Tag Archives: Democratic Party

Dear Media, There’s Nothing Wrong With The Democratic Party That Democrats Can’t Fix (Thank You Very Much)

newspapers 1Dear Media (especially the morning pundit chattering variety on the television set.) There is nothing wrong with the Democratic Party that Democrats can’t fix.  However, never let it be said we’d stop you from endless pontificating on one of your favorite themes: Democrats in Disarray.  So, this morning we have yet another segment, this time on MSNBC, about the “Rift” in the Democratic Party.   Not that anything in this little rant will deter you from embracing one of your favorite themes, but PLEASE take a couple of thoughts into consideration.

Thought Number One:  The Democratic Party is not now, nor has it ever been a monolithic lock step organization and model of political efficiency.  There are urban Democrats and rural Democrats; capitalist Democrats and socialist Democrats; able bodied and disabled Democrats; straight and gay Democrats; men and women Democrats; white and African American and Hispanic and whatever Democrats. There are college educated Democrats, and Democrats without high school diplomas. There are Democrats with homes in the suburbs, and Democrats living in mobile home parks.  Getting the picture?  What all these Democrats have in common is that they care about the other Democrats…and their Republican and Independent neighbors as well.  They want everyone to have health insurance; a chance for an education; a secure retirement; equal pay for equal work, and humane laws concerning immigration and gun safety.

So, yes. There will be squabbles about Single Payer health insurance systems versus private insurance models. There will be heated discussions about how many educational services will be provided to whom over what period of time.  There will be disagreements about agricultural subsidies and banking regulations.  There will be rifts all over the place — it’s called a “healthy civic discourse.”  And, the way Democrats squabble with one another it would seem we are among the healthiest civic “discoursers” around.

This may surprise you, dear Media, but this leads to our Second Thought.

Thought Number Two:  We like it.  We challenge each other.  The more Socialist among us challenge those of us of a more Capitalist bent to justify the way we think about financial regulations.  The more Capitalist among us challenge our more Socialistic inclined brethren to think in practical terms of how social programs are to be administered and financially supported.  The more urban Democrats challenge their agricultural cohorts to think in terms of the needs of city dwellers, while the agriculturally interested Democrats remind the city dwellers that major metropolitan areas don’t have enough cropland to provide sandwich bread for 7 million people.

We may even shriek a bit at one another, hurling the ultimate insult, “You’re not really a Democrat,” about.  However, when the chips are down we don’t want anyone turned away from a voting booth for any nefarious reason; we don’t want children separated unnecessarily from their parents; and we certainly don’t want farmers going bankrupt as a result of a silly trade war.  We may rail at one another over the details of a health care plan, but we agree that people with pre-existing medical conditions shouldn’t be gouged to pay for health insurance premiums.   There are as many different combinations of interests as there are Democrats to express them, and now for our third thought.

Thought Number Three:  We are national and local.  We have this old fashioned idea that the representatives (from school boards to city councils to county commissions to state legislatures to the halls of Congress) should represent their constituents.   We are often amused to find pundits expressing something just short of amazement that candidate Haymaker, a relatively conservative rural Democrat recently won a seat in the State Legislature.  Yes? Why not? Haymaker probably represents the needs, aspirations, and politics of — wait for it — his or her constituents.  If this doesn’t fit neatly into some national pundit’s nifty theory of national political trends, so be it.  It’s not our (Democrats) fault if our candidates and elected officials don’t align precisely with Pauly Pundit’s theoretical framework du jour.  Live with it.

Thought Number Four:  The Democrats in Disarray thing is getting boring. I know, it’s a convenient hook upon which to hang a story, a handy narrative on which to pad out a few column inches into a full column, BUT please… it’s getting old, stale, and noticeably desiccated.  Why, Dear Media, don’t you want to spend yet more time interminably interviewing Trump voters to seek out tiny indications of Buyer’s Remorse?  You probably won’t find much there either, any more than you will get eight Democrats in a room to agree upon the specific elements of anything.  However, the endless media fascination with “real people,” as if African American urban factory workers are “unreal,” is perilously close to insulting — as in, let’s find some grammatically challenged suitably casually dressed individuals with guns in the back of the pickup cab to interview as if these are “real Americans” to the exclusion of all others — including the college educated, articulate, and middle income individuals living right down the road who may or may not be identified with the same political party.

So, thank you very much members of the Chatterati — but let’s leave the Democrats to it — to their very own loving and sometimes even lovable capacity to crash and bash into each other.  However, don’t expect Democrats to be incapable of recognizing when matters at hand have reached crucial moments.  We, as Democrats, may be slow to move, slower to move in unison, but when faced with assaults on core principles and values move we do.  And will.

