Tag Archive for 2010 Elections

GOP Buyers Remorse Is Nice but It Only Matters If It Leads to Votes

There seems to be a growing tide of GOP buyer’s remorse sweeping the country.
Republicans campaigned in 2010 on creating jobs and cutting spending and the deficit. But once in power, both in the U.S. House of Representatives and in numerous states, all those promises went out the window. Instead they’ve offered a steady stream of items from the traditional far-right wish list: union busting, blocking abortion, redefining rape, limiting voting rights, going after public radio, etc Read more

Wisconsin Is Front Line of GOP War on Democrats So Where Are the National Democrats

I wrote two weeks ago about how Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called budget repair bill was part of a larger Republican war on the working class. And the events of the last two weeks have backed that up.
Walker’s proposed budget, released yesterday, cuts taxes for the wealthy while drastically reducing funds for education. (Apparently Walker admires his colleagues in Southern red states, where low education spending directly correlates with low student achievement.) Howard Schweber did a great job outlining the insidiousness of Walker’s budget.
And we were treated to Walker speaking to a blogger pretending to be David Koch, making it clear that he is on a mission to return Wisconsin to the 1920s, regardless of how policies affect the state’s non-millionaire citizens Read more

Haiti Stumbles Toward Second Round of Flawed Elections

By Peter Costantini – Seattle
Over two months after the first round of balloting November 28 in Haiti’s turbulent presidential elections, the Conseil Électoral Provisoire (Provisional Electoral Council) published results February 3 showing former first lady Mirlande Manigat and pop star Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly advancing to a runoff election scheduled for March 20.
Four of the eight current members of the CEP, however, declined to sign the final results, according to a February 4 story in the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. The paper reported that the decision was published under the sole signature of council president Gaillot Dorsinvil.
CEP member Ginette Chérubin told Nouvelliste reporter Robenson Geffrard that she disagreed with the council’s verdict and would soon explain her position to the nation. The other CEP members who declined to sign the decision, according to Geffrard, were Ribel Pierre, Jean Thélève Pierre-Toussaint and Jacques Belzin.
The initial results released in December by the CEP had given Manigat first place with 31.4 percent. Second place was awarded to Jude Célestin, the candidate of the currently governing Inité party, with 22.5 percent, less than one percent ahead of Martelly, who had 21.8 percent.
In the final results, however, the CEP elevated Martelly to second place over Célestin under heavy pressure from the United States, the United Nations and other international actors, and after widespread criticism of fraud and other problems.
A verification mission from the Organization of American States, composed mainly of U.S., Canadian and French members, reviewed a sample of the election results and recommended that Martelly be awarded second place Read more

The Age Gap and What It Portends for 2012 and Beyond

Among the oldest saws in campaigns is that voter turnout will determine the election outcome. Of course this is true, but is has deeper meaning in light of a growing age gap that has emerged in recent elections.
You see, in midterm elections, the youth do not vote. In presidential elections, they do Read more

Americas New Years Resolutions

The bubbly is gone. The confetti has been swept off the streets. Uncle Sam’s only reminder of last night’s celebration is a hangover and a list of New Year’s Resolutions.
Resolution 1: America promises to improve by learning from inside and outside the United States. Too often, America avoids learning from others. We promise to see how other countries solve their issues in society rather than blindly assume that whatever we do in America is the best. We also promise to see which states are succeeding and encourage the spreading of these best practices.
Resolution 2: America promises to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. There are countless ways for America to improve its democracy. We can make elections more democratic by reducing gerrymandering. We can simplify the election process using Election Day registration so more people vote. We can correct the fact the Washington DC residents don’t have a vote in Congress.
Resolution 3: America promises to stop being a tool for the elites. Countries where the benefits are targeted at the economic and political elites do not thrive for long. America, with the highest income inequality of any wealthy country, is letting today’s elites choke our grandchildren’s future. We can make this government more receptive to its millions of working class citizens and less of a tool for wealthy citizens, corporations and lobbyists by not lowering taxes for the wealthiest while raising tax rates for those in the low income brackets.
Resolution 4: America promises to plan for continued greatness 50 years into the future. We need to invest in education, but not blindly throwing money. We can extend the school year so children have more time to learn, just as they do in many leading countries. We can make quality higher education affordable. We can open the legal immigration doors even wider to the best talent from outside the United States inviting them to learn, build businesses and making it easier for them to stay.
Resolution 5: America promises to not be lazy or selfish. Short-term thinking creates long-term bad decisions. It will take significant effort to improve America’s health so that we no longer pay 2-5 times more than other wealthy countries – corporate handouts to the health industry are not the solution. It will take significant effort to wrest control of America’s economy from the finance industry. If we don’t do this soon financial bubbles will increase in frequency and size with the middle class paying for the sins of the financial elites. It will take significant effort to improve safety so America no longer has five times the rate of violent crimes and incarcerations than most other wealthy countries.
Today we are the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country. To remain great for future generations we need be humble enough to admit we aren’t always the best, to study what is being done well both inside and outside of America and to use these best practices to rebuild the foundations of our society that are crumbling.
Author’s note: To keep the article short, I wrote only a few resolutions for America – please add what you think are the top priorities to the comments.

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The 10 Most Colorful Candidates of 2010

Though the politics of this year were fairly predictable (the party of the incumbent president loses Congressional seats? Shocking!), the political personalities were anything but. From an admitted madam running for Governor, to a wrestling mogul trying to body-slam her way into the U. S. Senate, 2010 may just go down in history as a year with some of the wackiest, or as Barbara Walters might say, “most fascinating” candidates ever. A look at some of the most colorful below:
10. Jeff Greene, Candidate for U.S. Senate, Florida: Being a multimillionaire with access to some of the best political consultants money can buy, you would think that at least one of the campaign gurus on Jeff Greene’s payroll might have mentioned that paling around with Mike Tyson and Lindsay Lohan is not exactly the type of judgment that screams “serious candidate” or “electable.” Greene, who didn’t seem to understand why having Tyson serve as best man at his recent wedding might give some voters pause, plowed ahead in his efforts to secure the Democratic nomination for the Florida Senate contest nonetheless. He lost, but did not take his loss lightly. He filed suit against news outlets he blamed for his defeat for unfairly, and by his accounts, inaccurately tarnishing his image with voters.
9. Linda McMahon, Candidate for U.S. Senate Connecticut: Thanks to Jesse Ventura, the idea of a wrestler being elected to higher office is not as shocking or laughable as it may have once been, but there was still something a bit unsettling about seeing someone trying to combine the image of a cuddly, suburban soccer mom with the persona of a badass, body-slamming, toughie. Needless to say pulling off this political split personality cum juggling act is not as easy as it sounds, as Linda McMahon learned the hard way. After running an ad that included clips of her pretending to assault someone in the wrestling ring, while her daughter (or an actress portraying her) pretended to assault McMahon, you can’t blame voters for not buying McMahon’s “I’m a grandma just like you” routine in the final ads of her losing campaign–despite her best efforts to pull it off in a pastel sweater set and pearls. Apparently not enough Connecticut voters had grandmas who own yachts with colorful names like “Sexy Bitch,” the name of the McMahon family luxury boat.
8. Kamala Harris, Attorney General-Elect, California: Due to a protracted vote count battle that lasted long after Election Day, Harris’s historic win was largely overlooked in much of the coverage of this year’s big political stories but hers is without question one of the biggest. Harris became the first Black and Asian American woman elected statewide in California. The comparisons to Barack Obama have been inevitable (like Obama, it doesn’t hurt that Harris is easy on the eyes) and now that she has solidified her place in history, expect the comparisons to grow louder and expect to see her name mentioned on the shortlist for Democratic presidential and vice-presidential contenders for years to come.
7. Joe Miller, Candidate for U.S. Senate Alaska: As the original Papa Grizzly, Miller will forever hold a place in history as the first candidate to help Sarah Palin flex her post 2008 election muscle. With her endorsement he helped knock out the GOP establishment choice in the Republican primary, incumbent Lisa Murkowski, a longtime Palin rival. Miller’s Cinderella tale was short-lived however. Murkowski defied the odds, becoming one of the few successful write-in Senate candidates in U.S. history. For Miller this means that he will make the history books twice: first for his endorsement, and second for his unconventional loss. He will also be remembered for the protracted legal battle he mounted in a last ditch effort to pull out a win, and lastly (but certainly not least) for having a security team that bizarrely handcuffed a member of the media.
6. Nikki Haley, Governor-Elect, South Carolina: Most candidates are lucky if they have one trait that makes them memorable to your average voter. Nikki Haley is blessed with a few. Attractive and articulate, Haley also landed herself in the history books as the first Asian American woman to make it all the way to a Governor’s mansion. But even more memorable? Haley weathered a sex scandal at the height of her campaign and won anyway. Move over John Gotti. Someone’s about to steal your “Teflon” crown and you might just have to call that “someone” Madam President someday.
5. Sharron Angle, Candidate for U.S. Senate, Nevada: The most colorful thing about Sharron Angle is that despite being one of the wackiest candidates to run for office this year–she almost won. We can credit her with helping to popularize one of the most overused political catchphrases of 2010, “Man up,” which she repeatedly told her foe, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid to do. (He eventually did, defeating Angle in one of the nation’s most watched races.) From describing the abortion dilemma facing rape survivors and those in high-risk pregnancies as an opportunity to turn “a lemon situation into lemonade,” to her apparent pro-militia stance, not to mention shushing members of the media, and avoiding them altogether, Sharron Angle was not exactly what you’d call a mainstream candidate, but she certainly was a colorful one.
4. Alvin Greene, Candidate for U.S. Senate South Carolina: It’s a sad state of affairs when you can say with 100% confidence that Al Green the singer would have made a more credible candidate for the United States Senate just by singing “Love and Happiness,” in a few interviews than the Al Greene who actually ran. For the record, yes there were some voters who actually admitted to voting for Alvin Greene because of the similarity between his name and that of the beloved singer, one of numerous theories still being discussed and dissected regarding the unknown and untested candidate’s surprise primary win. Greene’s media appearances made it clear that he was not exactly ready for primetime, to put it kindly, but that has not stopped him from aspiring to an even bigger political stage: the presidency.
3. Kristin Davis, Candidate for Governor, New York: It’s not hard to be designated a colorful character when you’re an admitted former proprietor of a brothel. While most candidates for public office run away from the less savory parts of their past, Davis put hers front and center, making them a selling point of her quixotic candidacy. The woman who is best known for providing escorts to New York’s former Governor highlighted her unique experience during the New York Governor’s debate, with such quips as, “The difference between the escort service I ran and the MTA is that I had one set of books and provided on-time, reliable service” and “The career politicians in Albany are the biggest whores in this state, I may be the only person on the stage able to deal with them.” Alas, Davis did not win, but perhaps like fellow longshot Al Greene she earned a few extra votes thanks to her famous name, which is the same as “Sex and the City” actress Kristin Davis.
2. Christine O’Donnell, Candidate for U.S. Senate, Delaware: If “Saturday Night Live” and Sarah Palin’s avowed arch nemesis the so-called “lamestream media” had dreamed up the perfect political target it would be Christine O’donnell. Pretty, perky and even more allergic to intellectual stimulation than her Mama Grizzly mentor Palin, O’Donnell registered so high on the wacky meter the scale almost broke. From her on camera musings on masturbation, to her serious declaration that “I’m not a witch,” O’Donnell is the kind of candidate that was so entertaining this time around that those of us who make a living writing about candidates are hoping against all hope that she runs again. Since she hasn’t held full-time employment outside of running for office the last few years, it looks like our hope is not that far-fetched.
1. Jimmy McMillan, Candidate for Governor, New York: Who knew that a candidate simply stating the most obvious of the obvious, that “The Rent is Too Damn High,” could turn him into a phenomenon? If Christine O’donnell was tailor made for Saturday Night Live, then Jimmy McMillan appeared straight out of central casting for its edgier, more low brow former counterpart MAD TV. Despite stealing the show during the New York Governor’s debate (where he came close to making conservative kook Carl Paladino sound normal) McMillan’s eventual loss was no surprise, but it hasn’t dampened his political aspirations. McMillan recently announced his plans to run for the presidency. Watching he and Al “not the singer” Greene, debate should be interesting to say the least.
Click here to see those who made my Honorable Mention list and of course feel free to share your own nominees in the comments below.
This list originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.

