August 25, 2007
More like this, please
By Kathy G.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting Darcy Burner at Yearly Kos. I attended nearly all of the feminist and women's sessions, and so did she. She was most impressive. Here's what was really cool about Darcy: unlike other candidates, she didn't just swoop in, introduce herself, make her little speech, and swoop out. She stayed. She listened. She seemed to care about what people had to say. And she made valuable contributions to the sessions.
For example, at one of the meetings we decided we wanted to create a wiki of women's media resources. Darcy volunteered her services and website to do this. And guess what? It was up the next day.
A little about Darcy: she's from the Seattle area and was a top executive at Microsoft. She's especially strong on women's issues, the environment, and civil liberties. In 2006 she came very close to beating her Republican opponent. She probably would have won if not for a last-minute dirty tricks operation, in the form of Republican headquarters making upwards of 500,000 phone calls spreading malicious lies about her (telling voters that she was going to be indicted, for example).
You can make a contribution to Darcy's campaign here.
November 08, 2006
The Morning After
It's nice to finally write one of these election wrap-ups that doesn't have to account for a massive Democratic disappointment. Change is good, right? What it does have to do is punch back against the remarkably coordinated and quick campaign from the right (and sometimes the right includes the left) seeking to paint this election as some sort of victory for...conservatism.
The ideological spectrum is a tricky thing. Take Heath Schuler, exhibit A in the rightwing Democrats meme. He's a cultural conservative, no doubt. But however far right he drifts on those issues -- which, under a Democratic Congress, he won't be voting on because they won't be brought to floor -- he's notably left on economic issues. Today, for instance, he's giving a press conference under the auspices of the United Steelworkers with Great Liberal Hope Sherrod Brown, where they'll discuss the need for new trade policies and their success in making active opposition to NAFTA a winning issue. That's not centrist Democrat. It's not moderate liberal. That's populism, kids, and it's leftier than polite company has allowed for quite some time.
So is Shuler rightwing? Seems like a tough case to me. Sherrod Brown? Liberal as they come. Defeating South Dakota's abortion ban initiative? Passing Missouri's stem cell initiative? All those progressives who toppled liberal Republicans in the Northeast? Somebody think they won in the blue bastions with roaring conservatism? Meanwhile, the most conservative of the serious Democratic challengers this cycle, Harold Ford, went down to defeat. Bravely fought race, tough environs, etc. But with an out-and-out liberal winning Ohio and a right-of-center Democrat losing Tennessee, we're really going to call this election for conservatism?
I don't think so. That distorted interpretation is being promoted by an array of rightwingers and self-styled centrists anxious to constrain the new majority's perceived range of motion. Some of them are conservatives trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Others are "centrist" Democrats look to grad defeat from the jaws of victory. Both are, for ideological reasons, afraid that a Democratic majority will govern like...Democrats. And make no mistake: They'll convince no small number of Democrats to eschew any such legislative style. But if the country had wanted a continuation of conservative rule, they would have voted for it. Instead, they voted Democratic. And their elects should give them what they asked for.
October 11, 2006
What Makes a Liberal?
So various folks are taking well-deserved swings at Geoffrey Stone's "What It Means To Be A Liberal." I find most all such exercises to be tedious and unilluminating, a halfhearted recitation of broadly supportable platitudes and generalities that really boils down to what it means to be a good person, at least politically speaking. The meaning of liberalism, at least so far as it seeks to separate from conservatism, needs to offer points of disagreement between the two. Stone's piece doesn't do much of that -- it doesn't create a liberalism most conservatives would reject. So I'll give it a shot.
Before I do, however, a caveat: There are many types of Democrat, and many of their beliefs conflict with each other. I'm going to use liberal in the sense that it denotes leftists descended from the Progressives and New Dealers, not as it's used to group everyone from Clintonian neoliberals to newly embraced neorealists. So really, this is a rather personal list, and I encourage folks to add their items in comments:
- People Make Mistakes: Personal responsibility is important to encourage, but pursuing it shouldn't blind us to human frailty and error. Folks are not always logical, rational actors able to balance long-term interests and short-term rewards. So if someone doesn't contribute enough to their pension fund, or their health savings account, or whatever, they shouldn't face financial ruin when they get sick or retire. We can craft a society that allows good behaviors to reward, but refuses to abandon those who showed insufficient vision.