See you in November.

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Dear Pundits: The Five Response Trap

Oh, dear pundits on my television set this morning… let’s talk. First off, I know that one of your favorite themes, one you clutch to your bosoms with a tenacity known only in the realms of dung beetles packing their treasures, is Democrats in Disarray.  Get over it. So, there were five responses from Democrats and progressives to the SOTU last night, so what?

There’s another perspective from which to view this hoary theme.  One is to hold that there are at least five and probably more like five hundred possible responses to any major presentations of opposition policy.  Perhaps it’s more convenient, and certainly much less intellectually challenging, to seek one opposition voice and to concentrate attention upon that source, but the reality is that a variety of answers is a better reflection of political discourse than the fiction which holds that there must be a single unified “message.”

It appears as though some members of the punditry are calling for an exercise in branding, not a full discussion of civic issues.  Yes, when we sing “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz Oh What A Relief It Is” there is general recognition of a single product.  That said, while branding is essential during a campaign season, it is not necessarily useful in local races and less than useful during whatever is left of the “off season” in politics. So, we can move on to another point.

The media of late wants opposition, nice clean opposition, opposition as in a middle weight boxing match (or on the fringes a political replication of WWE shows), but this is frankly a rather lazy approach.  For example, rather than decry an abundance of replies to Republican policies, how about exploring the story from another suggested perspective: There are at least five major areas of opposition to the Republican program for America, and the GOP has yet to address the significant issues raised by at least five important voices in the opposition?

Secondly, those opposition voices were highlighting issues with varying degrees of emphasis.  Elizabeth Guzman spoke to immigration policy,  Bernie Sanders returned to his theme of wage inequality, Donna Edwards spoke to health care and racial issues, and Rep. Maxine Waters brings her own brand of fire and fury, and fact checking.  This shotgun approach has some merit.

The Democrats are a large tent party. However easy it might make it for the chatterati, the Democrats need to speak to young voters, white voters, suburban voters, African American voters, African American women voters… you get the idea.  So, why not divide the chore of responding to Republicans by promoting replies from at least five different sources.

Third, much as I hate to break into the Perpetual Campaign Theory of Republican politics which the media appears to have embraced, every major party which truly seeks to find success in national, state, and local races, needs a period of time in which to hone the national messages prior to the onset of campaign season. E Pluribus Unum — out of many possible messages some will move to the top of the program, others will become tangential, and others may fall flat.  Sorting takes some time and space.  Live with it.

I’d add a fourth point, a purely personal note.  We appear to have a President (and his Party) which, devoid of many actual policy perspectives of late, desperately needs a foil.  I noted in the Alabama senate race the proclivity of Republicans to try to make the race one between Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi.  This tactic personalizes the contest at the expense of any actual policy discussions.  It’s WWE time again, Good vs. Evil, Good Guy vs. Villain, simplistic, easy to advertise, and counter productive in terms of policy discussions.  Why on this little blue planet would Democrats play into GOP hands and create an obvious foil this early, at a point when the campaign season has yet to officially begin?

It seems better at this juncture to take the shotgun approach, using a good old fashioned cylinder choke, with a forty inch spread at a range of 25 yards, rather than risk a miss with a rifle shot.  If this requires the media punditry to do a little more research, and raise a few more issues, so be it. The media is an essential part of campaigning, but each campaign bears the responsibility for crafting its own message.  The media may just have to hold its horses and allow opposition forces to coalesce, and acknowledge it does Democrats no great good to prematurely offer up a foil for Republican punishment.

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Post Tragedy Observations from the Outback

Microscope Lens

My county went bright crimson RED.  The Orange One got 70.28% of the vote. [HuSoS]  Representative Joe Heck, ousted from Congress by Catherine Cortez Masto’s well organized operation in the southland, got 68.8%.  This is deep Red Country.  No surprise here, since of the 8696 voters in this outback area some 4663 of them are Republicans.   Heaven help them they voted against their own interests, without  perhaps giving the matter too much thought?

We brand things in this region – things described as having “hides” rather than “skin.”  Republican type  branding has been very successful with these folks, and it has been since the 1980s.  The packaging has been effective even when the policies were not.

Republicans grabbed the FLAG. It’s all over town. It’s Patriotic! (If not just a little bit alarmingly militaristic.)  They decried “Big Government” and “socialism” even if they really didn’t exactly understand the nature of regulation – they understood the Big Idea – not necessarily the ramifications of it. 

