Tag Archives: Democrats

Odds and Ends

Today, rather than discussing a single topic, I thought I’d post a couple of observations that are related to some of the previous month’s discussions.

Russia. A fairly common response to the media’s focus on the Russia investigation–especially but not exclusively from supporters of Trump and/or the GOP–is that it is unlikely that Russian interference made a difference in the outcome, so why the big obsession with it?

Unless it turns out that Russia hackers actually changed vote totals, I tend to agree that the efforts probably didn’t change the election results. That said, let me respond to the “then why the fuss” question with an analogy.

Let’s say you own a company. Your internal auditor comes to you with evidence that one of the bookkeepers tried to embezzle from the corporation’s account, but was unsuccessful. Would you breathe a sigh of relief, and go about your business as usual? Or would prudence dictate that you investigate in order to find out what was attempted and why, so that you could 1) add safeguards to be sure the account is protected in the future; 2) determine whether the bookkeeper was acting on her own or in concert with other employees; and 3) inquire into management practices that may have given the impression that embezzlement was possible–or that so angered an otherwise good employee that she felt no compunction trying to steal from the company?

I should also note that success of a venture isn’t the key to whether it’s right or wrong. (If you try to kill someone and fail, you’re still guilty of attempted murder.)

Joe Donnelly. Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly is a big disappointment. (Not as big a disappointment as Fifth District Representative Susan Brooks, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Even conceding that he’s an Indiana Democrat and thus will need independent and even a few Republican votes, he’s been really bad on issues I care a lot about. That said, I will still vote for him in November, and you should too.  We don’t get to choose between perfect and not-perfect. Mike Braun, the Republican candidate, is dramatically, unacceptably worse. But even if Braun weren’t a self-satisfied, self-described “Trumper,” a vote for him would be a vote for Mitch McConnell–aka the most evil man in America– to continue leading the Senate.

The odds of the Democrats winning control of the Senate aren’t good, but if there is a blue “wave,” it is possible. In order for that to happen, however, we have to elect every Senate candidate who has a “D” next to his or her name–and that definitely includes Joe Donnelly. (And to be fair, he does support a progressive agenda about half the time–which is half more than Braun would do.) Think of it this way: a vote for Donnelly is really a vote against Mitch McConnell.

The Democrats and America’s myriad imperfections. A number of commenters to this blog have railed against the imperfections and misdeeds of the Democratic Party. I agree with some–hell, a lot– of those criticisms, just as I agree that any accurate history of this country documents a whole host of failures to live up to our national ideals. I also recognize that today’s America is more plutocracy than liberal democracy, and that needs to change.

What really drives me nuts about purists, however, is the naiveté. (Assuming, that is, that they truly want to effect change, and aren’t just satisfied parading their moral superiority.) In real life, making the perfect the enemy of the good simply rewards the bad. (See discussion of Donnelly election, above.) The Democrats are very imperfect. Today’s GOP is many multiples worse. Our choice is between not-so-good and demonstrably horrible.

Any honest look at history confirms that sustainable progress is incremental. If we can move from horrible to not-so-great (but a hell of a lot better) in November, we can get to work making the systemic and cultural changes that need to occur if we are to have any hope of salvaging democratic governance–not to mention the planet, the economy, the  justice system and public education.

If the purists stay home, and we don’t dislodge the horribles, we’re toast.

If Demographics Are Destiny…..

The most encouraging headline I’ve come across lately was on a Brookings Institution study titled “Trump Owns a Shrinking Republican Party.”

It’s worth remembering the central point of the study when we read that a majority of Republicans remain adamant in their support of Trump–that’s a majority of a smaller and smaller number of voters.

The opening paragraphs of the report confront the puzzle of Trump’s disinterest in what has typically been the first goal of political candidates and parties alike: expanding one’s base.

Most American presidents come into office seeking to expand their support beyond their most loyal voters. But among the many peculiarities of the Trump presidency is his lack of interest in expanding his base, a fact that is even more surprising for someone who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million and carried his key electoral college states by less than 100,000 votes. The story of Trump and his base has two sides.

The first “side” is what is most often reported: the devotion of Trump’s base. These are the people who would vote for him even if he shot someone in broad daylight on 5th Avenue, as he famously boasted.

Loyalty to Trump among the Republican base is looking so strong that it led Republican Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a Trump critic who is not running again, to tell reporters “It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?”

Indeed it is.  (As regular readers of this blog know–I have some fairly strong and not at all complimentary opinions about why people join that cult.)

The other “side” of the equation is the continuing erosion of party identification, especially Republican identification.

As the following graph of Gallup polls indicates, both political parties find themselves less popular now than they did in 2004 with a substantial rise in those who identify as independents. For the Democrats, party identification peaked in Obama’s first term and then dropped in his second term. For Republicans, party identification took a sharp drop at the end of George W. Bush’s second term and never really recovered. The trend seems to have taken another drop after Trump’s election.

How can we explain what looks to be a long-term decline for the Republican brand? Age, for one thing. From the beginning of the Trump administration the oldest Americans, those aged 50 and over, have consistently given Trump his highest approval ratings while young people aged 18–29 have consistently given him his lowest approval ratings.

