Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Filibuster and Recent History

In what seems a rather transparent attempt to make the most of a diminished majority, Senate Democrats have (almost) unanimously signed on to a letter asking Majority Leader Harry Reid to "reform" the filibuster:
The letter, delivered this week, expresses general frustration with what Democrats consider unprecedented obstruction and asks Reid to take steps to end those abuses. While it does not urge a specific solution, Democrats said it demonstrates increased backing in the majority for a proposal, championed by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and others, to weaken the minority’s ability to tie the Senate calendar into parliamentary knots.

Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it.

This "chief revision" may have some merit in some aspects, though it seems that the real aim of many advocates of filibuster "reform" is to limit the ability of the minority to put any brakes on the ambitions of the majority. A radical diminishing of the power of the minority would transform the Senate from an institution emphasizing compromise to one emphasizing majoritarian partisanship.

However, the past few weeks of the lame duck session of Congress have probably complicated the "progressive" mantra that the "Senate is broken." On the tax cut compromise, DADT, and the START treaty, we have seen Senate Republicans cooperating with Senate Democrats and the Obama White House to pass significant reforms. When there is large popular support for a measure (as in the tax cut deal or repealing DADT), the Senate seems quite capable of passing legislation. Bernie Sanders gave one stem-winder of a filibuster---but that did not stop the tax cut deal from passing with overwhelming support. It seems that when unpopular bills are considered (such as Obamacare) that the supposed "brokenness" of the Senate appears.

The past few weeks have shown that it is possible for the Senate to pass legislation and to work in a bi-partisan fashion. The "brokenness" of the Senate may have less to do with structural problems and more to do with limited public support for radical "progressive" dreams.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wheels behind the DREAM

Mickey Kaus suggests that Harry Reid and friends are not just going through senatorial kabuki over the DREAM Act---they actually want it to pass.

Today's long Hill story on the DREAM Act will do nothing to allay Kaus's fears. It goes into detail about how the scheduling of votes on this measure has been a key strategic device for DREAM backers.

However, this story also feed into a media narrative about Republicans vs. immigration "reform":
The bill faces a tough road in the upper chamber. Republicans will filibuster the measure, and a similar bill failed in the Senate in 2007. Since then, party polarization has grown only more severe.
This paragraph seems to imply that party polarization was a big reason for the failure of immigration bills in the Senate in 2007. The record of the final filibuster vote on the "grand bargain" immigration bill of 2007 shows that a thoroughly bi-partisan majority opposed the bill. Opponents of the bill ranged from Bernie Sanders to Jim DeMint. Conversely, supporters of the measure also came from both parties. Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama both supported the bill.

There is likewise a potential bipartisan coalition that could oppose the DREAM Act. The narrative of the DREAM Act debate should not be read solely through partisan lenses.

Meanwhile, Kaus has more thoughts on why the passage of the DREAM Act could pave the way for a more "comprehensive" legalization.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Taxing Skepticism

A few thoughts about Obama's two-year, $1-trillion "tax cut compromise":
  • Timing is not necessarily of the essence. In a few weeks, the GOP will have a much stronger hand in Congress. Why the rush now? They could certainly work out a retroactive tax cut in early 2011 (and by 2011, it would be a tax cut).
  • Keep things in perspective. The GOP could pass a continuation of the tax reductions for everyone making less than the top 1% or 2% today. Those tax continuities are not up for debate. The real points at issue are maintaining a taxation rate of 35% for the highest tax bracket (instead of allowing it to rise to 39.6%) and maintaining some kind of estate tax exemption. In exchange, if reports are correct and the Bush tax cut extension is only 1/3 of the $1-trillion package, Republicans are willing to offer $600 billion in new spending and subsidies. So, $300 billion a year in exchange for tax cuts for the highest wage earners?
  • Reputations matter. If the GOP isn't careful, passing this "compromise" could be taking a flamethrower to the Republican mantra that the party has "learned" from the "excesses" of the Bush years and now is serious---really serious---about deficit spending. With that reputation burned to a crisp, the GOP may have running on a message of fiscal sobriety in 2012 and beyond. That image was a big reason for Republican gains among moderates and conservatives, and it is not an inconsiderable benefit to be thrown away. Is two years of tax reductions for top earners really worth that?
  • What about the economy? Krauthammer and others have suggested that this tax cut compromise is a Stimulus II (or III or IV or whatever), aimed at buoying the president's chances of reelection through improving the economic picture. If this plan would end up improving the economy, there are two possible responses. One is that, if the president's policies do improve the economy, then kudos to him, and he deserves some credit for that. On the other hand, there is also the risk (and one I at least am worried about) that the economic stimulus of this compromise would create the illusion of authentic economic growth financed through frantic borrowing---but it would not do anything to improve the actual fundamentals of the economy. This compromise, then, could focus as a kind of narcotic that temporarily hides the effect of continuing economic erosion while in fact making this erosion much worse. And if this compromise can help push the president over the top in 2012, it might give another four years to failed economic policies.
I guess part of my skepticism stems from wondering whether some on the right have conflated policy substance with partisan optics (Ha ha---Obama's fighting with the left! Look---Paul Krugman hates it!). A victory for the latter does not mean a victory for the former. I'm not necessarily opposed to this measure, but I'm not totally convinced to favor it, either.

Krauthammer's recent column seems a centerpiece of growing conservative opposition to the compromise (some more details here), and other skeptical takes can be found here, here, here, and here. Jonah Goldberg seems to be pushing back against this opposition.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Many opponents of the so-called DREAM Act have emphasized focusing on potentially wavering Senate Republicans, such as:
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Richard Lugar (IN)
Sam Brownback (KS)
Susan Collins (ME)
Olympia Snowe (ME)
Lugar could face a primary battle in 2012, as could Snowe. While Collins may back Snowe's decision on DREAM in an act of solidarity, the other senators on this list could be harder to pressure. Murkowski just made it through an election, and Brownback is leaving the Senate to become governor.

Opponents of the DREAM Act would also be wise to keep their attention on certain Democrats. Democrats facing reelection in 2012 are marked with an asterisk:
Mark Pryor (AR)
Mary Landrieu (LA)
Claire McCaskill (MO)*
Jon Tester (MT)*
Kent Conrad (ND)*
Joe Manchin (WV)*
If opponents of the DREAM Act can get some of those votes, it becomes very hard to see how DREAM can break a filibuster.

Wild cards in this cloture vote include Byron Dorgan (D-ND), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). These senators will be leaving the Senate in January. Dorgan especially has been known as a skeptic about legalization plans, but it remains to be seen how much influence the White House and others may have over him now.

As Mickey Kaus points out, the DREAM Act may be about more than just legalizing some children:
I have differences with Roy Beck, head of the influential restrictionist group NumbersUSA. (He wants to reduce both illegal and legal immigration.) But Beck's closing analysis of the DREAM Act is quite powerful and damning. He argues that, because there are no penalties to lying on a DREAM application, and because once you file the application you get a work permit good for 10 years (while you comply with the Act's requirements), DREAM is basically a 10 year free pass to any illegal in a broad under-35ish age range who either qualifies or is willing to say he qualifies even if he doesn't.

Patrick '10 = Obama '12?

TNR offers a potential view into White House thinking for 2012:

Of all the historical analogies urged on Obama following November’s drubbing—Truman in ’48, Reagan after ’82, Clinton after ’94—the one the White House has opted for is easily the most obscure. That would be Patrick in ’10—as in Deval Patrick, the recently re-elected governor of Massachusetts. Months after Patrick signed the state’s first sales-tax hike in 33 years, political chatterers gave him little chance of surviving to a second term. Not only did he face the same foul, anti-incumbent mood that elected Scott Brown, he’d drawn an attractive GOP candidate in businessman Charlie Baker.

