Tag Archives: deportation

Who hustles the hustler?

Trigger warning: racism, antisemitism, the Holocaust

After months of progressives gnashing their teeth that Donald Trump only adds a glean of faux-populism to policy ideas that are straight out of Atlas Shrugged, many are celebrating that his campaign may have finally let the cat out of the bag.

With the Republican nomination locked up, one of Trump’s most prominent and earliest supporters, representative Chris Collins (R-NY) has qualified the Border Wall as probably going to just be “virtual”, and the mass deportations Trump has discussed as being “rhetorical”. The deeply xenophobic mentalities that animate a plurality of average Republican primary voters – quite literally popular ideas – have a long history of being floated by major Republicans only to be yanked back. For all his promises to break that pattern, it looks like Trump might at least go through the motions of moderation.

So in light of this apparent change of tone, the right-wing coalition continues to threaten to dissolve and their most likely success case isn’t the worst case scenario for people of color and others targeted by their politics. Amidst the overly eager left-wing cracking out the champagne, let’s all consider how Trump’s primary supporters will take the news about being tricked once again.

While these quotes began to surface describing how minimal and non-corporeal the anti-immigrant regime will turn out, a piece of Trump’s base pasted the face of journalist Julia Ioffe on to the photograph of Auschwitz prisoner number 6874 and sent her directly images contrasting “bad Jews” – antisemitic caricatures of Jewish men – with “good Jews” – a lampshade with the same caricature’s face.

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(From the collection of images she was sent or found, republished here.)

What prompted this avalanche of antisemitism towards Ioffe? She had questioned Melania Trump’s narrative about her family – and particularly her father – having traditional values. Ioffe had dug deeper, found a cavalierly abandoned half-brother Melania’s father had from an earlier relationship, and published in spite of a (noted in her article)  request for her to “respect [Melania’s father’s] privacy”. She interviewed the estranged relative himself for her piece. It seems he weighed in differently on  whether he should be included in this portrait of Melania’s Slovenian family.

The people still sending Ioffe Holocaust imagery edited to update it for more Trump-related uses think they have already won. They aren’t being guarded with their language on Twitter, because they don’t think there’s any reason to be – Trump has essentially won the nomination and they expect him to win the general election. The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s calling a Jewish journalist on blocked numbers and playing clips from Hitler’s speeches. The antisemitism isn’t new, but there’s a degree of brashness Trump has allowed it to adopt – because that type of attitude is what allowed him to upend all the expectations in the Republican primary.

In aggregate, this country’s social mores aren’t actually designed so that you can’t win prominent party nominations while advocating ethnic cleansing. That secret, historically the lynchpin of this extremist group not taking control of the Republican Party, is out. This isn’t going away. If anything, it’s going to get worse.

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Economic justice… for whom?

It’s one of the familiar just so stories about US politics that’s become crystal clear in recent decades. The Democrats want to maintain or even expand programs designed to provide economic resources and benefits to people with less. Republicans want to shrink or dismantle those types of programs. One party for workers, one party for the “1%”, so the story goes.

Even the candidates who look like exceptions – like Donald Trump with his promises to maintain social security and medicare – tend to ultimately reveal policy ideas that firmly locate them in the political party that they’ve already embraced (Trump, for example, thinks “wages [are] too high” – an implicit criticism of current minimum wage standards).

More interesting, I think, than those less easily categorized oddballs are the terms on which the debate between these two camps is being held. Economic redistribution and inequality are actually somewhat lofty, vague even, concepts. How to measure, to quantify them is an open question. The language tends to be like that in what I’ve linked above – a discussion focused on easily indexed numerical statistics: wages, entitlements, inflation, productivity, unionization.

That’s not a wrongheaded way of talking about who wins and who loses in the US economy, but it’s just one way of doing that. Unfortunately, it’s a way shaped by, and sometimes specifically for, articulating a particular group’s economic grievances. One of the easiest ways of seeing that is in terms of communities with large numbers of undocumented people – for whom income taxes are a murky territory and benefits exist in a similarly unclear limbo.