- Luck Matters: This is a traditionally Rawlsian viewpoint, and folks interested in it should seek out the source. But the conservative idea that we truly control our destiny is bunk. At this moment in time, with all that you are and have, you may feel pretty autonomous. But intelligence, temperament, looks, and health are, in large part, genetically predetermined. Who you're born to is, assumedly, luck, as is which peer group you fall into. Whether you attend a good school, live in a nice neighborhood, make a stupid mistake, have parents who instill the right routines, and all the rest largely decide whether you're the type of person who, when grown, will work hard, save money, invest in your future, and all the rest. If you are that type of person, it is not necessarily an expression of your virtues, but of your luck -- unfortunately, we see who we are now, not what made us, and so overemphasize our autonomy. Our society too often comforts itself by assuming meritocracy is a fair ideal, rather than an arbitrary sorting mechanism that values certain character traits and intrinsic abilities, some of which we achieve through hard work, but some of which are hardwired or learned before we exercise any autonomy or virtue at all. Because we want a good and vibrant economy, we should always encourage the behaviors which contribute. But we should have a high social floor and expansive safety net in the recognition that there but for fortune go we.
- The Economy isn't All Powerful: The Harvard medical economist Rashi Fein likes to say that we live in a society, not an economy. Liberals should take that dictum seriously. It routinely seems to me that the right assumes whatever boosts economic growth is prima facie beneficial. If corporations are lowering prices by creating efficiencies, that's terrific. If they're doing it by cutting wages, destroying health care, polluting, or a variety of other cost-saving but society-poisoning methods, that's not. Economic growth is important, but so are its roots and distribution. What matters, in the end, aren't the macroeconomic statistics, but the sort of society we live in.
- War Sucks: Lord knows many liberals forget this too, but on the heels of the new Lancet study showing more than 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result of our invasion and occupation, it's worth reminding ourselves the burden of proof should always be against war. The atrocities, cruelties, and uncertainties inherent in all armed conflicts should eternally be pitted against whatever heroic or humanitarian visions we may have of clean interventions and grateful villagers.
- Government is Good and Necessary: Or it should be. Or can be. In a world of massive, multinational corporations and unbelievably wealthy individuals, government is the single force able to aggregate citizen power and advocate for their interests. In an economy that needs countervailing powers, government should be the one on our side. Currently, it's occupied by folks who profess to hate it, but actually press it into serving their corporatist agendas. The answer to that isn't buying into antigovernment rhetoric and hoping to enact social programs by stealth, but to argue for an alternate, positive, and populist conception of what government should be and what it can do.
- Worker Power and Autonomy Matters: Unions are important. Employers already own salaries and self-respect, they shouldn't also control access to medical treatment and secure retirements. The interests of corporations are different, though related, to those of their employees, and so workers need institutions and protections that aid self-advocacy.
So those are a couple, jotted down, and sure to be full of holes and overstatements, But given that I think most conservatives envision a good society that, on some level, looks relatively similar to mine, these are spots where we often differ. But folks should feel free to prove me wrong, or offer more.
- Equal Rights: Conservatives believe in this as an ideal, but liberals understand that America has a legacy -- and present-day reality -- of discrimination against minorities, women, gays that often requires the coercive power of the state to overcome. To imagine that, as currently constructed, society offers African-Americans equal opportunities, or women equality in the workforce, is a pleasant, but poisonous, delusion.
Update 2: It's probably worth saying that the emphasis on this list is much of the message. On point one, for instance, certainly most conservatives don't believe we should just abandon anyone who slips up. But I think government's emphasis should be on protecting folks from consequences and risks, not increasing their "skin in the game" or vulnerability to the market or financial exposure if they don't save. Indeed, I think only by protecting from risk can we sufficiently encourage risk-taking. See, for instance, my argument that health care should be guaranteed so no one need ever squelch their entrepreneurial instinct because they fear their ability to get antibiotics if they quit their job.