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A New Workers Manifesto

Union and non-union blue-collar workers alike walked into voting booths in 1932 and pulled the lever for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Twenty-eight years later, their sons and daughters — union and non-union, organized and non-organized — pulled the lever for JFK. Yet in the 2010 elections just held, while union workers generally pulled the levers of the Democratic candidates, non-union blue-collar workers voted for Republicans — as they have done fairly regularly since 1980.
This political disconnect between union and non-union workers has now been vexing the Democratic Party and progressives for three decades. A close friend of mine in the Senate affirmed it to me the other day when he said that when he meets with workers who are not organized, they react with much more reserve than the union workers he meets — even when the two groups have so much else about their lives in common. Democrats need to look at the workers in this country through this prism.
Many people were led astray by pundits as to voter intent in 2008, when the common distress over the economy was misinterpreted in terms of what the electorate was really saying with its votes — or, perhaps better said, not saying.
The disappointing 2010 midterm election results and the very low voter turnout by workers affirmed what my Senator friend is concerned about, namely, that Democratic candidates often don’t understand and appreciate the differences between the views of organized and non-organized workers.
Aligning politically the interests of workers — all workers — is one of the most important opportunities for progressive candidates heading into 2012 for one simple reason. By 2012, the economy will inevitably be seen as belonging to Obama and the Democrats, even as the nation continues to dig out from the horrible Bush-Republican ‘legacy’ — and if by then the economy still hasn’t materially improved, which I think is likely, then Democrats are going to need the strong support of most organized and non-organized workers alike in order to retain/gain seats in Congress and keep the Presidency.
My response to the Senator regarding why this split may exist is fourfold:
Perhaps non-organized workers don’t feel they’ve been formally invited to our Party as a bloc unto themselves.
While great leaders are now running all of the nation’s major unions and these unions’ members are enthusiastically engaged behind them, there are, by contrast, no real leaders for non-organized workers to get behind.
Perhaps it’s because our Democratic incumbents and candidates are usually so warmly supported by organized workers — both with ‘feet on the street’ and financial support — that some of them don’t pay enough attention to non-organized workers.
We still haven’t sufficiently helped make the case to workers for “Why unions?” This despite the fact that workers are almost universally no longer receiving the fair and balanced attention that was common until the early ’80s, when first Reagan economics and later unfair globalization began to wreak havoc.
Back in early 2008, David Bonior and I put together a “Labor Manifesto”, which later became the foundation for Barack Obama’s “I Believe in Unions” speech in Youngstown, Ohio, a speech which thereafter heavily defined the ‘worker-part’ of his campaign through to the general election.
While in hindsight, our initial Manifesto should have been more obviously inclusive of all workers, starting off with our calling it the “Workers’ Manifesto”, its motivation was simple: restore through politics in general and the presidential bully pulpit in particular the perspective that corporate America has equal and concurrent responsibility to shareholders, employees, customers, communities and the nation. This is a perspective that served the country extremely well and stood workers in good stead for most of the thirty years following World War II.
I revisit both versions of the Manifesto here in the interest of giving Democrats and progressives a base from which to recalibrate their commitment to workers, and in so doing bring about that much needed political alignment of union and non-union workers.
Stated in the first person, the Manifesto had one overriding proposition, which went as follows: “I believe in the American worker, and I believe in keeping manufacturing jobs here in this country. I believe that our workers and our businesses can compete with any worker and any company anywhere in the world, as long as we have a government that will stand up and demand a level playing field for all.”
Later on, in Mr. Obama’s Youngstown speech, he sensitively added the following: “I believe in unions because if you look at the history of this country, things we take for granted – the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, overtime, health care benefits, paid leave, child labor laws — those were union fights. Unions put their shoulder behind the wheel and made life better for working people when they were being taken advantage of. And even if you’re not in a union, you’re still benefiting from the fact that there’s a union out there putting pressure on employers to do the right thing.”
What is important to remember is that all of this was written and said in 2008. Given that the U.S. economy today is actually more “jobless” in real unemployment terms than it was in 2008 and that the wages of the employed remain stagnant — and given last week’s passage of the $800 billion-plus tax cut package with its insidious favoritism of the extremely wealthy and the dearth of meaningful job creation over the last two years — how about the following Workers’ Manifesto, which combines the core principles of the 2008 with the realities of today?
An abiding commitment to fair wages, including an increase in the minimum wage, and to benefits for the long-term unemployed.
Comprehensive labor law reform that will make it easier to: enforce labor standards; rule in favor of workers when management is not negotiating in good faith or is engaging in unfair labor practices; and, through the provisions of a new “Employee Free Choice Act”, join the organized labor movement.
Preservation, without compromise, of Social Security and Medicare, and protection of pension benefits.
Elimination of the “trickle down” tax policies that since 1980 have been rewarding the extremely wealthy at the expense of 90% of America’s workers.
An abiding commitment to a “National Industrial and Manufacturing Policy” with the medium-term objective of near tripling the percent of workers in the manufacturing sector (from the dismal 9% level it is today).
Trade policies and agreements that put American workers first and provide clear and measurable benefits for American workers.
Workers in America — organized and non-organized — should not have their wages and benefits attacked, their Social Security benefits and retirement savings put at risk, or their jobs taken away by unfair globalization and trade agreements. Beyond the White House merely saying, as it did on Friday, that Mr. Obama will “work closely with labor leaders in the coming months on important economic issues”, let’s hope that in the next two years of his term the President (re)embraces these policy-economic-moral commitments and follows through on them with much more concrete action than we saw during his first two years.
No more “listening tours around the Roosevelt Room”, please, which is how last Friday’s sit-down with labor leaders was described by the Wall Street Journal. Rather, a Workers’ Manifesto that to which we as Democrats and progressives can and will commit ourselves.
Leo Hindery, Jr. is Chairman of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Currently an investor in media companies, he is the former CEO of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), Liberty Media and their successor AT&T Broadband. He also serves on the Board of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.

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The Obama Administration Promises Made Promises Kept

In the weeks following Republican gains in Congress the left has made much ado about something – just what that something is, though, is up for interpretation. Blaming the Obama Administration for everything from triangulation to compromise to what OpenLeft blogger Chris Bowers asked recently: “Isn’t there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration?”
Well, if you were measuring the Obama Administration on the success and implementation of campaign promises I think it would be safe to say we found the “actual Democratic administration.” Politifact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project of the St. Petersburg Times, has complied a list of over 500 promises made by Obama during the campaign. To date, they have found that the Obama Administration has either completed or is in the process of completing nearly 80 percent of the campaign promises…not bad for what some liberals are considering the lost Democratic administration.
In fact, Obama’s successes have touched on enough facets to make any voting bloc proud, from health care to taxes to foreign policy and energy. In the first two years of his administration, Obama has required insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions and closed the Medicare “doughnut hole,” fully funded the Veterans Administration, directed military leaders to end the war in Iraq, ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, doubled federal spending on clean fuels and provided tax breaks for everything from education to health care.
Why then are many on the left attacking the president? And more importantly, what is the proposed end game of such attacks? It would be hard to argue, as some have, that this is just reincarnation of the Bush presidency or quite frankly that we could have achieved any of these objectives under President McCain.
For his part, Obama in a recent press conference reacted strongly to a question at the end about his core values – a question hitting directly on statements from many on the left that believe that compromise (generally illustrated as the loss of the public option during the health care debate) is tantamount to a failure of objective.
“So I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats had been fighting for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people and the potential for lower premiums for a hundred million people, that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise.”
“Now, if that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then, let’s face it, we will never get anything done,” Obama continued. “People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime, the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of preexisting conditions, or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out.”
Ideological debate, be it within a political party or within a greater electorate, is an essential element of a functioning democracy. It leads to the presentation and vetting of ideas and ideals that travel a long process toward policy creation. But ideological purity and dogmatism are ironically things many in the left rallied against during the Bush Administration – yet many are finding these “pure” positions are the only positions a true Democratic administration can hold. Personally, I’d rather have 80 percent of what I wanted, and consequently have improved outcomes for many Americans, than an ideologically pure 100 percent of nothing.


Same words different meaning the bipartisanship gap between the GOP and Obama

On Tuesday President Obama and Republican congressional leaders both emerged from the White House’s long-awaited “Slurpee Summit” sounding, perhaps surprisingly, a similar tune.
After one of the more rancorous election cycles in memory where common ground was nothing short of nonexistent, both House Speaker-elect Boehner and the president seemed to agree on something: that the country has “two parties for a reason.” But as with much else in Washington, what was going on under the surface was more than what met the eye – or ear, in this case.
Looking at the language both men seemed to be sharing, it is evident that their meanings – and the messages they were looking to send with such similar language – couldn’t have been more different. Mr. Boehner was implicitly offering a defense of partisan disagreement. His implied argument: “Yes, we’re going to work together, but we have two parties for a reason, so don’t expect us to go conceding on our principles.” The Republican leadership believes that when principles and bipartisanship collide, it is principles that must win out.
President Obama, however, explained his “two parties for a reason” in precisely the opposite way. He used it to suggest that, despite real ideological differences, the day’s meeting was civil, and that it offered hope they could put aside differences and overcome the Washington “hyperpartisanship” that’s led to gridlock in the past. His implied argument: “Yes, there are two parties for a reason, but we need to look past that and work together.”
The president was speaking to a more hopeful strain of political thought – that through discussion and compromise, the best ideas will often rise to the top. (Not coincidentally, this language is very consistent with the language he used as a candidate in 2008. It is fairly distinct from the language he has used for much of his first two years in office, where partisanship has been more the rule than the exception.)
While the language used by both sides appears similar, the implications are very different: Republicans concede common ground, but make difference a main point. Obama concedes difference, but makes common ground his main point.
This disconnect is evident in the language of the two post-summit press conferences as well. For example, Mr. Boehner said, “Democrats and Republicans and the president understood what the American people had to say on election day pretty clearly.” Note he’s separating Republicans and Democrats from the president. And what do they recognize? That the Republicans won. It’s a clear message to the Republican base: yes, we’re talking to the President, but he’s going to have to give up more than we will.
Contrast that with Obama saying of the meeting, “everyone in the room” understood the American people want to produce real gains, and that everyone has a “shared responsibility” to produce them. Obama used language that grouped everyone together.
Of course, there are perfectly justifiable strategic reasons for these rhetorical differences. Republicans believe the American people are behind them, and such self-assuredness was visible in their post-meeting press conference. Now it’s their turn to say that elections have consequences, and they’re evidently enjoying it. The president, on the defensive after his party’s “shellacking,” took an understandably humbler approach.
But regardless of motivations, these two rhetorical frames point to profoundly different bets on what the American people want to hear. Republicans are placing their money on Righteous Principle – arguments that appeal to their base, which they seem to believe is expanding. President Obama is sticking with the horse he rode in on: appealing to moderates and independents with messages of inclusiveness.
Time will tell which is the better bet. But at this point the language tells us that when Republicans and Democrats work together, they’ll be doing it separately. In other words, it’s going to take more than a late-morning Slurpee run to 7-11 to fix what ails Washington.
Michael Maslansky is CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, a language strategy firm that uses in-depth research into how people respond to messaging to help clients communicate more credibly and effectively. He is also the author of The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics

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How to Recover from a Shellacking