For example, they don’t like government regulations.  They do, however, want to drink clean water, breathe clean air, and eat in sanitary restaurants.  They don’t want “Big Government,” but they do like having a massive military system with world class armaments.  Some of the anti-government types are all for big government when it means no safe and legal abortions and birth control for women.   The point is that by speaking in broad, highly generalized, catch phrases the Republicans branded themselves with Americana in bright hues and tones.   Taken to its obvious extrapolation we get the disaster that is currently Kansas.  There are some ways out of this mess, but it’s going to take a bit of time and effort.  Some ‘off the top of the head suggestions:’

#1. Former Governor Howard Dean is correct: “Mechanics Matter.”  The recent Senate race in Nevada is evidence of that point.  Representative Heck was, quite simply, out-organized. Cortez-Masto got her people to the polls in large enough numbers to beat back Heck’s efforts. She held her base in the rurals and won the two urban counties. That takes organization.

However, organization takes infrastructure.  While the Democrats have done an exemplary job of increasing voter registrations in urban areas, they’ve not been all that visible in the rural areas. And, it’s hard to blame them. They’re fighting uphill and into the wind.  It’s going to require both a top down and bottom up effort.

Top Down – the national Democratic Party needs to focus.  They have an issue available  which should serve well to organize the opposition to the Orange One’s administration, a path suggested by primary candidate Bernie Sanders – income inequality.  There’s no reason not to grab onto this one and run, and keep running.

The Democrats also have an opportunity to re-brand the GOP.  It’s no longer the Party of Lincoln – and hasn’t been for some time.  With neo-Nazi anti-Semite Steve Bannon selected as the 2nd in command in the west wing, the argument isn’t hard to make that the GOP has become the Party of Intolerance and Bigotry.  With the North Carolina KKK holding a parade in honor of The Orange One’s election, the argument is even clearer.  There’s no reason not to grab this opportunity as well, and run, and keep running.

Third, the Democrats are going to have to address the crumbled infrastructure of its organization in rural areas.  A fifty state plan is nice, but if there’s no effort to get into the rural areas of all 50 states and build from the ground up with young people who aren’t comfortable with income inequality and bigotry, then Democrats will continue to be the urban party of “anti-elitists.”

The Party will also be best served if it has some institutional infrastructure built in.  It’s no accident that the Richard Mellon Scaife’s and Koch Brothers of this world have established national think tanks and information outlets which support conservative – and ultra conservative – causes.  The Democrats and liberals need to boost their efforts in this department.

Bottom Up – All it will take to give the GOP total control over constitutional amendments is the loss of one more state legislature.  Think about that for a moment.  This means that State Party organizations are going to have to do a better job of state election campaigning.  Better candidate preparation, including getting candidates elected to city and county positions; better candidate recruitment; better candidate support.  And this will take … money.   These things don’t happen without staff, without advertising, without press and media relations, without printing and media expenses, and all of these cost money.   Volunteers are wonderful people, but if they don’t have staff support, and media advisers, their efforts can be ephemeral.

Money, of course, is much easier to come by during presidential campaign years, but those city, municipal, county, and state elections often come in by-years.  It’s during those elections that the organization and staffing levels become crucial.  Not sure? Take a look at the 2010 and 2014 election results.  What State Party organizations should be doing right now is getting geared up for the 2018 mid-terms and any off year local elections in between national election cycles.

#2.  Focus Focus Focus.  One of the nice things about being a Democrat is that everyone has a pet project, a hobby horse, a favorite issue that is important beyond all else.  It’s also one of the party’s weaknesses.  We get distracted. We want income equality, we want a clean environment, we want a living wage, we want women’s reproductive rights, we want voting rights, we want civil and human rights … and we are all too ready to castigate candidates who don’t match our predetermined formula for perfection.

The “Democrats in disarray” theme in the national media is no accident.  We’ve squabbled about Perfection long enough to give the GOP ample time to describe us as “fractured,” “divided,” and “dissidents.”   It’s time to FOCUS.

Cato the Elder focused: “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” The man died in 149 BC and 2165 years later we still know that he said “Carthage must be defeated.”

What might we achieve if every elected Democrat pointed out at every possible opportunity that the wealth for the top 0.1% is increasing while everyone else is still practically running in place?  There have been some gains for the middle class, but nothing like what’s been happening for the top 0.1%.

What might happen if every elected Democrat and every local organizer pointed out that the upcoming Republican administration is associated with the KKK?

And, what might happen if we ask, and continue to ask at every possible opportunity – What was it that Donald J. Trump was so anxious to hide in his tax returns that he dropped four decades of precedent to keep everyone in the dark?

