Tag Archives: democratic party

The rock, the hard place, and the eternally sought-after undecideds

The elections podcast by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight team contained this rather interesting moment near its end on Monday:

NATE SILVER: Neither of these candidates has really won that many people over. Clinton is still at only about 42 percent in the [national] polls, down from about 44 or 45 percent right after the convention. 42 percent is not that good. It’s better than being at 39 percent, which is what Trump is at, but some of the marginal Clinton voters now have gone to [Libertarian candidate Gary] Johnson and [Green candidate Jill] Stein. How could Clinton potential lose this election if her favorables are slightly less bad than Trump’s?  If more of her voters go to Johnson and Stein. I think she needs a plan for dealing with that. If you assume that third party vote will fade… well, maybe… […]  but you certainly can’t count on that. I’ve never seen an election before where the number of decideds like goes up as the election goes on. [Laughter]

In this of all election cycles, maybe we should consider this before laughing.

This is an election cycle where, unlike in the last one, significant swings have proven possible and suggest exactly those unthinkable reversals. A lot of the restrictions I talked about in the last presidential cycle seem to continue to ensnare presidential contenders – most notably that Trump is trying what Romney wouldn’t, to say he’s at once in favor of two diametrically opposed immigration policies. But woven in between first Obama’s and now Clinton’s inability to effectively harness the news cycles and first Romney’s and now Trump’s need to hold two positions at once, there’s an almost supernatural destabilizing element: the decided voter who un-decides.

To fully credit them, there’s most likely no singular bloc of voters who fit that description. Even from the same part of the political spectrum, the motivation for a particular de-decider will vary, and as a result their undeciding can arrive at any number of times. While this seemingly new phenomenon is in some ways a reflection of this race – between two major candidates with net negative popularity, and maybe popular to get buyer’s remorse from – it’s also a manifestation of alienation from the two parties themselves.

That dislike for the two major parties doesn’t precisely fall evenly, and so neither do the un-decided. Amid recent allegations of corruption and other non-ideological criticisms, Hillary Clinton is perhaps more vulnerable to losing support for appearing to embody some of the greatest flaws in the system more generally. For Trump, similar allegations might limit or even undo his support, but the perception of him as an electoral outsider might also soften the blow.

Perhaps more coherently than any other recent presidential election, this one has been predicated on ideas of candidates’ relative flaws. With both major candidates facing limited enthusiasm and low popularity, running against their opponent has played a much bigger and more universal role this year than previously.

One of the problems that strategy poses, however, is that some of your support won’t kick in until it looks like you might lose. On the level of this that we have reached this year, what’s more, some of your supporters won’t necessarily stick around once it looks like you will safely carry the election. Conscientious voting has been raised as an issue in both primaries and into the general election, priming voters to ask themselves that if they don’t absolutely need to make a lesser-of-two-evils choice, then why bother.

2016-09-07_0936(The Princeton Election Consortium’s national meta-margin and FiveThirtyEight’s national polling averages, both showing the “sine wave” fluctuations Nate Silver mentioned earlier in the same podcast.)

For Clinton, someone absorbing support from her left and her right on the basis of her not being Trump, this creates boom-bust cycles of her support, or as Nate Silver put it – sine waves across the electoral polling. Like last year, the two major parties have pretty much played each other into a Democratic-leaning stalemate on the national level.

What seems to be new this year is that the sea is choppy, not that we’re in a different boat. The real proof of this dynamic, of course, will be born out in whether Clinton recovers some of these supporters now that the race is tightening again. Until then, as Silver said, we haven’t yet seen a race where the number of undecided voters goes up… but there’s always a first time.

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The long shadow of the Panama Papers

For the last few days, world news has been abuzz about the world’s as of yet largest leak of private information, which are now being called the “Panama Papers.” Publicized by a German newspaper a year after being given them, the information is from a Panama-based investment firm specialized in offshore and otherwise tax evasive practices. Major names around the world have been listed as having engaged in hypocritical and at times criminal financial transactions designed typically to avoid paying the full tax cost owed to various countries and localities.

One of the central figures in the leak was Iceland’s former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who resigned on Sunday. Elected as a reformer who largely delivered on promises to turn Iceland’s economy back around, the revelation that he had profited from the financial reforms he oversaw through an undeclared and indirect investment essentially invalidated his political legitimacy.

2016-04-05_1414.pngCountries in which heads of state, high ranking public officials, or close associates have been named in the current leak.

Although uniquely duplicitous and corrupt, his place in the broader story of the Panama Papers actually speaks to a broader worry. His gains from Iceland’s economic restructuring weren’t just undisclosed, they were also untaxed. There’s a palpable failure of an Iceland-like series of new restrictions and standards on banks to address the ability of him and other Icelanders to strategically engage in capital flight. With Iceland facing warnings from international financial institutions over the costs of their response to the global crisis, this isn’t a trivial matter. It’s a shortfall in the millions if not billions globally, which in a political climate of widespread austerity has been felt worldwide by the classes who don’t have hidden bank accounts.

Outside of the Sanders-Clinton fight eating up US leftists’ attention, this is one of the system problems the “Warren Wing” has been hinting with growing volume. In the wake of anemic banking reforms, Elizabeth Warren’s individual focus has shifted somewhat towards addressing capital flight, even if just rhetorically. That’s just about the only ideological contingent in the US that can talk about this easily – for civil libertarians currently defending encryption this is an example of the public costs that high tech and high price secrecy can incur, for the more corporate friendly this only demonstrates the shady ethics of the economic order they defend, and for domestically-focused social democrat factions this represents the international scale of the problem which they often don’t acknowledge.

With a Democratic primary debate barely more than a week away, this is precisely the issue that both of them can and should be pressed on. Let’s see if CNN’s Wolf Blitzer brings it up.

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Genocide, Global Warming, and Garland

Dramatic announcements abounded this week, suggesting what issues to watch in the coming days.

Da’esh declared genocidal

On Monday, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure that declared that the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities in parts of Syria and Iraq occupied by the Islamic State was genocidal. Several Christian advocacy groups, with varying relationships with the region, have taken this as something of a political victory, although the ramifications remain unclear – genocide is a crime, and there now exists a complex set of international courts designed to evaluate allegations of it.

As one interesting essay published by the Centre for Research on Globalization on this issue noted-

Using the word can itself be a moral assertion, and with that assertion comes the requisite action.  At least this is the theory – words generate expectations and the need for a physical component. Designating a conflict as genocidal triggers a range of obligations, as implied by the Genocide Convention itself.  The lawyers have to be mobilised; the police and military arms of the state must be readied for capturing the offenders, and more importantly, the imperative to take humanitarian measures might involve the use of armed force.

In short, it is telling that the clearest stipulation in the measure is that political figures “should call ISIL atrocities by their rightful names: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.” When it comes to actually responding to the reality of the violence it only vaguely suggests that “member states of the United Nations should coordinate urgently on measures to prevent further war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Iraq and Syria.” The language seems to suggest that both peacekeeping and international court activity are possible as a response, but this is only one stop in a longer conversation about what the US and and should do in the region.