For largely Latin@ agrarian worker communities, how do you quantify being an exception to environmental regulations? For the far broader set of populations at risk of being targeted with detention or even deportation, how can that not be among other things an economic threat – both held over you by your boss and your landlord but also just ominously lurking outside your home, endangering everything you have.

2016-01-04_1015.pngLeft, 2012 chlorpyrifos use in the western US, from here. Right, a heatmap of Latin@s in the western US made using the 2010 census, from here.

The Bernie Sanders campaign has recently sought to highlight a difference between their candidate and Trump. Sanders is a meaningful, redistributive choice. Trump is manipulating some of those hoping for greater economic opportunity, without any intention to deliver on it. In order to prove that, the Sanders campaign has latched on to Trump’s comments on wages.

Why was that necessary? Trump has already spoken to a more wild set of economic policies designed to hoard resources for some. That’s one of the things inherent in his promise to deport millions of people. That is economic injustice, and it’s important to ask why it hasn’t been considered that by the largely non-Latin@ mainstream media or presented as that by the redistribution-centered campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Is the economic populism advanced by Sanders and tolerated within major media really for everyone? Whose concerns does it speak to? Whose concerns does it barely register?

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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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Decoding dogwhistles

Trigger warning: racism, anti-immigrant violence, deportation, police violence, ethnic cleansing

On Tuesday, Donald Trump became frustrated at a press conference. To journalist and eight-time Emmy Award winner Jorge Ramos, Trump responded to a line of questioning about how on earth he was going to deport millions of undocumented people by saying, “Go back to Univision.” In case the thinly veiled language is able to pass you by undetected, one of Trump’s supporters confronted Ramos after he was expelled from the event and made it even more explicit.

“Get out of my country, get out.”

Donald Trump himself did say “Univision”, a Spanish language news network based in the United States, but the implications of it, that Ramos did not belong in the room, were heard loud and clear and seized on almost immediately by someone less able or willing to hide the nature of what was being discussed. That slipping of the curtain behind what Trump said and what others correctly heard him mean is not only a confirmation that “dogwhistling” – the use of subtle language to indicate support for unpopular and extremist groups – will continue to be a key part of the Republican presidential primary, but also a confirmation of what many had already suspected about the specifics of the anti-immigration animus currently propping up Donald Trump.

Jorge Ramos is a US citizen. While he was born in Mexico, he immigrated at the age of twenty-four with a legal student visa. The following thirty-three years of his life, he has lived in the United States first on that visa and later as a naturalized citizen. Whatever political stance you take on undocumented immigration isn’t a stance that at least personally implicates him, and yet, the language ultimately used to dismiss him is identical to that used against undocumented people. That’s because, for all the bluster about legality and criminality, Donald Trump’s campaign doesn’t care about documentation of immigration, they care about immigration, full stop.

In hindsight, this is obvious. In his announcement that he was running, Trump famously spoke with open hostility towards undocumented immigrants from Mexico, stating they were intrinsically criminal people guilty of not only failing to obey immigration laws but also habitually engage in various violent crimes. His description actually doesn’t connect what he sees as an anti-social nature among those immigrant communities to their undocumented status, but rather their national origin. “Mexico sends” them, is how he put it – technically including legally documented Latin@ immigrants like Ramos, who left his birth country after facing pushback for critical coverage of the Mexican government. While the focus is on what’s possible policy-wise to do towards the undocumented, the political desire clearly expressed targets all immigrants regardless of documentation status.

The anti-immigrant politics defining Trump’s campaign only become more obvious from there. The first of his rallies to attract the size of crowd first associated with Bernie Sander’s populist rhetoric was in Mobile, Alabama, where he appeared on stage with Senator Jeff Sessions. His host has previously used his weight in the Senate to upend proposals about legal immigration – essentially he’s opposed to immigration in any form. Trump has added him to his team specifically to design immigration policy for him. Tellingly, this is what the crowd that greeted the two of them in Alabama looked like:

trump in mobileFrom here.