Patrick’s handlers recommended that he distance himself from liberals in the state legislature—and, above all, downplay the tax increase. The governor overruled them...[R]ecalls one still-traumatized adviser[,] “He thought the way to do it was to be true to what he ran on [in 2006]”—the belief that voters will support someone who levels with them, even if they don’t love every decision. In the end, Patrick and his “politics of conviction” won by a comfortable seven-point margin.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of this narrative in Obamaland, whose principal also fancies himself a teller of hard truths.

Jim Geraghty offers some incisive criticisms of this model:
1) Who’s going to be your Tim Cahill? This article doesn’t mention that Patrick won 48 percent of the vote in heavily-Democrat Massachusetts. Patrick won because the anti-incumbent vote was split by Cahill, who won the 2006 treasurer’s election as a Democrat, served for a while under Patrick, and then rebelled, changing his party to “unenrolled” (equivalent to “independent” in Massachusetts) so he could challenge Patrick. Despite Charlie Baker and the RGA spending enormous resources to try to drive him out, Cahill won 8 percent on Election Day. (A detailed analysis of Cahill’s spoiler role can be found here.)

2) You can only alienate so many supporters before you’re doomed. Deval Patrick’s share of the vote in 2010 was 7 percentage points lower than his share in 2006. If Obama sees similar proportional erosion, he’ll be trying to win the presidency with 46 percent of the vote.

3) Guys, it’s Massachusetts. Any Democrat who does not mock Red Sox fans has a much larger margin for error and cushion than a Democrat running nationally.

4) The economy in 2012 remains an X factor, but it’s worth remembering unemployment rate in Massachusetts was 8.4 percent in September and 8.1 percent in October – not all that good, but almost 2 points better than the national average...
I think #1 and #2 are the most problematic for the White House. Patrick did not gain a majority in 2010, and he started from a much stronger place in November 2006 than Obama does from November 2008.

There are a few other problems for this model. Though TNR talks up the attractiveness of GOP candidate Charlie Baker, he didn't exactly ignite a fire under Massachusetts Republican activists; indeed, operatives of some other Massachusetts Republican campaigns would even privately lament the GOP gubernatorial ticket in the run-up to the election. Baker was no Mitt Romney, who generated a significant amount of excitement among Bay State Republican activists. This could serve as a warning to the GOP in 2012: if Republicans nominate a candidate incapable of inspiring enthusiasm and unable to articulate a clear vision, Obama could end up winning reelection.

Also, Obama's record is significantly different from Patrick's. While voters may not have been happy with Patrick's sales tax increase, that measure pales in comparison to the radical legislation passed over the past few years. Considering the rapidly accumulating number of broken promises about Obamacare, one might wonder whether the aftershocks of Obama's health-care legislation would render the image of a "straight-talking" president a little bit of a stretch.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ann Coulter: Palin Presidential Skeptic?

On a Red Eye episode last week, Ann Coulter said that she hopes Sarah Palin does not run for president: she believes that Palin would be more effective where she is right now in the media.

I can't seem to find a clip of that moment, but, while searching this, I saw that this was not a one-off for Coulter. In a video of an appearance in early 2010, Coulter makes the same point, as she does in the report of an appearance in November.

Though Coulter is famed as a conservative bomb-thrower, her eye as a political analyst is often under-appreciated.

Take her infamous appearance on Hannity and Colmes in late January 2008, in which she claimed that she would vote and campaign for Hillary Clinton if John McCain was the Republican nominee. Coulter's argument revealed a deep antipathy towards McCain, and it certainly generated a lot of buzz for her.

But can you really imagine Ann Coulter campaigning for Hillary Clinton? By late January, Coulter might have calculated that she never would have to campaign for Clinton---because Clinton was not going to be the Democratic nominee. In retrospect, Coulter's endorsement of Clinton over McCain can be seen as a sign of just how dire things were for the Clinton campaign in early 2008. (It might also be noted that, shortly after her H&C appearance, she refused to say that she would support Obama over McCain.)

So Coulter is offering some additional political analysis here---and this analysis implies that Palin would be more effective not running for the Oval Office. Is it time to add Coulter to the list of Palin presidential skeptics?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Changes on the Ground

Michael Barone digs into some of the election results on the state level:
Republicans snatched control of about 20 legislative houses from Democrats -- and by margins that hardly any political insiders expected. Republicans needed five seats for a majority in the Pennsylvania House and won 15; they needed four seats in the Ohio House and got 13; they needed 13 in the Michigan House and got 20; they needed two in the Wisconsin Senate and four in the Wisconsin House, and gained four and 14; they needed five in the North Carolina Senate and nine in the North Carolina House and gained 11 and 15.
Republicans even gained seats in the Massachusetts legislature, in a year in which the anti-Democrat wave didn't seem to break very hard in the Bay State.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


A few basic points for the moment:

  • Voting lock-step with a radical agenda doesn't endear you to moderate voters.
  • Candidate quality matters, and the fact that a candidate has aligned himself/herself with the "tea party" does not necessarily make that person a good candidate.
  • The GOP has an opportunity here, but only an opportunity---no guarantee.
  • Obama and his fellow Democrats seem now to be emphasizing the need to "get things done" for the American people; Republicans need to emphasize getting the right things done.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

With the networks calling the WV Senate race for Joe Manchin, it's awfully hard to see how the GOP takes the Senate (unless a surprise happens in CA).
Keep your eye on VA-11 and VA-9. These are races that Nate Silver says GOP needs to win to beat 538 projections; as of this moment, the Republican candidate leads.

Update: VA-09 has been called for GOP.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Inside the O'Donnell Ad Contretemps

I've been in contact with a source closely involved with Comcast Channel 28 who has given a fairly detailed timeline of the events about the Christine O'Donnell ad problems. A key detail about this story is that the company that O'Donnell contracted with to broadcast the ad (Positive Promotions) only supplies content to Channel 28; it does not have full control of the broadcasting technology. That will have important ramifications below.

So here's the timeline:

Afternoon of Friday, October 29: Station is told to expect O'Donnell epic ad by 5:30 that day.

5:00 pm Friday: Station employees are told that they will not be receiving the epic ad until Saturday at 2.

Saturday: 3 ads and a 2-minute piece are delivered (which are available on the TV station website), but no epic ad.

Sunday: Told that epic ad would be done by 2 pm on Sunday.

9 pm Sunday: Epic ad is delivered. But it needs to be converted.

10:30 pm Sunday: Ad ready for broadcast. But it needs to be taken to the Comcast studio. Here's where it runs into some serious problems. As the source relates:
...the employees running the show at Comcast do not have the time to take a show that arrives that close to airing with what they are already busy doing on Sunday nights. I believe there was a live taping at 11pm. The program needs to be loaded into the automated system, before it airs. The employees leave at or before midnight, and they are not legally obligated to [Positive Promotions] to load a program into the system before they leave. In fact, it is my understanding that programs should arrive 48 hours prior to airing, but they usually make exceptions for [Positive Promotions], but right before airing and before they want to leave is not one of them.
The source also relates that the Comcast studio employees do not begin to work until 3 pm on Monday, which explains why the Monday morning broadcast did not go forward (since the program wasn't in the system, it couldn't be broadcast).

The source emphasizes the O'Donnell's people were warned about the consequences about submitting the epic ad late. The source also suggests that Positive Promotions was not required to post the shorter ads on their website but did so as an act of goodwill.

Based on this timeline (which no O'Donnell person has yet challenged), it would seem hard to accuse the employees of Positive Promotions of any grave misdeed or sinister conspiracy to destroy Christine O'Donnell. Of course, if anyone has any information to the contrary, they are welcome to come forward.

O'Donnell's people now seem to be trying to smooth things over with Channel 28, which is now airing the epic ad.