California’s starting to hint at a carbon-neutral economy to come

After years of negative predictions about the Californian economy and expectations that economic alternatives capable of mitigating climate change come from English cities with names like Grimsby, Mother Jones has taken an in depth look at the emerging carbon-neutral economy in the state:

The sun bears down almost every day, and as the valley floor heats up, it pulls air across the Tehachapi Mountains, driving the blades on towering wind turbines. For nearly eight years, money for renewable energy has been pouring in. About seven miles north of Solar Star, where sand-colored hills rise out of the desert, Spanish energy giant Iberdrola has built 126 wind turbines. French power company EDF has 330 turbines nestled in the same hills. Farther north, the Alta Wind Energy Center has an estimated 600 turbines. Together, these and other companies have spent more than $28 billion on land, equipment, and the thousands of workers needed to construct renewable-energy plants in Kern County. This new economy has created more than 1,300 permanent jobs in the region. It has also created a bonanza of more than $50 million in additional property taxes a year—about 11 percent of Kern County’s total tax haul. Lorelei Oviatt, the director of planning and community development, says, “This is money we never expected.”

What’s more, the things that made the Californian economy such a nice target of criticism were basically what made this possible:

“You need the coercive power of government,” he told the crowd. One of the reasons why California’s utilities already get so much of their power from renewables, he said, was because “they have no choice. The government said, ‘Do it, or you’re going to pay huge fines.'” Brown likes to upend the standard argument about government regulation gumming up innovation. To him, it’s the opposite: Regulations push businesses to try new things.

How about that? The full article warns that the state’s regulatory bodies anticipate setting even more ambitious goals for the next decades, which it remains to be seen if California can meet.

Garland’s shoe-in

A cavalcade of House Republicans have accidentally opened up that they might bother to confirm Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia. The catch is that they are willing to do that provided the Democratic nominee wins in the general election in November, accepting the more moderate and older Garland over a hypothetical younger radical. Garland’s nomination on March 16 would then wait until November 8 at the earliest for confirmation or rejection. That “best case” would weigh in at a 236 day wait – easily a record in US history.

2016-03-18_1458(The most recent nominations, from here.)

In fact, the only nomination to that office that was more than half that amount of time was Louis Brandeis’ which clocked in at 125 days. His was tied up in part because of his connection to many then radically progressive causes, exacerbated by the fact that, as one fellow Justice put it, “the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.”

Garland, since he is also Jewish, wouldn’t be a similar first for the court, and actually was selected as an alternative to one – Sri Srinivasan, who would have been the first Hindu nominee. Likewise, although comparatively liberal in contrast to the Justice he would replace, he is in no way intimately tied to today’s radical causes – his primary work has been in fairly normal prosecutor duties related to terrorism. Will Republicans really wait that long to make the choice they expect they’ll have to make anyway?

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Digesting the caucuses

It’s rather easy to get overwhelmed in terms of what exactly happened yesterday. The process itself is arcane and at times mind-boggling. Across the state of Iowa, thousands of party activists met at appointed locations and selected their choice of major party nominee for president in 2016. For Democrats, they basically shouted their way to dominance in those various schools, churches, and other public locations, with contingents remaining at the end of the process being proportionately awarded delegates. For Republicans, they for all intents and purposes held a primary vote, which selected delegates bound to vote proportionately for the candidates the average citizens voted for.

It’s hard to match last year’s wild ride in which the vote counts in eight precincts in the Republican caucuses simply went missing, but the story of a precinct decided one unclaimed delegate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton by a coin toss shows that dysfunction remains the true winner of every Iowa caucus. In the midst of all that chaos, it’s difficult to determine that, well, much of anything of meaning happened, let alone what it would be. Here’s a short list of what the tea leaves suggest to me though.

Clinton has to work for it… for now

What was initially announced on Monday as a statistical tie between Clinton and Sanders has largely been reinterpreted as an extremely narrow victory for Clinton. That suggests a tight race heading into New Hampshire, where Sanders rightly expects to have something like a home court advantage. A combination of racial demographics, an intensifying class consciousness in the electorate, and local familiarity are going to make this a particularly close and contestable competition in these two states.

Before the Sanders campaign gets too excited, however, that’s not how things are likely to continue after those two states. He’s made some particularly cavalier statements that are likely to alienate voters politically aware of racial inequality or immigration policies. In late February, Nevada will hold a closed caucus, and following that the map of Democratic primaries and caucuses moves to the South, which for Democrats means a decidedly less White voting electorate. If Clinton can effectively articulate the discomfort some people of color have with the racial dimensions of Sanders’ policies and rhetoric, the race won’t stay quite as up in the air.

Rubio wins… the consolation prize

Marco Rubio was widely hailed as the “winner” of the Republican caucuses, considering that Donald Trump underperformed the expectations that he might eclipse Ted Cruz and that Ted Cruz was the favorite to win in any case. Rubio nearly reaching the same levels as Trump indicates that at least in some contexts the largely “tuned out” voters Trump has attracted to the caucuses can end up being about equal to the “establishment” minded voters. The real surprise here, assuming this dynamic holds in later states, is that the conflict within the Republican Party between those factions is not about a wealthy minority and the mass of voters, but about equally-sized blocks of people who show up at the polls.

The real win that Rubio has pulled off is that he bested Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and other similar candidates at representing the “establishment”. There are structural advantages in the primary to appealing to that part of the Republican electorate, but it’s not clear that that will be enough to rocket Rubio’s support out of third place.

Not establishment, not grassroots, not insurgent… so what exactly is Cruz?

With Rubio and Trump each pulling in just over a fifth of the vote, that leaves Cruz with a lion’s share that’s contrasted with both an establishment-aligned bloc and a disaffected and mad as hell insurgency. Ted Cruz’s muddled place between those two camps has probably been the least acknowledged strength in the Republican primary campaign.

(Weighted Iowa Republican Caucus returns: Ted Cruz in yellow has support throughout the state, Donald Trump in purple dominates in the more conservative southwestern corner of the state, and Marco Rubio in green dominated in outlying suburbs of the largest cities. From here.)

He has the bona fides, visibility, and authority of the typical establishment candidate like Rubio – he’s not going to make Trump-style blunders about the nuclear triad or commit to unfeasible revenge fantasies as policy proposals. He also has the ability to talk about policies and politics in the language average people attracted to extremism want to hear – something that Rubio at times struggles with.

If anyone can keep the fragile union of social conservatives and imperialist libertarians together in the Republican Party, it’s him. That’s a daunting task for anyone, however, especially one whose birth location is in conflict with some of the most extremist rhetoric at the heart of the anti-Obama politics that have come to define the Republican Party.

