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“A Bygone Era”: All Politics Aren’t Local Anymore

Sometimes changes that affect our politics are subtle and therefore, easily missed. Paul Kane has identified how one of those changes is affecting members of the Senate who are running for re-election.

After nearly 12 years in the Senate, North Carolina Republican Richard Burr holds a dubious distinction: a lot of people in his home state don’t know if he’s any good at his job…

Burr is not alone among potentially vulnerable incumbents with low name recognition in key states that will decide which party controls the Senate in 2017. Of the 25 least known senators, ten are running for re-election — nine of them Republican — as relative unknowns, with roughly 30 percent of their voters unable to form an opinion of them. That list includes Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

Kane suggests that the reason these incumbents are so unknown among their constituents is that partisans tend to get their news from ideologically driven outlets while local news has all but disappeared.

Overall, there are more reporters covering Congress than ever, except they increasingly write for inside Washington publications whose readers are lawmakers, lobbyists and Wall Street investors. A Pew Research Center study released earlier this year found that at least 21 states do not have a single dedicated reporter covering Congress.

That is a story John Heltman wrote about here at the Washington Monthly in an article for the Nov/Dec 2015 edition titled: Confessions of a Paywall Journalist.

Kane goes on to talk about the two options Senators have used to overcome this lack of name recognition. First of all – money talks.

“We go six years with no coverage,” Burr said in an interview this week, lamenting the fading interest in his state’s congressional delegation. “So it’s like you weren’t here for six years. Your name ID drops into the 40s.” Run $5 million in ads, he said, “it pops right back up to the 80s.”

Secondly, “iconoclasts stand out.”

After little more than three years in elected office, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has reached near saturation level with Bay State voters, with just 12 percent having no opinion of the liberal firebrand. Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Markey (D) — an institution in Massachusetts politics after 37 years in the House and three in the Senate — does not register with 30 percent of his constituents.

It’s the same dynamic in Texas with the state’s two Republican senators. Ted Cruz — an erstwhile conservative presidential contender — has held elective office not even three-and-a-half years, yet all but 14 percent of his voters have a strong view of him. A third of Texans cannot form a view of John Cornyn, the Republican whip with nearly 14 years in the Senate who is likely to be the next GOP floor leader.

That points to two disturbing trends we’ve all been watching lately in politics – the influence of big money and the rise of show horses over work horses. Jonathan Bernstein picked up on all of this and suggests that it also fuels partisan gridlock.

I don’t know how much the changes in media coverage caused the atrophy of the committee system and Congress’s ability to do its job. But it’s easy to see how rank-and-file members have fewer incentives to be productive, and more incentives to merely vote with their party’s leadership and do little else.

All of this focuses on how the lack of a vibrant local press affects incumbents in the Senate. One can only assume that it poses an even greater challenge for members of the House. Finally, it explains a lot about why we have tended towards an “imperial presidency” and the lack of voter participation in midterm elections. For years we’ve been hearing that famous line from Tip O’Neill who said, “All Politics is local.” That might be relegated to a bygone era.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 1, 2016

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Political Media, Politics, Senate | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Change Happens”: Why Democrats Can’t Seem To Decide Between Clinton And Sanders

If Republicans are engaged in a three-sided civil war, Democrats are having a spirited but rather civilized argument over a very large question: Who has the best theory about how progressive change happens?

On the Republican side, the results in Iowa showed a party torn to pieces. Ted Cruz won because he understood from the start the importance of cornering the market on Christian conservatives who have long dominated Iowa’s unusual process. Message discipline, thy name is Cruz.

Donald Trump has created a new wing of the Republican Party by combining older GOP tendencies — nationalism, nativism, racial backlash — with 21st-century worries about American decline and the crushing of working-class incomes. He appeals to the angriest Republicans but not necessarily the most ideologically pure. A novel constituency proved harder to turn out in Iowa than polls and Trump’s media boosters anticipated.

Marco Rubio was the remainder candidate, pulling together most of the voters who couldn’t stand Trump or Cruz. He was strongest among the best-educated Republicans, a crowd that has less reason to be angry. Almost as conservative as Cruz, Rubio runs verbally against the party establishment even as he is beloved by it.

