Tag Archives: presidency

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!

Gladly.

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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David Frum – now extra ridiculous

The always intriguing Alex Pareene has a lengthy piece up on David Frum’s twin articles from the past month (one about how Ted Cruz could ostensibly become the Republican nominee for the presidency in 2016 and another about how he could then win a general election). Pareene seems to be doing two things in his look into Frum’s head – correcting the more egregious errors (like the plainly inaccurate levels of turnout in past elections he references), but also probing for what the hidden message for Democrats.

Pareene’s answer is a thoughtful look at how delusionally certain Frum is that Democrats “playing” the class card would wreck their chances for the White House in 2016. But he seems to be operating with the assumption that the intended audience for these pieces are Democrats, liberals, progressives, or some other faction in opposition to the GOP coalition.


(Where these columns make sense though, from here.)

It’s a common refrain on the right that the US is a center-right country, so even when writing for the Daily Beast, I don’t think it’s out of the question to consider that Frum might be talking to his political compatriots or just voicing an opinion for his own pleasure of seeing it in print. Taking that approach, of his latter article especially being more of a fantasy for Republicans than a warning to Democrats, there’s something else to be learned from it.

In between the relatively thoughtlessly strung together happenstances that Frum envisions as launching Cruz to the White House, there’s a lot of chestnuts. He says that Ted Cruz could on Spanish language television, in English, “This is America. We obey the law. People who can’t deal with that don’t belong here” and yet not motivate much of the Latin@ electorate to vote against such a hostile take on the issue of undocumented immigration. He has Cruz also simultaneously liberated from conventional fundraising avenues for conservatives (by “angel” donors) but without even a trace of being beholden to either those bankrollers or his conservative base, in terms of what he could run on.

Throughout both pieces there’s an implicit longing for a past formula to suddenly become feasible again. In the first, Frum writes,

“The plan [for Cruz’s ascendancy to the GOP nomination] is obvious enough: to emerge as the next acknowledged political leader of American conservatism in the apostolic succession that begins with Robert Taft, continued through Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, and has had no agreed successor since Newt Gingrich’s retirement from Congress in 1998.”

In case that conspicuous absence at the end there isn’t obvious enough, there’s this gem from the second piece: “Cruz delivered half his convention speech in Spanish and used the other half to rededicate the party to “the compassion of conservatism,” a subtle variant of an old phrase that delighted convention delegates.” Yes, what Frum really seems to want is to reinvent the second Bush administration’s political hallmarks and structures.

In short, all this recent writing reads like an escapist fantasy. In it, in Frum’s own words, a president can win with “the vaguest platform” and the “most issue-free campaign” in immediate memory. It’s basically a push-button presidency, where Cruz simply… wins because the Democrats are divided, the electorate is more White, and US voters aren’t swayed by arguments for economic equality. The imagined world that Frum seems to deeply want is one where Republicans win because why not. It’s important to realize how unrealistic that is, however, and how rooted that is in view what were actually historical exceptions (like the 1984 presidential election) as the norm.

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Obama and the office of the president

TW: indefinite detention, suspension of constitutional rights, violence against protesters

Today is President’s Day, which is a federal holiday in the US used to commemorate President Washington and President Lincoln, who are often recalled as the man who saved us from dictatorship twice over (from the UK and from himself) and the man who prevented the dissolution of the United States into smaller, weaker states during the Civil War. Though they might have done such remarkable feats which many residents of the US benefit from to this day, we often don’t like talking about what resources they had at their disposal to do so.

This, of course, is particularly noticeable today, on the day that we inevitably laud both of those prior presidents and inadvertently contrast our lofty depictions of them with the all too fallible reality the Obama administration has given us. Just a few days earlier, it was reported that those how have been indefinitely detained in Guantánamo in opposition to almost every major judicial policy laid out in the US constitution are now being subject to warrantless searches while in court. Sadly, there’s an argument to be made that warrants wouldn’t be necessary, since their jail cells were being searched, rather than their homes – nevermind that they’ve been forced to live in those cells for years now. The legal procedures are so broken, it’s hard to even sort out how many judicial norms are being broken at once.


(An unnamed Guantánamo detainee sleeps in his cell in 2008. Cells like this were targeted for searches while their usual occupants were at court hearings. Image from here.)

There’s little attention paid to how Washington personally led American troops in the successful putting down of the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, which resulted in one protester being shot and another repeatedly stabbed. In a judicial decision both of those deaths were deemed accidental but that’s a difficult explanation to swallow, particularly in the case involving multiple stab wounds. It seems quite important to admit that the first presidency of the United States under our modern constitution was marred by agents of the state killing protesters with impunity.