“President Obama — who admitted to getting a “shellacking” from Republicans in the midterm elections — took an elbow to the mouth while playing basketball yesterday morning with a group of family and friends in town for Thanksgiving,” reported the New York Post yesterday. That isn’t the only media outlet calling the president’s fat lip a metaphor for the president’s post-midterm state. “Many a fighter can throw punches, but to be successful in the ring, he must be able to take them as well. The boxer’s greatest test is not taken while standing on the canvas, but in getting off it,” says J.T. Young at Human Events. But how can Obama get back on track now that he’s been bruised?
Change the message: “Even after the ‘shellacking’ he took in the midterms, Obama is still trying to compromise, to better explain his positions, to appeal to reason,” says The Chicago Tribune’s John McCarron. “It’s as if he didn’t hear House Speaker-apparent John Boehner, R-Ohio, declare that the No. 1 mission of his GOP majority will be to make sure Obama is not re-elected. Like a whipped puppy to a cruel owner, this president keeps coming back, hoping for a different response.” Let’s hear some “outrage” for a change.
Stick to the current plan: Bill Clinton got through similar times in 1994 with patience. “Take your time; focus relentlessly on the economy; offer to cooperate with Republicans where you can, but draw clear lines when you cannot; and admit your own mistakes,” says the Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus. Looking ahead, Obama will try to “frame a new agenda around job creation — now that his initial approach, the $787 billion stimulus plan passed in 2009, has run out of gas.”
Force some compromise in the name of progress: He says “he is ready and willing to hear the Republicans’ ideas for dealing with jobs, taxes, energy and even nuclear weapons control,” writes The Washington Post’s David Broder. “Suppose there is a chance that he is serious” and that “he has reverted to his original philosophy of governing.” He wants to get the START treaty ratified and Bush tax cuts resolved. Republicans can test “Obama’s sincerity” by meeting with him in hopes of reaching a compromise. “Trust but verify. A good Republican approach.”
Reports of Obama’s “political death” are premature: Sure, he needs to focus on jobs, but “there are in fact several reasons for Obama’s supporters to be hopeful,” says Richard Wolffe in the Los Angeles Times. “The stock market, a central indicator of investor confidence, has regained most of the ground it lost since the financial meltdown of 2008. Growth has returned and employment is inching upward. Over the next two years, there is plenty of time for that growth and employment to accelerate.” There’s already reason for optimism.


What Did You Say

Our current governmental structure is precariously poised on the horns of a dilemma. Thanks to the verdict rendered November 2, the ideological and philosophical divide is wider than before. If the American electorate, or at least those who made the effort to vote, intended to reflect an exhaustive and introspective analysis of governance and the inability of one-party rule to solve problems and in their infinite wisdom concluded that split government was the answer, then their colossal miscalculation will soon enough be evident. If, however, the verdict reflects impatience, irritability, and the quintessential quirkiness of a populace used to getting what it wants and wanting to send a loud and unmistakable message to those in power that it is intent on holding its breath until it does, then the upcoming train wreck will certainly make for interesting viewing, and unfortunate consequences.
Either way, to those who are suffering the most: the poor, unemployed, underemployed, health-care deprived, and foreclosed upon, your nightmare is about to be extended. It would be very easy for the shellacked party to throw up its hands, sigh, and proclaim that you get what you deserve. After all, to anyone who either has lost or is in the process of losing their livelihoods and hard-earned material rewards, their unemployment insurance, or who gaze at their children each night and worry and pray that they not get sick, you had a chance to influence the system and the people, those who voted, have spoken.
To those who have given up on participating in the referendum on policy and direction the lesson learned will be a hard one indeed. To those who actually registered their discontent in the form of choosing a set of policies and direction that are directly counter to your dreams, desires, and plain self-interest, well get ready for some advanced courses in anger management for you will need them.
We are all exhausted at this point by the endless analysis that has accompanied the sea change that has brought conservatism back into power. Whether or not the results represent a clear and definable mandate, it is clear that there is discontent and uneasiness rampant throughout our society. People are clamoring for clarity and certainty, yet our political leaders have tethered themselves to competing and diametrically opposing views of just exactly what the American people said.
Democrats are convinced that the rejection is borne of dissatisfaction with respect to timing and Republicans are certain that the rejection if reflective of dissatisfaction with the policy direction outlined by the President. Tea Partiers, having cast their lot with the Republicans, go a step further and believe that a radical and fundamental shift back to a mythical point in our evolution as a country will cure what ails us. It is against this backdrop that the legislative process must concoct a remedy, a legislative process that is sausage-making in its finest moments.
One group believes that government has a role to play in getting us out of this mess; the other believes that government is the problem. The true believers took a beating last week, the cynics prevailed. But it is important for the true believers to not merely toss their beliefs in the trash heap and succumb to the cynical proposition that those who need help do not deserve it. Human instinct is to abandon those who do not support you. But doing so here would make a mockery of those true beliefs. Progressives and liberals must continue to abide by the belief that no one else will come to the rescue of those who need help the most. And true public servants often pay a steep price indeed for those fast held beliefs that society benefits most from a system that protects the most vulnerable amongst us.
It is easy for the cynics to reap political rewards for disparaging those less fortunate than the rest: they either are lazy, not motivated, or simply not worthy. It is always their fault, so they must live with the consequences of their actions. This is the truest form of personal responsibility, in the cynic’s eye.
As much as many of us are shocked, amazed, and yes angry about the consequences of this election, we must continue to be true to our beliefs that government can be a constructive force in society, and that as hard as it may seem there are large numbers of people who are desperately dependent upon our efforts.
So the cynics will have their day soon but not before one last shot in the lame duck session to do what is right. The Democrats cannot do it alone; they will need minimal help from the other side. That help has been in short supply these last several years, by maybe, just maybe some relief will come soon to those who are dreading this Christmas.

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What Obama 2010 Can Learn From Obama 2008

In the wake of his party’s midterm elections rout, a profusion of political commentators — including many prominent Democrats — are urging President Obama to move to the right and focus on wooing Independent voters and Republicans. Obama appears eager to try to appease Republicans in the new Congress and chart a more centrist, Clintonian course. But, if only for reasons of political self-interest, he shouldn’t discount the growing uneasiness toward his presidency among his party’s base.
Nearly half of Democrats, according to a recent Associated Press poll, would like Obama to face a primary challenger in 2012. By a count of roughly two to one, Obama supporters do not believe he’ll deliver on his promise to bring change to Washington. A third of Democrats do not think the president will be re-elected. Few expected the political climate to change so drastically, or for Obama to be facing a revolt within his own ranks, in just two years.
Back in 2008, Obama was the avatar of an unprecedented grassroots political movement and a new era in American politics. His campaign represented the culmination of an ambitious effort by Democrats to reshape their party by empowering local activists and organizers. After the 2004 election, when Karl Rove eagerly anticipated the dawn of a permanent Republican majority, Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s mad genius presidential campaign manager, wrote an influential op-ed in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “Only the Grassroots Can Save the Democratic Party.” Later that year, Dean embraced that grassroots mantle when he unexpectedly became chair of the Democratic National Committee, vowing to revitalize the party at the local level in red and blue states alike. “The way to rebuild the Democratic Party is not from the consultants down, it is from the ground up,” Dean said. His fifty-state strategy decentralized authority and elevated rank-and-file activists, which helped elect Democrats across the map in 2006 and 2008. The Obama campaign drastically expanded the political mobilization Dean sparked, on a scale nobody could predict. Yet the momentum didn’t last — and Democrats suffered the consequences in 2010.
After his election, Obama’s backers hoped he would transform the very nature of governance in Washington, bringing millions of politically savvy supporters into the legislative process and building a parallel force that could thwart the entrenched power of wealthy corporate interests. Instead, in a bid to avoid the youthful mistakes of the Carter and Clinton years, Obama packed his White House with well-worn veterans of previous administrations, who embodied longevity over innovation and connections over change. A candidate who ran as a vessel for bottom-up politics assembled a surprisingly conventional, top-down, insider administration. “‘Yes We Can’ became ‘Yes I Can,'” said Harvard University community organizing expert Marshall Ganz, a key adviser to Obama’s campaign.
As a result, the spirit of grassroots organizing that animated Obama’s campaign has been largely missing from his White House. His post-campaign arm, Organizing for America, became a mere afterthought and extension of the White House political operation. After running as change agents in ’06 and ’08, Democrats became the party of Washington and the status quo in 2010. They were punished accordingly.
Interestingly enough, at the very moment that Obama demobilized his grassroots movement, the Tea Party adopted the Dean/Obama playbook and ran with it, fielding insurgent candidates across the country, injecting much-needed energy into the GOP and taking over local parties from the bottom up. They forced establishment Republicans to pay attention to their agenda, through primaries and protests. The consequences weren’t always beneficial to the Republican Party — Tea Party-backed candidates squandered winnable races in places like Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and Nevada — but few can underestimate the impact these conservative activists had in 2010. The success of the Tea Party should be a reminder to progressive activists that pressure politics works. “Republicans fear their base and the Democrats hate their base,” political commentator David Frum has argued. If they hope to shift that power imbalance, Democratic activists must prove to Democratic candidates that their support can no longer be taken for granted.
As he negotiates with Republicans going forward, President Obama must not forget about his left flank. Re-engaging with his grassroots base, in a real and meaningful way–not just a month before the election — would be a good place to start.

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Fair Voter Access is Not A Partisan Issue Just Look at 2010 Elections