What might happen if every chance we had we asked in the media and elsewhere, what about his ties to the Russians as described in the Dworkin Report?  Exhibit 10 is the most interesting. Did we know that there are 249 registered businesses in Russia with Trump as part of the name in the documentation?  Would that help to explain:

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also said that officials had been in contact with members of Trump’s entourage. “I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives,” he told the state-run Interfax news agency. [cnn]

It might be interesting if the public were as aware of the name of the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister (Ryabkov) as they are with “emails.”

Four points shouldn’t be all that difficult to manage.  Income inequality, intolerance/violence, tax returns, the Russian connection.  If the Republicans can manage to speak of practically nothing but Benghazi and emails for 19 months surely Democrats can keep up a chant of income inequality, intolerance, tax returns, and Russian connections for 24. 

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We talk about talking about race, but won’t talk about race

I made the mistake of watching some cable news coverage of the DNC this morning.  Several of the reporters were concerned – how I truly am beginning to loathe that word! – that Secretary Clinton’s polling numbers among white males weren’t as high as those of Donald Trump.  A couple of the presenters got close to the mark and then appeared to divert the channel into safer, softer, soil – they, meaning white males, are “angered,” or “feel outside the system..” or whatever.  No one mentioned R-A-C-E. Now, please consider the following three items:

“There’s a good deal of evidence that white resentment of minorities is linked to support for Republican candidates, their policies and conservative ideology in America,” said Robb Willer, a political psychologist at Stanford University. [WaPo]

“As the country has become more diverse, the Democratic Party has, too. But the demographics of the Republican Party have not changed much in recent years, according to Gallup. As of 2012, 89 percent of Republicans were non-Hispanic whites, compared to 60 percent of Democrats.” [WaPo]

“Across time points, racial prejudice was indirectly associated with movement identification through Whites’ assertions of national decline. Although initial levels of White identity did not predict change in Tea Party identification, initial levels of Tea Party identification predicted increases in White identity over the study period. Across the three assessments, support for the Tea Party fell among libertarians, but rose among social conservatives.” [PLOS journals]

The shorter version is the common summary: Republicans are not necessarily racist, but more racists tend to identify with Republicans; and, Tea Party identification was closely associated with “white identity.” Which goes a long way toward explaining this sighting at the recent RNC:

Trump Supporter Check List

No, Secretary Clinton is not likely to poll well with people who tend to focus on their white identity, white grievances, and white dissatisfaction.

If the cable broadcasters would like to fill up some vacant air time, there are deeper, more systemic questions that should be discussed.

Why are disaffected white males supporting a candidate who is not essentially Republican and not primarily a true conservative in the Everett Dirksen, Barry Goldwater, Sandra Day O’Connor, or William F. Buckley mold?

Perhaps interviewing Ezra Klein or Jonathan Chait might offer some insight:

“[Trump] … has exposed a Republican Party many in the GOP will wish had stayed hidden. The core truth he has laid bare is that Republican voters are powered by a resentful nationalism more than a principled conservatism. “Republican politics boils down to ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason,” writes Jonathan Chait. “Once a figure has been accepted as a friendly member of their tribe, there is no level of absurdity to which he can stoop that would discredit him.” [Vox]

Chait continued:

“…since reason cannot penetrate the crude tribalism that animates Republicans, it follows that nothing President Obama could have proposed on economic stimulus, health care, or deficits could have avoided the paroxysms of rage that faced him.” [NYMag]

If 89% of a political party in America is non-Hispanic white, and if women lean toward the Democratic Party by a split of 52% to 36%, then how do we describe the Republican Party other than a political party of white men? Or, as the Pew Research study found in 2014, a party of older white men:

Age GOP/lean Dem / lean
18-33 35% 51%
34-49 38% 49%
50-68 41% 43%
69-85 47% 43%

A better cable roundtable discussion might focus not on how Secretary Clinton is not capturing the votes of white males, but on why the Republican Party can’t seem to attract more women, minority group members, and younger people?

Pundits tell us solemnly that we “need” a national discussion about race relations in this country, however that is very difficult to do when broadcasters themselves shy away from the topic.  Simply having a few “specials” with “both sides” isn’t the solution.

Whether the corporate media likes it or not, race and ethnic divisions have significance when we converse about any major social, economic, and political questions.  It’s part of the mix, and can’t be separated out like an egg yolk from national conversations.

Someone, somewhere must have perceived the ludicrousness of the proposition that merely talking about racial relations is “racism.”  What this too often boils down to is the assertion that anything which makes white people uncomfortable is “racist.”  Witness Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly’s recent over the top whine about those who criticized his attempt to “soften” the plight of slaves in 19th century America.