Alabama is in many ways not just the type of place where Trump draws the largest support but also the kind of population that Trump wants to create with the policy of all undocumented people being “returned”. Years of anti-immigrant policies culminated in Alabama in 2011 with the passage of a strict profiling-encouraging law inspired by an Arizonan forerunner. As many news outlets noted at the time, one of the most immediate impacts on Alabama was that many neighborhoods were in essence ethnically cleansed. As the New York Times put it –

“By Monday afternoon, 123 students had withdrawn from the schools in [Albertville, Alabama], leaving behind teary and confused classmates. Scores more were absent. Statewide, 1,988 Hispanic students were absent on Friday, about 5 percent of the entire Hispanic population of the school system.

John Weathers, an Albertville businessman who rents and has sold houses to many Hispanic residents, said his occupancy had suddenly dropped by a quarter and might drop further, depending on what happens in the next week. Two people who had paid off their mortgages called him asking if they could sell back their homes

[…]

Rumors of raids and roadblocks are rampant, and though the new law has nothing to say about such things, distrust is primed by anecdotes, like one told by a local Hispanic pastor who said he was pulled over outside Birmingham on Wednesday, within hours of the ruling. His friend who was driving — and who is in the United States illegally — is now in jail on an unrelated misdemeanor charge, the pastor said, adding that while he was let go, a policeman told him he was no longer welcome in Alabama.

‘I am afraid to drive to church,’ a 54-year-old poultry plant worker named Candelaria said, adding, ‘The lady that gives me a ride to work said she is leaving. She said she felt like a prisoner.'”

For many this is perhaps a not terribly revealing moment, but this marks an opening in which the motivations behind policy are being revealed, making them visible for some for the first time. What Donald Trump is running is at its core an anti-immigrant campaign that is built to validate what was said to Jorge Ramos – that this is a White person’s country and not his. The basic idea that Trump’s campaign sells is that Ramos shouldn’t feel entitled to ask questions as a journalist, that Latin@ people shouldn’t feel entitled to drive or go to school otherwise exist in the US publicly, that Candelaria shouldn’t feel entitled to go to church. The targeting of the undocumented for deportation is just the most visibly violent part of the system he’s trying to set up.

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Jus Soli

Trigger Warning: racism, anti-immigration politics, deportation, antisemitism, antiziganism, fascism, The Holocaust, slavery

Last night, Melissa Harris-Perry filled in for Rachel Maddow on the latter’s nightly news program and brought to light a worrying political process happening within the Republican presidential primary. Before Donald Trump’s entry into the race, the immigration policies that dominated were variations on a light-handed approach designed to avoid alienating the increasingly nativist Republican base or the growing Latin@ share of the electorate.

His bombastic arrival stuck out so much because of its overt hostility towards Latin@ immigration, and his campaign has maintained its sizable lead by calling most recently to dismantle jus soli – the “right of the soil”, or in plain English that location of birth can create citizenship. Harris-Perry noted that the various Republican competitors looking to unseat Trump as frontrunner have decided to jump on board, at least becoming willing to consider dismantling the birthright citizenship system central to not only US law but also this country’s image of itself.

jus soli
This would make the US only the second mainland American country to not have total jus soli. In the above map the darkest blue countries have absolute jus soli, light blue with restrictions, and pale blue previously had and have since abolished. From here.

The inevitable question that dismantling jus soli as a legal principle leads to is this – what are we doing instead? The legal world by and large contrasts jus soli with jus sanguinis, the “right by blood”. There are fewer world maps of countries proudly proclaiming they maintain citizenship and related legal rights as a matter of bloodlines, and for obvious reasons. It’s generally a remaining legal practice from earlier, imperialistic, undemocratic eras.

Throughout Europe, jus sanguinis largely became practice as a way of retaining the citizenship of members of the same ethnic group, scattered across conquered holdings away from their nation’s core population. To the extent that jus sanguinis has a democratic history, it’s one tarnished in the long view of history. It echoes a kind of classical Athenian democracy, reserved for a minority of unenslaved men with the right pedigrees.