I wrote the following piece with my colleague Jo McKeegan, a FairVote Democracy Fellow.
Upholding fair voter access and protecting voting rights should not be a partisan issue. In our decentralized system however, some states do a better job at protecting these rights than others.
Take for instance the issue of Same Day Voter Registration (SDR). SDR is a sensible means to preserve voter access, yet all too often has been inaccurately portrayed as designed to help Democrats defeat Republicans.
As recently described in FairVote’s regular Constitutional Right to Vote blog series, SDR is the process by which eligible voters can arrive at their polling place, register, and vote that same day. Just as with every voter registering before Election Day, SDR participants need to have their eligibility confirmed. Confirmation is done in much the same way it is for other methods of voting registration; voters are required to provide proof of residence in the precinct via a utility bill, or other form stating the person’s address and name. SDR has the added security of this process being performed in person by the voter seeking registration, and not via photocopies in the mail. This is a double-layer of protection against any possible fraud.
Election Day Registration is a form of SDR, with the only difference being that two SDR states (North Carolina and Vermont) allow voters to register and vote on the same day only during early voting, while EDR typically means it can be done on Election Day.
Nearly every state along our northern border – from firmly Democratic-leaning Vermont to strongly Republican-leaning Idaho – uses SDR. Evidence from Demos suggests it contributes to significantly higher turnout in elections. In 2008 alone, the number of SDR ballots across the country was greater than the entire population of Rhode Island: more than one million votes. SDR states are routinely among the states with the highest percentage of voter turnout in the county.
SDR contributes to higher turnout because it is pro-voter. With SDR, people who find themselves left off registration rosters still have an outlet to vote in that election that is secure and reliable. It’s all too easy for voter registration errors and inadvertent mistakes by voters (like having the temerity to change residences close to Election Day or to not have been registered vote when first reaching voting age), to block access to an election. With SDR, such issues happen with less frequency.
This year’s elections underscore how facilitating access to voting is not a partisan issue. SDR gives a boost to whichever candidates, and parties, have sparked the most voter energy, which in turn is fundamental to maintaining a representative democracy based in the “consent of the governed.” Such energy in general may have been on the side of Democrats in 2006 and 2008, but in 2010 it generally favored Republicans.
Those who believe that SDR only helps Democrats should consider what happened in SDR states in 2010. The nine states using SDR in 2010, were: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Wyoming (Connecticut has SDR only during presidential elections, and Washington D.C. now uses it for its elections.)
Going into the election, Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature in seven of these states (Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) and one chamber in Montana – 15 out of 18 in all, including several by large margins. Democrats lost control of 12 of these 15 chambers during the 2010 elections, leaving them only in control of Vermont’s two chambers and the Iowa state senate. To put that in perspective, the Republicans only gained at most eight (depending on results in the still-undecided New York state senate) chambers in the remaining 41 states.
Governor’s races had a similar pattern. Democrats narrowly held onto New Hampshire’s governor’s mansion and were elected in Minnesota and Vermont, but Republicans took control in Iowa, Maine, Wisconsin and Wyoming and maintained control in Idaho. Wisconsin also was one of two states in the country where a Democratic incumbent in the U.S. Senate was defeated.
Of course Republicans found success in non-SDR states as well. But the key point is that Republicans have nothing to fear from SDR, despite at least some Republicans seeming concerned that SDR implementation is particularly helpful to those who are young and/or move more frequently, — including college students and low-income minorities, who are often more likely to vote for Democrats. Yet, with nearly one-third of eligible voters not registered to vote at any time, there are plenty of conservative-leaning eligible voters who can gain access due to SDR.
That’s fundamentally what SDR does: it protects fair access to the ballot. SDR allows eligible voters to participate, even if they become interested in the final days of an election after registration deadlines have passed. It’s a certainty that at least some Republican voters in 2010, perhaps newly inspired by the Tea Party, decided to participate in SDR states close to the election time without having been registered to vote by the traditional voter registration deadlines.
As to the uses of SDR in protecting voter access, consider evidence from provisional ballots, (meaning those ballots cast by voters whose name was not found on the voter roll where they went to vote). In 2008, one third of all provisional ballots were discounted. However, with SDR, there is a significantly reduced need for provisional ballots. In 2008 Wisconsin (with SDR) saw only 211 provisional ballots cast, while Virginia (without SDR) had 4,575 cast.
Using available technology and statewide voter registration databases, SDR can be implemented efficiently and well. Although some say voter registration deadlines are required for the security of an election, studies have shown there is little to no correlation between the arbitrary date chosen to end voter registration and the ability of the state to run a smooth election. In Maine, as with many other states, there has never been a single prosecution of fraudulent SDR voting despite its use for several decades.
Elected officials on both sides of the political spectrum back SDR, which helps to explain the range of states who currently use the method. In 2007, for example, Secretaries of State Ysursa (a Republican from Idaho) and Matt Dunlap (a Democrat from Maine) coauthored a New York Times commentary in support of SDR, claiming it “is a policy that is good for voters, regardless of party, and good for our democracy.”
They’re right. In 2008, SDR may have boosted Barack Obama, but that’s because his candidacy mobilized many Americans. In 2010, SDR seems to have boosted Republicans. But wherever it’s in place, it helps voters.
Turning to the future, Demos reportsthat more than thirty non-SDR states have some form of SDR legislation ,n the works. This leaves eleven states (Virginia, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida and Nevada) as the only states that did not consider SDR legislation in their recent legislative sessions. As more states implement SDR, we will be all the more ready for what should become a national standard: one ideally grounded in the Constitution, HJR 28- the Constitutional Right to Vote legislation would in fact make its use a requirement.
Bottom-line: being pro-voter is good for representative democracy. And that’s good for all of us.

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As Predicted Republican Dirty Tricks in the California Attorney General Race

Ben Franklin said that nothing is certain except death and taxes — but then Ben lived before there was a Republican Party to make the political dirty trick every bit as predictable.
We predicted what would happen as the race for the California attorney general took a swing in favor of Democrat Kamala Harris, and what do you know, it did. Over the last few days, as Harris’ lead has stayed around 30,000 votes, Steve Cooley’s campaign has pulled out that old Republican standby, challenging the vote count.
Naturally, their deep concern is focused only on counties where Harris holds large leads. There, Cooley’s campaign staff has begun attacking not only the credibility of the process, but also the professionals overseeing the process. And their narrative has actually taken hold, with stories in the Wall Street Journal and some local papers.
The real story is that their candidate is losing. But all too often, Republicans see reality as negotiable.
Cooley spokesman Kevin Spillane claims that his campaign’s attempt to throw out provisional ballots in Democratic counties is a case of “exercising our rights to try to do what we can to prevent any voter fraud.” Note that wonderfully useful little word, “any”: no actual evidence of voter fraud is required. You could equally justify trying to prevent “any” voter pantsing — as the old saying goes, it could happen. Better be on guard!
Spillane is engaging in a full-court press, even implying that a legal battle may ensue after the vote is finalized.
As a result, the county registrar has found himself defending the process and even his own qualifications.
But wait, you say, gaming of elections does happen. Yes, it does. Trouble is, the champion practitioners are in the Republican Party, which has perfected the process over decades, particularly by targeting poor and minority voters. Democrats seldom do it. You may not know that, given all the Republican-ginned hysteria about Acorn and the “New Black Panthers”. That, too is part of the GOP’s game: accuse the opponent of exactly what you yourself are most guilty of (also known as Swift Boating).
But all this exertion by the Cooley campaign is actually a good omen for Kamala Harris. Clearly Cooley’s people are setting up the troubled vote count narrative for a reason: they believe they’ve lost. Why else try to discredit the process, unless they think it’s pointing to an unfavorable outcome for their side? If it were otherwise, we can assume they would be going out of their way to praise the wisdom of the people and the miracle of democracy in action.
The Cooley campaign has received a lot of money from trickster grandee Karl Rove. We can well imagine the kind of mentoring he might throw in with it.
Luckily, the Harris Campaign appears to have been prepared for these attacks and has fought back. Meanwhile, we agree with the Fresno Bee. Although that paper endorsed Cooley, its editorial yesterday was headed “Cooley should cool it on vote count in race for AG’s seat”, and concludes, “Candidates have the right to monitor the count, but not interfere. Let county voting officials do their job.”


A Way Forward for Nuclear Arms Control

The Obama administration and a broad coalition of national security experts believe that ratification of the New START treaty, signed last April between the United States and Russia, would be an essential stepping stone toward their goals of deep nuclear force reductions and global nuclear disarmament. But the administration should be careful about placing too much weight on this “stepping stone” argument as it seeks to win ratification during a lame-duck session of Congress. Even if New START is ratified before the Democrats’ Senate majority significantly shrinks, it will not help advance advocates’ long-term goals unless a lost consensus on arms control fundamentals is rebuilt first, particularly around the principle of verification of arms reductions.
President Ronald Reagan famously noted that the basis of successful arms control is “trust, but verify.” Yet, uncertainty about the nature of post-Cold War U.S.-Russian relations has helped to undermine the Reagan-era consensus on this point.
During the past decade, opposition to verification has alternately been justified on the basis that our relationship with Russia no longer requires it (as was the case with the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty), and on fears that verification is necessary but incapable of detecting Russian cheating (as is the case with New START). The mutually exclusive nature of these arguments suggests that verification opposition has taken on pathological qualities.
This verification pathology is problematic for those who support deep nuclear force reductions because verification is the bedrock of safe reductions. Eschewing verification as we scale down our arsenal is equivalent to playing nuclear Russian roulette with our national security.
That is why New START renews and refines mutual verification. And it is why lead U.S. negotiator Rose Gottemoeller compellingly argues that New START’s verification provisions are among the agreement’s most important elements.
Absent a strong national consensus on verification, shifting political and strategic contexts will place enormous strain on all future arms control agreements. In 2001, such shifts helped convince President George W. Bush to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Similarly, the 1991 START Treaty, which was negotiated by Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and overwhelmingly ratified by the Senate, lost enough support by December 2009 that it was allowed to expire. With it went the existing framework for mutual nuclear arms verification between the U.S. and Russia.
Reestablishing this mutual verification is critical to U.S. national security.
One reason for this is that verification inspections provide us with critical intelligence that would otherwise have been shrouded in mystery. It is much easier to protect U.S. national interests when such information is out in the open.
Moreover, while verification is not a guarantee of perfect behavior, it need not be so. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates has argued, “Russia will not be able to achieve militarily significant cheating or breakout under New START,” in part because of its verification provisions.
Finally, while the United States must never accept constraints that endanger its national security, the constraints imposed by nuclear verifications can have far-reaching benefits for U.S. interests.
The first START treaty is instructive here. Leaving aside unproductive debates about U.S. exceptionalism, the administration of President George H.W. Bush concluded what Ronald Reagan had started, signing the agreement shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union left the United States as the world’s sole superpower. The elder President Bush’s decision reflected a recognition that the constraints of START-I could actually enhance U.S. power by providing the confidence in strategic relations with Russia that was necessary for Washington to turn its attention to emerging threats in the Middle East and East Asia.
Some of these threats remain, with Iran edging closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, and North Korea now possessing a small arsenal. Today, as before, the United States will have more resources to deal with these threats if it increases stability in bilateral relations with Russia. Verifiable arms control agreements will remain a fundamental building block of this stability now and well into the future.
As supporters and skeptics of New START recalibrate in the aftermath of the recent U.S. elections, they should work to find common ground to promote the common good. We were once united on the critical principle of verification. To help preserve the world for future generations, we must unite around it again.