Speaking about the unequal and deleterious incarceration rate of young African American men isn’t racist, it’s an acknowledgement of a problem, and therefore an opening to use the discourse as a way to solve or at least mitigate the issue.

Speaking about income inequality isn’t racist. It’s an acknowledgement that working people in this county, especially people of color, aren’t able to scale the social and economic ladder as easily as in times past.  We could help with this but we have to talk about it.

Speaking about police reform isn’t racist. It’s an acknowledgement that too often for our liking there are law enforcement personnel who are not helping resolve issues between the police and the communities in which they are assigned. There are some police forces which have made great strides, Pittsburgh and Dallas for example, and those can be models. But, we have to talk about it.

Speaking about climate change isn’t racist, but we have to acknowledge that people of color are more likely to be residents of communities and neighborhoods which are the most afflicted with pollution, water problems, and devastation from climate events which become more serious each decade, if not each year.  Again, all the stakeholders need to be at the table for this national discussion.  It’s not enough to worry about the beach front property in Miami, we also need to be aware of the 9th Ward in New Orleans.

Race certainly isn’t the only issue facing this country, but it does tend to permeate most of the major challenges we face.  NOT talking about it is actually hurtful – it allows the tribalism to grow and fester, it allows the problems to remain unresolved, and it feeds the polarization which leads to political gridlock. 

However, the most egregious part of the Great Silence is that it allows us to cling to our tribe, ever more unwilling or unable to discuss, converse, or debate our issues or to practice the great art of any democracy – compromise.

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A Prophet in his own country

Deval Patrick Remember this speech?

“…The same choice faces the nation today. All that today’s Republicans are saying is that if we just shrink government, cut taxes, crush unions and wait, all will be well. Never mind that those are the very policies that got us into recession to begin with! Never mind that not one of the governors who preached that gospel in Tampa last week has the results to show for it. But we Democrats owe America more than a strong argument for what we are against. We need to be just as strong about what we are for.

The question is: What do we believe? We believe in an economy that grows opportunity out to the middle class and the marginalized, not just up to the well connected. We believe that freedom means keeping government out of our most private affairs, including out of a woman’s decision whether to keep an unwanted pregnancy and everybody’s decision about whom to marry. We believe that we owe the next generation a better country than we found and that every American has a stake in that. We believe that in times like these we should turn to each other, not on each other. We believe that government has a role to play, not in solving every problem in everybody’s life but in helping people help themselves to the American dream. That’s what Democrats believe.

If we want to win elections in November and keep our country moving forward, if we want to earn the privilege to lead, it’s time for Democrats to stiffen our backbone and stand up for what we believe. Quit waiting for pundits or polls or super PACs to tell us who the next president or senator or congressman is going to be. We’re Americans.” [Deval Patrick 2012]

The speech was given in 2012… and a mere two years later Democrats continued to fumble the message. Here are some clues we might have taken.

#1. Never run as a Republican-Lite.  Why bother?  If the district or state is conservative then those who are inclined to vote Republican will do so; why should they vote for an ersatz Republican when they can vote for the “real thing?” 

#2. Run to success.  I repeat myself:

“Democrats have a party the leadership of which: Produced 63 consecutive months of economic growth; we have 54 straight months of increased private sector employment; the unemployment rate has dropped from 10.1% in October 2009 to 5.9%; the federal deficit has been reduced by 66% since October 2009; the rate of federal spending increases is the lowest (1.4%) since the Eisenhower administration; 95% of Americans pay lower taxes than at any time in the last fifty years; 7 million Americans have health insurance they could not have afforded before the ACA; and the rate of health care spending increases has been less (1.3%) than any year since 1965. [pdf]”

#3. Define yourself before the opponent defines you.  Grab your issues firmly – increasing the minimum wage, reforming the administration of student loans, comprehensive immigration reform,  increasing funding for veterans’ care and services, increased funding for infrastructure maintenance and improvement – whatever fills your sails.    Do as much as you can to force your opponent to debate on your terms and about your agenda.

#4.  Remind your audiences that your opponent is easily distracted by shiny objects.  You want to run on a platform of (a stronger middle class, more opportunities for middle class families, higher employment, or whatever), while your opponent wants to sell fear, dismay, or downright panic over things that in the long run really aren’t very important, are downright fabrications, or are antithetical to the advancement of middle class Americans.

#5. Go back and read Governor Patrick’s full speech again.

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GOP: Getting Back to Base-ics?

Now, would someone in the corporate media care to discuss “Republicans in Disarray?”  Heaven knows it’s been a hallmark of coverage about issues within the Democratic Party.  As a former adherent of the GOP, and now as a complete outsider, I’ve had some rambling notions about what’s been happening since the 1980’s.  Here they are.