Likewise, whether you ultimately swallow Lincoln’s argument that habeas corpus needed to be suspended since an insurrection was happening and many citizens of the United States were no longer operating as citizens of that country, you have to admit he suspended the right to a trial and the necessity for the state to have legal charges before detaining a person. Many of the same legal rights that have been broken time and again by the Bush and Obama administrations were outright erased from the legal system for a few years under Lincoln.

In short, the constitutional norms and legal precedents of the United States’ constitution have been uniquely damaged over the past thirteen years, but those violations are by no means a break from an otherwise smooth political history, particularly when the lives of Black Americans, women, and other systemically disenfranchised groups are considered. While it might seem topical to contrast the modern situation with what’s often imagined to have been the United States of  Lincoln’s and Washington’s time, there’s less of a contrast there than we might want to admit.

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Testing…

In Egypt, there’s indications that the liberal coalition forged during the Tahrir Square protests that brought down the military regime almost two years ago is being tested against a new force: the more than eighty year old Muslim Brotherhood. The question being asked now is if democratic activists have the same sort of upper hand against the increasingly authoritarian Morsi presidency that they did against Mubarak.


(Pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi protesters have clashed with each other and police in recent days throughout Egypt. Originally from here.)

In Ghana, a similar test is unfolding. Today’s election is a choice between competing (and somewhat regionally distinct) ideas about how to best invest the growing national wealth from the oil industry – whether in physical infrastructure improvements or mass funding of public education. With the region having recently suffered from numerous recent civil wars, political conflicts, and even a coup, this is a clear test if Ghana’s democracy is more substantive than that of its neighbors.

Finally, India is testing its markets with significant changes to its laws on foreign investment and economic control. Historically cautious of international economic “cooperation” which was a significant component to British colonial dominance in the country, the Indian government has spent the past few decades gradually easing protectionist policies. With this change, a bit of a test is underway to see if protectionism was the reason why many Indians’ standard of living didn’t increase dramatically after independence. As the past years have been fairly inconclusive, with the majority of the benefits of the more “free market” economy going to specific groups, it remains to be seen if more foreign investment solves the problem.

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Elections Results – 2012

This post will be updated with results as they become available. Textual explanations of new results will be added to the bottom of the post with a (PST) time-stamp for clarity. More nebulous news (read: widely reported rumors) will probably appear first on my twitter, so check that out if you prefer less certain but more constant commentary. Below are the results that I’ve seen reliably reported. These highlighted races were drawn from those mentioned here.

The Electoral College

Obama’s Electors  Romney’s Electors  Contested Electors 
303 206 29

Popular Vote Candidate Races

Race Incumbent (or prior party) Main Challenger RCP Average 538 Calculation Outcome
Presidential Race Barack Obama (D) Mitt Romney (R) Obama +0.7 Obama 92% Obama Win
IN Senate Richard Mourdock (R) Joe Donnelly (D)           – Donnelly 67.7% Donnelly Win
MA Senate Scott Brown (R) Elizabeth Warren (D) Warren +3.5 Warren 93.6% Warren Win
MO Senate Claire McCaskill (D) Todd Akin (R) McCaskill +6.3 McCaskill 88.3% McCaskill Win
NE Senate Bob Kerrey (D) Deb Fischer (R)           – Fischer 99.1% Fischer Win
OH Senate Sherrod Brown (D) Josh Mandel (R) Brown +5.0 Brown 96.5% Brown Win
House CA-7 Dan Lungren (R) Ami Bera (D)           –             – Bera Win
House CA-10 Jeff Denham (R) José Hérnandez (D)           –             – Denham Win
House CA-41 John Tavaglione (R) Mark Takano (D)           –             – Takano Win
House PA-8 Mike Fitzpatrick (R) Kathy Boockvar (D)           –             – Fitzpatrick Win
House TN-4 Scott DesJarlais (R) Eric Stewart (D)           –             – DesJarlais Win
House TX-20 Joaquín Castro (D) David Rosa (R)           –             – Castro Win
House TX-21 Lamar Smith (R) Candace Duval (D)           –             – Smith Win

Noteworthy State Propositions

State  Initiative  Intent Outcome
CA 32 Restricts labor unions’ political activities Rejected
CA 37 Requires labeling of genetically modified food Rejected
MD 6 Recognizes same-sex marriages Passed
ME 1 Recognizes same-sex marriages Passed
MN 1 Disallows state recognition of same-sex marriages Rejected
WA 74 Recognizes same-sex marriages Passed

4:00 – It’s quiet, too quiet. Here’s a quick run down of electoral college predictions:


(Nate Silver)


(RCP)


(Sam Wang)


(My visualization of Michael Barone’s Predictions)

5:20 – Huffington Post has an awesomely informative tabulation of electoral totals in the Presidential race across entire states.

5:47 – A majority of Floridan precincts are in and Obama’s maintaining his lead.

6:01 – I’m updating the electoral vote count based on whether the networks are unanimous, just by the way.