August 05, 2006
Democrats Hold Their Ground, Win
By Neil the Ethical Werewolf
The Democrats managed to pull of a filibuster Thursday night, shutting down the GOP attempt to cut the estate tax by tying it to a minimum wage increase. As Mike Caudle explains at the Edwards Blog, it wasn't even a totally legit minimum wage increase -- it would've reduced wages for lots of workers who make money off of tips. If you're looking for a very inside perspective on this story, there's one at the HotlineBlog about how Maria Cantwell decided to join 41 other Senators for the filibuster, enraging Bill Frist with her refusal to engage in bipartisan dumbness. Well done, team!
July 09, 2006
His continued support of the Iraq War and attacks on the patriotism of its opponents are the main reasons for opposing Joe Lieberman, but his history of attacks on fellow Democrats and liberal ideals is much longer. There was his support of DOMA in 1996, his scolding of Clinton during the impeachment hearings in 1998, his flirtation with private accounts during the early days of the Social Security fight, and his cloture vote on Alito. While his overall voting record isn't bad, it's hard to see Ned Lamont as anything but an upgrade, especially as far as winning media battles is concerned.
What's really exciting about this race is the message it'll send to safe-state Democrats who may occasionally be driven to Liebermania by the siren song of the anti-partisan media: bashing your party for personal gain is unacceptable, and Democrats in safe seats are expected to do their part in moving the country leftward. Betrayals of the party and liberal ideals, whether for reasons pragmatic or psychological, may come with the consequence of a primary defeat.
I generally agree with folks like Petey who think that moderate-seeming Democrats will attract more votes, but Joe Lieberman is the kind of moderate who gives his party a radical image. Garance has a good post on this. Criticizing "extremists" in your party and making opponents of the war look like unpatriotic radicals does nothing to help Claire McCaskill and Harold Ford win their Senate races. By painting a picture of unpatriotic extreme antiwar Democrats, Lieberman damages the party's brand and hurts Democrats everywhere.
Triangulation makes sense as a strategy for individual candidates, but it's not a strategy that an entire party can engage in. In a country with an established two-party system, the media will define the space of moderate opinion relative to the parties themselves. No party will be able to gain a lasting reputation for moderation by compromising and moving towards its opponents. All that'll happen is that the space of moderation will be narrowed, and opinions that previously were considered moderate will be regarded as extreme.
Consider the idea of invading Iraq. Even setting aside the WMD issue, it's hard to imagine that early poll numbers in favor of invading would've been high if we were under a responsible Republican administration that itself rejected the idea of invasion as ridiculous. Support for the war would then fall outside the range of acceptable moderate opinion. This analysis applies better to new issues where minds aren't made up than old ones where most people have come to a firm opinion, but on things like foreign policy proposals and judicial nominations, we need to realize that the battle of public opinion is still out there to be won. Lieberman must not be allowed to sabotage Democrats by narrowing the space of moderation so that our views look extreme.
I don't want my safe-seat Democrats triangulating into moderate positions. I want them to explore new territory on the left, so that when our Arkansas and Nebraska Senators triangulate off of them, they end up in positions that are fairly good, or at least non-destructive. And that's why I have no use for Joe Lieberman. Where Lamont would stretch the field leftward as a moderate personality with progressive views, Lieberman compresses it and perpetuates negative stereotypes of Democrats. It's time to remove him from politics, and threaten anyone who follows his path with a similar fate.
May 29, 2006
A couple interesting things out of the Prospect discussion with Nancy Pelosi are worth mentioning. First, she seems to be pretty excited about the possibility of using the subpoena power of a House majority to launch investigations of the Bush Administration.
And one of the great triumphs of our victory in November will be the power of the subpoena. This is a Congress that is not only a rubberstamp for the President, but has abdicated its responsibility, derelict in its responsibility for oversight. [inaudible] The power to investigate, the power to subpoena will show the American people how far they were willing to go for their own agenda at the expense of the lives of our kids, the limbs of our kids, a trillion-dollar war, the cost to our reputation around the world. [inaudible] Very calmly, very calmly, when we win, we will assume the duties of the legislative branch, the first branch of government. We will have a system of checks and balances that is called for in our Constitution and abandoned by this Congress.