That notion of citizenship was the norm for most of democracy’s history in Europe, first under Greek and Roman governments that all steadily descended into a toxic mix of corruption and imperial ambitions. Those ideas about democracy later resurfaced with that particular legal quirk in the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment. The many ethnically German thinkers who saw the slow rise of a more modern nation-state out of feudal localism are often forgotten, but their ideas on citizenship left their mark on the Europe that emerged from the medieval era. While Immanuel Kant (although himself quite racist) viewed race as something historically gained and otherwise subjective and environmentally-influenced, later German philosophers like Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel developed the idea of a sort of objective ethnicity without complexity or question.

The path from those opinions to the (then) perpetual statelessness of Jewish and Rromani people was long and complex. But the idea that ethnicity is something objective, with no context, complexity, or ways of operating across otherwise distinct groups helped create the policy of total exclusion of those groups. It helped create a system for legally classifying them. It ultimately bears some responsibility for the violence against them that made possible.

Historically, jus soli also has its own skeletons of course. It’s popularity in the Americas is inseparable from its use under settler colonialism. That history, however, is complicated. The rights of the soil were systemically denied to large populations within the United States, namely to settlers of color, slaves, and indigenous peoples. That said, at many times jus soli was a legal concept used to press against those actions and to insure marginalized communities’ right to live as they wished within the country.

While the origins of birthright citizenship in the United States are complex, its current centrality to our legal system is a byproduct of Reconstruction. The Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause expands already present ideas about natural citizenship often tied into location of birth and declared that literally everyone “born or naturalized in the United States” is a citizen the same as everyone else. At the time, that was a radical statement of equality between former slaves and former slavemasters, but it has since evolved as a legal value that defines a central preoccupation in US law – our shared equality (at least in theory) before it.

Rooted in the national abolition of slavery, our brand of absolute jus soli has been a defining legal tool to expand denied rights to a wide array of disenfranchised groups. In short, the proud history of what it means to be a citizen of the United States articulated time and again by this country’s first president of color and the multiracial and otherwise diverse coalition that was key to electing him is impossible to fully separate from birthright citizenship. When we talk about the country we are becoming, we have to acknowledge the ways in which the expansive and unhindered practice of jus soli in the US has key in us going just this far. That is part of the context we have to understand the rising contempt for birthright citizenship as being at least in part within, a call for a metaphorical destruction of that new concept of what this country could be.

The featured image of this article is from a July protest against deportation policies that would separate birthright citizens from their parents, from here.

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The year that queer politics imploded

TW: heterosexism, sexism, racism, nativism, deportation, sodomy laws, colonialism

As far as I know, no one else has said this yet, but we need to entirely rethink the way we talk and think about struggling against the social, political, and even economic power that straight people have (or more concisely, heterosexism). The past year has been a startling series of signs of that. Yes, there’s been the longstanding bigotries and attitudes that are unfortunately familiar. The lack of same-gender marriages being recognized in parts of the US making queer/LGBT families uniquely vulnerable to forced separations as a result of either immigration policy and civil suits. Likewise, a person’s sexuality is apparently still proof of their inferiority, and hence the invalidity of their writings and views. More globally, there’s been a dramatic rolling back of queer political rights in first Russia, and now India. There’s some political conversations where heterosexism is talked about as being “over” in some sense, when the reality is that anti-heterosexism politics are still all too necessary.

Just not the kind that we have right now.

Over the past year, the supposedly queer response to the reality that queer couples lack legal protections was often to trivialize what marital recognition means while as previously mentioned the direct link between penalizing cohabitation or actually separating such families with deportation continued to exist. A certain willingness to question whether that or other policies are the best ways of protecting ourselves is of course, important. But that line of thinking about and hopefully for queer people has become a common tool of straight and cisgender commentators – and not just those that seem to be intending to be genuinely mindful, but also those that are more dubious, or those that are outright trying to define what our politics can and should be. This sort of thinking that were originally designed by and for queer people to use to keep our politics healthy have, in short, been hijacked. They’ve been turned into mechanisms that straight and cisgender people now regularly use to police our politics.