The main question in New Hampshire next week (besides whether Trump can actually win an election) concerns Rubio’s ability to repeat his consolidation trick — this time against a fully competitive field. Does he get enough bounce out of his third-place finish in Iowa to beat back John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, who largely skipped Iowa but have been working hard to find Granite State salvation? It’s politics of a classic sort.

The Democratic contest is far more subtle and, as a result, intellectually interesting. The obvious contours of the race are defined by Hillary Clinton’s identity as a moderate progressive and Bernie Sanders’s embrace of democratic socialism.

But there is less distance between Sanders and Clinton than meets the eye. Their sharpest programmatic differences (other than on Sanders’s mixed gun-control record) are over his sweeping ideas: breaking up the largest banks, establishing a single-payer health-care system and providing universal free college education. These disagreements are closely connected to their competing theories of change.

Clinton believes in change through incremental steps: toughening financial regulation, building on Obamacare, expanding access to scholarships and grants without making college free for everyone. One-step-at-a-time reform is the best way to reach a larger goal, she believes. And proposals that are too big are doomed to fail — politically for sure, and probably substantively as well.

Thus her signature critique of Sanders. “In theory, there’s a lot to like about some of his ideas,” she says, and then the hammer falls: “I’m not interested in ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in the real world.”

Sanders, by contrast, has long believed that the current configuration of power needs to be overthrown (peacefully, through the ballot box) to make progressive reform possible. It’s why he focuses so much on breaking the corrupting power of big money in politics. He believes that loosening the Republicans’ grip on working-class voters requires initiatives that will truly shake things up, and that only the mobilization of new voters will change the nature of representation in Washington.

Democrats, he told NPR’s Steve Inskeep in 2014, have “not made it clear that they are prepared to stand with the working-class people of this country [and] take on the big money interests.”

The same year, he told Vox’s Andrew Prokop: “You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grass-roots level in a way that we have never done before.”

Sanders added: “The Republican Party right now in Washington is highly disciplined, very, very well-funded, and adheres to more or less the Koch brother position. You’re not gonna change them in Washington. The only way that they are changed is by educating, organizing, and what I call a political revolution.”

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 3, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, GOP Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“State Of The Union Vs. State Of The Trump”: Our Political Spite And Meanness Have Gotten Out Of Control

Barack Obama really does not have it so bad. He gets $400,000 a year in salary, $50,000 in expenses, a fleet of planes, a car and driver, and almost all the golf he can stand.

In other words, the president’s life is almost as good as Donald Trump’s.

With one major exception: President Obama feels actual remorse. And considerable responsibility. And Trump may never have felt either.

In his last State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama spoke of something presidents rarely speak of at such moments: regret.

Pointing out how “our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention,” Obama said, “Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter, that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.”

He went on, “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency: that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”

And who is to blame, according to Obama?

Obama is to blame. At least a little.

“There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide,” Obama said, “and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”

But he won’t hold the office for very much longer — only a little more than a year. And Obama said that if things are going to improve, somebody else needs to bear some blame around here: you and I.

Which made it an unusual political speech. If there is one rule of politics, one unbreakable commandment, it is this: Thou shalt never blame the voters.

The voters are holy. They can do no wrong. Or, rather, they can be blamed for no wrong. Because if you blame them, they may not vote for your party. And we couldn’t have that, could we?

Yes, we could, said Obama. Because our political spite and meanness have gotten out of control. And that must stop.

“My fellow Americans, this cannot be my task? — or any president’s — alone,” Obama said. “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected. … It’s not enough to just change a congressman or a senator or even a president; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”

We must “end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around,” Obama said. “We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”

In other words: Don’t hold your breath.

No, wait. That’s the kind of cheap cynicism that Obama wants to eradicate or at least reduce.

“What I’m asking for is hard,” he admitted. “It’s easier to be cynical, to accept that change isn’t possible and politics is hopeless and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.”

You bet it is! And if you get cynical and hopeless enough, they make you a columnist!

Obama blamed an array of people, most of whom turned out to be Republicans running for president.

Chris Christie was the target when Obama said, “As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.”

Ted Cruz was the target when Obama said, “The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.”