The Election Where Everybody Was Right but Nobody Was Listening

We have read all of the Election 2010 post-mortems. Here are some of the most insightful: Charlie Cook, Democracy Corps, Senator Jim Webb, Ruy Texeira, Ruth Marcus, Larry J. Sabato, E.J. Dionne, Margie Omero, Rolling Stone.
Here is what we conclude:
1) Democrats got “shellacked” as bad as some people say, and worse than many people realize. But for a few exceptionally weak Tea Party candidates, Democrats would have lost their majority in the Senate as well as the House of Representatives.
2) The Democrats and Tea Partiers are both likely to misread this election. Just like 2008 (and other elections like 1992 and 1994 where the winning side overclaimed a mandate), this was a rejection of one political ideology, but not an embrace of the other. In fact, for several elections in a row, voters have rejected ideology based politics and yet our parties are both growing increasingly ideological. There is something seriously wrong here.
3) Democrats cannot count on things getting better in the next election. Unless progressives get a lot more creative in how they view politics, and chart a course that takes us beyond the intra-party partisanship of the left versus the moderates, 2012 may actually be a lot worse.
If Democrats are going to mount a turnaround in the next election, the first step is to face the facts about what happened in this election. The second step is to listen to one another. And the third step is real change in how we govern for the next two years.
The first step is to face the facts.
Voters rejected Democrats because they believed we cared more about our ideological agenda, than the voters’ agenda. The voters’ agenda has one item on it: Jobs. After passing several big spending bills that in the view of voters were too big and yet not effective Democrats spent 10 months arguing among ourselves over the details of health reform.
Rather than demonstrating that Washington can do anything right through a series of initiatives that brought benefits people can understand to solve their problems, Democrats opted for enormous “comprehensive” bills that we hope the public will eventually appreciate (once we give them all the facts). Many people, including former President Clinton, have been pointing to voters who were unclear about basic facts heading into the election. But, even if voters were unclear about the facts they were not unclear about their own intentions.
It is true that many voters believed Obama rather than Bush was responsible for the TARP financial bailout, for example, and from the point of view of progressives, it is almost comical that many voters think the health reform amounted to a government takeover. But voters were nonetheless clear in sending the message that they think government in Washington is trying to do too much, without delivering progress on the one issue they cared most about, jobs.
Whether TARP was Obama’s idea or Bush’s, voters worry about its price tag in combination with other large government expenditures. Whether health reform amounted to a national takeover or not, voters were clear that they did not want a national takeover. Progressives were right to say Republicans would paint it as a government takeover whether it was one or not.
The second step is to listen to one another.
In fact, the consistent theme from this election is that all of the component groups that made up the coalition that elected Barack Obama in a landslide just two years ago, made dire predictions about what would happen to Democrats in 2010 unless we listened to them — and all of them were right. We didn’t listen to them and all of the dire predictions came true. The economy did not come back. The base was not enthused. Key constituencies stayed home. And, independents broke strongly for Republicans. Everyone was right and everyone lost.
Economists on the left, notably Paul Krugman, warned that a too small stimulus would fail to get the economy moving. Basic Keynesian economics, which saved us from the Great Depression, teaches us that even with near zero interest rates, government expenditure can be necessary to maintain enough demand to avoid a deflationary spiral. If people do not have enough money in their pockets to buy stuff, business will not hire workers, and then people have even less money to buy stuff. We can blame the economy for the bad result, but some of our economic experts believe we did not do what we needed to do to move the economy forward. They believe the stimulus must have been larger, and they were right that the unemployment rate has been stuck in a place that contributed to our Election Night losses.
Moderates in Congress warned that independent voters were growing concerned about deficit spending and government debt. They were right. Exit polls tell us independent voters that had broken for the Democrats in the past two elections, moved as dramatically to the GOP in this election. The majority of voters believe the stimulus bill was a failure, and the public believes government spending is out of control. About half of the House moderates were defeated in the last election.
The net roots warned that progressives would stay home if the President did not back the policies of a “real Democrat.” Their job, as they saw it, was to keep Obama honest and true to progressive ideals. And if he failed to show enough “backbone” in pushing for “real reform” of the health care system, or “real reform” of the financial system, they predicted progressive voters would stay home. They were right. Democrats suffered an enthusiasm gap as young voters in particular were not only a far smaller proportion of the electorate than in 2008, but fewer voters under 30 participated than in 2006 and Democrats lost, just as the net roots had predicted.
Women have had doubts about the Democratic priorities, playbook, and tone being too masculine and detached ever since Obama wrested the nomination from Hillary Clinton. With too much head and too little heart — too little emphasis placed on the kitchen table jobs issues and a message that says “we care,” not only did independent women move dramatically from Democrats to Republicans, Democratic women didn’t show up in customary numbers for phone banks and get-out-the-vote activities. If not for the handful of states where Democratic women could vote Democratic women at the top of the ticket, particularly in California and Washington, the overall women’s vote would have moved even further away from Democrats.
Unions, environmentalists, LGBT, minorities, and other interest groups, who had to take IOUs rather than progress on their top initiatives in the first two Obama years, warned that they would have difficulty explaining to their constituents why they should turn out at the polls. They were right, they struggled to turn out their constituents, and with several important counter-examples (most notably union and Hispanic voters turning out in just large enough numbers to help Harry Reid eke out a win in Nevada) Democrats lost power and now there seems to be little reason to believe Obama will be able to deliver on these promises in the second two years. The Employee Free Choice Act, legislation to address global warming, repeal of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, comprehensive immigration reform (and even the Dream Act) are all still sitting on the list of unfulfilled promises.
The third step is real change in how we govern.
There is a lot of magical thinking going on in some Democratic circles that points to the 1995/96 Clinton comeback without understanding how it was achieved. In addition to a tremendous Republican overreach by Newt Gingrich that John Boehner (then a Gingrich lieutenant) may or may not repeat this time around, Clinton made dramatic moves back towards his centrist DLC governing philosophy. This included a clean-break denunciation of the left in the form of a State of the Union headlining phrase, “The era of big government is over” and enactment of conservative leaning policies, most notably a welfare reform bill that was reviled by the left and brought resignations of several high ranking liberal policy advisors.
It is not at all clear that this is the only, or even best, option open to Obama. An alternative strategy would be to move as far away from ideological politics as possible, and focus only on pragmatism. Make it our highest priority to find solutions to voters’ highest priorities (hint: right now its jobs and the economy). Look for common ground and work for common sense approaches.
Some Democrats may find that they do not have the capacity to unite around this strategy because it would require all elements of the party to become unconcerned that the Republicans could “win” on an issue, or that Democratic leaders would be guilty of “compromise” but it is certainly the posture that would be most welcomed by voters.
If there is a case for Obama changing by moving firmly to the left, now is the time to make it. We find what we have heard so far along these lines most unconvincing. Progressives have been issuing demands to lawmakers to support policies that they have not convinced a majority of voters to support. The challenge for the left is to make the case that it is possible to fight for the progressive agenda while listening to the public, convincing people that we care and are making solid and tangible progress on the issue that matters to them (jobs) so that we can win them back in 2012.
After two years where Democrats, holding nearly all the cards in Washington, spent a great deal of energy in disagreements with other Democrats, Republicans are about to show a demonstration of party unity and discipline. Democrats will never match the Republicans for discipline but if we are going to move the policies we care about, and to chart a path for a return in 2012, we are going to need greater focus and commitment on a few achievable goals. In the short term Republicans are rallying around the relatively small issue of earmark reform. We should match them with a clear focus on the extension of unemployment insurance and more bills to help small business.
And enough talk about how we should extend the Bush tax cuts. Democrats need their own tax plan, but that is the subject of our next post — oh look, Paul Waldman just wrote that one so we don’t have to.

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Single Payer after the Midterm Elections

While it’s clear from post-election surveys that having voted for “health care reform” was not a major cause of the Democrats’ defeats, the new health law didn’t help. What should have been a feather in the administration’s cap – i.e. a genuine reform that guaranteed truly universal, comprehensive care – instead became an albatross.
Many Democrats, sensing the electorate’s unease with the new health law’s mandates to buy private insurance, its lack of cost controls, and its limited reach – e.g. 23 million will remain uninsured in 2019 – found it difficult to defend. Some even boasted they voted against it.
In a fundamental sense, health care reform was botched by Congress. People wanted serious reform and didn’t get it. The big insurance and drug companies got their way, making a few concessions that they are already trying to wriggle out of.
As a result, what was adopted last March was so defective that ultra-conservatives were actually able use it against the president’s party.
Yet those who might interpret the election results as a repudiation of any health care reform should pause for a moment and consider these developments:
In Vermont, Peter Shumlin, an outspoken supporter of single-payer health reform who defeated four opponents (some of whom also supported single payer) in the primary, went on to win the governor’s race.
Shumlin reports that he has already spoken with President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about getting the necessary federal waivers to implement a single-payer system in the state of Vermont.
Besides Shumlin, four other political heavyweights in the state also support single payer: former governor Howard Dean, Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, and Rep. Peter Welch.
Dr. Deb Richter, a family physician in the Green Mountain State, says, “Peter Shumlin’s election shows Vermonters want a single-payer health care system. We’re going to get this done.”
In California, Jerry Brown won the governorship, defeating Meg Whitman, who spent $141 million of her own money in her failed campaign. In his 1992 presidential primary bid, Brown declared his support for single-payer health reform, and California activists hope he will sign a single-payer bill in 2011 when it comes to his desk. (The Legislature there has twice passed a single-payer bill, only to have it vetoed both times by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
In Hawaii, former congressman Neil Abercrombie, a co-sponsor of Rep. John Conyers’ single-payer bill, H.R. 676, was also elected governor. He, too, takes office in a state where many lawmakers have signaled their openness to the single-payer alternative.
Significantly, in the House races, only one of 88 co-sponsors of H.R. 676, Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., was defeated in the general election by a Republican. Seven other co-sponsors were lost due to death, resignation, defeat in the primary or retirement. Just one of those went to a Republican, Tom Reed, who won Rep. Eric Massa’s old seat in New York.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus also did well, losing only three of its 69 members. In contrast, over half of the 54-member conservative Blue Dog Democrats went down to defeat.
In Massachusetts, voters in 14 of 14 legislative districts affirmed their support for single-payer health reform by turning in a majority of “Yes” votes (overall, around 2 to 1) for the following ballot question: “Shall the representative from this district be instructed to support legislation that would establish health care as a human right regardless of age, state of health or employment status, by creating a single payer health insurance system like Medicare that is comprehensive, cost effective, and publicly provided to all residents of Massachusetts?”
Benjamin Day, executive director of MassCare, writes: “The ballots spanned 80 different cities and towns in a state of 351 municipalities, winning in every city and town reporting results so far [as of Nov. 3] except two. Five of the districts backing single-payer reform voted for Scott Brown in last year’s special Senate election, which was largely seen as a referendum on national health reform, showing that the goal of improved and expanded Medicare for All is supported by a diverse range of communities across the state.”
A similar referendum in 2008 swept 10 of 10 different legislative districts in Massachusetts, refuting the Republican boast that single-payer health care reform is unpopular.
Apparently, whenever people are given serious choices, single payer’s popularity is sustained, even in the face of scurrilous attacks from the right claiming it is “socialistic” or “un-American.”
There were also setbacks to the single-payer cause, too.
The defeat of Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin was a very heavy loss. Just last February, Feingold had reaffirmed his longtime support for single payer. He should be sought out to help lead the movement for single payer in this new phase.
One of the most egregious results was the election of former hospital company executive Rick Scott to the governor’s mansion in Florida. In 1997, Scott was forced to resign his post as CEO of Columbia/HCA, a giant hospital chain, amid a scandal pointing to massive Medicare fraud and other improper billing practices. The company ultimately admitted to 14 felonies and agreed to pay the federal government over $1.7 billion in fines. Scott spent at least $73 million of his own money to get elected to Florida’s top office.
In Arizona and Oklahoma, ballot initiatives purporting to uphold “freedom of choice” in health care passed. Couched in anti-mandate language, these initiatives are in fact intended to keep patients prisoner of their insurance company networks and are really directed against enactment of single-payer systems.
So what to do going forward?
Aside from the very promising prospects for fundamental reform in Vermont, one of the immediate tasks of single-payer supporters is to block the proposals from the co-chairs of the Deficit Commission to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits. The commission is set to make its recommendations to Congress by Dec. 1.
As my colleague Dr. Margaret Flowers has testified, the best way to safeguard Medicare is to improve its benefits and to expand it to cover everyone.
Otherwise the battle for fundamental health reform remains front and center, on both the state and national levels. The Medicare-for-all proposal is simple, clear, legitimate and compelling in its logic. The destructive role of private corporations in our health system is also plainly evident.
Just as women’s suffrage and civil rights laws were widely seen as unattainable – sometimes just a few years before they were enacted – single payer is an idea whose time has come. It is unstoppable.