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Party or movement, political seats or policy wins

A sinus infection has slowed me down for the past couple days, so I haven’t been writing as much as I would like on here. Let me jump back into the fray with a look at the bizarrely two-minded Democratic assessment of how well they did in the elections earlier this month. I dove into that discussion earlier myself, noting that while the Democrats lost a number of elections that weren’t unquestionably outside their grasp (the Kentucky governorship namely, but also the Virginia state legislature), the main changes were either in their favor or largely non-partisan. What stuck out to me were the ballot initiatives in Houston and Ohio which passed, as well as the Democratic wins in Pennsylvania which if nothing else tempered their losses elsewhere that night.

The Progressive Turnout Project, however, wanted to focus on what they saw as a recurring pattern in Democratic defeats. They sent out a promotional email after the election describing some key “huge losses”:

2015-11-10_1746Let’s take those one at a time.

In 2011, Kentucky did pick a Democratic gubernatorial candidate over a Republican one, to the tune of 464,245 Democratic votes altogether. That only slid down to 426,944 votes in 2015, however, not really an appreciable shift considering the 2011 Democratic candidate was an incumbent who was able to originally eke his way into office when the sitting Republican governor came under fire for corruption. 2011 may very well have been a high water mark for Democrats in Kentucky, even if it was nationally more of a low point.

It’s additionally worth noting that that Republican vote was probably more hampered than the Democratic one by an independent campaign in 2011 by libertarian Gatewood Galbraith. Although markedly pro-marijuana, he is perhaps most overt in his policy recommendations when it comes to the New Deal and related social programs which he argues dislodged the agrarian nature of the US and imposed an unethical, industrial-minded political order. In an off-year election with over 100,000 fewer votes cast than in the more recent one, he probably siphoned more support from the Republican than the Democrat.

The Virginia General Assembly, meanwhile, is a continuing exercise in gerrymandering. Others have better described the lengthy history of Virginia’s local legislature as a body representing the state internally divided in a radically unrepresentative way. As in, 8:3 ratio of seated state legislators with Democrats in aggregate receiving more votes statewide. Since the redistricting that went into effect in 2011, the Virginia State Senate, previously the only major body or position in the state held (narrowly) by Democrats, has gone ever so slightly to the Republicans. The maintenance of the two-vote majority for Republicans isn’t some sort of baffling and unexpected phenomenon. Regrettable? Sure. Avoidable? Perhaps. Completely within Democrats’ power to chip away at? Not necessarily. Something to expect to work itself out? Not in the slightest.

Lastly, the idea that Mississippi in an off year was going to elect a Democrat, well, stranger things have indeed happened, but that this was an unexpected loss, only possible with low turnout, speaks to a Democrat confidence that maybe is misplaced. Yes, Democratic-leaning voters are less likely to show up at the polls because of structural inequalities – they are less likely to own cars to drive to them, they are less likely to have media alert them about the election, they are even less likely to even have Democratic candidates to vote for. But there’s also the messaging game. Are Democrats making a compelling case to voters who might be persuaded in either direction? While many national elections indicate that that’s the case, they don’t speak to the increasing presence of candidates like Gatewood Galbraith (or other independent or third party candidates, or even Blue Dogs) as the alternative to Republicans in many corners of the United States. Democrats may very well have simply lost Mississippi.

Former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean struck a more nuanced version of the same chord as the Progressive Turnout Project. He admitted that “You have to have resources in the state parties, you have to have organizations in the state parties. Even places you don’t think we can win, because if you don’t do that we’re never going to win those states.” Implicit within that statement is that spreading resources and candidates out into less certain districts will indeed lead to losses, but even also a certain number of wins. That resignation to some inevitable losses didn’t stop Dean from bemoaning that “the thing that kills me about Kentucky is 460,000 people will lose insurance because they didn’t go out and vote”. The core of his argument is the same as the Progressive Turnout Project’s – that this is about either Republican structural advantages and either apathetic or misguided voters, rather than Democratic failures (inevitable or not).

Working Families, a pseudo-third party organized mainly in the broader New York City area, vocally disagreed in their post-election analysis-meets-donation-drive:

2015-11-10_1849A polarizing situation seems to have emerged here, where particularly non-partisan elections (mostly on ballot initiatives) have galvanized Democratic-leaning voters, even as the Party’s political fortunes have declined. Enmeshed in a political system that, as some Democrats have pointed out, is largely opposed to them and their policy goals, this makes apparent the status of the Democratic Party as political party hanging in air. What’s more important to it – partisan victories or policy victories? Most of the time the two go hand-in-hand, but in this past election, they each took a step sideways and showed they can diverge paths.

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The local electoral grab bag

If you switched on the television this morning you probably saw some reporting on the results of the battery of local elections held yesterday. At least in my neck of the media woods, there’s a pretty narrow focus within that – on the Democratic loss of the Kentucky governorship to a Republican.

That story has everything. There’s the glacial pace of party realignment, with the South steadily converting from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican even at the state-level. Entangled with that is the convoluted history of Kentucky itself, the famously neutral state in the Civil War. If you want to say or write something that, instead of being deeply historied, makes this a dramatic reversal there’s something to draw on there as well – as the predictions remarkably reversed at more or less the last minute. Suddenly, Republican Matt Bevin overtook Democrat Jack Conway in what was ultimately revealed to not be a fluke poll but an accurate prediction. That race and its results are rich in narratives and national meaning.

Let’s look a little more broadly though. Here’s some interesting things that happened last night that are going a little under-noticed compared to that one race.

Ohioan Redistricting: don’t hold your breath

Ohio voters roundly supported Issue 1, giving it 71 percent support at the ballot box. The proposition overhauls Ohio’s districting system for its state legislature, which arguably has served as the gerrymandering model for Republicans around the country. In spite of a very narrow preference for Democratic candidates as an entire state, the internal boundaries have been carefully drawn (some argue for more than two decades) to pack Democratic-leaning areas into a few districts, allowing Republicans to be numerically over-represented in the state legislature. Issue 1 is designed to encourage less partisan district maps by forcing the panel that creates the maps to have more members of both major parties and to require more frequent votes to maps passed without support from both parties.

Many aren’t particularly impressed with the new system this sets up, however. Arguably many of the current Democratic representatives have a personal investment in the broken system, since the Democratic “sink” districts are incredibly safe seats for them to hold. Only one of them needs to accept a Republican-biased proposal to make the results “bipartisan” defeating the whole point of the measure. Besides that, even if the Democrats remain firm, the Republicans can arguably retain the existing map or a similarly favorable one with the more regular votes indefinitely. Either way, we’re back to square one with a gerrymandered Ohioan legislature.

Stephen Wolf at DailyKos noted that the fundamental problem here is party involvement. Increasing the diversity of party involvement in planning these maps isn’t really a solution. He pointed instead to Arizona as a model for dismantling a gerrymandered map, saying:

The biggest risk with this proposed commission is that it will destroy any appetite for further redistricting reform among Democrats and reform-minded independent organizations, just as flawed redistricting reform measures have done in other states. At best, it might just induce reformers to include Congress under the same bipartisan process as the legislature, leading to maps that, while not as aggressive as the current Republican gerrymander, would still have a clear rightward lean.