And Trump was the target when Obama said: “When politicians insult Muslims … that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”

Making these statements — as true as they may be — will not do much to decrease the rancor in Washington, however.

Which Obama admits. He is not perfect. Often criticized for being aloof and academic, he is, in fact, proud of his toughness. If you are not tough in the world of today’s politics, nobody will respect you. Which means you have to be tough without being so tough that nobody will work with you, either.

“Our brand of democracy is hard,” Obama said Tuesday night. But there are good people in it who redeem it.

And Obama listed some of them, including “the American who served his time … but now is dreaming of starting over.”

“The protester determined to prove that justice matters.”

“The young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”

“The son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”

And Obama ended with a Carl Sandburg-like list, saying Americans are “cleareyed, bighearted, undaunted by challenge, optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

 

By: Roger Simon, Politico’s Chief Political Columnist; The National Memo, January 13, 2015

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Donald Trump, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It’s Time To Leave Home”: There Is Nowhere You Can Go And Only Be With People Who Are Like You; It’s Over, Give It Up

When I think about the problem of big money in politics and the challenges we face to citizen engagement, I am reminded of a prophetic speech Bernice Johnson Reagon (founder of “Sweet Honey in the Rock” – featured below) gave in 1981 titled: Coalition Politics: Turning the Century. She begins by summarizing the impact technology has had on our social constructs:

We’ve pretty much come to the end of a time when you can have a space that is “yours only”—just for the people you want to be there…To a large extent it’s because we have just finished with that kind of isolating. There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. It’s over. Give it up.

David Simon captured how the re-election of Barack Obama sealed this change when he talked about the death of normal.

America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying…

What makes Reagon’s words so prophetic is that she talked about what our reaction would likely be to this reality. We are seeing it play out today in the tension between the supporters of Bernie Sanders and the Black Lives Matter movement. She warned that it would lead us to retreat to spaces she called “home.”

Now every once in awhile there is a need for people to try to clean out corners and bar the doors and check everybody who comes in the door, and check what they carry in and say, “Humph, inside this place the only thing we are going to deal with is X or Y or Z.” And so only the X’s or Y’s or Z’s get to come in…

But that space while it lasts should be a nurturing space where you sift out what people are saying about you and decide who you really are. And you take the time to try to construct within yourself and within your community who you would be if you were running society. In fact, in that little barred room where you check everybody at the door, you act out community. You pretend that your room is a world.

She said that there are dangers associated with pretending “that your room is a world.”

I mean it’s nurturing, but it is also nationalism. At a certain stage nationalism is crucial to a people if you are going to ever impact as a group in your own interest. Nationalism at another point becomes reactionary because it is totally inadequate for surviving in the world with many peoples.

In order to survive in this world with many peoples, we have to learn how to build coalitions.

Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort. Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good when they get there. They’re not looking for a coalition; they’re looking for a home! They’re looking for a bottle with some milk in it and a nipple, which does not happen in a coalition. You don’t get a lot of food in a coalition. You don’t get fed a lot in a coalition. In a coalition you have to give, and it is different from your home. You can’t stay there all the time. You go to the coalition for a few hours and then you go back and take your bottle wherever it is, and then you go back and coalesce some more.

It is very important not to confuse them—home and coalition.

She says that forming coalitions is a matter of life and death.

It must become necessary for all of us to feel that this is our world…And watch that “ours’ make it as big as you can—it ain’t got nothing to do with that barred room. The “our” must include everybody you have to include in order for you to survive. You must be sure you understand that you ain’t gonna be able to have an “our” that don’t include Bernice Johnson Reagon, cause I don’t plan to go nowhere! That’s why we have to have coalitions. Cause I ain’t gonna let you live unless you let me live. Now there’s danger in that, but there’s also the possibility that we can both live—if you can stand it.

The tensions we’re currently seeing in our politics are a direct result of people looking for a home and being fearful of a coalition. Too many of us are simply seeking out the comfort of those who are like us and/or agree with us. As a weigh station to nurture ourselves, there is value in that. But in the end, we have to leave home and face the world as it really is.

This is exactly the message President Obama gave to the young graduates of Morehouse in 2013.