Ranking the Senate

So I've made my tentative predictions for the results tomorrow. Let's dig into the Senate a little bit more.

My basic assumption here is that Republicans are likely to hold all open GOP seats and are (barring something very strange) clear favorites to get at least 4 Democrat seats (AR, IN, ND, and WI).

And then the toss-ups. What follows below is my ranking of toss-ups, from what I guess to be most likely to switch to least likely. I emphasize that this order is very, very tentative, and I would in no way be surprised if some of the seats higher up the list stayed Democrat while lower seats switched parties.

The Good Chances

Pat Toomey has led throughout most of the polling cycle, even if Joe Sestak has closed the gap a little recently. Sestak has a reputation as a strong closer, but I don't think he's got the numbers. Sestak is a pretty far-left Democrat, who could have won in 2006 or even 2008 (maybe), but Pennsylvania doesn't seem like his territory in 2010.

Mark Kirk has had a very slim lead over Alexi Giannoulias for months now. Giannoulias has been dogged by ethical questions throughout this campaign. Neither candidate has ever really cracked the high 40s in polling, so there could be a surprise here, but it looks like Kirk has the edge.

Sharron Angle has struggled against Harry Reid. Neither candidate seems particularly popular in Nevada, but Angle seems to be pulling ahead in the final days of the campaign. With Tuesday approaching, Nevada voters don't seem comfortable with pulling the lever for an increasingly left-wing Reid and for the Obama agenda.

Republican Ken Buck has had a few difficulties on the campaign trail, but Democrat Michael Bennet is facing a very hostile political environment. A divisive governor's race (with a failed GOP candidate and an empowered Tom Tancredo) may pull down Buck. But polling gives Buck an edge, and he seems to be pulling away from Bennet.

The Unknowns

West Virginia
This state is puzzling. It has a radical antipathy to Barack Obama and his agenda. And yet it may be on the verge of sending a Democrat into the Senate. Democratic Governor Joe Manchin is personally very popular and separated himself from the administration on cap-and-trade very early on. But now Manchin has much more explicitly distanced himself from the White House, including reversing some of his former positions. For example, in the heat of the health-care battle, Manchin supported Obamacare; now, in the heat of the campaign, he has denounced that measure. Republican John Raese had successfully attached Manchin to the Democratic agenda in the early fall, but now Manchin seems to have successfully danced away from his old allies and has regained his lead in the polls. I'm still somewhat bullish for Republicans in this race, though. Will WV voters really go into the voting booth on Tuesday and not fear that Manchin will, once in office, cast his vote for "progressive" plans? I think those reservations could sway some voters---Tuesday will tell if they sway enough.

Patty Murray is vulnerable, and Dino Rossi has run a good campaign. Coming up on Tuesday, this race is about as close as it can get. A wave could definitely propel Rossi over the top.

The Long Shots

It seemed in early October that Linda McMahon was narrowing the gap against Democrat Richard Blumenthal, but the rest of October saw Blumenthal expand his lead. A Republican win could happen, and there are a number of close House races, which could help McMahon.

This race seems within five points, but those are a long five points. Under perfect storm conditions, Carly Fiorina could pull off a win over Sen. Barbara Boxer.

This state is so small that a surprise could happen. But make no mistake: it would be a SURPRISE. The RCP average of polls has shown little real movement in the race for almost six weeks, and the picture isn't a pretty one for Christine O'Donnell---a 10+-point Coons lead. O'Donnell did surprise some pundits with her victory over Mike Castle in the Republican primary, but polls taken prior to the race did show her leading Castle. That kind of evidence is lacking this time around. Maybe her 30-minute epic commercial airing today and tomorrow will help her beat Coons.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Whither the Elite?

The fourth part in a series

Economic worry has partially (but only partially) contributed to the growing anxiety about elites in contemporary society. Pummeling the effigies of the elite has been a commonplace in US politics since at least the days of the Whiskey Rebellion. But panic over the elites has spiked in the past few years.

The crash was triply damaging to the current elite: it caused the American public to view its current elite as dishonest, avaricious, and (perhaps most damaging of all) incompetent. Before late 2008, many Americans suspected that their economic and political elite was far more concerned with profiting itself than profiting the nation as a whole; the near melt-down showed for many that the elite was even willing to profit itself by taking down the prosperity of the whole.

For many Americans, the crash, its aftermath, and, in retrospect, the years before the crash showed a triumph of mendacity. Even as many Americans view the elite as growing more insular (increasingly pedigreed, increasingly dismissive of middle-class concerns, increasingly self-protective), they also see this elite as incompetent at getting the real work---of business and of government---done. Say what you will about the titans of over a century ago, but their work enriched the nation as well as themselves. Rockefeller’s oil fueled the nation, while Carnegie’s steel provided an industrial backbone and Vanderbilt’s railroads knit together the nation. FDR and his Ivy League crew led the nation to triumph in World War II and created an enduring postwar diplomatic infrastructure.

The past decade has witnessed the spectacular failure of the governing class on many levels, from national security to international affairs to the economy. And yet the members within this class often seemed immune from any consequences of their failures. For example, consider the public image of Tim Geithner. He began serving as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2003. Yet his stewardship at ground zero of the investment nightmare of the 2000s did not result in his chastisement but his promotion to Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner's tax problems suggest further aspect of anxieties over the elite: a sense that the elite uses its power to ensure that the rules will not apply to its members.

So American views of elites are conflicted. Even as many Americans worry about the growing power of elites within the system, they also fault the elites for weakening the whole (of government, of finance, of security).

This backdrop of anxiety and scorn is important for understanding the fate of Obama and, more broadly, "progressive" Democrats for the 2010 elections. One of the central principles of Obama's vision of governance is the centralization of power. What was the Orszag/Obama gambit on health-care but the assertion that a centralized bureaucracy in Washington could effectively set health policy for the nation as a whole, from the pediatrician's office to the nursing home? Conveniently enough, this centralized power would fall into the hands of the credentialed elite, which would churn through and hand off power with an almost dynastic sense of inevitability.

Many of the "reforms" championed by Obama and his Congressional allies would, while increasing the power of certain government bureaucrats, also offer further incentive for the rich and powerful to manipulate the decisions of these bureaucrats. Cap-and-trade would have created an army of interested parties and interested governmental adjudicators. Debates over bailouts and financial reforms have been saturated with the influence of corporate giants.

Since the passage of the new health-care law, members of the Obama administration have threatened companies with the stick of regulatory retribution if these companies make undesirable claims about Obamacare while at the same time holding out the carrot of "waivers" from this law's rules for certain politically favored entities. The passage of health-care "reform" itself seemed to many Americans a display of bubble-like elitism, as members of Congress rushed and double-talked through a greatly unpopular measure.

Many Americans see in Obama's "progressive" vision an increase in power for an elite that has used its power irresponsibly. Beyond his political appointments and his policies, some of Obama's personal comments have only helped to identify him with some of the trends in politics that many Americans in the middle find so toxic. His infamous "bitter-clinger" comments of 2008 suggested a tendency to equate skeptics of certain "progressive" claims with backwards-looking bigots. Obama picked up on that theme in some recent comments, when he implied that opposition to his program is based on irrational fear rather than a reasonable disagreement or prudent doubt. Many Democrats and their allies have made this theme even more explicit.

That sort of argumentative tactic may seem one additional sign of the elite's rapaciousness: in addition to demanding a greater and greater share of economic and political power, the elite also seeks to have a monopoly on setting the grounds of "correct" political discourse. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that many Americans feel shut out.

Worries about elitism are not just jealousy of people with big bank accounts and Ivy League diplomas or just proletariat resentment: they can also be legitimate concerns about how to maintain the United States as a free and fluid republic.