The problem is much larger than the increasingly controlling role that straight and cisgender people have sought to have in queer politics over 2013. In short, there’s also the problems that accompany the Dan Savages of the queer communities. Or rather, a very specific queer community that’s near exclusively White and male (among other demographic specifics). The legal reality that marriage for queer White men very seldom means being liberated from the threat of civil suits by controlling former husbands or sperm donors seems to be the reason why that perspective on marriage is rarely offered. The rare references to how marriage eases immigration and can mean the difference between being allowed to stay with your family or deportation and separation are rare because of how unusual it is for that to affect that specific subset of queer people. The “frivolous” focus on marriage is a product of it being talked about as purely a sign of social inclusion and acceptability, which is frankly what it is for the group of queer people who are most visible within the US.

Looking back at 2013, queer politics were on a national (if not international) scale dominated by the concerns of that specific group. There were far more conversations this year about Dan Savage’s misguided (and honestly bizarre) boycott of a vodka company with a Russian name than Masha Alexanderovna Gessen’s experiences at the hands of Russian police. The limited look at what heterosexism is to queer White men (and generally speaking ones that live in the US or Western Europe and so on) is part of what’s given it the appearance of being a hazy mix of nonsensical consumer choices and other issues that seem fundamentally reducible to a specter of heterosexism that could be applied to them (while it is actually being applied to other queer people).

(Taking a momentarily broader look at the recent history of queer politics – it was largely White cis men like Dan Savage that made queer politics something straight and cisgender “allies” could feel comfortable engaging it, while at the same time it seems, they created the impression of it as superficial and “frivolous” which said “allies” can now use to control discussions about more “pertinent” politics. 2013 is merely a hopeful breaking point in this feedback loop that has a longer history.)

Ideally, queer politics don’t have to be that way. We can have conversations about marriage that notice that it’s not merely been a straights-only matter of whose relationships have been recognized, but such a club that was imposed as a part of European colonialism. In some cases, changing those laws can be a part of dismantling the still lingering sexual and gendered aspects of colonial domination. With the recent news of India’s effective reinstitution of sodomy laws, it seems important to note how reporting packaged for Western audiences failed to recall that the law was originally undemocratically instituted by British colonial rulers, while more globally-minded media has put that history front and center.

377 ipc 2
(Meanwhile, protesters in India simply referenced the penal code in question (377) and the decolonization Quit India movement to make their point, from here.)

But that very same dynamic of decolonization played out much earlier in 2013 in New Zealand, where again allies talking about the insubstantial or irrelevant nature of the marriage reforms also reared its head. While a White, cis, straight, male member of their parliament explained his support for the new law in terms of how little he saw it as impacting “the fabric of society”, Louisa Wall, the Maori and lesbian MP who had introduced the law, was honored with flowers from her colleagues and serenaded with a Maori love song by the parliament’s gallery. There’s many ways of understanding what happened in those moments, but it’s hard to deny something important happened there, with an indigenous and queer woman being celebrated in her ancestral language at the heart of the government that colonized her people and previously insisted that it would not recognize any relationship that she had wanted to be in. In short, it was a reclamation of space, and perhaps even power.

It seems like that sort of issue, as New Mexico and Hawaii – both states with large indigenous populations which like the Maori have differently conceptualized relationships and sexuality from their White colonizers – joined the portions of the US that recognize same-gender marriages. That, like many of the other more complicated aspects of marriage and other issues at the forefront of queer political thought at this moment, wasn’t acknowledged much over the course of this year.

A part of breaking the consensus between more enfranchised queer populations and the broader world of straight and cisgender politics that those sorts of reforms are largely window-dressing lies in recognizing those lived experiences and how important those supposedly small changes can be in terms of their personal meaning but also in many cases the political protections they afford people and their families. Many of the little political details that surround queer people in the US began rapidly changing over the course of 2013, but a significant amount of that has been invisible to people who are certain that queer issues are in and of themselves frivolous. We need politics that can, and can respond to those realities.