This is exactly what I'm hoping for. As I've argued before, massive investigations of Bush Administration malfeasance could be useful in doing long-term damage to the Republican Party. I'm not quite as hot on impeachment as some people are -- I'm happy to settle for laying out lots of Bush scandals for the American people to see, and making the point that these are what you get if you let Republicans run the country. Bush will be around for just two more years; Republicans will be around somewhat longer. (By the way, what's with all the [inaudible] in the transcript? Ezra, do you need to send your people shopping for some higher-quality recording equipment? Or was Pelosi whispering so that NSA bugs wouldn't pick up her plans?)
One of Pelosi's achievements that she referred to a couple times was preventing individual Democrats from all coming out with their own plans back in the Social Security privatization days. Rather than having a bunch of different plans and muddling the party's message in the media, or even having one Democratic plan and conceding the necessity of damaging the federal government's most financially secure program in response to a made-up crisis, Pelosi and Reid got their caucuses to just say no to privatization. You can read Matt Yglesias' classic post on why this was absolutely the right political decision for Democrats at the time. What Matt's talking about is exactly what Pelosi did, and it's why we won.
April 09, 2006
Harry Wins Again
Just because it combines the two things I've been talking about this weekend -- immigration and the newfound competence of the Democratic leadership -- I'm linking to Kevin Drum's discussion of how Harry Reid saw through Bill Frist's web of deceit and ensured that the Republicans wouldn't be able to pass an evil Frankenstein version of the immigration bill. Matt's right that this hurts the Republicans more than it hurts us.
April 08, 2006
Million Buck Chuck and the Democratic Leadership
By Neil the Ethical Werewolf
Two great articles came out this week about the people at the top of the Democratic Party. One is Ryan Lizza's profile of Chuck Schumer, the second is Amy Sullivan's piece on the Democratic leadership. If you're looking for something that'll put a little bounce in your trot and make you a happy little donkey, I'd suggest reading both.
Lizza's article shows you how much Schumer has already done to make sure we're playing offense, not defense, in the Senate this year. After the 2004 defeat, I remember looking at the 2006 Senate calendar with dread -- we're defending more seats than Republicans are, and many of them are deep in GOP country. Schumer turned crisis into opportunity by trading favors to make sure that popular Democratic incumbents stayed in the Senate, and by dropping huge money on Democrats in time to scare off Republican challengers. Take the example of Nebraska:
In Nebraska, another vulnerable red-stater, Ben Nelson, wanted to scare off a challenge from Governor Mike Johanns. Nelson came to Schumer and Reid in late 2004 and told them that if he could raise $1 million in one month, Johanns wouldn’t challenge him. Schumer personally tapped his own base of New York donors, many of whom had never heard of Nelson. They coughed up tens of thousands of dollars. In his last Senate election campaign, Nelson raised a total of $50,395 from New Yorkers; this cycle, he’s already netted $130,500. His ratio of Nebraska money to New York money used to be thirteen to one. Now it’s three to one. Sure enough, a month after the fund-raising blitz began, and with $1 million in the bank, Johanns decided to join the Bush administration as secretary of Agriculture, and other top Republicans in the state declined to enter the race.
Similar things happened in North Dakota, where the most popular governor in America declined to challenge Democrat Kent Conrad. Schumer has recruited excellent Democratic candidates across the country. I rather liked the story of how he recruited Claire McCaskill to run in Missouri by schmoozing with her reluctant husband. And though the article doesn't make it clear exactly how this is happening, his agents seem to have been weakening Conrad Burns in Montana by circulating anti-Burns stories in the local press. Schumer hasn't been perfect -- I really think he should've picked up Barbara Hafer instead of Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, and perhaps he could've averted the Hackett-Brown car accident in Ohio (though I think that Brown really is the guy we want in the end, and Schumer was right to prefer him). All in all, though, he's had a big role in shaping the 2006 Senate picture for the better.