A far more ideal solution is to establish a truly independent redistricting commission free of self-interested political officeholders. Arizona did this very thing, producing a commission reformers regarded highly. After a crucial United States Supreme Court ruling validated establishing redistricting commissions by initiative, there has been a renewed push for similar reforms in other ballot measure states. It’s quite possible that renewed independent reform efforts spurred Republicans’ desire in Ohio to block a more aggressive future reform by agreeing to Issue 1 now.

The next few years will show if Ohioans can capitalize on these changes. Maybe this can be the start of a more systemic reform, but if commentators like Wolf are to be believed, that’s not likely.

Pennsylvania Swept, Republicans Wept

Amid the decline of the Democratic Party in Kentucky, there’s some bright news from the other end of northern Appalachia. Pennsylvania has been swept in an off-year election by Democrats. The bulk of the positions up for election were judicial, which in Pennsylvania have as of late been held by Republicans, and been a key part of the Republican policy control in the left-leaning state. Yesterday, for the first time since 2007, Pennsylvania voters elected a Democratic candidate to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (more or less an appellate state court), and likewise changed their state Supreme Court into a majority Democrat body.

While those were statewide elections that indicate the political temperature of Pennsylvania is shifting bluer, the mayoral election in Philadelphia indicates how the already Democratic-leaning portions of the state are moving. The Republican candidate, Melissa Bailey, lost to Democrat James Kenney by a 72 point margin. You read that right – the Democratic candidate got 85 percent of the vote to the Republican’s thirteen.

Others have previously pointed out that Republicans tend to regularly sink resources into fights they can’t win in Pennsylvania, but this indicates how out-of-reach the state has really become for their party. The state as a whole is becoming harder to win in the local, off-year elections that are supposed to be Republicans’ high water mark, and they’re barely a second party in some parts of the state. Pennsylvania may be becoming the Atlantic California.

Houston: The Arc of Justice… can double back

Trigger warning: transmisogyny, heterosexism, cissexism

There’s been some national attention on the election in Houston which changed the city policy on discrimination against LGBT people, but my impression is frankly that it’s being mischaracterized. For instance, here’s how the Texas Tribune explained the vote in one of the most widely circulated pieces on the issue:

Houston voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected an ordinance that would have established protections from discrimination for gay and transgender residents and several other classes. With 95 percent of votes counted, 61 percent of voters opposed the measure. The embattled ordinance, better known as HERO, would have made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on 15 different “protected characteristics,” including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The article, to its credit, does correctly go on to describe the deeply transmisogynistic rhetoric that was successfully used to create a public rejection of the ordinance. It also ultimately notes briefly that the ordinance was already in place following a 2014 vote by city officials, a bit of a different situation than implied to exist in the above description. This wasn’t legal protections and rights for LGBT people (among others) not be extended, it was them being rescinded. Combined with the on-going insult that particularly the rights and recognition of LGBT people is something to be put to a plebiscite, this flies in the face of many triumphalist narratives being pushed currently about LGBT rights.

The nation’s fourth largest city just rolled back the rights of LGBT people, and particularly indicated that transgender women can’t feel safe in public in it. This echoes some of the most painful parts of the now closing fight for marriage equality that many seem to want to forget today. Marriages were nullified. The availability of marriage was revoked. Among other important things obscured in the hazy glow of Obergefell is this: things can move backwards. Rights awarded are rights that can be withdrawn.

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Reagan Democrat yesterday, independent tomorrow

Trigger warning: racism

Earlier today, sitting West Virginia Senator Jim Webb announced that he’s wrapping up his candidacy to be the Democratic Party nominee for president in 2016. His official campaign announcement underscores that he will remain politically active and for the time being continue to run for president. His website still requests visitors for donations, claiming that with “enough financial support to conduct a first-class campaign, there is no doubt that we can put the issues squarely before the American people and gain their support.” That certainly implies that he is seeking the funds to run a write-in or third party campaign. With that potentially pulling Democratic voters away from the Party’s nominee, you might wonder why the Democratic Senate is weakening his own Party’s chances in the general election. As a kicker to his announced withdrawal, he has stated that he is unsure he will remain a registered Democrat.

As he lays out in his statement, the most overt case made for his candidacy is essentially that as a Reagan administration official turned Democratic Senator (turned independent?) he would be able to transcend partisanship. The fundamental assumption baked into his politics is that partisan hostilities are driving polarization in politics. Divergent ideas about who we are and how we should organize this country are, in this view, irrelevant. The singular way he speaks of gaining support from “the American people” suggests he may not even consider that a facet of the modern US. While his call for bipartisan comity will likely inspire some, they’re attractive to most voters as an end goal, not a means of governance. The surging popularity of more combative candidates – from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump – demonstrates that large numbers of voters want some sort of a conflict between the parties. For many, it seems, they envision a war to secure the peace that Webb describes.

When it comes to his party affiliation, the Senator’s comments in the recent Democratic debate linger around the edges of his withdrawn candidacy. His in-person and textual versions of the announcement both declared that he felt that the Democratic primary is more or less rigged, mainly to the advantage of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He was vague, however, as to what differences drove support towards her and made him “not compatible with the power structure and the nominating base of the Democratic Party.” The image that draws up for many are the shadowy party figures, which for both major parties are largely wealthy White donors. In light of his debate performance, during which Webb insisted that race was not a determining factor for who had “no voice in the corridors of power,” it seems that Webb may in fact be implying that his racially-charged policy perspectives are what he sees as disqualifying. That explains his hostility not only to a Democratic donor class he views as never having given him a shot, but also what he called the Party’s “nominating base” – by which he seems to mean the voters of color and perhaps White voters too who refused to support someone with his perspectives on those issues.

When he spoke during the debate so dismissively of the many ways that race has contributed to limiting or denying people access to the political process, I tweeted:

Webb’s inconsistent relationship with both the Democratic and Republican parties are admittedly a bit different than the standard Dixiecrat history, but he serves as a sort of example for how those politics have fallen out of the Democratic fold. (What’s more, he seems quite comfortable adopting historical talking points of the Dixiecrat movement.) Once central to that Party’s coalition, what he obliquely refers to as its “traditional message” is no longer a key part of it. “I wish that I could see it” return or remain central, he said today, while noting that he might no longer identify as a Democrat.

The fear, which Webb himself helps spread, is that redistribution of power along racial lines will eclipse a more general redistribution of wealth and power. At its core, his understanding of this society seems fixed around the belief that race has never categorically shaped groups’ ability to politically engage. As a result, anti-racism is not a welcome addition to anti-poverty politics but a distraction from them. After his debate insistence on the irrelevance of race, he made his case that true disenfranchisement was actually felt by the “struggling whites like the families in the Appalachian mountains”. One implication that raises is that supposedly entirely empowered people of color have too much power within the Democratic Party and are shaping policy in a way specifically leaving some White people in poverty. To be frank, this makes no sense as a point made on a stage with, worryingly, only White candidates. What’s more, a few podiums away, Bernie Sanders offers both more substantive anti-poverty politics and at least some recognition of the ways race continues to devalue and deprive entire communities.