Consider the fact that a prominent New York Times columnist and Pulitzer-prize winner has numerous times dreamed about the virtue of having an absolute dictatorship (led, of course, by the noble and good---that is, those who agree with him), if only for a day. Consider the fact that what many "progressives" found so good about the Orszag-like medical review panels is that they would not be directly accountable to the democratic process. One need not invoke the specter of the "road to serfdom" to find these developments troubling.

A fundamental source of the contemporary anxiety about the elite is the deeper worry about the future of the American republic. Is there hope for economic progress? Will our nation have to accept a future of diminished expectations---for our security, our wealth, our health, our freedom? Can we defend deliberative democracy in the face of so many seeming obstacles? Can we remain a nation rich in our differences but also strong in our fellowship?

The political pendulum has swung back and forth over the past few cycles, as Americans look for a way forward. So far, it seems as though all the paths of seeming hope have become dead ends. And so these questions are asked with more and more urgency. And so passions broke forth into movements angry with the establishments of both political parties.

Next: The Future?

Previously: The Resurgent Right, A Radical Gamble, The Stupid Economy

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Electoral Benefits of Obamacare

The Hill has a good roundup of the electoral challenges facing supposed Democratic "moderates" who buckled and voted for Obamacare. Some of the list of honor:
Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.), Debbie Halvorson (Ill.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio), Steve Driehaus (Ohio) and Betsy Markey (Colo.) were all late yes votes on health reform. Most, if not all, of them will lose on Tuesday, according to nonpartisan campaign experts.

Other Democrats who announced their support in the last few days before the March 21 vote are in tossup races, including Reps. Harry Mitchell (Ariz.), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), Chris Carney (Pa.) and Bill Foster (Ill.).
This list doesn't even include those (like Bart Stupak) who retired rather than face the voters after having voted for Obamacare.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kerry Rides Again

It is perhaps a sign of how truly worried Massachusetts Democrats are when they're even calling upon John Kerry to do a fund-raising pitch, and his main target is the 10th district, where Republican Jeff Perry faces off against Democrat Bill Keating. This fund-raising letter is currently circulating. (The letter was passed along to me by the Perry campaign, and its authenticity was confirmed by Kerry's office.)


Over the weekend we learned that shadowy rightwing groups are trying to defeat Barney Frank and Jim McGovern, but make no mistake -- the assault is strongest in the tightest race in Massachusetts: Democrat Bill Keating's push to keep this open House seat Democratic.

Control over the House could come down to a single seat -- and I know that after you've worked so hard to turn our country around, you don't want to see Massachusetts elect the Republican who makes John Boehner the Speaker of the House. We know what a Republican House will mean: gridlock and extremism, and a return to Busheconomics. Don't take my word for it, John Boehner already said, "We won't be any different than what we've been."

That's not what Massachusetts needs. Click here to contribute to Bill's campaign and make sure he has the resources to fight.

Bill Keating will make a great Congressman, while the Boston Globe said about his opponent - the Tea Party's Jeff Perry - that the "questions about Perry are too significant to ignore," while the Cape Cod Times said about him, "the repeated lapses in truthfulness are too serious a breach of trust to support his candidacy in this race." This is as clear a choice as it gets.


John Kerry
You'll notice how Kerry links Perry to the "Tea Party," perhaps hoping to further incite prospective donors. You'll also notice how this letter is much more an attack upon Perry and Republicans in Congress than an endorsement of Keating or a defense of Democratic policies. This focus on personal attacks and allegations should be no surprise---that's pretty much Keating's campaign strategy.

This letter probably isn't the worst news for Sean Bielat, Marty Lamb, or Jeff Perry. Who knows? It might even help them raise some money.

The Stupid Economy

The third part in a series

One of the great undercurrents of contemporary politics is the growing sense economic frustration or even despair among a broad swath of the American public.

Consider the perspective of many a worker. Your factory closes down and the work is shipped to another nation, where the company can pay subsistence wages. Suck it up; it’s the free market. You’re a tradesperson, whose wages have been radically cut by a massive influx of illegal immigrants. Suck it up; it’s the free market. You’re a customer service representative whose job is outsourced. Suck it up; it’s the free market. You’re a tech worker whose wages have stagnated due to a persistent application of H-1B visa policies. Suck it up; it’s the free market. (It is worth noting, of course, that many of these outcomes are not the result of the pure operations of the free market; many of them have occurred or at least been exacerbated due to selective government intervention in the market.)

But then, when a hedge fund or banking group risks faltering, the mantra from the same talking heads that ridiculed the economic difficulties of other workers suddenly changes. No longer can the free market have winners and (sometimes massive) losers. Now, it’s a CRISIS. Not giving bailed-out money managers multi-million dollars bonuses is now an affront to capitalism. Our future depends upon funneling billions and billions of dollars to the very same people who almost caused a nuclear meltdown in our economy.

The point here is not to dispute the value or even the necessity of the various bail-outs that took place in 2008: the point is that many Americans, who lack PhDs in economics and may not have a great interest in the details of high finance, notice a surprising difference in elite attitude when the financial fortunes of multi-millionaires and billionaires are at stake than when the middle class suffers. These workers might find it awfully convenient that the conventional highways of the middle class are being undermined by government action in the name of the “free market” or “competition” or "fairness" or whatever while the private jets of the financial elite are being built, fueled, and distributed by the government.

Adjusted for inflation, the median wages for both high school and college graduates have so far declined in the 2000s. The past forty years or so have not been relatively kind to the middle class: the annual income (adjusted for inflation) of the bottom 90% of Americans has only grown 10% since 1973. Meanwhile, the fortunes of the upper-upper-upper echelon have improved substantially.

And this high economic elite has seemed to show little sympathy for the economic losers of the past decade or so. Indeed, many of these elite have advocated or at least advanced the cause of lowering workers' wages even more. One of the subthemes of elite defenses of illegal immigration is the belief that some jobs (such as farming, construction, childcare, food preparation, manufacturing, etc.) should not pay very much. The whole "jobs Americans won't do" stance is predicated on the belief that such jobs should not pay middle-class wages.

The decimation of manufacturing has put further pressure on the middle and working classes. This decimation is not wholly due to automation; if it were, we would still be producing things like jeans and televisions and computer devices in the United States. Further embittering many Americans is the belief that many countries engage in a de facto trade war with the United States---or would engage in a trade war if the US had not already unilaterally disarmed with respect to its manufacturing trade policy.

Whatever some talking heads may say about the need to "reeducate" workers, the high-tech sector has never fully recovered from the early 2000s. Wages and hiring in many high-tech fields have stagnated. Often, the same people who lament the supposed dearth of high-tech domestic workers are themselves working day and night to decrease the incentive for US citizens to study high-tech fields by continually campaigning for more and more foreign-trained workers (and therefore lower wages in this sector).

Running into a seeming dead end in terms of jobs, the Bush administration backed into a novel strategy to create a nation of investors: turn the real estate market into a commodities trading floor. Using the infrastructure set up in the 1990s (including changes in tax laws, the powers of certain government-backed enterprises, and so forth), the federal government---including the Bush administration and many in Congress---began to inflate a real estate and investment bubble.

This bubble was predicated upon making it easier for people to get bigger mortgages. If the post-Y2K economy couldn’t increase the wages of the middle class, the government could at least increase the ability of the middle class (and upper class and poor) to get into debt. Bush and others assailed high down-payment requirements as a barrier to the economic advancement of the poor. Congressional Democrats attacked any attempt to rein in the excesses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which contributed to the spending binge. Large financial organizations (with ties to both parties) pushed for the ability to leverage more and more debt and to create hocus-pocus investment instruments as a way of lining the pockets of an increasingly select few.

Unfortunately, an epidemic of speculation fueled by capacious borrowing is not a firm basis for a health economy. And so the crash came. Those who precipitated the crash were for the most part protected or promoted; the unconnected many were left with mountains of debt.