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If Immigration Reform is quickly done, who loses?

TW: deportation, heterosexism, racist profiling, economic exploitation

Immigration reform has reentered the national discussion it seems, with Congress and President Obama contending over the nature of the reforms and which specific versions of them to establish as law. The newest word out there seems to be that Obama wants this done and done yesterday, which is some nice enthusiasm but still worrying to hear for several reasons, because there’s two different readings of Obama’s statements on this.


(Protesters during the 2012 US presidential campaign, demand equal immigration as well as marriage rights – one of the many ways that inclusive reforms extend beyond legal recognition of same-sex marriage.)

In short, does Obama want immigration form done fast or does he think comprehensive immigration reform should be done quickly? The existing plan in the House of Representatives is one that restricts familial rights to immigration to male-female couples and their children, meaning that it essentially categorizes same-sex couples and their children as irrelevant kinship ties that deportation rightfully severs. In the name of reform arriving quickly, will Obama accept that reduction in the plan?

Likewise, existing enforcement goes beyond corrupt. It’s coercive. It’s essentially using class inequality to drive a report-on-your-neighbors mentality in many sections of this country. It’s fundamentally exploitative of the poor as a result in addition to just poorly designed (as it leads to false accusations based primarily on racism). Even more likely is that these astounding problems with how immigration laws are enforced won’t become part of the conversation, especially if it’s a quick one. Is having immigration reform of some sort so important that it’s more important that it’s quickly passed than that it’s done right?

Time will tell.

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This year’s presidential campaigns are stuck between a rock and a hard place

TW: misogynistic policies and rhetoric, institutional racism, deportation, gun violence

Last week, I quoted Brian Williams lamenting that there’s currently little in the way of grand appeals to moderate, centrist, and undecided voters from either the Obama or Romney campaign. Williams faulted the campaigns themselves, implying that they are unconcerned with the quality of political discourse in the country, but I think there’s other factors explaining why both major parties’ tickets are playing cautiously. Looking back over Nate Silver’s record of the presidential polls so far this year, there have been two really interesting political shifts over the summer. As his methodology behind the his poll numbers is rather well thought out and has a good track record of predicting results, I think there may be something important to the appearance a subtle shift in favor of Obama in late June and a sudden erosion of that support at the tail end of July.


(This is a capture of Nate Silver’s “Now-Cast” for the popular vote in the presidential election.)

As shown above, for the most part Obama has hovered approximately 1 to 1.5 percentage points above Romney, excepting the brief period mostly in July when the gap reached as much as 2 points. Interestingly, both the background lead of Obama as well as his July boost seem linked to a wide variety of shifting factors. Unlike the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, which were to a large extent referendums on George Bush’s prior term or terms, there’s a great deal of muddling about what issues this election will focus on.

I’d argue that two major forces were creating Obama’s smaller but sustained lead prior to the last week of June, through his July surge, and even now – the blowback from the War on Women and increasing restrictions on voting. Especially in the past few weeks, misogyny that simultaneously denies women their reproductive freedoms, denies basic scientific knowledge of female reproductive biology, and denies that women are valid witnesses to their bodily experiences, has been exposed as a component to the Republican presidential ticket and the Republican Party’s platform.

Likewise, while new voter restrictions have disenfranchised millions of Americans, their effect on the polls is probably quite negative for the Republican Party, as they can easily be interpreted as fixing elections. Whether criticism of the party for attempts to purge voters in Florida and Colorado as well as instituting new restrictions in numerous other states will actually counterbalance the mass disenfranchisement in the coming elections remains to be seen, but currently both presidential campaigns seem to anticipate even the most stringent barriers to voting to have minimal impact.