In short, the primary consistency in these politics is the sleight of hand. We have to subordinate anti-racism to White supremacist anti-poverty politics, because of a fear with literally no factual basis. We have to abandon advancing party-specific policies in favor of a post-partisan utopia that we simply will wish into existence. For a candidate who seems genuinely unhappy that no one flocked to his camp, he doesn’t seem to know how to offer people something that isn’t snake oil. Perhaps this is taking the metaphor too far, but that would explain why Webb has had to shed his skin and transform first from Reaganite to anti-Bush Democrat and seemingly now into an independent.

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2016: the mixed bag

As I mentioned yesterday, enacting significant reform on a laundry list of issues is something that the Democratic Party by its very nature is going to have trouble doing. At an absolute minimum, it’s something they will need to do at the least by controlling three national centers of power: the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House. With that in mind, many of the vague predictions you can make this early about how the major parties will do in the coming 2016 election have found reason for the Democrats to celebrate. Rachel Maddow, admittedly an often optimistic voice, noted that as a presidential election year turnout will likely be higher, favoring the Democrats in down ticket races. What’s more, elections in the Senate are built around six-year terms, so a number of the seats that Republicans have to defend within that body will be freshmen elected in the unusually Republican-favoring midterms in 2010.

Here’s a bit of a rundown of why in spite of that Democrats shouldn’t rest on their laurels, so to speak, and need to be extremely organized if they want the chance to do something more than the waiting game that the Obama presidency has unfortunately become.

What goes around comes around

The rhythms to Senate elections do favor the Democrats in the coming election in a way that they largely haven’t in other recent elections. In 2014, they had to maintain the seats they won in 2008 which coincided with high turnout for even a presidential election year, but during a midterm and with that sort of a turnout. In 2012, the Democrats were largely defending their unusual gains from the 2006 midterms. In 2010, they saw one of the most quintessentially midterm-esque elections in modern US politics. 2008 is in many ways the closest model to what might happen in 2016.

That year was a reelection year for the class of Senators who had benefited from in the shellacking the Democrats took in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Six years later, they faced a broad rejection of the Republican military, economic, and political policy planks. All their strengths had become weaknesses which the Democrats could and did use against them. With growing interest in a proactive economic populism and lingering distaste for Republican military policy, Republican senators elected in 2010 might prove similarly vulnerable in 2016.

That said, these six year patterns are just that – patterns. 2016 might usher in a new class of Democrats but within a scant two years it will be the Democratic members elected in 2012 that will be vulnerable in yet another midterm election with most likely the lower turnout that favors Republicans. Maybe 2018 won’t be 2010, but that’s a risk that the Democrats are going to have to consider when working with whatever they can get after the coming election. Any majority or plurality they can get in the Senate comes with a ticking clock.

The game is rigged

What’s more, it’s not clear what numerically the Democrats could get in the Senate. They current sit at 44 seats, with ten of those seats up for election. The majority of those will be in both relatively uncontested general elections for the Democrats and with sitting incumbents – a solid six of the ten. California will be an odd one out in that the general election is highly likely to go to the Democrats, but they will be paying special attention to the fielding of a new candidate to replace the retiring Barbara Boxer. On the other hand, Colorado will probably be a hard fight, but one with a sitting Democratic incumbent, Michael Bennet. Since he previously pulled off a narrow victory in 2010, it will likely be harder for the Republicans to unseat him than many might think. Nevada and Maryland will see their sitting Democratic Senators replaced, although given that it is a presidential election year, the Democrats have reason to be optimistic about both those elections as well.

That’s all good news, but it still only leaves them with back where they started, with 44 seats. There’s other reasons to be optimistic, as the sitting Republicans in much of the Midwest (particularly Illinois) have made a number of blunders that the Democrats will likely be able to exploit. That said, the Senate is inherently biased towards Republicans given the way it allots representation, the way modern US’s population is distributed, and the way political parties have targeted different groups. By design, the Senate divvies out representation by state, awarding lower population states with equal representation to more populous ones. The US has steadily become a more urban nation, as a growing portion of the population lives in metropolitan areas in just a handful of states. Meanwhile, the Republican party has increasingly become the party of rural voters and the Democrats the party of urban voters, for a number of reasons.

pop density dem gopFrom here.

Independent of that, whichever party has received the most voters for their Senatorial candidates nationally tends to win upwards of sixty percent of the available seats. But, because of those effects, those wins aren’t rewarded equally. The Republican Party in 2010 received a plurality, not an outright majority, of votes for Senate candidates and still received that lion’s share of the available seats. In 2014, the Republicans also pulled in the most votes, and that time with an actual majority of votes cast for that type of candidate. Still, it was a smaller lead than the Democrats had in 2008, and yet they received more seats. With the country’s population tightly concentrated in a few urban areas, geographically larger rural areas hold disproportionate political power.

This is a small but consistent force in the Senate. If Democrats in 2008 had received even an equal proportion of seats as Republicans did in 2014 for a smaller lead in overall electoral returns, they would have gained 15 not 12 seats. That would have securely landed them above the sixty vote filibuster threshhold. The dramatics necessary to appease independent Joe Lieberman wouldn’t have been necessary, the death of Senator Ted Kennedy in office wouldn’t have had quite the same national implications, and the demands of centrist Democrats would have been mitigated. The structure of the Senate works against Democrats in general, particularly as it comes to acting on their returns.

Just end the filibuster, then the Democrats will have a usable majority!


More seriously, the filibuster is something that the Democratic leadership has previously made it quite clear that they’re unwilling to part with. That’s because the pendulum of Senate elections always swings back, making it an annoyance when you’re the majority but a valuable bulwark when you’re the minority. Because of how Republicans stand to benefit more easily from favorable years, the Democrats are especially reluctant to part with the filibuster. As I noted yesterday, the Democrats are a political party, and not one of the few ones that are necessarily committed to radically transforming the political reality of the country they live in (and even those are often hesitant to do certain reforms). The filibuster has evolved out of different procedural elements to the system that the Democrats quite obviously work within. It’s a part of them and they are a part of it, so they’re not terribly likely to dismantle it.

That said, maybe this time will be different. The Democrats are facing a small but persistent challenge from parts of their base to get certain things through the Senate. They have 41 basically guaranteed seats, three that they are likely to retain, two or three they are likely to gain this year, and another two or three they might just pull off under the right circumstances. That leaves them with at most around 50 seats. Assuming they keep the White House (which is probable), that would give them a voting majority in the Senate, but not one that’s filibuster proof. Maybe that would change things.

So we’ll see if they can decide to brave the possible storms in 2018 and 2022 in order to do something in 2017. A likely outcome, however, is that the Democrats look at their probably slim gains and play it safe and keep the filibuster on for the time being. They might not even make it over the finish line to a filibuster-able majority for that matter, in which case the filibuster would still be a lifeline for them in a Republican-majority Senate.

What about the House then, the People’s Chamber?

