secret weapon shouldn’t be trusted unless there’s data behind it. And I haven’t seen any.

What did I get right? Well, lots of things, if I do say so myself, but the most obvious late-cycle story was that Republicans and Fox News were ginning up a minimal Ebola threat as a powerful political weapon  – and too many mainstream media outlets, and even Democratic politicians, participated. In the post-election mayhem, this seemed like too small a point to raise, but as we start bidding goodbye to 2014, I couldn’t resist it. I’d like to say Democrats learned from this one, too, but again, I’m not sure.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes looked at media overkill on Ebola, especially at Fox and CNN (and also at the fact that it did nothing for ratings, which is heartening). Of course the right was disgusting, with Michael Savage dubbing Obama “President Obola” (the genteel Daily Caller settled for “President Ebola,” trusting their readers to get the African association with the Kenyan Muslim president’s unusual name).

Mainstream media skipped the name-calling, but went along with the hysteria: ABC News dubbed Ebola “the official October surprise,” and on CNN Don Lemon asked if it was “Obama’s Katrina.” Within a few weeks, though, Ebola was gone from our shores (though not from West Africa), the few American cases successfully contained by competent public health officials – but the story of its disappearance (let alone the media’s malpractice) went virtually uncovered.

In the end, CNN exit polls showed that while the public, early on, thought the federal government was doing an adequate job handling the threat, by election night that had shifted – 50 percent of voters polled disapproved of the federal government’s handling of Ebola, while 44 percent approved. Democrats lost so badly it’s unlikely that Ebola made the difference in any race. Still, it’s worth remembering how conservative and even supposedly moderate Republicans used Ebola politically – and how the media let them get away with it.

Sure, Senators-elect Tom Cotton and Thom Tillis were particularly insane on the topic, suggesting terrorists with Ebola might cross the Mexican border and combining the GOP’s three primal fears: terror, disease and swarthy illegal immigrants. But let’s take a moment to remember 2016 contender Gov. Chris Christie’s craven posturing, quarantining “Ebola nurse” Kaci Hickox when she came back from a trip treating Ebola patients. Christie dared Hickox to sue him: “Whatever. Get in line. I’ve been sued lots of times before. Get in line. I’m happy to take it on.”

The dignified humanitarian health worker won the round, getting released to her home in Maine and declaring Christie’s move not the “abundance of caution” he said it was, but “an abundance of politics.” Democrats could learn from Hickox; too many cowered in the face of GOP (and media) demagoguery on the small threat posed to Americans by the disease. Vulnerable Democrats Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Udall of Colorado and Mark Pryor of Arkansas all defied Obama and came out in favor of travel restrictions on people coming from Ebola-plagued nations; all lost their races anyway.

Even in real time it was obvious what Ebola panic was designed to do, but voices who said exactly that were drowned out by hysterics. And when hysteria prevails, the GOP wins. That dynamic trumps the Democrats’ demographic advantages and will for a while. Democrats lose when they’re overconfident about demography and underestimate the power of fear. I was one for two on those issues last cycle; I’ll try to do better next time around.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, November 28, 2014






December 1, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Politics, White Women | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Visible ‘Enthusiasm’ At McConnell Rally”: Roughly The Feeling Of A Quaker Worship Meeting

We’re at that stage of the election cycle when the redundancy and cynicism of campaigns really begins to grate on those forced to pay a lot of attention to them–e.g., reporters. Clearly MSNBC’s excellent Irin Carmon reached the limit of her endurance during a rally for Mitch McConnell in Kentucky where it sure sounds like everybody was going through the motions and hoping for next Tuesday to arrive:

The event featuring Sen. Mitch McConnell was billed as a “Restore America Rally.” As rallies went, it had the rough feeling of a Quaker worship meeting. As campaign events went, the candidate’s name was hardly mentioned.