Barack Obama did indeed come into office facing tough economic circumstances. However, many Americans seem to be disappointed with his performance. Obama's fixation on securing long-term "progressive" reforms (in areas such as health-care) strikes many Americans not as just a distraction from the nation's economic growth but outright harmful to it. For them, the first two years of the Obama administration have been more like the end of the Bush administration: more stagnation, more despair, more diminished expectations. The fact that Obama and Congressional Democrats chose to go it alone on the stimulus bill also meant that they had little bipartisan cover: the Democratic leadership had singular responsibility for the success or the failure of the stimulus. And, to many, our nation seems still stuck in the economy of debt rather than the economy of progress.

This economic despair is an important backdrop to the current backlash against "elites." Many Americans are quite willing to accept growing economic inequality, but they will only do so if they feel like they are improving their own economic situations. The sense of economic stagnation only inflames conflicted anxieties about the elite.

Next: Whither the Elite?
Previously: The Resurgent Right, A Radical Gamble

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Future = Obama?

Matt Bai's column in the New York Times offers a very nuanced interpretation of why the American public has turned so much against Obama. Bai's take? It's all about nostalgia.

But perhaps this trend [of seeing candidates from other decades make a strong run for office in 2010] hints at something deeper churning in the national psyche as well, having less to do with the president’s policies than with societal change he represents.

Mr. Obama’s election, after all, marked the leading edge of a generational transition. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Obama is too young to have been forged by one of the last century’s great conflicts (either world war, Korea or Vietnam) or by one of its great liberal expansions of government (the New Deal or the Great Society). The president represents an America where racial and regional distinctions are often harder to discern than they used to be. In his penchant for sarcasm, he personifies the post-“Simpsons” America, where edge displaces earnestness.

Judging from polls, all this makes a lot of Americans, and especially older Americans, profoundly uncomfortable, and it may be the main reason — rather than simple racism, as some liberals contend — that Mr. Obama has fared worse among elderly voters than previous Democrats did.

Bai's points are not completely without merit. And we do see some figures from other eras (hello, Jerry Brown) making a political comeback.

However, we also see a lot of new faces rising, and a lot of old warhorses being significantly challenged. The fact that this election cycle shows a very high amount of anti-incumbency sentiment suggestgs that nostalgia for another time isn't exactly the exclusive or even preeminent driving force. After all, who could be more old school than Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), who has been in Congress for well over two decades? Kanjorski now lags behind his Republican challenger, Lou Barletta.

(I also think health-care "reform" might have something to do with the drop in support for Obama among elderly voters.)

Obama's way need not represent the way of the future, no matter how some pundits may try to spin it. This election may be a changing of that future.

Health-Care Politics

Philip Klein has an interesting piece about the dynamic for the repeal/overturning of the new health-care law:

Though the public wasn't exactly rallying to support the law when Democrats were confidently defending it, by running away from it, Democrats virtually ensure that it will remain unpopular because the public will continue to be exposed more to the criticisms of the legislation than arguments in favor of it. As always, the possibility of GOP lawmakers becoming weak-kneed is the biggest obstacle to getting anything accomplished. But as long as ObamaCare remains unpopular and opposition is politically advantageous, it makes it more likely that Republicans will have the backbone to see through the repeal process.

On top of repeal, the continued unpopularity of the health care law could bolster legal challenges to the law's constitutionality. This was a point that Geoergetown Law Professor Randy Barnett emphasized to me when I spoke to him for a magazine piece.

"As public opposition to the mandate builds, this gives judges the fortitude they normally lack to enforce the Constitution against the will of Congress, which they deem to be the popular will," he said. "If it's not the popular will, they're a lot more willing to strike down laws that they otherwise would uphold."

These are good points. However, it should not be forgotten that what may be a major political strategy for many Democrats will be to talk down the law while at the same time working (behind the scenes if possible) to prevent any real changes to Obamacare.

These continued attacks upon Obamacare may continually fuel public opposition to the law, but "progressives" may be hoping that they can use the federal government's legislative structural bias against new legislation in order to prevent any authentic reform.

This strategy is one reason why people who are skeptical about Obamacare might be skeptical about supporting a Democrat who has suddenly "seen the light" and now opposes the law. Take West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. Sure, Manchin now says that he supports the partial repeal of the law, but he stood proudly for it in the heat of the battle in early 2010. When push comes to shove, and a Democratic president or Democratic Senate leader asks Manchin to work against repeal, is it likely that he'll really refuse? At least, that is, if there's not an election right around the corner?

Good News for GOP in PA, NC

New polls coming out in the Pennsylvania and North Carolina Senate races show the GOP in good standing.

It does seem as though Pat Toomey has regained or maintained a lead over his Democratic opponent, though this lead is still slim (the RCP average is only about +3 for Toomey). Pennsylvania Republicans have to keep up the pace in the final week of the election.

North Carolina has some good news for Senator Richard Burr in North Carolina. Burr leads by 15 points and is over the 50-percent mark---all good news for the incumbent.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Radical Gamble

The second part in a series

Perhaps the centerpiece of Barack Obama’s electoral strategy was the casting of Obama as a kind of political savior. He would come forth and wash away some of the stains of the nation’s history. He would offer a transcendence of the petty cultural antagonisms that had riven America for the past few decades. He would offer a new way of hope that would reconcile the disparate parts of this fractured nation. Perhaps even more than his early opposition to the US’s military involvement in Iraq, this cultural message was his biggest advantage in the Democratic primary. Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention allowed him to seize the mantle of political redeemer, and he clutched that garb to him throughout the 2008 campaign.

2009 was the moment when the nation would come to see a stark difference between Obama’s political narrative and the reality of Obama’s governance. Obama’s record prior to 2009 gave evidence of the fact that he was not, by many measures, a political moderate: throughout his career, he voted like a left-wing Democrat, and his race against Hillary Clinton became saturated with polarizing invective claiming that the Clintons were arch-racists (or something). So his approaches to government and campaigning often revealed a willingness to polarize and not to moderate. But 2009 turned a spotlight on his governance style.

Obama made no secret of his desire to be a kind of revolutionary president, one who would not merely massage the edges of political discourse but who would completely recenter it decisively to the left. So, with big majorities in the House and the Senate, Obama and the Democrats made a huge gamble: push as much through as big and as fast as possible. A flurry of “progressive” legislation could totally expand and reshape the federal government’s power.

The stimulus, which would fall woefully short of the administration’s guarantees, would shackle the US to a mountain of debt, one which would, at some point, require the raising of taxes. This stimulus would also allow the federal government to funnel billions of dollars to various groups and, in return for that, put the yoke of expectations on these groups. Health-care “reform” as originally envisioned by the administration would allow bureaucrats in Washington to run the whole of the nation’s health system, 17% of the national economy. Cap-and-trade would become a vehicle for federal intervention in every aspect of people’s private lives and commercial transactions. Education “reform” would allow Washington and its bureaucratic corps more and more to shape the minds of later generations.

From the standpoint of “progressive” centralizers, this gamble was not misaimed. Had all of these passed, it would have been truly revolutionary. And many of these did pass: the stimulus, health-care “reform,” and many education policies. If history is any guide, these changes might be very hard to turn back. Though many on the right celebrate Goldwater’s loss to Johnson as a moment for the renewal of the conservative movement, it should not be forgotten that the many of Johnson’s signature programs have not yet been repealed. It took nearly thirty years of constant political fighting for the right, center, and dissident left to reform Johnsonian welfare, long an unpopular program. Looking back at the example of the post-Johnsonian welfare state, Obama might have thought that, even if the Democrats lost Congress two years after his election, and even if he was denied a second term, he could retire in electoral defeat knowing that he had a won a major “progressive” victory.