The lower congressional house is in many ways a body that is less wired for the type of political party the Republicans have mutated into. You can’t win a fraction of the votes in a largely rural area that another person did in a vastly more diverse state and yet have the same administrative and political power. Everyone has more or less the same number of constituents (710,767 as of 2010 redistricting) and differences in power are largely created by either individual ability or the privileges divided up among those in the ruling, majority party. What’s more, all representatives are up for election every year on a two-year cycle, leaving none of the electoral wave patterns built into the Senate.

Here’s the problem for the Democrats though: the House is horrifyingly gerrymandered. Others have crunched the state-specific numbers, but on a national scale, the 2012 House Elections showed the power inherent in choosing the congressional districts’ boundaries. Collectively, the Democrats had a 1.30% lead in aggregate election returns, which translated into a 7.49% lead in sitting representatives for Republicans. Since 2008 that is the only national election in either the House or the Senate where the cumulative party winner was mismatched with which representatives were seated. What 2016 is going to show is whether that was a fluke or the new normal.

The boundaries drawn after the 2010 census were largely done at the state level by Republicans elected in that unusual year, and according to procedural norms they’ll be with us until the next census in 2020. The 2012 House elections are precisely the circumstances in which a new trend would become visible that otherwise would blend into the background. At the Senate level, lower turnout and the structural advantages to rurally based parties disguise the effects. In midterm election years, a similar effect happens in the House, obscuring the level of gerrymandering. 2012 might just have demonstrated what Democrats need to expect for the coming years – a protracted battle for a representational majority even with a clear (if sometimes small) majority of votes. The Republican House is probably here to stay for a long time.

So there’s no hope?

The issue here is not that the Democrats have no meaningful opportunities in this election and other upcoming ones. The point is that if the Democrats want to actual use electoral power to create and change policies and otherwise alter the political realities in this country, they have to take the opportunities they have for that. As I’ve mentioned before that goes against the very nature of their party as an organization, and anyone watching has seen that dynamic play out in the recent years.

Recently, there was a decision made to retain the filibuster because they expected to ultimately fall victim to it. There was poor multitasking on issues in the narrow window between 2008 and 2010. There has been little effort to directly confront the gerrymandered situation besides a vague sense of waiting it out. In short, they have chosen to pass up momentary opportunities off of the belief that doing so would guarantee other brief chances available later on. It’s a strategy that stores up moments for later use and at least so far never cashes them out.

The question everyone from everyday registered Democrats to sitting elected party officials need to ask before the adrenaline rush next November is if that strategy makes sense. If it doesn’t, what can they be mindful of needing to do before it’s once again too late?

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What good does it do?

Rhetorically, there were a number of moments in last night’s debate that seem to have captured parts of the liberal imagination. Hillary Clinton appealed to a basic right to bodily autonomy and to make that right accessible with support for Planned Parenthood and related medical providers. Bernie Sanders unequivocally declared that Black Lives Matter. Martin O’Malley almost captured something similar by stating that bigotry had no room in the Democratic Party, but Jim Webb’s own comments throughout the night called that belief in such a categorical progressiveness into question. Even in that case, Webb’s presence highlighted his out-of-place status in the broader Democratic Party. As Jamelle Bouie put it:

In short, Webb being there only underscored the stated commitments to addressing racial, gendered, and other inequalities. There aren’t really any Dixiecrats anymore. This is what the Democratic Party has become.

So with a tight field of candidates largely competing to be a presidential nominee who could advance that sort of US self image at the highest level in the country, what’s not to love? The Democratic Party has won the popular vote five out of six times in the most recent elections (which translated into four uncontested wins). The Reagan Revolution seems to have been more of a momentary happenstance of White Flight from the Democratic Party that could make the White House an insurmountable Republican fortress.

While White people continue to be a majority of residents of the US, and disproportionately represented in electoral registration and participation, enough didn’t flee the Democratic Party that they and a growing number of voters of color can be a surprisingly effective electoral coalition. It’s tempered by all of the problems inherent in national coalitions – it’s slow-moving, continually renegotiated, and subject to limited radical action – yet it can at least promise to get a lot done and seemingly mean it.

Part of the implied problem there is that there are limits to what any political party can do. Almost by definition, they operate within a standard political process. The closest thing to an alternative are parties like Sinn Féin or historically India’s Congress Party, which are political branches of counter-state forces. The Democratic Party’s origins are rather different from that sort of an organization, and the type of imperial conditions that encourage those types of political parties haven’t existed in the US for several centuries. In the absence of that, a mainstream, gradualist policy-tinkering has become the order of the day.

Even that however is difficult for Democrats to enact on a national scale as the brief window in 2009-2011 showed. As a Party, they held the presidency and majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Healthcare reform debates choked out almost every other reform issue, leaving us with the current situation in which many hallmarks of the Bush era linger – most obviously widespread warfare, indefinite detention centers, and mass surveillance. Deportation actions increased, Guantánamo remains open, and we’re using drones more than ever. Weren’t the Democrats interested in ending all of that? Weren’t there great flowery statements in debates and elsewhere on the campaign trail against those exact things?

There’s a number of other, less intractable factors that could be blamed for that, from fickle Blue Dogs to Filibuster-enabling Joe Lieberman. As much as the Democrats can’t deliver on everything because of the political and electoral system they must work within, there’s also a question of what they can do with a presidency dependent on how well they do in Congress and the states. Tomorrow and later this week I’ll take a look at the prospects of the Democratic Party in down ticket races and what they could potentially make of 2016.

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Police unions or Black lives: what kind of Democratic Party will this be?

Trigger warning: anti-Black racism, police violence, gun violence mention

Tonight’s Democratic Presidential Primary debate, which I’ll be liveblogging here, is an opportunity for observation. The three major candidates – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sitting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley – have all had various reactions and responses to the many different populist and grassroots political demands made in both the general electorate and within the Democratic Party itself over the past couple of years. While they discuss those and other issues on stage next to each other, something of a contest is unofficially being held, to see what ideas “win” the debate, in terms of both being highly visible and being effectively asserted.

With all three of those candidates having at least once put their foot in their mouth on the current popular discussion around anti-Black racism and police violence, one thing being measured tonight is whether (and if so, how) will they pick apart the increasingly elaborate falsehoods surrounding the police forces in the US as both worryingly vulnerable. The past several months have seen a prominent return of forms of violence sadly familiar to Black communities in this country, with the killings of among others Sandra Bland in police custody.

That violence cuts to the core of the modern Democratic Party, which arguably arose out of Fannie Lou Hamer’s demand for civil rights and political agency at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She recounted a part of her personal history – from facing housing and employment discrimination for attempting to register to vote to its ultimate conclusion of her being violently beaten in a jail cell for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time while Black. Her experiences were sadly typical for her time and have continued into the modern day with deaths like Bland’s. The modern Democratic Party has been profoundly shaped by her testimony, so it is key to ask tonight how each of those candidates carry forward the lessons she asked the people in this country to learn.