McConnell spoke halfway through the gathering and left without taking questions or staying to see co-headliner Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. His speech was not lofty. “There’s only one change that can happen this year and that’s to change the Senate,” he said.

“Where are our students?” asked one of the opening speakers, by way of rallying the young people. Two hands — one of which appeared to belong to an elementary school-age boy — went up.

Ambivalence about McConnell himself was the subtext — the main point at the rally was the need to beat the Democrats. Matt Bevin, who had challenged McConnell from the right in the primary, spoke about the importance of the race, mentioning McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes. He declined, however, to actually endorse McConnell, or even say his name….

Enthusiasm matters in an election, but it isn’t everything.

Indeed, if “enthusiasm” is the deciding factor in Kentucky, Mitch is in real trouble. But we’ve known that all along. He’s survived all this time by driving up the negatives of opponents and making himself acceptable–and inevitable. It would be nice to see that strategy fail for once.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, October 30, 2014

October 31, 2014 Posted by | Kentucky, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Face Of The McConnell Campaign”: Should Chuck Todd Be ‘Disqualified’ For Saying The Midterm Elections Don’t Matter?

A few developments today in the all-important Kentucky Senate race: Bill Clinton is expected to draw large, enthusiastic crowds for Alison Lundergan Grimes in Owensboro and Paducah; Mitch McConnell is on day two of his three-day fake-enthusiasm bus tour (the state GOP party is giving all-expenses-paid trips to volunteers as long as they “contribute to an enthusiastic atmosphere” at his events, according to an e-mail obtained by The Hill); and Chuck Todd continues to defend his now-infamous declaration that Grimes “disqualified herself” by refusing to say whether she voted for Obama.

As you’ve probably seen by now, McConnell put footage of Todd in a heavily rotated TV ad, and, from what I could tell after spending two days in Kentucky, Chuck Todd has become the face of the McConnell campaign.

Now, I don’t know if this exactly disqualifies Todd from moderating the New Hampshire debate tonight between Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown, but the host of the storied Meet the Press and a self-described political junkie has said that it really doesn’t matter which political party wins the Senate. He made that case in an interview with President Obama on his debut MTP last month, saying, A couple more extra red or a couple more blue seats, what’s the diff? Three billion dollars, he said, is being spent merely “to see if it’s Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell that’s in charge of gridlock in the Senate.”

Todd then turned to panelist John Stanton, from Buzzfeed, to pooh-pooh Obama’s argument that party control of the Senate is actually, uh, important:

TODD: You know, Stanton, he was trying to make the rationale for why the midterms matter. And when you have to say, “I know some people don’t think, but they really do matter.”

JOHN STANTON: You’ve already lost…..

in terms of legislation passing. If Democrats keep the Senate, and they have, what, a two-seat or a one-seat majority, or if Republicans take it and have a two-seat or one-seat majority, you still are left with essentially the same dynamic in Washington.

But surely Todd, if not also Stanton, knows that even if no legislation passes (presumably the Dems would filibuster and Obama would veto GOP bills), a McConnell-led Senate would still affect the lives of millions of people. A one- or two-seat majority would give Republicans all the committee chairmanships, and that, as Norm Ornstein writes, “would undoubtedly stop confirmation on virtually all Obama-nominated judges, and probably on most of his executive nominees. And we would see a sharp ramp-up of investigations of alleged wrongdoing, with Benghazi and IRS redux. If you like Darrell Issa, you will love having his reinforcements and doppelgängers in the other chamber.”

Even Politico says, “No one should underestimate the significance if the GOP captures the Senate in November…”

Mitch McConnell, who would become majority leader if the Senate changes hands, is already promising to load up the appropriations bills with policy restrictions that could raise the risk of another government shutdown if Obama doesn’t sign them.

With both the Senate and the House in their hands, Republicans could put Obama on defense on everything from Obamacare to the administration’s greenhouse gas regulations, the Keystone XL pipeline, education policy and spending priorities.