Just How Bad is Boehner for a Womans Right to Choose

Rep. John Boehner is set to become the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. As Boehner prepares to take the gavel, a survey released last week shows that the vast majority of Americans has no idea who he is. We have no doubt that, before long, Boehner will emerge as the new face of the anti-choice movement in the U.S.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, didn’t Boehner campaign on jobs and the economy? Isn’t calling for attacks on choice inconsistent with the ‘limited government’ he talks about?”
When it comes to choice, Boehner’s rhetoric about limited government rings hollow. Less than 48 hours after polls closed, Boehner did exactly what we expected him to do: make attacking a woman’s right to choose a cornerstone (or pillar, rather) of his agenda. He even told the National Right to Life Committee that, when women have the right to choose, “freedom is diminished.” A recent front-page story in The New York Times spells out how imposing additional restrictions on a woman’s right to choose and ending insurance coverage of abortion is a central part of his push to repeal the health-reform law.
Let’s face it. Creating jobs, especially in the short term, will be hard. Boehner won’t have much to show his base, unless he takes aim at a woman’s right to choose.
Contrary to his statements about ‘limited government’, Boehner has never missed an opportunity to open the door to more political interference in our personal, private decisions. He even has accepted the endorsement of the Republican National Coalition for Life, which requires all endorsed candidates to “indicate they are faithfully pro-life, and do not justify abortion for innocent babies who are conceived through rape or incest.”
Since entering the House in 1990, Boehner has cast 142 votes on abortion and other reproductive-rights issues. All 142 were anti-choice. That’s right: in 20 years in Congress, Boehner voted in favor of a woman’s right to choose exactly zero times.
Here’s a quick glance at his “greatest hits” list of Boehner’s anti-choice votes:
Boehner voted eight times against clinic protection for women and their doctors. [House vote #580 (11/18/93); House vote #582 (11/18/93); House vote #66 (3/17/94); House vote #68 (3/17/94); House vote #157 (5/5/94); House vote #158 (5/5/94); House vote #159 (5/5/94); House vote #125 (2/14/95)]
John Boehner even voted (twice!) to deny federal funding of abortion care to survivors of rape and incest. [House vote #619 (8/3/95); House vote #51 (3/7/96)]
He voted 17 times to deny women in the military – who are defending our freedom overseas – the right to use their own, private funds for abortion care at overseas military hospitals. [House vote #109 (5/22/91); House vote #163 (6/4/92); House vote #458 (10/3/92); House vote #382 (6/15/95); House vote #641 (9/7/95); House vote #642 (9/7/95); House vote #167 (5/14/96); House vote #217 (6/19/97); House vote #171 (5/20/98); House vote #184 (6/9/99); House vote #203 (5/18/00); House vote #357 (9/25/01); House vote #153 (5/10/02); House vote #215 (5/22/03); House vote #197 (5/19/04); House vote #216 (5/25/05); House vote #136 (5/10/06)]
He voted twice against insurance coverage of contraception for federal employees – a provision of the law that ensures health plans cover birth control equally with other prescription medications. [House vote #290 (7/16/98); House vote #493 (10/7/98)]
He voted twice against the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows Americans to take time off work to care for a child or sick family-member. [House vote #443 (9/30/92); House vote #22 (2/3/93)]
Now that Boehner will control the House, the outlook for women is grim.
Boehner already is a co-sponsor of the dangerous “Stupak on Steroids” bill. This bill is even worse than the original Stupak amendment that threatened health-care reform. It would ban coverage of abortion in the new health-care system and impose a tax on Americans with private insurance plans that include abortion coverage. Eighty-seven percent of private plans currently include such coverage.
In addition, Boehner’s plan to repeal the health-reform law jeopardizes the promise of free prenatal care and birth control for millions of American women. He also could revive the failed Bush-era “abstinence-only” programs that censored discussion of birth control and cut funding for family-planning services (the Title X program) that provide women access to basic health care, such as birth control and cancer screening.
Sadly, Boehner faces few obstacles when it comes to a vote count. He will lead a House of Representatives with at least 79 new anti-choice members.
We are under no illusions about changing Boehner’s position on choice, but we are committed to making sure he feels the pressure of America’s pro-choice majority as he carries the water for the anti-choice movement in the coming months. In just the last two weeks, we’ve recruited thousands of new activists and educated our supporters about our need to fight back against the incoming speaker.
We will ensure that each and every day more Americans know that, when it comes to women’s freedom and privacy, Boehner doesn’t speak for the majority of people in this country.

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Learned From the Midterms Are You Listening President Obama

Now that the dust has begun to settle on the 2010 midterm elections, what did we learned from that traumatic experience? Let’s make sure that the intellectual air around the White House is able to hear and digest what “the people” told us!
First, we must understand that much of the “throw the bums out” mood witnessed during the midterms had everything to do with the economy and little to do with love or confidence in either party. The vote on November 2nd was about getting the attention of the ruling elite. It was a vote to express outrage that somehow the folks in Washington were still oblivious to the loosely agreed upon priority of the populace, namely the need to create jobs and fix the economy. Now the Republicans will try and spin the election results as a story about rejecting “Obamacare,” or voters prioritizing the deficit, or some voters even supporting tax breaks for the rich. Let them go down that road if they wish and suffer the consequences of yet another party of elites not listening to the electorate and making their own agenda the priority instead of creating living wage jobs.
I would warn the Obama administration to not confuse the directive from the voters to create jobs with a message about wanting more bipartisan politics or frustration with the gridlock that dominates Washington — largely because of the party of “no.” Of course, people are sick and tired of gridlock but right now most people only care about gridlock and bipartisanship because those are thought to block traction on their real concern — jobs and a stable economy. If the Democrats alone produce jobs they will be rewarded for that work and not a word will be spoken about the absence of bipartisan politics. So President Obama please stop trying to promote bipartisanship, except that which is needed to produce the jobs the electorate demands.
Second, I would encourage the President to set a bold agenda for job creation during the next two years as he campaigns for re-election. He may be defeated in November 2012 — yes, I wrote it — but better to be defeated because of mistakes than missteps. Mistakes come from betting wrong but making a decision and engaging in decisive action. Missteps come from tip-toeing around issues in an attempt to just do enough to get re-elected. I believe that the Democrats lost many midterm contests because they decided to tip-toe around their policy agenda of the previous two years. Instead of defending their work to pass health care reform, curb wall street abuses, reign in the credit card industry and make college affordable for working people, the Democrats tip-toed around these issues just enough to loose control of the political story-telling that defined their last two years of work.
Finally, I would encourage the President to not forget those segments of the Democratic majority who have stayed true and turned out for Democrats when many other groups went red. It would be easy for this administration to point to the losses among progressives such as the defeat of Russ Feingold as a lesson about the negative consequences of moving too far left from the center and speaking too directly to progressive constituencies like people of color and youth. President Obama and the Democratic Party must remember that they have to continue to work to secure and energize those parts of their base that proved so essential in 2008. It is critical that the Democrats remember: it was young Blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans that drove the increase in the youth vote in 2008. Census data indicates that the turnout for young Blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans, 18-29 in 2008, increased by 9, 6 and 11 percentage points respectively over their turnout rates in 2004. Young whites demonstrated no change in turnout between 2004 and 2008.
Keeping young people of color on board for 2012 will mean taking on issues such as immigration, violence in urban cities, public education, college affordability, and living-wage job creation, while also investing in implementing a creative and effective mobilizing infrastructure now. Both scholars and activists know the critical role that mobilization plays in facilitating and sustaining political participation. We also know that mobilization is not equally disseminated. Research has shown that traditional party-based mobilization strategies generally do not work and often cannot be found in communities of color. Data collected through the Mobilization and Change Project, for example, found that while Whites are more likely to be mobilized for political action through the parties, mobilization efforts targeting black Americans are more likely to come from community and religious organizations.
An investment in building an infrastructure to engage and mobilize youth, especially young people of color whose percentage of the youth population will only continue to grow, is needed if the Democrats and President Obama are to win. Paying attention to these three important lessons will help the Democrats and the President recapture the momentum of 2008 and secure a second chance to truly deliver ” change you can believe in”,” or at the least, create jobs that people can live on.


The Boy Who Cried Mandate The Perils of Exaggerating Reality

On Mondays we have staff calls. We all have hectic schedules, so it’s important we set aside some time each week to keep each other abreast of everything that’s happening with ongoing and upcoming projects. Also, there is lunch.
Everyone has suggestions, but as Management, I’ll often narrow it down to the two most popular choices. If seven of the thirteen of us opt for Thai, and the other six would rather try that new barbecue place, unfortunately, some tough choices must be made. “A close call,” I might say, “but we’ll try to do the barbecue place next week.”
What I would never do is announce, “Everyone! There is a clear mandate for Thai food! Thai has routed barbecue in this epic clash! The people have spoken, and they have angrily rejected the possibility of barbecue, telling it to go back to the pit from whence it came!”
And yet this is basically what happens every election cycle. Nowhere but in politics does capturing a simple majority of votes cast onto a field of two qualify as a “mandate.” In 2008, 47% of the population voted against Barack Obama. In 2010, about 48% of Americans voted against Republican candidates. In each case, a swing of 4% of the population would have resulted in the opposite overall outcome. A mandate? Seriously?
Why does “descriptor inflation” happen? And how does this devaluation of linguistic currency impact us all?
The media does it because it generates eyeballs.
“This was a whooping, wouldn’t you say, fellas?”
“Oh, more than a whooping, John, it was a beat-down!”
“John, I agree with Skip! This was just a massacre for the Dems!”
“Completely agree! It was a Day of Reckoning for anyone who was a friend of the President!”
Doesn’t sound all that made up, does it? It probably could have happened. What would it take for you to think I was stretching the limits of today’s exaggerated commentary? What if I tried the following?
“This is a lot like 1812, when the New Madrid earthquake was so devastating that it made the Mississippi River run backwards. This was a river reversal last night.”
If only I had made that up. Mike Huckabee actually said that on Fox News.
In fact, it’s hard to come up with a sentence so extreme you wouldn’t believe it was actually uttered on national TV. Here’s the best I could do:
“Well, John, what I think happened, was the Republicans took a shovel and decapitated the Democrats with it, and then, via a large truck, or maybe steamroller, ran over the heads and squashed them into a kind of Democrat paste, and that is what the American people demanded!”
Now, I’m not the Language Police. But I do analyze language’s effects on audiences. And the impact is bad. Bad for the media. Bad for the politicians. Bad for society.
Over time, there’s a cost to this descriptor inflation:
The media has become the boy who cried wolf. Every cat in a tree is portrayed as the last vestige of an endangered species clinging to life in the face of human selfishness.
Politicians suffer from heightened expectations and the kind of backlash we just witnessed in the 2010 midterms. When politicians portray a close race as a mandate for change and then can’t deliver, a small shift in voting behavior completely changes the political dynamics in a matter of one election cycle.
And for society, descriptor inflation, makes us less able to use nuance when describing things, and less likely to believe others when they speak. Try to count the number of times you’ve told someone that something was the “Best ____ Ever” or “absolutely horrible” lately. I know you didn’t mean it that way. You were just saying. But now think of how many times people have said similar things to you recently. Did such strong language really make you take notice? Did it even make a dent?
If the most emphatic language we have becomes the norm, becomes the cost of entry into a conversation, then we lose the ability to use language to differentiate with any kind of subtlety. We build up a tolerance for superlatives. What’s left? Getting louder for more emphasis? Kicking each other in the groin?
So, to encourage myself, my staff, and anyone reading this to speak in absolutes only when absolutely necessary, I’d like to announce an informal contest for Most Extreme Election Analysis Sentence.
We’ll have two categories: non-fiction and fiction. In the comments section below, post your entries for the most extreme sentences actually typed or uttered by analysts (typed or uttered seriously – sarcasm doesn’t count) and the most extreme sentences you can invent (keep them free of any objectionable material, though). Be sure to state which category you’re entering, and include a link to the original source if you can. Winners will be announced November 23rd on my Web site, www.languageoftrust.com, and will each receive a free copy of my recent book, The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics.
I hope it will be a cause of a few moments of moderate enjoyment.

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Known Unknowns The Power of Secret Money in the 2010 Elections