And Obama may ultimately prove successful in that revolutionary move. The GOP might find it more appealing to talk about repealing health-care “reform” than to engage in the hard legislative work of actually repealing that bill and/or putting more effective policies in its place. Republicans have pulled similar moves with "big government," after all; continually inveighing against it, they usually have expanded government. Sure, Reagan campaigned on eliminating the Department of Education, but this department (and many others) was bigger at the end of his presidency than it was at the beginning.

However, in the short term, at least, Obama's policies have ignited a groundswell of opposition on the right and center. Obama’s image as a transcendent political redeemer was soon scratched and then smashed by the first few months of his presidency. With the right finding a new enchantment in small government, many Republicans in Congress were unwilling to go along with massive expansions of the government. Under the (surprisingly to some) effective party discipline of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, Congressional Republicans stood united against many radical policy proposals.

This resistance gave the president a choice: compromise, or use his large majorities to ride roughshod over these resistors. The president chose the latter.

The debate over health-care reform was not Obama's Waterloo, but it may yet prove his Borodino. Napoleon's victory against Russian forces at Borodino allowed him to claim the field temporarily and to drive off his opponents. But this battle also depleted his force's numbers, supplies, and energy. While Napoleon was able to claim Moscow, his dwindling supplies and men forced him to abandon the city and rendered his Russian campaign a disaster.

So too has the battle over health-care inflicted a significant blow to Democrats' political prospects and besmirched Obama's political brand. Democrats had the numbers to (just barely) pull this victory off, but this victory also solidified a new political narrative that has so far been utterly detrimental to the Democrats.

Instead of Obama as the grand conciliator, able to summon the vital 60%, he became the polarizer and white-knuckle arm-twister. Many "progressives" complain that the president has been too soft in advancing his cause. For many Americans, the view is quite different. They see a president who was able to ram through a massive governmental reform over massive popular opposition. They viewed many Democratic representatives as utterly indifferent to their complaints and utterly unwilling to engage in an authentic political conversation. Legitimate concerns about the effects of Obama's health-care "reform" (raised in town halls and district offices across the country) were often met with the tactics of distortion, distraction, and indifference.

The public came to view Obama's Washington, DC as a city in a bubble. So much for the new politics of transparency and conversation.

Also so much for the new politics of hope. Soon sensing that the Republicans would not capitulate in the early months of 2009, the Obama White House and its Democratic and "progressive" allies began to indulge in discounting Republican opposition (and, indirectly, public skepticism) as somehow illegitimate. Republicans were racists or fascists or nihilists, and opposition to the Obama agenda was not the sign of a mere difference of opinion but of unworthy psychological motivations.

Perhaps this tactic might have delivered some short-term gains when the president's approval ratings were in the 60s, but these attacks also polarized the electorate and caused Obama's disapproval ratings to spike. This rhetoric also undermined the image of Obama as the mediator and builder of consensus. Whatever some pundits might have said about Obama as bringing an end to the culture war, it soon seemed as though Obama was just making the war more ferocious. His administration and its allies were not lowering the temperature of public policy debates but selectively inflaming conflicts.

Obama's temporary political power allowed him to advance a revolutionary agenda, but this very political success may also have fueled a counter-revolution.

Faced with an entrenched political elite that seemed more interested in fighting its partisan battles and courting power above all else, many Americans began to cry, No more!

Next: The Stupid Economy
Previously: The Resurgent Right

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Path to November 2010

A First-Draft Historical Sketch

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama took the office of president with, it seemed, the wind of history at his back. Winning a higher percentage of the popular vote than any Democrat had in over forty years, he brought with him huge majorities in the Senate and the House. He seemed to come as a standard bearer for a new generation in politics. Analysts far and wide spoke of a new era of Democratic dominance; a political sea change had occurred.

Not even two years later, whispers and proclamations of a failed presidency abound. A new age of hope sank into a swamp of acrimony, alienation, and anger. Hyperbole has swung the other way, as some now talk of a doomed Democratic agenda and new era of Republican dominance. A movement has semi-spontaneously sprung to life in radical opposition to the current “progressive” agenda and in considerable suspicion of the purportedly "moderate" Republican establishment. The end of 2008, with the economy teetering on the precipice, seemed a tidal wave of public frustration, but the wrath of the present time makes that wave seem like the tiniest ripple.

How did this happen? How have we come to the third "wave" election in a row? Democrats argue that the glum economic situation has brought Obama and his Congressional allies to this point; Republicans aver that Americans have decisively rejected the Democratic party and the big government consensus. Both views are probably too glib. The Democratic argument is too reductive, and the Republican argument glosses over the very mixed feelings many Americans have about numerous Republican (and conservative) small-government policies.

In what follows, I hope to explore the road to 2010. This road goes back farther than January 2009. Many of the dynamics felt in this electoral cycle have being nourished for years. Economics, political rivalries, and cultural antagonisms have all come together in this road. The observations that follow are tentative: they make no claim to exclusivity or theoretical absolutism. But they do offer one sketch of the path to November 2.

The Resurgent Right

By 2009, the wrath of many years of suffocation had grown on the right. Though many conservatives supported the President Bush’s record in foreign affairs, they had numerous misgivings about his domestic record. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was never calculated to appeal to members of the small-government right. This faction was willing to go along with the president for electoral purposes (feeling that Bush would have been far preferable to either Gore or Kerry), but they never felt a deep devotion to Bush’s domestic agenda.

It seems that, for many members of the right, the two most celebrated positive domestic accomplishments of the Bush administration were his tax cuts and his nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. That’s relatively thin gruel for fans of small government when the president is radically expanding the federal government’s intervention in the education system, shooting the deficit through the roof, and otherwise putting forward a case for an activist, "compassionate" federal government. The gruel is thinned even more by the fact that Bush nominated Alito to the Supreme Court only after a grassroots revolt over his first choice for that seat, Harriet Miers.

Electoral politics placed a gag about certain topics on this faction of the right, which seemed to devote more energy to mocking John Kerry in 2004 than defending the total domestic record of President Bush. This gag was partially removed in the wake of 2006, when Congressional losses allowed these members of the right to excoriate the Republican party for its failings. And Bush’s attempt to push through some kind of immigration “reform” in 2007 offered one outlet for conservatives to express their dissatisfaction with an increasingly unpopular president.

2008, however, led to a reimposition of this gag. John McCain may have pivoted to the right, but he wasn’t exactly a leading proponent of a small-government message. For reasons of personal temperament and political policy, McCain was unable to offer a significantly contrasting vision to Barack Obama’s conjuring of an active, redemptive federal government. McCain may have had one-liners and certain facts on his side, but he was unable to find a message that galvanized the right (or the rest of the country). Other than a few partisans on the left, most agreed that he was an honorable man, but personal honor is not always enough to guarantee an electoral victory, let alone a philosophical one.

Again, the small-government right went along, defending a man who was no great ally of its cause against a man who seemed an outright opponent of it. Many right-leaning pundits seemed far more to fear an Obama victory than to desire a McCain win. This mood not only was a sign that McCain’s role in the 2008 campaign was primarily a reactive one; it also led to the outpouring of conservative anger in 2009.

At last, with Barack Obama inaugurated, the small-government right no longer needed to defend any incumbent federal power structure. The resentments that had been simmering for years and years could finally break into a boil.

This anger was helped by the fact that the man coming into office in January 2009 was the proponent of a more radically expansive government than had been seen in decades.

Tomorrow: A Radical Gamble

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PA Senate: Getting Closer

The Pennsylvania Senate race is one of those data points for Democrats beginning to reverse the momentum for the midterms. Two new polls show Democrat Joe Sestak gaining, and one puts Sestak ahead of Republican Pat Toomey, 44-41.