Ancestor Worship

The election of President Ronald Reagan was a significant one for the Republicans, and the popularization of the Southern Strategy by GOP activist Kevin Phillips continued into the decade.  The Republicans offered a home for the Dixiecrats, the gun lobby, and the “God, Guns, and Gays” wedge issue proponents who found succor within Republican realms.  His was the “Southern Strategy Fulfilled.”  All of this made it far easier for the beknighted President to advance an agenda that was blatantly anti-union, persistently pro-banking, and generally pro-corporate.   He was, however, not the consistent opponent of the New Deal some conservative would like to remember.

“Reagan increased payroll taxes in 1983. History records that, alarmed by spiraling deficits, he signed tax increases during six of his eight years in office. Even so, his administration tripled the national debt, to almost $3 trillion.” [Salon]

He pulled U.S. forces out of Lebanon after the Beirut Barracks bombing. He gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants.  He did not privatize Social Security, instead he raised the payroll taxes.   What he did do was to popularize some right wing ideas which advanced the corporate agenda (to break the social compact between citizens and their government) such as the “welfare queen.”  Reagan’s world was “Leave it to Beaver” without the unionized employees who made the show possible.  It was “Ozzie and Harriet” without any African American neighbors.  It was “See The USA In Your Chevrolet” without acknowledging the Eisenhower Administration’s grand public works project — the Interstate Highway system.  Reagan, instead, paved the route for the Bush and Rove show.

The Bush-Rove Bargain

The Show was abetted by the advance of right wing talk radio in the AM revival after the fairness doctrine was eliminated during the Reagan Administration in 1987.   The Reaganesque mythology of welfare queens was translated to the John Birch Society – Randian free market mythology, and further transmogrified into Compassionate Conservatism, proving  once and for all times that a snappy slogan exempts the speaker from having to provide any specific, cogent, or rational policy proposals on any given subject.  The spins, the twists, and the dog whistling created an environment in which the Oil Barons, the Bankers, and the CEO’s were the Blesséd Among Us, while the rest of the nation’s population would have to demonstrate their worthiness to receive the charity of the country.  If this is sounding a bit familiar, it should.

The Truth Tellers

One of the well documented features of the Romney-Ryan election efforts was the casual association their campaign had with the truth.  Nor did their campaign suffer from a surfeit of consistency.   Indeed, one of the highlights came when this quotation was captured: “I’m not familiar precisely with what I said, but I’ll stand by what I said, whatever it was,” Romney responded.” [RS]  How on Earth could a candidate get away with this?  Even worse, there was this comment from the Romney camp: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said at a panel organized by ABC News.” [HP]  The answer may well be that Governor Romney assumed that the Mythology of Reagan, the focus group centered conservatism of Bush, the fulfillment of the Southern Strategy, and the cynicism toward information from the media created by the GOP-Fox-Right Wing radio Echo Chamber, would all culminate in a successful election effort.

What Went Wrong?

Policy Matters.  Those corporate friendly policies of the Bush Administration which tended toward de-regulation, capital flight, and “creative” products to enhance investment revenues collapsed in a staggering heap circa 2007 and 2008.  We went from “Greed Is Good,” back to “Greed Is One Of The Seven Deadly Sins.”

Item – The vaunted and well publicized Supply Side Theory of economics proved illusory, in all probability because it was a hoax in the first place.  It may take the American public some time to understand the facts, but as of 2008 they were inescapable — low taxation did not, and never had, create economic growth in the real economy. No amount of spinning, theorizing, generalizing, or rationalizing can make this ideological theory whole again. Yet the Romney campaign persisted, enabled by the plutocrats on the Rove donor lists, the Club for Growth, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the bankers.

Item – The Republicans themselves, at least in the form of former House Speaker New Gingrich, recognized that they had a Financialist candidate in a race wherein the electorate was still reeling from the effects of financialist excesses.   American voters rejected the Supply Siders, in favor of a candidate whose economic policies emphasize growth not European style austerity, which seems to have done precious little for the Eurozone economic growth rate.

Item – the conservative complaints about immigrants being a curse upon the civil state were strident enough to cause Hispanic voters to express their opinions in the polling that mattered.  Opposition to the DREAM Act, calls for self-deportation, “papers please” legislation,” and charges that the Hispanic community was basically “unAmerican,” didn’t help expand the numbers for the Republican Party.