And even with gridlock, McConnell could reach his dream of repealing Obamacare “root and branch.” Robert Reich warns in a MoveOn video that the R’s could use the Senate maneuver of “reconciliation,” which requires “only 51 votes to pass major tax and budget legislation instead of the 60 votes usually required.” That means, he says, that Republicans could win tax cuts for the wealthy and loopholes for Wall Street and pay for them with cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and education. (The Dems used reconciliation to pass the Affordable Care Act in the first place.)

But issues that matter to real people often evaporate in the heat generated by horse-race pundits like Todd. Grimes is “disqualified” for not answering a question (“By dodging the question, did she cast a spell on herself that reverse-aged her to be ineligible for service in the U.S. Senate?” Jim Newell at Salon asks. “Did her incantation strike names from her ballot petitions, putting her below the threshold to qualify for ballot placement?”). But McConnell lies by claiming he can repeal Obamacare while letting Kentuckians keep their Kynect—without acknowledging that Kynect is Obamacare.

As The Nation’s Reed Richardson writes: “When confronted about his specious reasoning in a subsequent Facebook Q & A, Todd backed off his judgment a bit (‘disqualifying for some voters’ was his new formulation), but still defended his over-the-top analysis as reflecting ‘political reality.’ But for all his cynicism, Todd still tries to have it both ways. For, later in the same Facebook chat he said he was ‘sick’ over the fact the McConnell camp had already stuck his Grimes-bashing soundbite into a campaign ad.”

Todd goes into still longer explanations with Media Matters, saying his wording was “sloppy.” It seems like his judgment that it doesn’t matter who runs the Senate was, at best, sloppy, too.


By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, October 21, 2014

October 24, 2014 Posted by | Chuck Todd, Midterm Elections, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Stand-Up Guy?”: And Now Mitch McConnell Is The ‘Pro-Woman’ Candidate!

Facing a spirited challenge from a woman half his age who is determined to turn out female voters to defeat him, Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is portraying his role in resolving a sexual harassment scandal in the 1990s as evidence of his feminist bona fides. “I think I demonstrated 19 years ago, in the toughest possible position, how this ought to be handled,” he says, referring to his vote to oust Republican Bob Packwood from the U.S. Senate over allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

In a video distributed by the McConnell campaign, he explains, “I was chairman of the Ethics Committee charged with the responsibility of dealing with a member of my own party as chairman [of] the most important committee in the Senate. After investigating the case and bringing together all of the evidence I moved to expel him from the Senate. And the Senate on the verge of expelling him, he decided to resign.”

Most voters today barely remember Packwood, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was a long time ago, back when Congress functioned, and bipartisanship was real. McConnell tells only part of the story, the part that’s favorable to him, where he looks like a stand-up guy for women. He leaves out the nearly three years he and his colleagues spent protecting Packwood, and his sparring with newly elected Senator Barbara Boxer, who wanted public hearings into Packwood’s behavior. He dismissed her efforts as “frolic and detour,” and warned if she didn’t back off, the GOP, which controlled the Senate, would retaliate with public hearings into any and all Democratic indiscretions.

Packwood chaired the Senate Finance Committee and as McConnell notes in the quote above, was one of the most powerful men on Capitol Hill. He had a reputation as a womanizer, which wasn’t uncommon for men of his generation in the Senate at the time. He was also having an affair with his chief of staff, who would later become his wife, and that wasn’t unusual either. “There were plenty of members having relationships with senior women, but they weren’t doing it with multiples of people all the time,” recalls a woman who held key staff jobs for several Republicans during this era and spoke to the Beast on condition of anonymity. “There were senators in the early 1990’s who fired women who wouldn’t have sex with them,” she said, “and because he (Packwood) knew other senators were doing these things, he couldn’t understand, ‘Why are they coming after me?’”