One of the major themes of Sullivan's piece is how the media tends not to credit Democrats who inflict serious damage on the Bush Administration. Schumer emerges as a hero here too, for masterminding the Dubai port scandal:
If you read the press coverage of the story, you would have thought the issue surfaced on its own. In fact, however, the story was a little grenade rolled into the White House bunker by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). No one was aware of the port deal until Schumer—who had been tipped off by a source in the shipping industry—held a press conference, and another, and another until the press corps finally paid attention. As for Schumer, he popped up in news reports about the deal, but almost always as a “critic of the administration,” not as the initiator of the entire episode.
It's one of the big problems with being in the minority -- if you do something awesome, the media just says that it happened, not that you did it. And if any Republicans show up to help you out, they get the credit. The ban on torture is regarded as John McCain's doing, and the Democrats who backed it are invisible.
I liked what Sam Rosenfeld had to say about the Democratic leadership, in his comment on the Sullivan article:
compared to both recent and much more longstanding historical precedent, the current Democratic opposition has not only been disciplined and unified, but effective. Improvements can always be made, but it's simple ignorance to portray the state of the congressional caucuses under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as indistinguishable from what we saw under Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt in the early Bush years or, for that matter, what we saw from Democrats during the 1990s, when first Democratic congressional majorities confirmed Clarence Thomas and completely flubbed a major opportunity for universal healthcare legislation, then later Democratic congressional minorities joined ranks with Republicans on any number of illiberal, corporate-friendly initiatives. The current Democratic caucus is more ideologically unified, more disciplined in their votes, and on most scores more liberal than it has been in recent history.
March 21, 2006
The Gore-Leaf Clover that I Overlooked Be-Gore
by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
I found Ezra's Gore article fascinating, but I ended up somewhat bearish on his Presidential ambitions (Gore's, that is; Ezra, when you're ready to become the First Jewish President, let me know if you need a field director or a pollster). That is, I'm not entirely sure he's running for President. The first reason is that upon assuming the Presidency, if not during the campaign, he would be forced by political pressure to end his work with Current TV and other media enterprises. The main reason, though, is same reason I think some of Ezra's latest comments land off the mark:
No longer. Dean -- unlike Bill Bradley, or John McCain, or Gary Hart -- did not win any of the early primaries. He lost them. What was unique about his insurgency is that he went from darkest, quietest horse to frontrunner in a matter of months, without winning a single state. He did it through direct communication with the small core of party activists who can singlehandedly make a candidacy. And they made his, until poor ads, some major gaffes, and an overly-mational focus lost him Iowa. But in 2008, that core will enlarge, and the media will be watching them closely. Win them over, and you might well win the nomination.
First of all, Bradley didn't win any primaries. He gave Gore a scare in New Hampshire, but exit polls showed Bradley winning wealthy Democrats and young Democrats, while Gore carried the stolid working class demographics that he rode to victory in states that have fewer "yippies". Political observers knew it was all over after New Hampshire. (Similary, Paul Tsongas's pyrrhic victory in New Hampshire follows similar trends, though Clinton had to dig himelf out of a much bigger hole).
Second, the proof seems to be in the pudding. As Ezra concedes, every candidate who seeks to excite the activist base ends up losing primaries. Hart's campaign came the closest to winning, but we need to remember that it was Jerry Brown and Paul Tsongas who sought the yuppie/yippie vote in 1992. The Trippi/Dean/Klein theory of Presidential campaigns suggests that the Internet allows candidates to get their message to activists at a blindingly fast pace, creating a giant network to influence the main news narratives of the day. But why should Gore have an advantage heredel? In 2008, unlike Dean in '04, Gore would have to compete for activists' bandwidth (literally) with Edwards, Feingold, Clark, and others, each with their own internet loyalists. And social stratification means that heavy internet users -- who have more formal education, higher incomes, and are more likely to be urban and single -- won't spend that much time talking about politics working class voters with a high school or maybe a two-year college degree. So I just don't see MoveOn and similar "viral marketing" techniques being able to "infect" the entire nation.