This story notes that Sestak has a record of being a strong closer, so Toomey may have a serious fight on his hands. PPP suggests that Democrats have begun to unite behind Sestak and that independents are now moving away from Toomey and toward Sestak.

Toomey will have to keep reminding voters (and especially independents) what a vote for Sestak would mean: another vote for the Obama agenda. Sestak is trying to present himself as an open-minded voice of reason while casting Toomey as a Tea Party fanatic.

Toomey will need to fight back against that narrative. Toomey's website features an "Extremism Watch" that attempts to link Sestak to a radical agenda; however, the latest entry in that "watch" is from May. Emphasizing that message may help Toomey take back the momentum.

The grassroots right may find it more helpful to turn its attention away from certain long-shot Senate races and focus more on close Senate races like this one (or the ones in Nevada or Kentucky). At a certain point, elections aren't about sending a message or coming close: they're about winning. This is a race the GOP can win, but it has to keep its eye on the ball.

UPDATE: More reflections from Nate Silver.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

117 and Rising

Jim Geraghty has a great overview of 117 House races. Geraghty thinks there are around 100 seats in play, mostly held by Democrats.

Monday, October 18, 2010

MA-10: Close Battle

A new poll has been released showing how tightly contested the race is in Massachusetts's 10th Congressional District:

The race for the 10th Congressional District between Democrat William Keating and Republican Jeffrey Perry is a statistical dead heat, according to poll results released Sunday afternoon by WGBH and MassInc.

The poll of 400 likely voters in the 10th Congressional District gives Keating a slight edge over Perry, 46 percent to 43 percent with only 4 percent undecided and 5 percent leaning toward one of the three independent candidates in the race. The results have a 4.9 percent margin of error.

When the same 400 likely voters were initially asked who they preferred, Perry came out on top 41 percent to 40 percent, with 13 percent of the voters undecided. Independents garnered only 4 percent collectively.

Keating's vicious personal attacks on Perry have been successful at driving up Perry's unfavorability rating, but this poll also shows why Keating has attacked so vociferously: this seat is on the verge of flipping to the GOP.

National Democratic money is flowing into this race, fueling negative ads against Perry. Perry has advanced the case for small-government reform, and it seems to be working (notice that Keating is not mainly attacking Perry on the issues or defending the record of Congressional Democrats). A little more support could put Perry over the top.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Three Close House Races for Today

Here are some possible GOP-takeover House races which are very tight.

MI-01: Dan Benishek (in the race to replace Bart Stupak):
Benishek leads state Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, 42 percent to 39 percent, in the survey of 404 likely voters released by Washington-insider newspaper the Hill. The 3 percentage point lead is within the 4.9 percent margin of error, and shows a significant shift from early post-primary internal polling in the district, which showed Benishek with double-digit advantages.
Benishek's running hard against Obamacare.

NY-19: Nan Hayworth:

Republican challenger Nan Hayworth leads two-term Democratic Rep. John Hall by three points — 46 percent to 43 percent — among 610 likely voters, Siena found.

Hayworth's lead fell within the poll's margin of error (plus or minus four percentage points), making the race a dead heat.

That's consistent with forecasts by independent political handicappers such as the Cook Political Report that rate the race a tossup.
Analysts expect the GOP to pick up at least a few seats in New York. With a little effort, this seat could be one of those pick-ups.

PA-07: Pat Meehan (for Joe Sestak's House seat):

The race between Republican former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan and Democratic state Rep. Bryan Lentz is essentially tied, says today's The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, which has Meehan leading Lentz by a single percentage point, 40-39. They're running to replace outgoing Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak.

The survey of 405 likely voters was conducted between Oct. 2 and Oct. 7. Meehan’s edge is well within the poll’s margin of error of 4.9 percent.

One percent of respondents said they would vote for another candidate, and 20 percent said they were undecided. The only other candidate in the race is Jim Schneller, a conservative independent who was placed on the ballot with the help of Lentz’s allies, including one of his top campaign workers.

Democrats look like they were hoping to split the right's vote. That's not a sign of great confidence in their candidate. The fact that 20% are undecided probably helps Meehan more than Lentz, but it suggests that this race isn't over yet.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reasons for Optimism about Ruth McClung

Ruth McClung is running a very close race against incumbent Democrat Raul Grijalva in Arizona's 7th Congressional District. Grijalva is the Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a leading foe of Arizona's new immigration law---he even called for the boycott of his own state.

McClung is hitting Grijalva hard on that proposal for a boycott and on a variety of issues. Though many analysts rate this as a solid Democratic district, there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about McClung's changes.

For starters, polls are showing a close race. According to one poll, she leads Grijalva by two points (39-37); according to another, she lags two points behind. Those are very close margins.

And Grijalva should be in a much better position than this. As the Hill notes:

Still, observers are skeptical this race will be competitive. Grijalva's lowest winning percentage was 59 percent of the vote, and that was in 2002 when he was first elected. In 2008, he took 63 percent, while President Obama netted 57 percent of the vote in the district. 

It seems to me that these numbers should give more, not less hope, to McClung's campaign. This is a candidate who has won in the high 50s and low 60s in the past, and now he's stuck polling in the high 30s and low 40s.

Money is another reason for McClung's backers to be optimistic. The Hill reports on the campaigns' finances:
Espino said the GOP would like to win what they regard as a "trophy" district, but there are several things working in the Democrat’s favor. Grijalva had close to $75,000 banked at the start of August, while McClung had only close to $16,000. 

In terms of political campaigns these days, that's small money. McClung's acquired a lot of big-name endorsers recently (including Michelle Malkin, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and John McCain). If only a few donors open their checkbooks, McClung could quickly enter financial parity with Grijalva.

The winds of change could be upon Arizona in 2010---and this time, they could benefit the GOP. McClung has a serious chance in this race, and a few dollars and a little support could go a long way to flipping another seat for Republicans.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Desperate Measures

Democrat Bill Keating is running to replace retiring Representative Bill Delahunt in the 10th Congressional District of Massachusetts. You might expect Keatings's website would feature staunch defenses of the president's agenda, a celebration of health-care reform, or forward-looking policy proposals for the economy.

Instead, Keating's website focuses heavily on character-assassination style attacks upon his Republican opponent, State Representative Jeff Perry. As of noon on October 9, three of Keating's four "news" headlines are stories personally attacking Perry. Two of the stories center around early 1990s allegations of misconduct about Perry investigating the misconduct of another police officer when Perry was on the force. Perry was never charged with any wrongdoing, and his former supervisor defends Perry's record as a police officer. The third story complains about individuals who are staking out Keating's former residence. Who are these individuals? Well, they once interned at the same office that two people who now work on the Perry campaign once worked.

This is Keating's case for representing Massachusetts in Congress? When the economy is shedding jobs, deficits are shooting through the roof, and our nation faces a host of foreign policy problems, he focuses on these topics?

You will find precisely zero references to health-care on Keating's "Issues" webpage. What was meant to be a signature accomplishment of this administration and this Congress goes unmentioned. The fact that Keating is focusing so heavily on these personal attacks on Perry shows how much he wants to avoid debating policies.

When a Democrat from Massachusetts is afraid to stand with a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, you can guess how frightened Democrats nationwide must be. Keating's strategy is similar to that of many Democrats in this cycle, who use demonize demonize demonize as the centerpiece of their electoral strategy.

Right-wing "teabaggers" are scary or culturally backwards or fascistic or racist or misogynist or extreme or whatever else qualifies as the meme of the day. In all of these rabid attacks, there is not pointed out a way forward for the nation. There is often not a defense of the current administration's and current Congress's policies. There is the dread of the political Other but not much else.

Vitriol, fear, and paranoia do not constitute a good foundation for a political coalition. And hating on "teabaggers" will not, unfortunately, solve our salient public policy problems.

