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“Honest Conviction And Straightforward Argument”: For Democrats, The Right Lesson From 2014 Is To Be More Liberal

Republicans will probably take control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, according to the latest projections. It’s a grim result for liberals, particularly when you consider the likely consequences: the mountain of garbage legislation that will be dumped on the White House…the possible gutting of the Congressional Budget Office…the total halting of the confirmation process for judiciary and executive branch positions.

But if Democrats do lose, they must try to keep their cool, and refrain from sinking into the usual pessimism. Because make no mistake, centrist sellouts like Will Marshall are going to descend on the Democrats’ routed supporters and proclaim that the party must turn right to have a chance of victory in 2016. It’s critical that Democrats ignore these calls, not only because they betray a pathetic spinelessness, but also because they’re not even close to being true.

Here’s why Democrats are behind in 2014, in descending order of importance: 1) In the Senate, Dems are defending the 2008 wave election, which means they have to beat back challenges in 21 out of 36 seats; 2) Democratic voters are systematically less likely to turn out in midterm elections; 3) the House has been heavily gerrymandered to give Republicans a large handicap; 4) President Obama is fairly unpopular, especially in the states where the races are tightest. All together, Republicans have a significant advantage overall in a contest that will come down to turnout operations.

The bellwether for this cycle is the Senate race in Colorado, where the Democratic incumbent Mark Udall is slightly behind Republican Cory Gardner in a tight race. To his credit, Udall isn’t being cowed by Very Serious Person hand-wringing. He’s making a hard play to turn out the Democratic base (basically minorities and women), and isn’t backing off his strong anti-torture and pro-civil liberties positions, despite being viciously terror-baited for it.

This isn’t just a noble stand — it’s probably his best strategy as well. Though ObamaCare is basically working (especially the Medicaid expansion part), neither the law nor the Democratic Party are very popular in the state. A progressive agenda at the state level has led to an enraged rural backlash, and Udall has had setbacks in other areas (in particular, an utterly moronic endorsement of Gardner from The Denver Post). Playing to the center simply would have further alienated Latinos and women. It’s worth noting that in the 2010 Colorado Senate race, Michael Bennet eked out a surprising come-from-behind win on the strength of Latino turnout.

And while there isn’t much hard data to support it, I stubbornly hold to the premise that honest conviction and straightforward argument garner more support than today’s politicos, usually focus-grouped to within an inch of their lives, tend to believe.

That brings us to 2016. During presidential election years, three out of the four issues I outlined above will be neutralized: Republicans will have to defend more seats than Democrats, Democratic turnout will be at its highest, and Obama will not be on the ballot. The electorate will also be measurably less white than in 2012 due to demographic trends. Thus, there’s every reason to think that a Udall-esque strategy of turning out the base (as opposed to the traditional Democratic move of snidely dismissing the base in a “bid for the center”) will work quite well.

Additionally, when you look behind the advantage that Republicans hold, you find Democrats seriously contesting some races in some totally unexpected places. Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Georgia ought to be easy Republican locks, but have turned into competitive fights. Independent candidates have upended the races in Kansas and South Dakota — the latter is especially interesting, since the Democrat is running on a platform of unabashed economic populism.

Bottom line: don’t listen to the aging New Democrats. The 2016 election ought to be run on a confidently liberal platform.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, October 29, 2014

October 30, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Election Rigging, Culture War Edition”: Republicans Relying On Gerrymandering And Voter Suppression To Hold Onto Power

Republicans in Texas have managed to finagle a world in which a gun permit counts as proof of voter eligibility, but a student ID does not.

A divided Supreme Court handed a big defeat to the Obama administration and numerous civil rights groups early Saturday morning when it ruled that Texas can enforce its 2011 voter ID law in November that some have called the strictest in the country. Three justices dissented from the ruling that rejected an emergency request that had been filed by the Justice Department and civil rights groups.

The decision appears to mark “the first time since 1982 that the Court has allowed a law restricting voters’ rights to be enforced after a federal court had ruled it to be unconstitutional,” notes Scotus Blog’s Lyle Denniston. A federal judge had struck down the law last week, saying that some 600,000 voters—mostly black or Latino—would face difficulties at the polls due to a lack of proper identification. The law, which was approved in 2011 but only came in effect in 2013 lays out seven approved forms of identification—a list many have questioned for including concealed handgun licenses but not college IDs, notes the Associated Press.