Sexual mores were changing. The all-male Judiciary Committee’s brutish grilling of Anita Hill over her accusation of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas blew the lid off the frat-club behavior on Capitol Hill and helped elect a record number of women to Congress in 1992, including Boxer. Her push for public hearings on Packwood irritated her Democratic male colleagues along with the Republicans. The humiliation of the Hill-Thomas hearings was still too fresh for them.

Two weeks after the 1992 “year of the woman” election, The Washington Post published a front-page story documenting ten women who’d had unwelcome approaches from Packwood. A women’s group put up an 800 number, and 27 more women responded. Many had worked for him over the years; he had been in the senate since 1969. “Until the women’s groups turned on him, which they did after that article came out, he’d been a champion of women,” says the former GOP staffer. She recalls lawyers poring over definitions of sexual harassment, a relatively new term, educating members and staff about power relationships in the workplace.

“The concept of a hostile work environment was being discussed, it was a new thing,” she says.
The Republican leadership circled the wagons, wanting to believe partisanship played a role. Asked about McConnell’s threat to hold hearings about Democrats, even dredging up Senator Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick, Majority Leader Bob Dole said that wasn’t too long ago, “It was ’69, the same year as the first allegation against Packwood.”

A month before the Ethics Committee vote that McConnell boasts about today, he and Dole were publicly defending Packwood. “It’s hilarious to think these are his feminist bona fides,” says a Democratic Senate aide, who doesn’t want to be quoted by name so close to an election that could return McConnell to office for another six-year term, this time perhaps as majority leader. “It’s so long ago, he thinks he can get away with it,” says the aide. The legislative maneuvering once so vivid blurs with the passage of time, and all that McConnell wants voters to know is that he finally did the right thing after all else had been exhausted.

“For McConnell it actually was a vote of conscience against his party and against his friend,” says the GOP staffer. She remembers that minutes before the full Senate was scheduled to vote on whether to accept the Ethics Committee recommendation to expel Packwood, he resigned. Additional revelations about how he altered his diaries, which had been subpoenaed, plus an additional underage woman stepping forward made it likely that the senate would reach the necessary two-thirds majority.

McConnell is an institutionalist; he likes to keep things secret. He is described as having been “appalled” by Packwood’s behavior, but he dragged his feet so long on bringing this scandal to a close that the statute of limitations long ago ran out. “I’m not sure anybody gets credit for a vote that passes with a majority,” says Jennifer Duffy with the Cook Political Report. “Even if he was ahead of his time on this, I’m more interested in what he’s done since.”

The Kentucky Senate race is rated a toss-up, but most insiders think McConnell has it. “He’s not likeable; she’s likeable,” says Duffy. “But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about who do you trust, and they (voters) know he will go to the mat for them on coal. They have questions about her.”

Refusing to say who she voted for in 2008 and 2012 has hurt Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. The coming days will test whether her campaign has the smarts to counter McConnell’s dubious claim that a single vote in September 1995 should inoculate him from all the anti-woman votes he’s taken since then.


By: Eleanor Cliff, The Daily Beast, October 20, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Mitch Mc Connell, Sexual Asault, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Complicated Lies?”: The Amazingly Two-Faced Mitch McConnell

Alison Lundergan Grimes has been getting a lot of grief lately, not least from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which pulled the plug on her campaign yesterday. Her team quickly sent out a press release noting that she has $4.4 million in cash on hand, which the release said was “more than any Democrat in a competitive U.S. Senate race.” So she probably has enough to see her through to the end, but obviously, the DSCC move isn’t exactly a vote of confidence.

Even so, I’d like to pay her a compliment: I can’t conceive of how she managed to sit there next to Mitch McConnell at that debate Monday night and hear him say some of the things he said without her head exploding. That took admirable self-control.