In January, when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Citizens United v. FEC, allowing corporations for the first time in decades to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, nobody was quite sure how the new rules would play out in a real election. The justices in the Court’s majority imagined some ideal world where all campaign spending was swiftly disclosed–and where all voters had easy access to the disclosed information–leading to an honest and prosperous marketplace of ideas. Critics of the decision (myself and my organization included) predicted something much less sunny–corporations flooding money into elections to help elect pro-corporate candidates, unhindered by transparency or even honesty.
Our fears and expectations, unfortunately, turned out to be well founded. This year’s midterm elections were the most expensive in history, and featured an unprecedented amount of spending from outside special interest groups, many of which ran misleading attack ads while concealing the sources of their funding. And corporate money made a difference. Outside groups, most prominently the big business-funded Chamber of Commerce, favored a new wave of pro-corporate Republican candidates 2-1…and met with astounding success for their agenda on Election Day.
Determining the impact money has on elections is difficult, but this year it was undeniably powerful. A Public Citizen report after the election found in 58 of the 74 races in which power changed hands on Nov. 2, the candidate who benefitted from the most outside spending also won their election. Of course, the cause and effect can go both ways–special interests often back shoe-in candidates just to be in their good graces once they’re in office–but outside money clearly made a difference in some very close races.
Take, for instance, the work of the American Future Fund, a Des Moines-based group that received its seed money from the CEO of a large ethanol company. Beyond that, we know very little about AFF’s funders and agenda–because it claims to spend more than half of its money on non-electoral work, it doesn’t have to disclose its donors to the FEC…and visitors hoping to tour its headquarters will find not an office, but a mailbox.
The AFF’s agenda was also less than clear. The group produced ads attacking congressional incumbents on issues including health care reform, the stimulus, and clean energy legislation. And, most notably, it hired the producer of the infamous Willie Horton ad to create an ad attacking Iowa congressman Bruce Braley for his refusal to condemn the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” which introduced the absurd, and apparently catchy, concept of “victory mosques.” But one clue to the group’s true agenda suggests that its donors were not really all that concerned with Medicare or mosques: nearly all of its target incumbents were Democrats sitting on committees overseeing energy and agriculture policy.
But whatever the AFF was up to, it was enormously successful. A New York Times analysis found that it had the highest success rate among big-spending outside groups in last week’s elections, winning 19 of the 25 races in which it invested. In the remaining races, like Braley’s, it lost by razor-thin margins.
A similar dynamic was at play in the work of the secretive Karl Rove-founded group American Crossroads GPS. NBC’s Michael Isikoff found this month that the secretive group was funded almost entirely by a group of wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls–whose money Crossroads GPS directed toward running faux-populist ads slamming incumbent Democrats for their votes to bail out Wall Street.
This story repeated itself again and again this year–from an oil and gas industry front group called the “First Amendment Alliance” creating an anti-Jack Conway ad about meth enforcement so false it was pulled off the airwaves in Kentucky to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce benefitting from contributions from foreign corporations and then attacking the opponents of candidates who push its pro-outsourcing agenda.
These groups are what you could call, in the famous words of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “known unknowns”: we know that they’re there…but we have know way of knowing what they’re up to.
Contrast these powerful outside spenders with another well-moneyed group in American elections: self-financed candidates. On the whole, millionaire and billionaire candidates who bankrolled their own campaigns pretty much flopped in this month’s elections. According to OpenSecrets.org, four out of five of the 58 federal-level candidates who spent more than $500,000 of their own money on their campaigns ended up losing in the primary or general election. Self-financed candidates generally have a fairly dismal track record of winning elections–partly because some lack the political experience to pull off a successful campaign, partly because voters reject the idea of a person buying themselves political office. (The Washington Post and the American Prospect both looked into the self-funding paradox earlier this year).
But why the huge disparity between the effectiveness of different kinds of money in the political process?
Polling shows that the vast majority of Americans really don’t like the idea of corporations and interest groups pouring money into elections…and also really don’t like it that outside groups don’t have to reveal the major sources of their money.
But not liking the idea of wealthy people or corporations or powerful special interest groups trying to buy elections isn’t much help when you’re seeing a convincing ad on TV from a group with a name like the “Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity”–and have no way of finding out what the money and motivations behind the ad are.
Self-financed candidates are, to a large extent, “known knowns.” When a candidate is bankrolling her own campaign, voters go into the polling place knowing full well who’s most invested in that candidate’s success and where the money comes from. Voters knew that Carly Fiorina made her fortune by sending jobs overseas, and Linda McMahon made hers by selling misogyny. But when a candidate is backed by millions of dollars from shadowy interest groups, the equation gets more difficult. The money’s there, but it’s difficult if not impossible to tell where the money comes from and what exactly it’s meant to buy.
The system as it is hands a huge advantage to candidates who advance pro-corporate policies, and also rewards those who avoid wearing their corporate allegiances on their sleeves.
When the 112th Congress convenes, its members will include politicians who campaigned on radical pro-corporate policies–eliminating health care reform, privatizing Social Security, deregulating Wall Street. Corporate America and the Tea Party movement have been closely linked since former Wall Street banker Rick Santelli issued his infamous battle cry on CNBC. But the unlimited, undisclosed corporate money poured into the campaigns of Tea Party candidates has made the union complete. We may not know exactly who our new Congress is indebted to, but we do know that that debt is enormous.
The Senate will have one last chance next month to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which simply requires outside groups on both the Right and Left to disclose the major sources of their income. There is no reason for any member of Congress to oppose the bill, except the fear of harming his or her own reelection campaign. We all need to ask our senators what their priorities are: the strength of their reelection efforts, or the strength of our democracy.

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Who Decides Who Decides

Watching the recent election results, I’ve certainly noticed that the pendulum of public opinion seems to swing back and forth in much shorter cycles than it used to — just like in so many other areas of life in this hurried age. A single party used to control the House or Senate for decades, as for example during the FDR era. Now each administration seems to suffer a similar fate through being incapable of satisfying the public by living up to voters’ hopes and expectations.
But who actually decides who’s in charge? And who decides who decides? Is it really the voters? Or is it the lobbyists, or the talking heads? I personally would like to vote for reason and universal consideration and concern being at the helm, challenging as that ideal may be.
Now there is not going to be a single African-American in the United States Senate, which does not bode well for our methods of representation. (There do happen to be two Buddhist members of Congress; one is a woman from Hawaii.) This imbalance and lack of diversity reflects the world of power politics rather than the real day to day which we live in; it is a symptom of selfishness and lack of perspective, which is at the root of inequality and iniquity of all kinds.
Without diversity and the art of compromise, extreme voices sharpen and the decibel level rises without any significant gain in mutual understanding or agreement. I hear too much strident criticism without much in the way of viable solutions to the problems we face. Without meaningful public conversation, tolerance and empathic compassion, short term gains and goals are forced to the fore at the expense of more long term concerns. Instant gratification is the law of the land. Being re-elected becomes more important than governing well, while deeper meaning and purpose-such gets lost in the rush to power and success. Where are the more moderate, reflective, truly constrictive voices attuned to the complexity of life and our issues today?
The speed of life today and our ingrained hyper-reactivity makes so many of us fall prey to small groups of canny strategists bent upon eliciting specific responses conducive to their own narrow ends through buzz words, provocative slogans, and highlighting wedge issues. For example, religion, which was originally intended to be a unifying force, has become a divisive one today. I believe we would do well to focus on finding a middle way of balance and inclusiveness.
The United States of America has for long stood out as the symbol of the free world. So we must be strong, resolute and decisive including vision, compassionate action, and long term planning in our civic lives. We would do well to listen to other viewpoints, focus on the deeper meaning, and remember the purpose and value of our brief life on this fragile planet. In our busy lives, it is ever so important not to get caught up in mere reactivity and end up feeling disempowered or even victimized. When you are able to focus on long term vision and deeper goals, you are the one who decides.

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A Green Victory in Richmond California

While the recent elections were seen as a setback for national environmental advocates, for the small city of Richmond in San Francisco’s East Bay, it marked a tidal shift in a seven-year battle to protect Point Molate, the last large undeveloped headland on the bay from a mega-casino. Here, at least, the election demonstrated that poor communities can assert their right to control their own shorelines and perhaps their own destinies — despite outside pressure.
On the winning side were local activists of Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate and the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which includes the Green Party Mayor of this low-income, predominantly African-American and Hispanic city of just over 100,000.
On the side that didn’t win was a Berkeley developer with plans for a billion dollar casino resort at the headlands, a small band of Pomo Indians hoping to break into urban gaming, and an even smaller band of environmentalists willing to cut a multi-million dollar deal with them just before Richmond was to vote on the casino.
Also, never to be left out of local politics was the Chevron corporation that, with a major oil refinery in the city, put a million dollars behind three city council candidates who were not only pro-Chevron but also pro-casino (though one who had voted for the development while on the council opposed the casino in the election).
The 422 acres of spectacular bay-facing green space, wildlife habitat and submerged eel grass meadows known as Point Molate is the site of an historic wine port and village that later became part of a Navy fuel oil depot before the Navy sold it to the city in 2003 for one dollar. From a historic point of view, I guess you could argue that after alcohol and oil, gambling might make sense in terms of human addictions.
Upstream LLC, the consortium put together by Berkeley developer Jim Levine, promised to build the most eco-sustainable “destination resort” casino this side of Vegas. Levine, who originally had financial backing from Harrah’s, now claims backing from one of California’s major gaming tribes (attributing any lack of financial transparency to issues of tribal sovereignty). Still, his support on the city council had slipped during the economic slowdown from 5-2 to 4-3 with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin leading the opposition.
After years of promises and delays, the city council finally agreed to a non-binding Ballot Measure U this fall that for the first time let the citizens of Richmond vote on whether they support a casino complex on their waterfront.
One concern has been that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar would have to agree to convert Point Molate into reservation land for a small tribal band with no anthropological links to the Bay Area (a legal requirement). Senator Feinstein opposes this conversion. Local Representative George Miller, a long-time environmental champion and former Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, had been eerily quiet on the issue although he did attend a pre-election pro-Casino press conference put on by the Building Trades Council.
From its inception Measure U was heavily fought over with close to a million dollars spent on the initiative both by the “destination resort,” casino developer ($500,000) and local card rooms and smaller Indian gaming interests (over $450,000) who didn’t want competition from a monster casino with 4,000 slot machines.
Two weeks before the election, a press conference was held on the headlands where Upstream, the Guidiville Band of Pomos and three green groups announced an agreement to drop a longstanding environmental lawsuit in exchange for a promised $48 million pay out from the slots to buy up additional shoreline for conservation (that could mostly be outside of Richmond). “When you have money, you draw money. It’s a major shoreline protection agreement,” claimed Robert Cheasty, president of Citizens for East Shore Parks that was dropping its suit. The San Francisco Chapter of Sierra Club and local Audubon also endorsed the deal and added their names to a pro-casino flyer that went out to voters a few days later.
The Richmond-based Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate claimed the agreement “threw Richmond under the gambling bus,” and released a letter from twenty other Bay Area environmental groups opposed to the Casino, calling instead for a world-class park at the point similar to San Francisco’s Presidio and Marin County’s Fort Baker.
When the people finally got their say they rejected the pro-Casino Measure U by a vote of 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, despite being outspent by her opponent almost two to one, was re-elected along with two anti-casino candidates, her fellow Progressive Alliance running mate Jovanka Beckles, a children’s mental health provider and long-time city hall gadfly Corky Booze. None of the Chevron backed candidates won.
The new city council majority taking over in January will likely be voting 5-2 against the Casino at Point Molate. “People want to see something better there,” explained Jovanka Beckles. Of course, lots of mischief could still take place during the old council’s lame duck session.
Still, Richmond shows what a dynamic, community-tied coalition of environmentalists and political progressives can achieve when working outside the traditional two-party system, unafraid of entrenched corporate interests.
Meanwhile Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate has begun working with a pro-bono group of young urban planners to envision what a working park on the headlands and offshore might look like. They will soon start engaging others in the community in the long process of turning that vision into a third major jewel of Bay area waterfront parks that can provide jobs, recreation and natural wonder for all.