Earlier this week Rachel Maddow called these tactics exactly what they are: cheating. There’s no sense in which a gun permit is a more reliable form of identification than a student ID, and no sense in which it’s constitutional or fair to require a person who tends to move every year or more and often depends on public transit, to have a current driver’s license in order to vote.

It’s election rigging, plain and simple, designed to give Republican and conservative voters the opportunity to vote while denying the franchise to traditionally more Democratic and progressive demographics.

But while these tactics are an outrage, they are in a sense a mark of desperation by the Right. They know that they can’t compete electorally, and that demographics work more and more against them with every election cycle. They see the handwriting on the wall, and unable to win the argument on policy, they rely on gerrymandering and vote suppression to hold onto power for just a few more years.

A slim extremist majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is helping to enable these tactics, but it won’t serve them for long. Democrats have gotten very good at voter turnout operations, and it won’t be long before demographic pressures overwhelm the ability of conservatives to win elections by suppressing and slicing away a few percentages here and there. It simply delays the inevitable.

 

By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 19, 2014

October 20, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Banana Republicans”: Appalling Content Of Policies Aside, When Not Torturing, They Lie, They Cheat, They Steal

If they can’t offer policies that a majority of voters will support without relentless brainwashing, they free up the billionaire beneficiaries of the policies they actually offer to help them buy elections.

If buying elections won’t give them a majority, they rig the districting so they can hold a minority of seats with a minority of votes.

If they can’t win even in gerrymandered districts, they try to keep Democrats from voting.

If they still lose, they resort to outright bribery.

In the latest case, they offered a Democratic state senator in Virginia – whose vote resulted in a tied chamber, giving the Lieutenant Governor the deciding vote – a cushy job for himself and a judgeship for his daughter if he’d resign, giving the GOP 20-19 majority.

Similar deals have been done recently in New York and Washington State, though in those cases the bribes were legislative leadership positions rather than external jobs.

I can confidently predict that a not a single elected Republican, and few if any Red-team pundits, will speak out against this grossly corrupt deal. If the state AG or the U.S. Attorney decide that it’s a prosecutable quid pro quo, Fox News and the National Review will howl about the “criminalization of policy differences.”

“Puckett” deserves to enter the language alongside “Quisling.”

The appalling content of its policies aside – the latest dirty trick is part of an effort to deny medical coverage to the working poor –  the modern Republican Party is a threat to the principles of republican government. Even when they’re not torturing, they lie, they cheat, and they steal.

Footnote And note the way the Washington Post uses the morally neutral “outmaneuver” to cover the payment and acceptance of a bribe. Did the Communists “outmaneuver” Jan Masaryk? Did the House of Guise “outmaneuver” the Huguenots on St. Bartholomew’s Day?

 

By: Mark Kleiman,  Professor of Public Policy at The University of California Los Angeles: Washington Monthly, Ten Miles Square; Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]; June 12, 2014

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Electoral Process, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The End Game For Democracy”: The Creeping Expansion Of Corporate Civil Rights

Last week, The Wire creator David Simon told Bill Moyers that the legal doctrine that spending money on political campaigns is an act of political speech protected by the First Amendment poses the greatest threat to American democracy. “That to me was the nail in the coffin,” he said. “If the combination of the monetization of our elections and gerrymandering create a bicameral legislature that doesn’t in any way reflect the will of the American people, you’ve reached the end game for democracy.”

He’s right. Not only does money as speech allow those with the fattest wallets to drown out the voices of average citizens, as John Light points out, it also gives wealthy donors an effective veto over policies that enjoy majority support. But it’s important to understand the other ways that the expansion of civil rights for corporations can conflict with the public interest.

As Simon observed, the notion of corporate personhood isn’t inherently problematic. The concept that companies are “artificial persons” is necessary because you can’t enter into a contract with an inanimate object, and you can’t take an inanimate object to court if that contract is breached.

Problems arise when these soulless artificial persons demand constitutional rights that were designed to protect real, flesh-and-blood people.

Those demands have a long history. As author and commentator Thom Hartmann detailed in his book, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, the end of the Civil War brought with it the beginning of a battle for corporate rights under the 14th Amendment, which was intended to confer full citizenship on newly freed slaves.