I’m not sure which suffix to add to “shame” to better describe McConnell’s performance: Was it –less, or was it –ful? Remember Mitt Romney during the first debate of 2012, how he routinely said “my position is X” (invariably a more centrist posture) when for the preceding umpteen months his position had been the much more right-wing Not X? Well, McConnell made Romney look like an ironman of forthright constancy. So this is how, with a 30-year Senate record that you’d think you might be able to boast about, you win reelection: By completely misrepresenting who you’ve been for the last six years, and by saying “Obama” every 45 seconds.

Misrepresentations were numerous, but let’s just zero in on student loans. Grimes raised the issue and noted the rising costs of the loans, which Congress hasn’t addressed. McConnell responded that the Senate had taken care of the issue in a bipartisan fashion. But it didn’t. The Elizabeth Warren-sponsored bill failed in the Senate by four votes, getting only 56 yeas but needing 60 to end debate and make it to the floor. Two Republicans voted with the Democrats, but McConnell wasn’t one of them. And McConnell said publicly at the time that he was against Warren’s plan because it was “designed to fail” since it would raise taxes on rich people.

McConnell similarly talked out of both sides of his mouth on the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other issues. And he, too, dodged a question, and it was one that’s rather more important than the one Grimes dodged about whether she had voted for President Obama. McConnell wouldn’t say whether climate change is real and whether humans contribute to it, so if he wins, Kentuckians will have the pleasure of knowing who their senator voted for in 2012 while he spends the next six years positioning himself to the right of Exxon-Mobil (which at least supports a carbon tax) and blocking any attempt to do anything about global warming.

McConnell’s real howler, of course, had to do with Obamacare. As you may know by now, he said yes, sure, keep Kynect, the state’s roaringly successful health-insurance exchange set up under the health-care law. After all, it’s “just a website.”

This was the moment when I was wondering how Grimes’s head could possibly stay in one piece. As McConnell well knows, Kynect is not just a website. It’s a state health-care program that citizens happen to be able to access through a website. Kentuckians go on to the Kynect website to see what types of insurance coverage are available to them under the Kynect program, which exists solely because of Obamacare. So if you repeal Obamacare “root and branch,” which is still McConnell’s position, you can leave the Kynect website up, but those coverage options people find via the site will no longer exist. Saying keep the website but kill the program is like saying that someone can keep that nice-looking home page that says “Google,” but it just won’t perform searches anymore.

It’s amazing, the audacity of it. If what Grimes did on the Obama-vote question is “disqualifying,” as Chuck Todd put it, then what is an incumbent senator telling a whopper like this? Given that half a million Kentuckians have signed up for insurance through Kynect, isn’t this just a little more important? What’s worse is that he knows he can get away with saying something like that because he is well aware that the explanation of why he’s lying is a little complicated for the average voter to take in. The media just aren’t set up to correct the record very well on things like this. I read a handful of write-ups of the debate from within Kentucky yesterday, and none among the few I read actually burrowed into an explanation of McConnell’s lie. It just gets summarized as a “testy exchange” or some such.

There was one event during this campaign season when McConnell did tell his audience the truth. But that didn’t happen in Kentucky in front of voters. It happened over the summer in California, at the St. Regis Monarch Bay Resort, where rooms run upwards of $500 a night, at a gathering put together by the Koch brothers. McConnell has been saying on the trail that if he wins and the GOP takes the Senate, he’ll open up the amendment process, implying that he’d permit votes on issues Democrats wanted to push—notably, of course, raising the minimum wage.

But behind closed doors at the Koch event, McConnell said the opposite, promising the 1 percenters that, should they win, his Republicans  are “not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage [inaudible]—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student-loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh.”

That was—speaking of comparisons to Mitt Romney—McConnell’s 47 percent moment. The sentiment is not as clearly put, so it wasn’t as usable for the opposition. But that was the probable (let’s face it) future majority leader saying to his real base: Don’t worry, boys, I got you covered.

That is how he will operate if he becomes majority leader. An inspiring campaign, all right.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 15, 2014

October 19, 2014 Posted by | Mitch Mc Connell, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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