Tag Archives: midterm elections

If Wishing Could Make It So

I hope this column from The Guardian isn’t a case of “whistling Dixie” as the old saying goes.

Titled “The Republican Party is about to face the wrath of women,” the writer suggests that the anger I’ve expressed over the GOP’s behavior in the Kavanaugh hearings is both a lot more widespread than many think–and not limited to the behavior of those involved in these hearings.

Even the dimmest and most misogynist of Republican operatives must realize, by this point, that the supreme court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and the handling of the sexual assault allegations against him will hurt their chances, especially with women voters, in the upcoming midterm elections.

What they don’t seem to realize, though, is that huge numbers of women aren’t just mad – they’re organized and mobilized politically in a way we’ve never quite seen before. The key story of the midterms is the large number of progressive women – and to a lesser extent, progressive men – who have been taking on the crucial, unglamorous work that swings elections: registering voters, canvassing door-to-door, preparing to get people to the polls. The disdain for women that the Republicans have shown by continuing to rally behind Kavanaugh is only energizing them further.

The author cites some impressive evidence for those assertions. Beginning with the millions of Americans who joined the Women’s Marches following Trump’s election, the author describes a “multi-issue, women-led upsurge of political engagement on an unprecedented scale.”

Nearly 25,000 protests have taken place since Trump’s inauguration, involving somewhere between 14 and 21 million Americans. These figures greatly exceed levels of protest participation at any prior time in US history, even the height of the Vietnam war. And no matter the issue or focus of the demonstrations, women have consistently been the majority of those taking to the streets. (Emphasis added.)

Protests, without more, change nothing. So it is both impressive and gratifying to see the level of grass-roots activism that has accompanied those marches. Women, especially, have built what the author calls “a powerful electoral ground game.”

Substantial mobilizing for the midterms is being done through the vast array of local grassroots groups that formed after Trump took office, including the 5,000 groups affiliated with Indivisible. Like the resistance to Trump more generally, these groups are typically women-led and have already played a key role in a series of progressive electoral upsets, including Doug Jones’s Senate victory in Alabama last December to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s highly publicized primary win this past June. Their autonomy from the Democratic party gives much of their work an under-the-radar quality that can obscure their impact.

Theda Skocpol is an eminent political scientist who has investigated the resistance–the anti-Trump phenomenon that is reflected in the 5,000 groups cited in the Guardian column.

Skocpol, the longtime government and sociology professor at Harvard University, has been making research trips to eight counties that went for Donald Trump in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as communities across all of Pennsylvania. In suburban America, even in uber-conservative counties, Skocpol began to notice action groups popping up in response to Trump. And she began to notice who was doing the organizing, here in the heart of what the national media have taken to calling Trump Country: women. Specifically older, college-educated white women: “retired teachers, librarians, health care people, some businesswomen,” as Skocpol put it.

Exit polling tells us that 52 percent of white female voters went for Trump in 2016 (something I still can’t get my head around….)

Skocpol acknowledges this, but her research suggests that the political behaviors of these white women have shifted radically in the wake of the election. They are calling on Congress, knocking on doors on behalf of state and local candidates, and in some cases, running for office themselves. “Sociologically, what we are witnessing is an inflection point — a shift in long-standing trends — concentrated in one large demographic group, as college-educated women have ramped up their political participation en masse,” she wrote in a recent essay co-authored with Lara Putnam.

Skocpol’s observations certainly mesh with the enormous upsurge in women’s political activity that I’ve seen in Indiana. But the proof of the pudding–to use another old-fashioned saying–will come when the votes get counted.

I’m not hoping for a wave–I’m hoping for a tsunami. And I’m alternately terrified by the thought that we might not get either one.



Real-World Choices

I have never been a big fan of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Sometimes I’ve agreed with him, sometimes not, but he generally comes across (to me, at least) as patronizing–someone who engages in the sort of “coastal elitist” hectoring that conservatives love to hate and the ideological “middle-of-the-roadism” that sets liberal teeth on edge.

In this column, however, he hits it out of the park.

Friedman makes an argument–vote straight Democratic in the upcoming midterm elections– that has often been made by Pete, one of the most thoughtful of this blog’s regular commenters. It is emphatically not an argument that Democrats are all “good guys” untainted by the moral and ethical deficiencies that permeate the GOP.

It is instead a (far more eloquent) restatement of what has become my own mantra, to wit: I don’t vote for the lesser of two evils. I vote for the person/party that is pandering to the people who are least dangerous.

To put that another way: I recognize that all politicians are beholden in some fashion to the interest groups that support them, so I’m going to evaluate the priorities of those interest groups and vote for the candidate who is beholden to the ones most closely aligned with what I believe to be the common good.

As Friedman puts it,

It is not a choice between the particular basket of policies offered by the candidates for House or Senate in your district or state — policies like gun control, right to choose, free trade or fiscal discipline. No, what this election is about is your first chance since 2016 to vote against Donald Trump.

As far as I am concerned, that’s the only choice on the ballot. It’s a choice between letting Trump retain control of all the key levers of political power for two more years, or not.