For several decades, efforts to gain 14th Amendment protections for corporations were stymied by the courts. But in the 1880s, with the help of a court clerk Hartmann described as “a dicey character,” a corrupt federal judge named Steven Field — who had his eye on a White House run — managed to get that right codified in the law on behalf of “very wealthy and powerful guys who ran the railroads and who were the richest men in America,” as Hartmann put it in a 2010 interview.

It wasn’t the only right corporations would gain during that period. According to Hartmann, in the first half of the 19th century, corporations were required to make their books open to the public. By mid-century, they were only required to disclose their finances to the Secretary of State of each state in which they were incorporated. But in the early 20th century, they successfully claimed that even those requirements violated their Fourth Amendment protection against searches and seizures without probable cause.

In the 1970s and 1980s, corporate lawyers became more aggressive in pressing for civil rights. David Gans, civil rights director for the Constitutional Accountability Center, told BillMoyers.com, “What we’ve seen in the last four decades is a huge expansion of claims that corporations are entitled to various individual rights that were long seen as the birthright of the Declaration of Independence.”

The biggest shift was in the realm of First Amendment rights. “In the 1970s,” said Gans, “there were lots of cases claiming that corporations had First Amendment rights both in the area of commercial speech — prior to that, the Supreme Court had long held that it could be extensively regulated — and in the area of political speech.

“Those claims brought us eventually to Citizens United,” Gans continued, “and now we’re seeing new claims — in Hobby Lobby, for example, that corporations have a right to religious exercise, which is really a fundamental matter of human dignity and conscience, and it’s a right that corporations have never even claimed. ” Hobby Lobby is one of several corporations suing to overturn Obamacare’s mandate that employer-based insurance cover a basket of preventive care including contraceptives.

Charlie Cray, director of the progressive Center for Corporate Policy and co-author (with Lee Drutman and Ralph Nader) of The People’s Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy, said that First Amendment claims on commercial speech have been central in dozens of regulatory fights — from GMO and bovine growth hormone labeling requirements to tobacco point-of-sale advertising to limits on media consolidation.

But so far, corporations have had less success pressing for other constitutional rights. In the 1980s, for example, Dow Chemicals sued the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that its aerial surveillance of one of the company’s plants constituted a warrantless search and violated the Fourth Amendment. But the court ruled that the EPA was acting within its regulatory authority, and that Dow had no legitimate expectation of privacy.

Nonethelesss, Charlie Cray tells BillMoyers.com that claims of corporate rights can conflict with the public interest even without being litigated. “A lot of this goes on at the regulatory level,” he said. “Corporate lawyers claim that their rights are being violated and regulators with limited budgets will often back off rather then engage in protracted litigation.” Those bizarre pharmaceutical ads with the lengthy list of awful side effects are a good example — the FDA loosened restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising largely in response to drug companies’ First Amendment claims.

And it’s a slippery slope. “A couple of years ago, the idea that corporations would claim they’re entitled to the free exercise of religion would have seemed outlandish,” said David Gans, “but here it is, dividing the lower federal courts and about to be heard by the Supreme Court. It is hard to predict where they’ll go in the future.”

 

By: Joshua Holland, Connecting The Dots, Bill Moyers Blog, February 18, 2014

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Democracy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Artificially Polarizing The Country”: Redistricting Reform Should Be Priority Number One

I became political aware at a young age and took a keen interest in the 1980 Republican primaries when I was only nine and ten years old. I still have cartoons I drew at the time that depicted Ronald Reagan as a warmonger intent on blowing up the world with nuclear weapons. This wasn’t something I learned from my parents. It was my own opinion. In retrospect, it was a little bit alarmist. I should have been worried about other things, like the long-term destruction of the middle class or a propensity to sell TOW missiles to Iran to pay a ransom for hostages held by Hizbollah in order to illegally transfer the proceeds to the Contras in Nicaragua. But, a nine year old’s capacity to imagine evil only goes so far.

When I see a book title like Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, I want to claw my eyeballs out. Yet, I do understand what Chris Matthews is pining for, and it isn’t the fjords. However much Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan disagreed, they were civil to each other, and they knew how to strike a deal without threatening to default on the country’s debts. For Washington insiders of a certain age, there is a keen sense of nostalgia for the old days when politicians didn’t go home to their districts every weekend but stayed in town and socialized with each other.