The study concludes–not unreasonably–that a political party unable to attract young people, especially when a generation is as big as the Millennial generation, is not a party with a very bright future.

But it isn’t only young people. We don’t have data–at least, I’m unaware of any–that gives us a handle on the numbers of disaffected “old guard” Republicans, the good-government, civic-minded folks I used to work with, who are horrified by what their party has become. The Steve Schmidts and other high-profile “never Trumpers” are only the tip of that iceberg.

Of course, the GOP establishment is aware of these demographics; those dwindling numbers are the impetus for the party’s constant efforts to rig the system–to gerrymander, impose draconian voter ID requirements, purge registration rolls and generally do whatever they can to suppress turnout.

They know that members of the cult will vote, no matter what. If the rest of us–however numerous– don’t, the current (profoundly unAmerican) iteration of what used to be a Grand Old Party will retain power.

You don’t have to love the Democrats to find that prospect a chilling one.

The Flim-Flam Party

David Leonhardt had an interesting column on fiscal responsibility recently in the  New York Times.

“Fiscal responsibility” is one of those terms the applicability of which depends upon its definition. (I define “fiscally responsible’ as paying as you go, so putting a new government program or a war on the national credit card in order to keep current tax rates low wouldn’t qualify.) Conventional wisdom is that Republican administrations have been more fiscally-responsible than Democratic ones. Leonhardt questions–and debunks–that belief.

By now, nobody should be surprised when the Republican Party violates its claims of fiscal rectitude. Increasing the deficit — through big tax cuts, mostly for the rich — has been the defining feature of the party’s economic policy for decades. When Paul Ryan and other Republicans call themselves fiscal conservatives, they’re basically doing a version of the old Marx Brothers bit: “Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

Ever so slowly, conventional wisdom has started to recognize this reality. After Ryan’s retirement announcement last week, only a few headlines called him a deficit hawk. People are catching on to the con.

But there is still a major way that the conventional wisdom is wrong: It doesn’t give the Democratic Party enough credit for its actual fiscal conservatism.

Aided by charts illustrating his thesis, Leonhardt points out that, at least for the last several decades, Democratic administrations have reduced the deficit, while Republican administrations have grown them. Democrats have done that by raising taxes, by cutting military spending and by reducing corporate welfare.

Some of them have even tried to hold down the cost of cherished social programs. Obamacare, for example, included enough cost controls and tax increases that it’s cut the deficit on net….Get this: Since 1977, the three presidential administrations that have overseen the deficit increases are the three Republican ones. President Trump’s tax cut is virtually assured to make him the fourth of four. And the three administrations that have overseen deficit reductions are the three Democratic ones, including a small decline under Barack Obama. If you want to know whether a post-1976 president increased or reduced the deficit, the only thing you need to know is his party.

So why is it that the “conventional wisdom” does not reflect this reality? Leonhardt faults  journalists’ devotion to the idea of “balance,” and their ingrained belief in (false) equivalence. There is a hard-to-dislodge conviction that–whatever the misbehavior–both parties must be equally guilty.

I’ve spent 25 years as a journalist and have repeatedly seen the discomfort that journalists feel about proclaiming one political party to be more successful than the other on virtually any substantive issue. We journalists are much more comfortable holding up the imperfections of each and casting ourselves as the sophisticated skeptic.

As he concludes,

The caveat, of course, is that presidents must work with Congress. Some of the most important deficit-reduction packages have been bipartisan. The elder George Bush, in particular, deserves credit for his courage to raise taxes. Some of the biggest deficit-ballooning laws, like George W. Bush’s Medicare expansion, have also been bipartisan. In fact, the Democrats’ biggest recent deficit sins have come when they are in the minority, and have enough power only to make an already expensive Republican bill more so. The budget Trump signed last month is the latest example.

So it would certainly be false to claim that Democrats are perfect fiscal stewards and that Republicans are all profligates. Yet it’s just as false to claim that the parties aren’t fundamentally different. One party has now spent almost 40 years cutting taxes and expanding government programs without paying for them. The other party has raised taxes and usually been careful to pay for its new programs.

It’s a fascinating story — all the more so because it does not fit preconceptions. I understand why the story makes many people uncomfortable. It makes me a little uncomfortable. But it’s the truth.

Truth, of course, hasn’t been faring so well in our post-fact, “fake news” world….

 

 

Dayenu

Dayenu is a song sung during the Passover Seder–the Jewish celebration of the ancient exodus from Egypt. The lyrics acknowledge the miracles God is said to have performed on behalf of those escaping servitude, and each miracle is followed by “Dayenu”–meaning, it would have been enough.

So “If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them— Dayenu, it would have been enough!

“If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols”— Dayenu, it would have been enough!

The song goes on in that fashion for numerous stanzas. What brought it to mind was an especially annoying element of the current infighting among Democrats. (Bear with me.)

I frequently see angry posts from liberals, decrying what they see as a lack of a compelling  Democratic Party message going into the midterm elections. Comments posted to this blog and elsewhere are harshly critical of both major political parties; there are frequent assertions that there is little difference between them or between the oligarchs that control both. Some of the criticism is misplaced, but some of it is fair.