If I were writing the choice on a ballot, it would read: “Are you in favor of electing a majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate to put a check on Trump’s power — when his own party demonstrably will not? Or are you in favor of shaking the dice for another two years of unfettered control of the House, the Senate and the White House by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?”

If your answer is the former, then it can only happen by voting for the Democrat in your local House or Senate race.

The same issue of the Times that carried Friedman’s column reported on a study of the issues being raised thus far in 2018 by Republican contenders for the House and Senate. The overwhelming majority are emphasizing their antagonism to immigration and immigrants–a (slightly) less obvious way to appeal to what the media likes to characterize as “racial anxieties.”

Are there racist Democrats? Sure. But they belong to a multi-racial, multi-ethnic party. To exhibit such attitudes is likely to be the kiss of political death. Are there Democrats who are “in the pocket” of corporate interests? Again, yes. But there are degrees of corruption, and right now, most Democratic officeholders obey ethical constraints that their Republican counterparts cheerfully ignore.

Friedman (and Pete) are correct:

What we’ve learned since 2016 is that the worst Democrat on the ballot for the House or Senate is preferable to the best Republican, because the best Republicans have consistently refused to take a moral stand against Trump’s undermining of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Civil Service, the basic norms of our public life and the integrity of our elections.

Here’s the bottom line. Refusing to vote for Democratic candidates who fall short of ideal–opting to make the perfect the enemy of the good– is a vote for Trump and Trumpism. Pretending otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

A Tale of Two Countries

So….some reflections from this Tuesday’s elections.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Republicans took the Senate. Most seats up for election were in the reddest of red states, and the Democratic challengers didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory. (Mitch McConnell may be corrupt and despicable, but a candidate who refuses to admit she voted for her party’s nominee for President just turns everyone off. We have to remember that voters don’t get to choose between Candidate X and God. In races like this one, they have to pick between the devil they know and the one to whom they are just being introduced.)

In two years, the election landscape will be considerably different–and as one pundit sourly noted, there won’t be a black guy in the White House to motivate the racist voters.

Turnout was once again embarrassing. Preliminary reports suggested that nationally, approximately 24% of eligible voters went to the polls, giving the winners an average “mandate” from perhaps 13% of the electorate. Most of the low turnout was due to voter apathy, but a not-insignificant part was deliberate: between the millions of dollars spent on negative ads that can be relied upon to depress turnout, to “voter ID” laws intended to suppress the votes of the poor and minority Americans, the message was pretty clear: stay home.

Perhaps the biggest take-away, however, is the troubling picture of American “sorting” that continues to emerge. I’ve written before about Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort, and the academic research supporting his thesis that Americans are increasingly “voting with our feet”–moving to places we find philosophically and politically compatible. This has been going on for more than a few years, and the electoral result is what has been called an “Urban Archipelago”--bright blue dots in seas of red. We have gerrymandered ourselves into cities that are overwhelmingly Democratic  and rural areas that are reliably Republican. We really are “two Americas”–an urban America that is noisy and diverse and young, and a (rapidly dwindling) rural America that is much older, much whiter and frequently much angrier.

Are there exceptions to that picture? Of course. But the overall accuracy of those descriptions is  demonstrable.

There are real equal representation issues raised both by partisan gerrymandering and population sorting: in the last general election, for example, Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives received more than a million more votes than Republicans–but because of the way the districts were drawn and populated, the GOP kept control of the House. It’s hard to see how this changes under our current redistricting rules.

The larger issue, of course, is turnout.

When I was a young, active Republican preparing to run for Congress, I remember the County Chairman telling me how grateful he was that “Democrats don’t vote.” Even then, with the vaunted Republican machine firmly in control of Marion County, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans three to two. But Republicans got out their vote; Democrats didn’t.

Now, no one really gets out their vote. And that is a real problem–not just for partisans, but for America–because only the most polarized and ideological “wing nuts” can be counted upon to vote in either party. The result is that both are in thrall to the party “base.” That’s not so bad for the Democrats, although it does hurt at the margins, because the progressive base is anything but monolithic. But it is killing any effort to bring the Republicans back to a sensible middle-right, because the GOP base/TeaParty activists have all the characteristics of a cult. (Joni Ernst? Mike Delph? Ted Cruz?? I rest my case.)

I doubt whether yesterday’s election results were a “last hurrah” for the reactionary right incarnation that is now the GOP, but that last hurrah is close. If demographics are destiny, the Grand Old Party (which is currently the Old Party of Grandparents) cannot survive much longer. Rural areas are hollowing out as younger people opt for city life; survey research shows younger people, Latinos and other minorities rejecting the party by large margins, and the degree of overt racism shown by Republican office-holders to our first African-American President pretty much undercuts any effort to make inroads in the black vote.

The tragedy here is that America desperately needs two responsible, adult political parties.  Without an intellectually respectable GOP, there is no pressure on Democrats to bring their A game. We lose all around.

As we did Tuesday.