Perhaps no one represents this group better than Cokie Roberts, who was almost literally raised in the Capitol Building. Her father, Hale Boggs, represented Louisiana’s 2nd District in 1941-43 and then from 1947 to 1972, when his plane disappeared in Alaska. By the time of his death, he had risen to be the Majority Leader, the same position held today by Eric Cantor. By that time, Cokie Roberts was an adult, but her mother, Liddy Boggs, went on to represent the New Orleans-based district until she retired to look after her dying daughter (Cokie’s sister) in 1990. I found a set of interviews that Ms. Roberts did with the Office of the Historian of the House of Representatives in 2007 and 2008, (you can read the interviews here in .pdf form) in which she describes her life growing up in the corridors of power and how things have changed.

In the following excerpt, she laments the use of the gerrymander, which she calls “picking your own voters.” In her opinion, the increasing efficiency with which the political parties draw the congressional maps is one of the main reasons why Congress is so deadlocked. Keep in mind that she said this in 2008, before things got even worse after the 2010 census and subsequent redrawing of district maps.

ROBERTS: I think that what this business of picking your voters—first of all, is so anti-democratic—it does a few very, very bad things. It creates a far more partisan chamber because you only worry about getting attacked from the true believers of your own party in a primary rather than a general election. Look what just happened to Chris [Christopher B.] Cannon as a perfect example of that.

You do only represent people who are just like you, so that your desire or even ability to compromise is far less than it used to be. I’ll give you an example. Bob Livingston used to represent a district that was 30- percent black. So he voted for fair housing, he voted for Martin Luther King holiday, he voted for a variety of things that were not the things that people whose representative in the state legislature was David Duke expected him to do. But he could explain to the yahoos in his district that he had to do it because of the black constituency when it was actually stuff that he wanted to do. Then it was redistricted to be lily-white conservative Republicans, and, you know, it’s almost impossible for that person—it was [David] Vitter, I don’t know who it is now—to do that. You just have to be fighting your constituency all the time to do something that would be a sort of national interest thing to do. And that’s true on both sides. It just makes legislating and governing much, much harder.

The President [George W. Bush], actually, was talking to me—I don’t often get to say, “The President was talking to me about it,” {laughter}—when I went with him to meet the Pope. We were talking about immigration, and he’s, you know, he’s basically just furious about immigration, about the failure of the bill, and he said, “It’s all about the way districts are drawn.” And it is fundamentally anti-democratic because the whole idea is you get to throw these people out. In 2006, I must say I was heartened, not for partisan reasons, but I thought they had drawn the districts so cleverly that you’d never be able to register that vote of no confidence, which an off-year election is—it’s either a vote of confidence or no confidence—I was afraid that that had been taken away from the voters, which would really be different from what the Founders had in mind. So the fact that even with that, you were able to change parties and register that vote was heartening, but it’s much harder than it should be.

There has been some debate recently about whether or not Justice Ginsburg should strategically retire from the Supreme Court to prevent a Republican president from appointing her successor. Ginsburg defends her continued presence of the Court by arguing that President Obama will be succeeded by a Democrat because “The Democrats do fine in presidential elections; their problem is they can’t get out the vote in the midterm elections.” She’s probably right in her prediction about Obama’s successor, but she is definitely correct that the Democrats have trouble getting out their vote in midterm elections. With the districts drawn the way there are, this threatens to prevent the people from expressing their vote of confidence or no confidence.

According to the Cook Political Report, the Democrats should have won the 2012 House elections.

By Cook’s calculations, House Democrats out-earned their Republican counterparts by 1.17 million votes. Read another way, Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote. Still, they won just 46.21 percent of seats, leaving the Republicans with 234 seats and Democrats with 201.

It was the second time in 70 years that a party won the majority of the vote but didn’t win a majority of the House seats, according to the analysis.

So, there are really two things here worthy of consideration. The first is that the gerrymander has the effect of artificially polarizing the country by creating districts that are only really contestable in primary, rather than general elections. Politicians are punished for cooperating more than they should be.

The second problem is a partisan one that only hurts the left. Democrats get less seats than they should have.

Yet, the first problem hurts the left, too, because it leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to a general disdain of government in the populace, which creates distrust about the government’s ability to do big things.

For these reasons, I believe that progressives should consider redistricting reform their top priority. Unless we can solve this problem, we will never be competing on a level playing field, and our ability to do great things will continue to erode.

Unlike Chris Matthews and Cokie Roberts, I don’t want to go back to some idyllic time of bipartisan cooperation that barely existed in reality, but I do want a fair shake and a government that works again.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 28, 2013

December 29, 2013 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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