Against the electoral background created by those two issues, late June saw a bit of a perfect storm, if a smaller one, for the Obama campaign. The President’s executive order to halt deportations of undocumented individuals who would have been able to apply for citizenship under the DREAM Act on June 15, was an action the Romney campaign couldn’t respond to without either alienating vital Latino support or nativist segments of the Republican base. He spent the following weeks in June seeming weak and indecisive if not two-faced on the issue, which allowed Obama to regain levels of Latino support reminiscent of his 2008 landslide.

Meanwhile, in proceeding weeks the Obama campaign had been producing some hard-hitting ads about Romney’s record of disaster capitalism at Bain, but I remember an ad originally aired on June 23 affecting people more than earlier ones. Something about the poetic cruelty of being forced to build the stage on which an executive announced your downsizing convinced people more effectively than earlier ads, which many pundits had declared to be a tactical mistake by the Obama campaign. In any case, this and later ads seemed to shore up Obama’s support in Democrat-leaning areas of the rustbelt and give him a small but clear lead in more conservative states in the same formerly union-rich region.

Of course, not all of the major events at the end of June were ones that necessarily favored Obama. The most impacting of them – the Roberts ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – was contained in its damage, however, as it mainly rallied the conservative base to push for a full repeal and the liberal base for a reinstatement or similar fix. The only demographic that it seems to have caused to shift were independents who agreed with Obama’s progressive social policies and comparatively moderate international approach but differed with him on economic issues. Concentrated in rural New England, the worst damage was in New Hampshire, where Obama’s lead shrank significantly but didn’t disappear.

While there are obviously other issues that have reared their heads at various points in this election, these seem to be among the major players, which the Republican National Convention is in part trying to respond to, both to prevent another rush like the July surge and to address the fact that their party is systemically behind. That’s why we’ve seen so many prominently featured female speakers of color – Mia Love, Nikki Haley, Lucé Vela, Condoleezza Rice, and Susana Martinez. That’s partly an attempt to inoculate their party from criticism for supporting nativist, racist, and misogynistic policies. This is also why they’ve worked to reframe the “You didn’t build that”/“We built it” debate around immigrants who started family-run businesses (like the Tangs referenced by Rand Paul), pulling the quote out of its context as a criticism of the supposed captains of industry. That’s an effort to reframe the previous discussion of class and inequality in a way more favorable to their party. That’s also why Attorneys General Pam Bondi and Sam Olens (of Florida and Georgia, respectively) framed voter restrictions as a reasonable precaution and a national health care mandate as tyranny – to defend the Republican stance on those issues. It seems likely that at least a few of those themes will be touched on throughout the remaining speeches tonight.

Intriguingly enough though, the issue of violence in American culture and potential policies of gun control, which seem linked to Obama’s falling numbers in later July, is a topic that can only be faintly implied, as in New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s speech. It’s worth noting that in the later weeks of July, originally after the Aurora shooting but as similar incidents continued to rock the nation, calls for gun control seriously perturbed firearm advocates, and tapped into a long-standing anti-Obama message. With a wide range of firearm-related deaths in recent memory, it’s understandable that this point is too politically risky for Republicans to directly address. It’s likewise the case that Obama, as described by Ta-Nehisi Coates, has to remain absolutely non-threatening as a Black man and can’t even obliquely reference these issues without eliciting blowback.

So the political campaigns have taken a huge twist in the past few months. Obama is capable of making key choices to heighten his lead but vulnerable to events outside of his control limiting his ability to discuss pressing issues in any capacity. Romney likewise can’t directly reference the issues most toxic to Obama because they’re potentially dangerous for him to be seen as politicizing, and he can’t counter Obama’s current strengths without some duplicity (namely, implying one thing to White supporters and implying another to Latinos and other people of color). This race is practically guaranteed from here on out to be an interesting series of rhetorical gymnastics. Obama can speak plainly but only as long as certain issues are out of the picture and Romney has to speak around issues to lead different groups to mutually exclusive conclusions about what his policies would be. To the extent that Brian Williams is right that neither campaign is directly addressing many of the important political issues, he’s ignoring the complex reasons behind their strategic choices.

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