Police force members and others aligned with them have sought to obscure that reality, that those specific forms of violence are an on-going problem. Recently, a blatant misinformation campaign of sorts has been launched – misrepresenting the risks of police work and decrying that the police are under excessive surveillance on the job. The numbers are publicly accessible, however, and paint a different picture of slowly but steadily declining non-accidental deaths for officers who are on the job (2003 and 2008 were the only Bush era years with fewer than 50 gunfire deaths, while only 2010 and 2011 have had more than 50 gunfire deaths during the Obama era). The talk surrounding increasing oversight on police conduct has been born out of incidental recordings – sometimes those used to observe other people who are on the job – finding astounding discrepancies between police eyewitness and video testimony.

blm caravan Los AngelesA sign from a Los Angeles #BlackLivesMatter affiliated protest on October 10, from here.

Since Fannie Lou Hamer’s challenge to the Democratic Party, it has become increasingly common outside of Black communities to associate the police and their political pressures with the Republican Party. That’s a mistake, as they are a unionized portion of the public sector workforce. Like most such groups, they do skew towards the Democrats – and donation records (available only in aggregate between police and firefighter groups) show virtually all of their top recipients being Democratic Party members. With the Republican Party making an effort to show that those two unionized groups won’t face the same degree and forms of hostility under their governance as other public sector unions and a large chunk of Democrat-leaning constituencies increasingly critical of the broader system of policing in this country, that is threatening to change. If Democratic candidates want to maintain their edge with that specific type of union, they will likely have to signal their investment in the existing police force tonight. Police force members and organizers will be tuning in and want to see the Democratic candidates side with them over their critics.

In many politically-minded disciplines, it’s increasingly common to find people discussing power as at least in part the ability “to define reality” in the sense of psychologically organizing and labeling the complex world we all share. People with power – which can mean anything from people simply with certain communal or personal identities that are privileged as well as individually empowered people, like major presidential contenders – play a key role in declaring what is real. What the candidates tonight have is inherently a moment in which they have to pick a side in a contest for policy control in the Democratic Party and make it clear how they see the world (and in the process, influence how people like you and me can respond to their rhetoric and their policies). Tonight we will see what choices they make, among other things in terms of embracing, ignoring, or rejecting false ideas that some people are desperate to popularize about the police.

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No Third Party Needed

With current Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s announcement this morning that he will resign by the end of October of this year, the US has come to the close of an era. Fittingly, while Boehner’s initial plan was simply not to seek reelection and leave at the end of his current term, the perpetual upheaval within the Republican caucus has prompted him to step down not only from his leadership position within it but as a member of congress in any capacity.

Initially swept into his current prominence by the 2010 election and perceived as a staunch conservative, his inability to usher in the type of policy prescriptions expected of him alienated him from a large portion of his own party. Even as he settled more comfortably into a more “moderate” wing, his rule remained anemic. Its end isn’t all that surprising given past contentions over whether Republicans, mostly motivated by conservative ideals, should support his continued leadership.

To a certain degree this is the fruition of those prior conflicts, with one of the comparatively less extreme members of the Republican Party picking up his ball and going home. The inevitable question is who will replace him, but a key consideration seems to be missing from the public conversation. Boehner in part rode off of momentum as the person already in the job during his reelection as Speaker. While some Republicans presented ideological challenges either to his decisions or for his position, few strategically sought to replace him because his place wasn’t all that enviable.

Crafting a consensus between increasingly hostile portions of the same political part is not only difficult but had seemingly become entirely unrewarding under Boehner’s watch. The most level-headed assessments of who could replace Boehner implicitly recognize that and ask who could best mobilize off of already having that type of role in Congress to be an acceptable if not terribly desirable Speaker for a majority of representatives. In short, who can reproduce Boehner’s careful triangulation between extremist roots, moderate palatability, and party procedural inevitability.

Maybe the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House of Representatives will return to their historical norm of reaching stable their own stable consensus on their nominee for Speaker before the official vote, allowing the current Republican majority to prevail without whomever they pick. Potentially, even if that fails, a similar outcome to the last vote on Speaker could happen where an acceptable candidate can be found in spite of shifting certainties in their suitability – most likely a resigned selection of current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

That said, with the more internally stable Democratic Party gerrymandered into a permanent minority and the Republican Party only increasing in internal divisions if Boehner’s departure is any indication, it’s unclear who could actually fashion a majority in the House – and that would paralyze the body. It can only proceed to voting on any other issue after the selection of a new Speaker whenever a new one is needed. Within the US’s pseudo-parliamentary system, this is the closest equivalent to a hung parliament.

The US has weathered this sort of dysfunction before, namely immediately proceeding the Civil War when between Republicans, Democrats, and various other factions, no single party held a majority in the House. Similar conditions cropped up briefly in the early twentieth century when either the Progressive or Farmer-Labor parties held crucial votes needed by either the Republicans or Democrats for form a majority. In all of those cases political divisions within the US had already led to the development of a three-party system. At least on the surface, that’s not the current case.

The modern hostility to third parties (for, among other things, creating those types of problems) has prevented that sort of dissolution of the Republican Party into overtly competing factions. Instead, two increasingly diametrically opposed groups have taken their contest for power into their primaries and struggled to work with a divided assortment of elected officials among those who clear the general elections. As a result, the US may soon see the level of administrative dysfunction associated with having three parties, but none of the open discussion of issues that division typically prompts with the competition hidden for the most part in local elections and primaries.

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The spectacle should be a scandal

One thing that’s become clear in the past few days is how effectively the Republican Party manages its image, in comparison to the Democrats. Just earlier today, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a quick response to his meeting with various political leaders in Washington as the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) gave their own remarks. Boehner’s words rolled off his tongue from sentence to sentence with an ease that’s only possible to interpret as a prepared speech. It had nothing to do with their meeting, admittedly, since it recast the entire shut down in unusual terms (that is, as the Democrats’ fault for not repealing obamacare and otherwise supporting Republican policy). In contrast, while Pelosi and Reid were quick witted and explained their alternative perspective well, it wasn’t a prepared speech.

That difference is admittedly not the most important thing to pick up on today, with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stating that they can’t implement their seasonal flu vaccine, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) being unable to even start responding to the massive oil spill within the Colorado floods and mudslides, and the nutritional supplements for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) having only twelve more days of funding to keep food on some households’ tables. That said, it’s a revealing microcosm of the shutdown as a whole: Democrats are talking about what’s happening, while Republicans are stuck in an abstract soup of political philosophy and self advertisement.

(Republican congressman assisting veterans enter the WWII memorial that they voted to close, from here.)

Another flashpoint of that same crash between the truth and the GOP spectacle was the forced entry to the WWII memorial by veterans of that war accompanied by Republican congressman who had voted in place the barriers that they helped veterans move around. The truth is that they’re selectively responding to the fallout of the crisis they helped create, but the image is one of nationalist sentiment and the values Republicans tell themselves they have.

Did we finally hit a place where the Republican vision of the world and themselves is so disastrously at odds with what’s happening that it begins to cave in? Or can Boehner and others rehearse speeches nice enough and create photo ops stirring enough that they can reject reality and substitute their own?