As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share…

So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern — to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody. Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world. To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table…

President Obama’s rhetoric about this is often uplifting and visionary. That is as it should be. But Reagon got down to the nitty gritty in her speech about what this actually means for all of us. Anyone thinking it’s about some kind of kumbaya moment is very mistaken.

There is an offensive movement that started in this country in the 60’s that is continuing. The reason we are stumbling is that we are at the point where in order to take the next step we’ve got to do it with some folk we don’t care too much about. And we got to vomit over that for a little while. We must just keep going.

In other words, its time to leave home, vomit for a little while about that, and get busy dealing with the world as it is rather than as we want it to be. In the end, its about survival…”Cause I ain’t gonna let you live unless you let me live. Now there’s danger in that, but there’s also the possibility that we can both live—if you can stand it.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 16, 2015

August 18, 2015 Posted by | Coalitions, Discrimination, Nationalism | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Presidential Candidates, Each Sold Separately”: The Donor Class Will Shape The Choice Of Candidates Long Before A Single Ballot Is Cast

Mark Hanna used to say, “there are two things important in politics.The first is money and I forget the second.” The next president will take the oath of office in 2017, but between now and then expect a lot of money to be spent buying the ear of the next president. The large amount of spending will be driven in part because there are presently 22 candidates vying for the two major party nominations. If Prof. Lawrence Lessig makes it official, there will be 23.

Our campaign finance laws maintain the legal fiction that there is a difference between money given directly to a candidate’s campaign and money spent on ads in support of the candidate that benefit them. Your local billionaire can still only give $5400 (or $2700 per election per candidate) to a candidate for federal office. But at the very same time the wealthy can spend an unlimited amount on ads touting their favorite candidate or trashing the object of their ire.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be mighty grateful if someone spent a million in support of me. And I’d probably be more grateful for the million spent than the $5400 given directly.

The wealthy have had the right to spend lavishly on independent ad buys since Buckley v. Valeo in 1976. But the real spending spiked after Citizens United and a case called SpeechNow with the advent of the Super PAC. According to www.opensecrets.org, in 2010 Super PACs raised $828 million and spent $609 million in the federal election.

Spending through a Super PAC, even if there is one funder ponying up 95 percent or more of the money, gives the illusion that there are groups involved—often with an appropriately Orwellian name—instead of just one random rich guy. Using Super PACs as a vehicle, in 2012 Sheldon Adelson and his wife spent $93 million, William “Bill” Koch of the Koch Brothers spent $4.8 million and Foster Friess spent $2.6 million.

And already we see billionaires lining up behind 2016 candidates in the “money primary” like they were buying so many action figures in a toy store with matching podiums, blue suits, and karate grip. Of course, like so many toys, each candidate is sold separately. And the spending has already started. As Mother Jones recently put it, “These 8 Republican Sugar Daddies Are Already Placing Their Bets on 2016.”

The other phenomenon that has happened is some are backing more than one candidate. With 5 Dems and 17 Republicans, the Center for Public Integrity, argues that “[i]t’s speed dating season for presidential campaign contributors.”

There is no rule that says a donor must only back one candidate. If they want, they can hedge their bets and back two or three. Hell, if they want, they can try to collect them all. At least ten donors are backing two or more of the Republican candidates.

Donors don’t have to be loyal to a single political party either.  Seventeen mega spenders are already backing Republican Bush and Democrat Clinton, who may end up as respectively the most popular GI Joe and American Girl doll of 2016. For example, John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, has supported both Bush and Clinton. The same is true of Richard Parsons, the former head of Time Warner, and David Stevens, the CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association.  For a full list of the seventeen Clinton/Bush supporters see here.

Now it’s not necessarily a bad thing for there to be over 20 candidates for president over a year out. It’s a big country with diverse views. But because the presidential public financing system was allowed to atrophy, each of these candidates must run in privately funded races. And this has led to the unseemly spectacles of multiple candidates flying to California for the “Koch” primary or to Las Vegas for the “Adelson” primary. The only primaries that should matter are the ones with actual voters. But the reality is the donor class is likely to shape the choice of candidates long before any Iowans caucus or a New Hampshirite cast a single ballot.

 

By: Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, August 14, 2015

August 16, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, Mega-Donors, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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