Moreover, it seems as though the attempt to replace a substantive debate about policy with personal poison might not be a successful electoral strategy, either. Just look at Alan Grayson who has launched some truly remarkable attacks upon his Republican challenger, Dan Webster: Grayson is slipping in the polls, and political analysts are now suggesting that this race leans in the Republican's direction.

If they have any hope of limiting their losses in November, Democrats are going to need to pull over as many independents as possible. Those sorts of attacks are not likely to win that many undecided voters in the middle. Americans of all stripes are looking for a change from the past two years (or maybe even from the past ten years), and these sorts of attacks are the politics-as-usual squared.

These attacks are also likely to stir up the Republican base. Jeff Perry, for example, is holding a big online fundraiser on October 10 (a 10/10/10 thing for the 10th district). Perry has been a staunch advocate for limited-government solutions to a variety of problems. Endorsed by Scott Brown, Mitt Romney, and a host of others, Perry is making a serious play for this seat. The 10th Congressional District may be the most Republican-leaning in the whole of Massachusetts, so many Republican strategists are hopeful that he could pull off a win in November.

The savageness of many Democratic attempts upon the personae of various Republican challengers and their supporters may be an attempt to distract voters from the fact that, in the federal government, the Democratic party has had complete control for the past 18 months. Voters have seen what the current administration has done with absolute Congressional power, and they don't seem to be too happy about it at the moment. The politics of distraction may not win out in 2010.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Birthright Citizenship Conundrum

There is much to be said for the tradition of birthright citizenship in the United States. The idea that, if you are born on US soil, you are a full-fledged American citizen, with a right to that citizenship as great as that of a scion of the Mayflower, offers a beneficent narrative of assimilation: the child of immigrants is as much a citizen as anyone else. Birthright citizenship is a policy in part based on the faith of Americans in new starts. By making even the children of illegal immigrants citizens of the United States, we do not hold the sins of the father or the mother against an infant.

Part of the popularity of birthright citizenship can be attributed to sentimental mythologizing of the Ellis Island-style immigration of one hundred years ago, but part of it does draw from deep weaves in the American fabric. That faith in the new---that faith in the assimilation of the old---does seem a key tradition to the American way of life.

However, sometimes traditions fall by the wayside. The era of the independent farmer, so celebrated by many Founding Fathers and thought so central to maintaining the republic, has now passed away. And this new era, too, may see the fall of formerly sacred idols.

This season of change can in part be seen by the public commitment of increasingly prominent public officials to end birthright citizenship. Never mind that a Constitutional amendment banning birthright citizenship would have an exceedingly steep road; the fact that politicians are talking about ending birthright citizenship (rather than merely complaining about some of its effects) reveals a change in the public mood.

One does not need to be a raging nativist to acknowledge the legitimacy of some of the concerns of opponents of birthright citizenship. In the age of the advanced welfare state, being a parent to a citizen child is the entryway to a portfolio of benefits for housing, health-care, food, and income supplements. So birthright citizenship for one’s children is a significant draw for illegal immigrants.

The huge influx of illegal immigrants has also been deeply damaging to many social ideals Americans cherish: equality, respect for the law, and civic fellowship. Illegal immigration introduces a feedback loop of inequality. Major magnets for illegal immigrants are also centers of social and economic inequality, where an economic elite lords it over a burgeoning peon class.

And make no mistake about it: the number of illegal immigrants coming in has been significant. Prior to the recent downturn, a population of illegal immigrants the size of that of South Dakota came into the United States every year. A decade of that level of immigration is the equivalent to the population of New Jersey. Numbers like that have strained to the breaking point (or outright broken) the public resources of many municipalities. Schools, clinics, hospitals, and more have all borne the weight of this influx. And the damage to public agencies has been but another blow to social equality and the middle class.

It is only because of the extent of this increase that politicians or the public at large would even begin to consider ending birthright citizenship. Americans for the most part believe in the idea (and ideal) of immigration. They view some level of openness to immigration as foundational for modern America, and revel in the power of assimilation as the power of American culture. But if Americans don’t want to want change for the United States’ thinking of immigration, facts on the ground may cause them to rethink their overall ideal.

Many in the president’s circle have made much of the idea that a crisis is an opportunity. Well, the crisis of illegal immigration (one created by elites in both parties) may be an opportunity for a radical rethinking of our nation’s immigration policy and, perhaps even more radically, immigration ethos.

This is a manufactured crisis, one aided and abetted by presidential administrations from both sides of the aisle. President Obama and his predecessor, President Bush, seem to have an almost ideological opposition to enforcing immigration laws. Bush was and Obama is content to leave the border unsecured, allow employers to exploit “undocumented” labor, and, particularly in Obama’s case, attack any states or municipalities that to move against illegal immigrants and their law-breaking employers.

This negligence about and outright hostility to enforcement has not lessened the controversy over illegal immigration but has increased it. Every year that goes on would increase the number of individuals benefiting from an amnesty, and any amnesty would provide even more incentive for further illegal immigration. The bigger the number of illegal immigrants becomes, the more thoroughly the system of illegal immigration metastasizes within the American economy.

With a leadership class that seems to have more antipathy toward those who oppose illegal immigration than toward those who break this nation’s laws, many Americans have grown increasingly frustrated with the current status quo. Opponents of illegal immigration are right to note that birthright citizenship is a magnet for illegal immigrants and also complicates notions of enforcement. The constitution of the United States as an egalitarian republic of laws is probably somewhat threatened by an influx of those who are outside the law. Moving against birthright citizenship is an understandable tactic for reducing illegal immigration.

And yet and yet and yet….abolishing birthright citizenship would also lead to a whole host of problems. Particularly if the executive elite refuses to enforce immigration laws (which seems likely for at least the next few years and could easily happen in the next presidential term, as well), there is a risk of compounding the shadow population. It could be a troubling thing indeed for the United States to have within its borders a growing native-born non-citizen population.

While abolishing birthright citizenship would be a response to understandable anxieties about the decline of the middle way of American life, this abolition would also itself be a blow to some of the equalizing tendencies of American law. No longer would birth upon American soil automatically entitle one to all the rights and privileges of American citizenship. No longer would any American-born person be civically equal to any other American-born person. This is not an inconsiderable loss.

Friends of birthright citizenship need to be watchful. A near-majority of Americans (48%) want to end this institution. With the change induced by this seeming crisis, many Americans are willing to dismantle what had seemed foundational to our society. Exasperated by the willful negligence of the federal government, they are increasingly open to a revolution.

Poor administration and dishonesty have gotten the nation to this point. The current president has not really made the case for increased immigration or argued that the laws prohibiting the employment of illegal workers are wrong. Instead, he has paid lip service to the rule of law while showing hostility to those who would enforce the letter and the spirit of the law. Little more could be said for his predecessor in this regard (or for many of those in Congress). The actions and inactions of both men have escalated the problem of illegal immigration.

There is still the opportunity for a third way, sailing between two poles: the perpetual influx of an illegal laborer class, stripped of civic protections, and a sweeping dissolution of citizenship for the native-born children of illegal immigrants. Both these extremes would likely lead to the same result: a nationless people within our nation.

It is perhaps not too late for competent, good faith administration to turn the illegal immigration situation around. This third way would involve the enforcement of our immigration and labor laws. It would recognize our nation’s proud tradition of assimilation and of respect for the civic body. It would understand that governmental integrity and compassion sometimes go hand-in-hand.

Once we have made our illegal immigration problem smaller, the clamor for ending birthright citizenship would likely die down. If the American people felt confident in an enforcement regime, their own anxieties about particular illegal immigrants would be lessened. If we have a pragmatic approach to illegal immigration instead of an endless process of demonization, we could have a solution that improves the lot of both native-born Americans and immigrants.