6:10 – TN-4 is leaning Republican, but the Senate races in Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri are all leaning Democratic.

6:40 – Politico is calling the Ohio Senate for Sherrod Brown.

6:45 – Politico also called TX-20 for Joaquín Castro and TX-21 for Lamar Smith. MSNBC has called the Massachusetts Senate seat for Elizabeth Warren.

6:55 – Half of the electoral votes have now been called unanimously by the New York Times’ group of sources.

7:04 – MSNBC and Politico are calling the Indiana Senate seat for Joe Donnelly (D).

7:19 – MSNBC and Politico are both calling the Massachusetts Senate seat for Elizabeth Warren (D).

7:26 – Politico is reporting that Maryland looks poised to legalize same-sex marriage. Maine isn’t looking bad either.

7:39 – Politico’s dragging their feet on calling PA-8 for Fitzpatrick and TN-4 for DesJarlais, because the night is still early. Meanwhile, Scott Brown is conceding.

7:47 – Todd Akin is conceding, so Politico should hurry up and call the Missouri Senate seat for McCaskill.

7:48 – Of course, they finally update right as I point it out.

7:53 – The electoral college calls are stalling a bit. I might start including in the totals states that have been called by all but one of the major networks (to allow for oddballs).

8:10PA-8 has now been declared for Fitzpatrick by Politico, but TN-4 is still gray.

8:26 – We’re seeing some convergence in calls now – everyone’s predicting an Obama win in the electoral college at least.

8:28 – Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. We’ve got so many other races to go through.

8:34 – Politico is calling the Nebraska Senate seat for Fischer.

8:41As for California, Hérnandez has a slight deficit, Takano has a slight lead, and Bera’s race hasn’t been touched yet.

9:06 – Politico’s reporting Maryland and Maine have legalized same-sex marriage by ballot initiative, making this the first time that’s happened in US history. Minnesota and Washington are close, but it looks like the former won’t ban same-sex marriage and the latter will legally recognize it. Relatedly, Colorado and Washington are currently favoring legalizing marijuana.

9:20In California, Bera and Hérnandez are slightly behind and Takano is slightly ahead. The amount of the vote that’s been counted for Bera and Takano is really small though.

10:07Politico seems to think that the Minnesota ban on recognizing same-sex marriages will likely fail and the Washington state recognition of it will pass, but narrowly.

10:30 – The California Three are all in extremely tight races right now. Bera is behind by only 70 votes.

10:37The California ballot initiatives don’t look so good. 32 is close and 37 is going down in flames.

10:38 – Same-sex marriage looks like it’s holding in Washington. Time will tell though.

11:28 – As they reach a greater percentage of the ballots in California, the races for the California Three lean more Democratic and the ballot initiative results lean more progressive. For Hérnandez and 37, however, they might still be past the point of no return.

11:43 – At long last, they’ve called Alaska and Minnesota’s non-homophobic legal system seems to have remained intact. With less than fifteen percent of the vote left to count and Minnesota’s ban losing by over 90,000 of them, I’m going to stick my neck out and call it.

12:03California Props 32 and 37 are converging, as more votes are counted. 32 was originally a very weak “no” and 37 a very emphatic one. If trends keep up, 37 might just barely squeak by, although it’s looking unlikely. 32 seems like a safe bet to fail though, as it’s only gaining further resistance.

12:19For the California Three, Bera’s razor-thin margin of a few hundred votes has remained steady if not slightly expanded and is now 712 votes. Hérnandez is still down and Takano is still up (although CA-41 has had barely more than a third of its ballots counted, unlike CA-7 and CA-10).

12:55 – Bera’s lead has climbed to 857.

1:01 – California Propositions 32 and 37 are now more or less even in “yes”/”no” votes.

1:05 – And they just crossed. GMO labeling now has greater support than union busting. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough support to legally mandate action, but there’s still almost a third of the votes to get through, and if this trend holds up…

1:09 – Politico is talking about 100% of precincts having reported totals in CA-7, but they still haven’t announced Bera as the winner in spite of having just under a 200 vote lead. Am I missing something?

7:04 – Here’s the results as of this morning. Bera still hasn’t been called, but if they’re doing recounts, he has remained in the lead somehow.

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The binders full of women are surprisingly illuminating

TW: class warfare, racism, sexism, anti-democratic politics

I was completely nonplussed by the way Romney’s comments last week about “binders full of women” translated into at times hilarious political discussion of how his turn of phrase dehumanized women and failed to substantively respond to the question that elicited it (which was about gendered wage discrimination). It also has the additional punch of being a complete misrepresentation of Romney’s record as governor. What I was surprised over, however, is that Romney’s response has been read as nothing more than a failed attempt at pandering to women without losing the sexist vote, while it seems quite obvious that it was his honest thoughts on the issue. His candidacy might actually believe that what he touted as a solution is actually a solution, which tells us a shocking amount about what Romney understands the US political system to be.