Item – That “rape thing” in combination with wholesale assaults on the Affordable Care Act, attached to radio ranting about “sluts” who take birth control pills, and associated with the most extreme anti-abortion rhetoric wasn’t good for Republicans either.  Only 15% to 20% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all instances. [PR]  Proposing to adopt policies supported by 20% of the population doesn’t seem to be a constructive way to attract votes from the 46.2% of American women who are registered to vote. [Census]

Leadership 

Leadership matters.   Those not self identified members of the Republican Party have marveled at the importance attached to the opinions of the right wing radio ranters in GOP politics.  There have been several instances in which members of Congress, for example, sought to distance themselves from or disagree with radio commentator Rush Limbaugh — only to walk back their criticism almost immediately. Unfortunately for Republican politicians, Mr. Limbaugh’s misogynistic, racist, and otherwise radical offerings are associated with the fringe right not the moderate middle.

It is handy to have one’s own television network, but Fox News however helpful it seeks to be has done a poor job of informing its viewers.  Studies from the University of Maryland and Fairleigh Dickinson University both demonstrated that Fox viewers were the least well informed, and were often willing to accept obviously inaccurate information.  [HP] Fox’s response was to attack the Universities, not to deny the results of the studies.  The Republicans could be certain to count as theirs the votes among the Fox viewers, but while Fox draws about 604,000 per day [TV] it should be recalled that there are 112,806,642 people in the country between the ages of 18-44, another 81,489,445 aged 45-64, and some 40,267,984 over 65.   In slightly more stark terms, Fox is reaching 604,000 daily viewers out of 234,564,071 of those eligible to vote.

Item – An echo chamber can also be a trap.   From the outside it appears the Republicans can’t decide if they are a Party with its own radio and TV broadcasters, or if they are the operatives responsible for promoting the policies sought by  one television network, and a handful of broadcasters on AM radio.   The Party appears to be functioning without a national spokesperson — is the anointed one Rush Limbaugh? Senator John McCain? Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly?  Governor Mitt Romney? Senator Mitch McConnell?  What are we to think of a party that for two election cycles didn’t (or couldn’t) use the services of its most recent incumbent?

Having an incumbent in the White House is always an advantage, but President Obama is the acknowledged leader of the Democratic Party, and has secured the support of former President Bill Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator John Kerry, and the imprimatur of the Kennedy family.  GOP spokesperson may rail about the “Chicago” clique responsible for the Obama Campaign, but there’s no mistaking the fact that unlike the GOP there is a clear coterie of national Democratic leadership aligned with an incumbent president.

In Fine

Ancestor worship, focus group politics, and the narrowing perspective along polarized lines promoted by a self referencing media does not constitute a recipe  for long term success.  Self definition works better.  If the GOP is truly the Small Government Party, then the privacy invasive anti-abortion portion of the base will be disappointed.  If the GOP is the Party of Big Business, then eventually small business owners will come to define themselves separately from the mega-corporations and the bankers.  If the GOP is the Party of Social Conservatives then does it permanently constrain its membership to the 20% to 30% of voters for whom issues like abortion are primary considerations?

Perhaps the Party might want to look at Democratic efforts to realign itself after 1988?  There’s a template there should the GOP choose to follow it, but WARNING — it requires moderation.

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2012 The Numbers Game

GOP guru and fundraiser Karl Rove has some questions to answer this month — particularly to some of his largest donors, like Sheldon Adelson of Macau and Nevada — however, there are some systemic issues which have been raised from many sectors that deserve some consideration.

Demographic Shifts

No election is ever exactly like any other.  The candidates may differ, the immediate issues change, and the electorate moves along.  The GOP apparently assumed that the God, Guns, and Gays coalition aligned with Wall Street interests would continue to be a winning combination. Not. So.

Ethnicity Shift: Those who were successful in 2012 were no doubt operating from the 2010 Census.  Specifically, there is a significant shift in our population.

“More than half of the growth in the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 was because of the increase in the Hispanic population. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, rising from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010. The rise in the Hispanic population accounted for more than half of the 27.3 million increase in the total U.S. population. By 2010, Hispanics comprised 16 percent of the total U.S. population of 308.7 million.”

“The non-Hispanic population grew relatively slower over the decade at about 5 percent. Within the non-Hispanic population, the number of people who reported their race as white alone grew even slower (1 percent). While the non-Hispanic white alone population increased numerically from 194.6 million to 196.8 million over the 10-year period, its proportion of the total population declined from 69 percent to 64 percent.” [Census]

Democratic Party policy positions on crucial issues like immigration reform and education were more aligned with Hispanic voters’ concerns than the hard-line “no amnesty” approach taken by the GOP candidates.  The results from south Florida aren’t yet available, but we could speculate that older Cuban American voters were more likely to vote for Republicans than their younger, Central America origin neighbors.  GOP opposition to the DREAM Act certainly couldn’t have helped.