Coincidentally, Ezra's article is up for debate on the same day that Mark Penn writes an op-ed in the Washington Post on the continued importance of swing voters. Penn -- who was Clinton's pollster in 1996 and is currently Hillary's pollster -- points out that these voters are the anti-activists: "[t]he two or three or 10 voters who are the quietest in focus groups, who never demonstrate and who belong to no political party ...". But that doesn't make their votes less important on election day. So while I love Gore's attempts to create a more community driven media environment, and his challenge to the notion that objectivity the holy grail of professional journalism, I don't think it's the start of his Presidential campaign.
March 18, 2006
Everybody Screwed Up. Including Russ Feingold.
Lots of people are upset about the Democrats’ initial
performance on the resolution to censure Bush for his illegal wiretapping, and
they’re right to be. From what I know of
FISA, wiretapping without following the laughably easy conditions for getting a
warrant (you can seek your warrant after
you wiretap) is illegal and inexcusable. The censure resolution is totally right on the merits. The politics is a tighter issue, but a slight
plurality of Americans seem to agree with it. So
we need to step up and make our case. Most
Democrats have better things to run on, but most Democrats don’t have to do
very much to help us use this against GOP Senators from tough states. Which is just a long-winded way of saying – I
agree, mostly, with Digby. At least as far as the first week is concerned, Senate Democrats were painful to watch.
But Digby and I part ways when it comes to Feingold’s tactic of launching the censure resolution without giving the other Democrats any advance notice:
It's apparently true that Feingold didn't consult with the party. But considering the response I can sort of see his point. They are so unimaginative and so sluggish that he didn't see the use in playing the party game. If party coodination means being forced to wait for them to hold plodding press conferences about x-raying cargo boxes, then it's hard to see why anyone who wants to take the fight to the Republicans would bother.
Digby, it’s not 2002 anymore. There’s been a change in leadership, and the
new leaders of our party managed to – with a clear minority in each chamber –
completely wreck a freshly re-elected president’s biggest second-term
proposal. United Democrats fought like
hell against Social Security Privatization, and they ended up winning the
biggest defensive victory in American politics since the GOP took down
In other words, there’s no excuse for going around Harry Reid. Yes, maybe you’ll have to sit through a couple plodding press conferences on x-raying cargo boxes while we scrape off a couple extra points on national security. Maybe the censure plan will be pushed to another week and you’ll have to do it in May rather than March. Big deal. Go through the Senate leadership, and when the time comes, Democrats will be confident, not confused. And the problem here is more confusion than cowardice. Today’s Democrats can fight and win gutsy battles against the administration, and they have – they just need to be totally sure about the plan before they charge. Sure, it’s sad that they lack the minimal level of instinct that it takes to fight and win on the fly. Similarly, it’s sad that some people are missing legs. But we don’t take away their crutches.
Russ Feingold didn’t go through Harry Reid. He grabbed the censure weapon while nobody was looking, and nobody knew until he had already fired it. Rather than a bunch of Democrats standing behind him, everyone was staring at each other wondering, “what just happened?” With planning, we could’ve fitted a media strategy around this to force hard choices on DeWine and Chafee and other GOP Senators with tough re-election prospects. Maybe a good strategy from here on can still get us there. (And maybe Harry Reid's "worst president ever" line is an early bit of that strategy.) But at this point, we're going to have to build that strategy off of a botched opening.
Now, Russ is no dummy. (If he was, I wouldn’t have bought futures on him winning the nomination over at Tradesports. His gimmick jumped them from 3.2 to 4.9.) He knows how his party does business, and he knew how this would play out. Which leads me to think that he didn’t really care about giving Democrats any advance warning and making this censure thing go right. More likely, he set it up to get the Democratic confusion that he wanted. He was perfectly happy to make dramatic speeches while his party looked silly, criticize them on Fox News (and he was quick – big speech on Monday, Fox on Tuesday), and provide the perfect backdrop for his 2008 protest candidacy. As a piece of personal political strategy, it was pretty darned good. I just wish Russ Feingold would just use that sort of smart tactical thinking on behalf of his party, and his country, rather than himself.