The original question asked by Katherine Fenton, which was directed at the President, was – “In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?” The moderator later extended the question to Romney, saying only, “Governor Romney, pay equity for women.” Somehow Romney took that question and immediately responded with statements like:

I went to my [gubernatorial] staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are — are all [of them filled by] men? They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified [for Massachusetts cabinet positions]?

(If you missed the debate, you can read the transcript of it in full here.)

Why did Romney instantly reframe the question in terms of only employment and not wages, as it had been stated? The initial question was utterly unambiguous, with Fenton specifying that the comparison was with “male counterparts” and not between female non-cabinet members and male cabinet members (or any similar group). The moderator and Obama, who spoke on the issue before Romney, didn’t stray from the topic of wages  at all. Romney came up with this permutation all on his own, and it’s indicative of his outlook on employment and wages. One of the central arguments of Romney’s campaign is that he would reduce unemployment. When he bothers to explain it, many are skeptical about his claims, but what’s clear is that they fit into a broader prioritization by the Republican Party. The argument has been made before – the party isn’t opposed to low unemployment, provided wages are low. Their goal isn’t economic stability through employment as much as creating cheap labor.

Beyond the broader issue of prioritizing nominal employment over feasible employment, he also steered the conversation away from an obviously beneficial regulation of the private sector. In the past, attempting to be a rising star in the party, Rand Paul has publicly opposed certain sections of the  Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA). After all, requiring private enterprise to racially integrate had the effect of allegedly “diminishing individual liberty” of those businesses. According to Rand Paul the right to equal participation in society by people of color is prioritized lower than private property rights. Paul was invited to be a speaker at the Republican National Convention this year, which was organized by Romney’s campaign. Perhaps Romney agrees with him, and is uncomfortable discussing the ways our political and legal system has judged it in the common welfare of the nation to restrict discrimination by private entities. It’s potentially easier for him to discuss what government can and has done to address inequalities than what government has required of others to reach the same goal.

It’s not only a convenient way of advancing class warfare and avoiding the politics of social justice, but also an argument tailored to ignore sexism specifically. Romney’s statement joins a chorus of others which insist that the gender gap isn’t produced by misogynistic opinions on women’s work, but because women just aren’t as invested in working outside of the home or some similar pop psychology excuse. This fails to acknowledge the studies that time after time have found that even when controlling for similar disposition, family life, work ethic, hours on the job, and similar excuses, the vast majority of the gap doesn’t disappear. One of the biggest factors in predicting a person’s hourly wage other than their race or gender, however is the overall gender composition of their field. The bias against paying female employees appears to be so strong, it impacts entire industries. In failing to acknowledge these facts, which Fenton raised in her question, Romney has shored up the baseless rebuttal that women’s choices are the cause of the gender gap.

In addition to the many policy questions Romney’s shifting of the question raises, it also brought up a procedural one: what would his government do? Whether because of doubts about the veracity of the gender gap or because of moral qualms about interfering in business, Romney seems reluctant to propose any sort of anti-discrimination statute that applies to private industry. That leaves only public positions for reform. Likewise, he is famously unconcerned with the lives of the working class or poor, so he has to back the issue away from wage gaps and towards general “employment”. Almost every component of the original question has to change for Romney to be able to even remotely address it – but he still does that instead of challenging the larger discussion. Why? Assuming he’s not lying or too cowardly to disagree even politely in a “townhall” debate, he still sees a point in his ineffectual, largely unrelated policy change. The broader systemic change that is required to actually try to respond to the question is out of bounds – so Romney has instead proposed a largely empty gesture. His argument for the presidency is that he can be a largely insubstantial moral example. Why is that familiar?

Pyle Illustration of King Arthur
(Originally from here.)

He won’t compel private businesses to change their ways, but he can offer his administration as an idealization of how things should be. He’s made it quite clear he’s unconcerned by the impact on the poor of essentially giving the modern robber barons carte blanche within their fiefs. The proposed recourse to that isn’t legally challenging it and setting down laws to protect the constantly marginalized poor, women, and ethnic others, but to simply have the right person as the leader above everyone. Somehow, as if by divine mandate, that will fix things. Whether as a moral example to the nobles or a provider to the common people, Romney will somehow circumvent the obvious social problems with this system. In short, Romney is proposing to rule as less of a president and as more of a king.

As a nation, we’ve gotten quite comfortable questioning whether our first Black president’s role was quite as democratic as we would like it to be, but shouldn’t we extend the same analysis to his White challenger? Does Romney view his potential role as one of providing kingly moral guidance or presidential political governance? This issue hasn’t been raised seeming at all in the discussion of the second debate and I doubt it will come up in the third one tonight – but shouldn’t it?

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