Age shift:  Research was published last October which should have been of concern to the Republican Party:

“The Republican Party is not a party of the young. More than two thirds of those polled were over 48 years old and only 20% were in the bottom two age brackets. This raises the question of what kind of a future a party has whose membership averages close to retirement age with very few new members becoming involved at or near college age. There’s not much time left for those who currently lead the party. Membership is already shrinking and the trend suggested in these polls is one which would leave the Republican party as a much smaller minority party in less than a generation.”

The older themes still attuned to the Cold War polarization of Good vs. Evil, US vs. Them, may not, and seemed not, to resonate with younger voters in the 2012 election. Nor did the traditional appeals to “family values” from the 1980’s.  References to “Communism” don’t have the same sound to younger voters most of whom may have been in diapers when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.   Younger voters are also living in a Post-Stonewall World.  The virulent anti-Gay rhetoric of some GOP candidates and spokespersons doesn’t fit with their world-view.

Religion:  The Republicans did well with born-again Evangelical voters, however those declaring themselves “unaffiliated” has also increased among the general population.

The red outlines superimposed on the Pew Research results indicate that the two groups which gave Governor Romney more support than President Obama in 2012 may indicate a “wash” demographically.

In sum, there are demographic shifts in terms of ethnicity, age, and religious affiliation which suggest a diminishing base for Republican candidates.  However, the hypothesis that any one of these is of singular significance is problematic.

Issue Shifts

Whatever slicing and dicing might be done with polling on issues related to the social safety net, support for long-standing support programs — like Social Security — remain solid.

The Pew Research Center also reported back in October 2011 that its polling found the following opinions concerning federal priorities:

Notice that when American were asked about federal programs which seek to address issues of age, health, and education most Americans do not approve of spending cuts.

The issue for the Republicans then becomes — How do you successfully argue in favor of privatizing Social Security, turning Medicare into a voucher program, cutting Pell Grants, transforming Medicaid into a block grant program with significant cuts in state funding, and reducing funding for programs to help the poor, when the majority of Americans don’t share those views?  Hardline positions assumed by some Republican candidates which ran counter to the overall values of voters did not help the ticket.

Women’s Issues

Ah, recall the old saw: You are known by the company you keep.  Unfortunately, the Republicans offered extreme candidates who in turn provided some of the most strident sound bites in the 2012 campaign season.

Defunding Planned Parenthood, while playing well with some portions of the electorate, added to the “extremist” narrative provided by candidates like Todd Akin, Rick Berg, Richard Mourdock and others.   Nor did generalized attacks on Obamacare — with its provisions for women’s health, gender equity, and benefits for children — serve Republican candidates well among women voters.

Coalition Issues

Elections are numbers games.  The Republican formula in which success could be achieved by combining evangelical voters with Wall Street interests met something of a Waterloo in 2012.  The older, whiter, more socially conservative voters aligned with investment and banking sector support, were insufficient to move the needle away from a Democratic win.   One possible reason for this phenomena is that information and informational changes may also be shifting.

At this point, the Pew Research group is again instructive.  Notice who gets his or her news where:

At this point it looks as though as of 2010 we knew that older voters, more likely to be conservative, were more likely to limit their information to what could be obtained in the right wing sources and similar places.  Younger voters were watching cable — but ‘other’ cable shows, and were getting more of their information from traditional media sources.

This second chart is particularly interesting, because conservative have “ruled” the AM radio territory during the last election cycles.  However, that source has declined precipitously since 1991.   The creation of a self-informing echo chamber brings with it the perils of an ill-informed base. We saw one manifestation of the result:

“Many of us watched in astonishment late Tuesday night as Karl Rove frantically strove to deny his own network’s call of the presidential election. The urge to deny reality runs astoundingly deep at the heart of the right-wing propaganda machine. Even two terms of Barack Obama might not be enough to cure that sickness.” [Salon]

The tendrils of the problem entrap those with relatively narrow perspectives.  A smaller group, seeking to perpetuate issues of declining interest to a larger portion of the population, and clinging to a declining form of information transmission, isn’t likely to find larger audiences.

Well and often used business rule: When you are gaining a larger percentage of a declining market — you are in trouble.  If you have a larger audience on AM radio and a handful of cable news channels,  while information from the Internet, satellite radio, social media, and an expanding cable presence, then some questions need to be raised about how that Bubble can be sustained.

In the mean time, Democrats celebrate an outstanding victory in 2012 while the Republicans seek to determine how to avoid the fate of their party in California in the aftermath of Prop 187 in 1994.

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