Here in Indiana,  where Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly is up for re-election, his less-than-liberal positions also come in for considerable criticism, and–at least from my perspective– much of that criticism is deserved.

Here’s the problem: These negative analyses of Donnelly and the Democrats are frequently accompanied by pledges to refrain from voting for either. The authors of these pledges are simply too pure to cast their votes for flawed, imperfect candidates of a flawed, imperfect political party. They  argue that “it isn’t enough just to be against Trump and his GOP enablers.”

They’re wrong.

Dayenu.  Right now, it is enough.

As Robert Reich recently reminded us,

Not so fast. Remember what happened in 2016, when Libertarian Gary Johnson got 3.2 percent of the popular vote and Green Party candidate Jill Stein got 1.06 percent. Enough votes that, had they gone to Hillary Clinton, she’d have won the Electoral College, and Donald Trump wouldn’t be in the White House.

 Oh, and anyone remember what happened in 2000, when the votes that went to Ralph Nader all but sealed the fate of Al Gore, and gave us George W. Bush.

You see the problem? In a winner-take-all system like ours, votes for third party candidates siphon away votes from the major party candidate whose views are closest to that third-party candidate. So by not voting for the lesser of two evils, if that’s what you want to call them, you end up with the worse of two evils.

Voters who are unhappy with their choices do have options: we can work through our chosen parties to effect change; we can support better candidates in the primaries. We can work for better campaign finance laws, an end to gerrymandering, and other systemic changes that will make it harder for special interests to buy/bribe lawmakers.

Of course, doing those things requires considerable time and effort. It also requires working within a system that is far from perfect or even admirable.( Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.) Purists prefer making the perfect the enemy of the good.

I will vote a straight Democratic ticket in November. That includes voting for Joe Donnelly. Is he my ideal Senator? No. Is he a far better choice that any of the Republicans running in the May primary for the right to oppose him? Absolutely. Is his re-election essential to a Democratic takeover of the Senate? Yes. Is a Democratic takeover of the Senate necessary to stop the refashioning of the federal judiciary and the steady confirmation of extremist, rightwing judges? Yes.

Will a “blue wave” in November bring us a perfect government? Hell no. But it will give us some desperately-needed breathing room–the time we need to fight for a better, fairer, more inclusive America. A wave will allow us to overturn the most egregious and harmful measures imposed by the Trump Kakistocracy. It will allow us to begin what will be a long and arduous process of restoring American civility, sanity and the rule of law.

DAYENU–that will be enough.

 

Two Different Worlds…

Some of you reading this post may remember an old love song–I believe it was sung by Nat  King Cole–in which he rejected warnings by an unidentified “they,” to the effect that he and his love came from “two different worlds.” At the end of the song, he promises that their two different worlds will be one.

I’d say their chances were better than those of contemporary Republicans and Democrats.

Over the past few years, a steady stream of research has documented the growth of America’s partisan polarization. Today’s Republicans and Democrats would be more upset if their children married someone of the other party than if they married someone of another race or religion. Facebook and Twitter conversations are filled with expressions of incomprehension (WTF!) of positions taken by the other party.

Now, the Brookings Institution has come up with another indicator that Rs and Ds really do live in “two different worlds.” The researchers were exploring one of the thorniest issues raised by “school choice”–whether, as many of us worry– parents opting for privatized schools see education as a consumer good rather than a public good, thus privileging the inculcation of personal skills over democratic ones.

In holding schools more directly accountable to parents, school choice reforms reduce the influence of the democratic structures and processes that govern traditional public schools. For example, being more responsive to parents generally means being less responsive to school boards. This can have important implications if parents’ desires for their own children’s schools differ from the broader public’s desires for its education system. For instance, schools may look different under school choice reforms if—as is often argued—parents are preoccupied with getting their own children ahead, wanting schools to prepare their children for college and career success at the expense of serving more collective interests for social, political, civic, and economic health.

Questions about how parents’ and the public’s desires for schools differ are among the richest questions surrounding school choice reforms. They are also among the least explored empirically. We recently released a study looking at what parents and the public want from schools. Instead of finding the parents-public distinction we expected, we found a Democrat-Republican contrast we had not considered.

The results were very different from the researchers’ expectations. Parents and the broader public prioritized the same goals–a balance between the personal and the public.

Given these similarities, we wondered who—if anyone—is particularly drawn to “private success.” Did any subgroup of respondents want schools to prioritize students’ private interests over more collective, societal interests?

We ran a logistic regression model to examine which, if any, respondent background characteristics were associated with choosing “private success” as the most important goal. We included all of the usual respondent characteristics in the model: gender, race, ethnicity, educational attainment, age, political affiliation, and parent status. Only one was a significant predictor: Republican respondents were much more likely than Democratic respondents to want schools to prioritize “private success.”

It’s a shame there are no earlier studies that might serve as benchmarks, allowing us to see whether and how these and other attitudes prevalent in today’s GOP differ from those of previous Republicans.

In any event, the pressing question we face now is how to make those “two different worlds” into one–or at the very least, make them overlap.