My Support for Ralph Nader Ten Years Later Lessons Learned

Like many people who campaigned and voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, the awareness of the tragic results of the choice of by me and others continues to haunt on the tenth anniversary of that disastrous election. While it was perhaps the most serious political misjudgment I have ever made, it is important to recognize why at the time it seemed to be a quite rational course of action. It is also important to recognize what both the Democratic Party as well as progressives who are tempted to support left alternatives to the Democrats can learn from it.
It should be emphasized at the outset that Nader did not cause George W. Bush to be elected president. Bush was not elected president. The election was stolen. In addition to the Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority that blocked the recount that would have provided Gore with a victory in Florida thereby giving him a majority of the electoral college, many hundreds of predominantly African-American voters — the vast majority of whom would have voted for Gore — were denied the right to vote because their names were similar to convicted felons who had been disenfranchised because of their crimes. It is also noteworthy that a 1996 crime bill pushed by then-Vice-President Gore dramatically increased the number of crimes considered felonies and thereby the number of convicted felons, the majority of whom in Florida are poor minorities who would have much more likely supported Gore over Bush had they (and the non-felons with similar names) been allowed to vote, thereby providing the Democratic nominee with a comfortable margin.
It is also important to emphasize that, even if Bush had fairly won Florida’s electoral votes, Gore received a solid majority of the popular vote nationally, out-polling Bush by more than a half million votes. Nader and the Green Party oppose the Electoral College and support presidential elections based upon a popular nationwide vote. Gore and the Democrats, by contrast, supported the archaic and undemocratic Electoral College system. It is ironic, then, that the Democrats continue to blame Nader and the Greens for Bush’s election that came as a result of an unfair electoral system that they supported and Greens opposed.
At the same time, there is little question that had Nader’s name not been on the ballot in Florida, enough Green voters would have probably cast their ballots Democratic instead, raising Gore’s margin over Bush high enough so that the Republicans could have not gotten away with the fraud that tilted the balance.
How Gore’s Politics Alienated the Democratic Base
This then raises the question as to why so many people like me, who previously and subsequently voted Democratic in presidential elections, chose to vote for the Green Party in 2000.
Many people have forgotten that before Al Gore became a progressive hero as the most visible leader of the movement to curb climate change — perhaps the biggest single issue of our day and for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize — he was widely-recognized as being on the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. As one of the three finalists in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, Gore positioned himself clearly on the right, with Jesse Jackson on the left and Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis — the eventual nominee — in the center.
Gore was one of the most ardent Democratic supporters of Reagan’s right-wing foreign policy agenda, supporting such dangerous and destabilizing Pentagon boondoggles as the B-1 and B-2 bombers and the Trident II, Cruise and Pershing missiles, all of which significantly raised the threat of nuclear war. He also supported U.S. funding and training of the Contra terrorists attacking Nicaragua and the murderous junta in El Salvador. In 1991, he was among the minority of Senate Democrats who supported the Gulf War. He was an outspoken supporter of a series of right-wing Israeli governments, opposing the Palestinians’ right to statehood alongside Israel or even allowing Palestinians into the peace process.
As the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, his hawkish world view did not seem to wane. Even with the end of the Cold War, he supported increasing the already-bloated U.S. military budget. He was apparently ready to tear up the SALT treaty — negotiated by Nixon and Kissinger and long the foundation of nuclear arms control — in order to pursue a dubious missile defense strategy. He opposed human rights provisions for trade agreements and even for arms transfers. He opposed the treaty banning land mines. He supported laws that threatened jail and fines for Americans simply for traveling to Cuba. He defended the ongoing bombing of Iraq and the starving of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children through draconian sanctions. He strongly supported efforts by the Word Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund to weaken environmental laws, consumer protection and labor rights in the name of “free trade,” and was the administration’s most visible advocate of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)
His positions weren’t much better on domestic issues. He opposed raising the minimum wage to match the cost of living. He not only supported the death penalty, but made it far more difficult for falsely convicted death row inmates to appeal their cases in federal courts. He supported the repeal of federal guarantees of assistance to poor children. He supported Federal Reserve policies of keeping wages low to prop up stock prices and taxing earnings from the stock market at lower rates than income from actual work. He supported the repeal of Depression-era banking regulations designed to protect small depositors and restrictions on derivatives that helped lead to the current financial crisis for which scores of Democrats were punished at the polls earlier this month. He supported the Defense of Marriage Act in an effort to prevent gay and lesbian couples from having equal rights. (Earlier in his career, he referred to homosexuality as “abnormal sexual behavior” and voted against a bill that would protect patients with HIV from discrimination.) Even on environmental issues, his record was mixed, supporting efforts to undermine the endangered species act, pushing for nuclear power, and supporting an increase in clear-cut logging of old growth forests.
While most of us who supported Nader did not expect to agree with the Democratic nominee for president on every issue in order to vote for him, the fact that Gore took positions which only a few years earlier would have been considered to be in the mainstream of the Republican Party was simply too much to bear.
When Gore received the Democratic presidential nomination in July of 2000, there was hope that he would try to reassure the party’s disillusioned base by choosing a more liberal vice-presidential running mate. Instead, he chose Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, who had the most conservative voting record of any Democrat in the Senate. Indeed, Lieberman was to the right of the Republican incumbent he defeated when first elected in 1988, quit the Democratic Party in 2006, and endorsed Republican senator John McCain for president in 2008. There was no reason to think that Gore’s appointments for cabinet posts and other key positions in his administration would be any better.
It cannot be stressed enough that had Gore instead embraced an even slightly more progressive agenda, he would not have lost so many Democratic voters to Nader. Rather than modify his positions more in line with the party’s more liberal base, however, Gore initially worked to keep Nader off the ballot in a number of states to prevent voters from even having the choice. And, while Gore was willing to debate Bush, the opponent on his right, he refused to debate his opponent on his left, apparently fearing how voters might react if they were able to compare his positions with those of the well-respected consumer advocate. In the final week of the campaign, recognizing that he was losing liberal voters to his Green Party challenger, Gore did shift the tone of his campaign somewhat to the left, spouting more populist themes. In those final days, polls showed he gained three percentage points, finally pulling slightly ahead of Bush, while Nader dropped from 6% to 3%.
But it was too little too late. So many of us were so disgusted with eight years of center-right governance of the Clinton Administration and the prospects of more under Al Gore, we just could not stomach voting Democratic, even though it was apparent that the election was very close. After eight years of bitter disappointment with Clinton and Gore in power in Washington, it felt cynical and self-defeating to once again vote for a lesser evil, which seemingly would only contribute to the downward spiral which was taking the Democratic Party further and further away from its progressive heyday with the nomination of George McGovern in 1972. In many ways, then, Nader was a symptom, not a cause, of the large-scale alienation with Gore.
At the same time, few of us realized just how far to the right this country would go under George W. Bush. Many of us expected a more moderately conservative administration similar to that of his father. Indeed, Bush’s anticipated pick for Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was in many ways more moderate that the hawkish Madeleine Albright, who served under Clinton, or any of Gore’s likely picks to lead the State Department. While the relatively weak Texas governorship did not offer many clues, there was little indication that the younger Bush would embrace the very neo-conservative agenda his father had rejected. Indeed, during the first eight months of the administration, the more moderate elements in the new Bush administration appeared to be winning out against the far right. That all changed on September 11.
Strategic Miscalculation
Back in 2000, it appeared to many of us that the only way to stop the ongoing rightward drift of the Democratic Party was to support a credible challenge from the left. History offered a number of examples, such as the way the strong showing of the Socialist Party in the 1932 election prompted the newly-elected President Franklin Roosevelt, who originally ran as a fiscal conservative, to instead adopt the New Deal. There was some evidence at that time that the Green Party could have a similar effect.
During the 1990s, the Greens were a major player in New Mexico politics. By polling 10-15% in the 1996 election against Gore/Clinton-type Democrats, Green candidates sapped enough votes away from Democratic nominees to allow Republicans to win two House seats and the governorship. In response, the New Mexico Democratic Party moved well to the left: Fred Harris, the populist former Oklahoma Senator, became state party chair and focused on wooing the party’s liberal base. (Harris’ wife LaDonna, a prominent American Indian attorney, was the vice-presidential nominee of the progressive Citizens Party in 1980.) In 1998, the Democrats nominated solid progressives in the two house districts they had lost during the previous election cycle, causing the Greens’ share of the vote to shrink to well under 5%, resulting in the Democrats defeating the Republicans with far better candidates than they had nominated two years earlier.
Though developing a credible third party challenge on a national level is a greater challenge, many of us held on to the hope in 2000 that Nader would receive at least 5% of the vote nationally, thereby crossing the threshold that would provide the Green Party federal matching funds for the next election. In becoming a viable third party on a national level, there would be a solid base from which to raise issues being ignored by the two major parties: challenging the domination of our economy and politics by big business and corporate-led globalization, redirecting our bloated military spending to human needs, supporting single-payer health care, enacting meaningful campaign finance reform, making environmental protection a priority, ending capital punishment, stopping arms transfers to repressive regimes, opposing the Israeli occupation, etc. Fear that the Greens might get this 5% may have been what motivated the Democrats’ last-minute anti-Nader campaign even more than the fear that Nader votes might actually throw the election to Bush.
Unfortunately, following the debacle of the national election of 2000, rather than learn their lesson and move to the left, the Democrats moved still further to the right, with the majority of Democratic senators voting with their Republican counterparts in October 2002 to authorize the fraudulently-elected president with the unprecedented authority to invade an oil-rich country on the far side of the world that was no threat to the United states. On the House side, most Democrats voted against authorizing the war on Iraq, but the most important Democratic leaders sided with Bush as well. Though the party not controlling the White House normally picks up seats in mid-term Congressional elections, as a result of this betrayal of the vast majority of Democratic voters who opposed the invasion, millions stayed home, resulting in the Republicans regaining control of the Senate and increasing their majority in the House.
Then, in 2004, as their candidate for president, the Democratic Party ended up nominating Massachusetts senator John Kerry, who – along with his running mate North Carolina senator John Edwards – were among the minority of Congressional Democrats who supported the invasion of Iraq, an abomination which even Gore strenuously opposed. Not surprisingly, even with a far weaker showing by Nader or the Green Party, the Democrats lost again.
The Bottom Line
The reality is that, if one looks at voting as strategic choice, it almost always makes sense to vote Democratic.
There will always be people who can’t vote for certain Democrats on principle. I could never, for example, cast my ballot for someone who voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, because such people clearly have no respect for the most fundamental principles of the post-WWII international legal system or the U.S. Constitution and demonstrated a willingness to lie about non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” and sacrifice the lives of over 4,500 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for the sake of oil and empire. Despite what happened in 2000, then, I could not vote for John Kerry in 2004. Nor can I ever vote for Dianne Feinstein, my Democratic senator. Some people have higher thresholds, some lower.
One can also make the case that voting is a sacred right that should not be exercised for strategic reasons, but on moral principles alone. The suffragettes and civil rights advocates who risked their lives for the right to vote were not doing so simply to be able to cast their ballot for a lesser evil. There is a related argument that it is morally and psychologically damaging to compromise one’s principles by voting for someone whose policies you don’t agree with against someone whose policies you do believe in; that it is important to vote your hopes rather than your fears.
However, the idea that one can “teach the Democrats a lesson” by voting for a progressive third party or not voting at all and thereby allowing Republicans to win just doesn’t seem to work.
Also important is that fact that, though the differences between Democrats and Republicans may be relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, the power of U.S. government is so great that even small differences can make huge differences in the lives of many millions of people. Just ask the people of Iraq and other countries who have suffered so much as a result of those of us who thought we could “teach the Democrats a lesson” ten years ago. Those of us here in the United States who are relatively privileged and secure need to be sensitive about how our decisions effect those less privileged and more vulnerable, both those in this country and the billions of others around the world.
The reality is that, despite Gore’s failings and the fact that it seemed to make a lot of sense at the time, the world would have been a much better place had so many people like myself not supported Nader in his 2000 campaign. As journalist Robert Parry observed, a Gore presidency “would have taken the country in a far different direction. Most significantly, he might have made significant progress in getting the United States to face up to the crisis of global warming, an existential threat to mankind that Bush studiously ignored. It may be a bitter irony that the one major political accomplishment of America’s Green Party will be that it helped condemn the world to environmental disaster.”
So, as reluctant I was to say it, I strongly encouraged those in states and districts with close elections – if they could stomach it – to vote Democratic in the mid-term election earlier this month. Unfortunately, polls indicate that millions of voters who otherwise would have voted Democratic stayed at home or voted for minor parties. Right-wing Republican Mark Kirk won the Illinois Senate race with barely 48% of the vote due to the strong showing by Green Party nominee which ate into what would have otherwise been a victory for Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias. A number of House races were lost as a result of progressive challengers as well.
Unfortunately, the pundits are now pressuring the Democrats to “move to the center” rather than re-energize their base. Once again, “teaching the Democrats a lesson,” as appealing as the sentiment may be for progressive voters, simply work.
However one voted in the mid-term elections, it is critically important to fight like hell to make sure the remaining Democrats stop selling out to the militarists and the corporations. With only a few conscientious exceptions, Democratic officials have rarely led when it comes to progressive positions; they have generally had to be dragged kicking and screaming by their constituents. We were able to force many Democratic elected officials to move to the left on civil rights, Vietnam, Central America, nuclear power, women’s rights, South Africa, East Timor, globalization, Iraq, gay rights, and other issues.
And here is the difference: Democrats, if pressed sufficiently, can change.
Republicans, by contrast, are hopeless.