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Shutting down

From 9 pm to 9:30 pm Eastern Time, today (September 30, 2013) Chris Hayes will be taking questions on Facebook. I’ll be posting a few if you’re interested. This will be updated based on his responses.

So, in case you haven’t already heard, the government is shutting down, and I’m skeptical about the possibility that this will lead to a more moderate Republican Party. If anything, as with the last time a shut down led to a new Republican leadership emerging, more radical people (whether openly or more covertly) seem likely to step forward. The ship has likely sailed for the Republican Party and it no longer can attract more moderate voters (outside of crisis situations, where moderates cease to be moderates, so it just proves that rule).

My concern is twofold, however, namely that this isn’t just going to change Republicans for the worse, but also Democrats. For instance, here’s an email I received from Barack Obama last week (I’m so special!):

(From my emails.)

Likewise, Organizing for America, arguably the closest to a motivational wing of the Democratic Party nowadays, has swung from ad campaigns selling obamacare to advertisements on MSNBC’s online programming that directly discuss the gall of the Republicans to shut down the government in order to get their way on health care reform. From seeking out donations to scoring political points, there’s a certain laziness and hence reliance on Republican ineptitude. In a word, the Democrats seem to be increasingly invested in the dysfunction that many Republicans appear to be revealing in.

The little partisan distinction between the party that wanted problems and the party that wanted solutions is disintegrating, with both beginning to profit from flawed policy. If only the average people were as much a part of this win/win situation.

6:30 Chris Hayes states that he doesn’t see any potential Hastert to Boehner’s Gingrich outside of Eric Cantor, but also that all government provisions (namely government work retirement pensions) should pay out in full, just not in a timely manner (as skeletal staff would be ubiquitous in clerical departments).

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Update: still the same, but here’s how to change it

TW: US national security apparatus, mass surveillance

Alright, do you remember this? There’s a cross-party consensus of sorts in the US in terms of the need for and legitimacy of most of the hallmarks of the growing national security state (drone warfare, mass surveillance, indefinite detention, and so on). The unsuccessful vote last Wednesday on whether or not to begin restricting the surveillance program is simply another demonstration of that, as significant numbers of both parties voted against the amended bill, allowing the program to stand as is.


(The voting results – 205 for the limiting amendment, 217 against, and 12 not present. In terms of party composition, 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats were in favor, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats were against. Those who didn’t vote split evenly between the two parties, six votes on each side. From here.)

But likewise, it’s also rich in the same indications, in terms of how best to solve this problem. The vote breaks down not only with more favorable proportions of the Democrats compared to the Republicans voting for initial restrictions, but also with some indications of which Democrats are more likely to be supportive of these measures. From congressional representatives Pelosi (the minority leader), Wasserman Schultz (chair of the Democratic National Committee), and Hoyer (the minority whip), nearly every leadership figure voted against this. The major rift this reveals isn’t between libertarian and authoritarian wings of the Republicans but between the majority of Democrats and their leadership.

Frankly, the same could be said of the Republicans, whose speaker (Boehner), majority leader (Cantor), most recent Vice Presidential candidate (Ryan), majority whip (McCarthy [CA]), and a nationally contender for their nomination for the presidency (Bachmann) all voted in favor of it as well, in spite of it being introduced by a Republican.

The most important fact here however is that not only did Democrats break about 6-to-4 for the bill, but they did so against the indication of their leaders. The Republicans broke about 6-to-4 against the bill ostensible because of the signalling from their leadership. Not only do the raw data indicate that a lazy “both sides do it” argument is flawed, but the context indicates how ripe the Democratic Party is for the emergence of any leader who would break from the Republicans on this issue.

Besides the leadership, the unfortunate many other Democrats who voted in favor of the bill was full of many currently serving their first term (to name all 23 of them, representatives Bera, Castro [TX], Delaney, Duckworth, Enyart, Etsy, Frankel, Gallego, Garcia, Heck [WA], Kelly, Kennedy, Kilmer, Kuster, Sean Maloney, Meng, Murphy [FL], Peters [CA], Ruiz, Schneider, Sinema, Vargas, and Veasey). The indications of the Democratic leadership likely hold the highest sway over these representatives, so the appearance of any alternative position within the leadership appears likely to change many if not all of these representatives’ minds. Even without a key Democrat that could come forward and push this through, direct lobbying would still be best concentrated on these representatives.

Considering that the amendment was shot down by a simple majority with only 12 more votes than the opposition, targeting that group of senators is not only likely to produce different votes but also different votes that could sway the outcome of votes like these. In short, this is the most pragmatic approach to the current predicament, but it involves acknowledging differences between the parties’ representatives’ behavior and working within one of their established structures.

The question before this country’s civil libertarians is whether those are acceptable costs for changing US policy. Or rather, do they prefer decrying both parties in favor of a fairly good chance at changing the status quo?

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Their motives

TW: racism, nativism, heterosexism

Alex Pareene over at Salon has an interesting piece up about why precisely the Republicans in the US Senate are egging on Democrats to choose between getting immigration reform done without provisions for queer families or making no progress on the issue at all. His take seems to be that the Republicans are opposed on the basis of three major, distinct issues: their contempt for their Democratic colleagues, their contempt for queer and genderqueer people, and their racism towards the undocumented specifically and immigrants generally.

While, I’ll grant Pareene that all of those forces can and often do operate individually, the last two seem uniquely capable of interacting in harmful ways that the Republicans would be particularly interested in exploiting. Yes, exploiting – as I mentioned above, this is very effectively dividing progressive organizers as an issue, with MoveOn putting out videos about why this and other issues need to be ironed out of the bill before its passage while America’s Voice is calling for people to thank Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) for guiding the bill through the editorial process as he did (while allowing the inclusive language he added himself to be stripped from it).

This has actually been an explicit goal of many overtly heterosexist groups for years now: to divide the modern progressive coalition into groups motivated by opposing the patriarchy (in this case, queer people) and those motivated by opposing White supremacy (in this case, predominantly Latin@s and other people of color). An inevitable outcome of that, of course, is that queer people of color and women of color are made uniquely vulnerable, as the political process is forced to choose between protecting them from racism or shielding them from patriarchal oppression. In this case, that’s the space many queer Latin@s find themselves in – as “burdens” for the at times gender normative reform movement to consider and tokens for the heavily White-dominated queer and genderqueer advocates to potentially extend a hand (maybe).

(A declaration of existence, from here.)

Beyond that gross game of divide-and-conquer that the Republicans seem to be playing, there’s also the simple question of why they’re permitting immigration reform to go through in the first place. As often mentioned here, immigrants are repeatedly asked to prove their usefulness or be worth the cost, which seems to tie into the current exploitative conditions many undocumented immigrants currently work within. Reform needs to have a proven benefit to non-immigrants to justify the loss of a “below the law” labor pool. But that labor pool has certain defining features – frequently they provide hard physical labor, which doesn’t mix very easily with frankly flamboyant stereotypes of queer and genderqueer people.

It could be a simple as Republicans thinking that there are no queer and genderqueer people within the labor pools they’re negotiating with.

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