As usual I’ve been planning on writing an opus on this crazy election season, but I’ve opted for this little piece on the Democrats to start with. Hopefully I can get to the Republicans soon.
After a virtual tie in Iowa, Hillary got trounced this week in NH and Bernie Mania is in full bloom among Democrats. Bernie Sanders has tapped into some very important issues in this election: a government and a political process that is captured by special interests, growing income inequality and a yearning for honesty in a political (and societal) culture that is sorely lacking it. In some ways his candidacy is a mirror image of Trump’s candidacy, but with very different policy prescriptions. They both tout their independence from special interests, they both are fighting a battle against their party’s traditional structure, and their supporters both believe that they are speaking truth to power and that their policies can help halt the decline of the American Middle Class.
Sanders has performed much better than anyone expected, both in fundraising and in actual vote totals, but one thing should be clear: Bernie Sanders 2016 is not Barack Obama 2008. In 2008 Barack Obama campaigned with a real strategy to win the nomination, and detailed policy positions on all issues including foreign policy. Bernie, in my opinion, has not approached this campaign with the seriousness and determination of someone who wants to become the next President of the United States. Instead, he acts like someone who entered the race in order to bring a few key issues to the forefront of our political debate and push Hillary Clinton to the Left during primary season.
Of course, Sanders would never admit this, but like a bad gambler, he’s tipped his hand at key times that illustrate his real expectations for this race. In August 2015, Martha Raddatz interviewed Bernie Sanders on This Week and pointed out that “There are two issues that are entirely missing from your campaign website, and those are issues of national security and foreign policy. Don’t you feel these are issues a president should be very concerned about?” she asked. Bernie looked a little sheepish and basically said that he had only been running for three and a half moths and hadn’t gotten around to posting anything about foreign policy, but that they would do that soon.
The week of June 22, 2015 was a historic one for Progress, with Confederate flags coming down in Southern capitals, Gay Marriage legalized throughout the country and Obamacare saved once again from the most recent conservative attempt to destroy it. The week was capped off by an incredible eulogy given by President Obama at the funerals of the 9 members of a historic black church in Charleston, SC.
Earlier in the week, Obama got Elizabeth Hassleback and the folks at Fox riled up with his use of the “N-word” in an interview with Marc Maron. Discussing race relations, Obama noted
Racism, we are not cured of. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.
Obama’s statement brought me back to this fragment of a post that I wrote a few months ago regarding race in America in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and it’s aftermath.
About 8 years ago, when the Bush Administration’s Reign of Error was in it’s prime, and I couldn’t believe that Republicans continued to support the man, I made a promise to myself: If a Democrat were ever to occupy the White House I wouldn’t reflexively defend him if he didn’t deserve it.
I’ve done my best to keep that promise and if you asked me what I think of this president over the past 5 years, I would always try to give my real opinion, good or bad. Still, I’m well aware that I’ve been… let’s just say, “not as vocal” in pointing out the flaws of this president as I was of the last one. So let’s consider this my late attempt live up to the spirit of my promise as well as the promise itself.
Liberals, it’s time to admit it: Obama is not a very good president.
Of course, the usual caveats still apply. Despite all his failings, he’s still not any worse that George W Bush…and I have no regrets that John McCain didn’t win in 2008… or that Mitt Romney didn’t unseat him in 2012, both of which would have been disasters of epic proportions. But the relevant measuring stick wasn’t supposed to be “better than Bush” it was supposed to be “a transformational president,” or at least, “a good president.” For the most part, Obama has been neither.
Well, it’s been about 3 and a half months since I wrote anything for this forum. That’s due to a combination of factors including post election fatigue and just being busy with life, but it also reflects a disgust with the state of politics in this country.
There’s an old radical saying; “if elections changed anything, they’d be illegal.” I’m not usually a subscriber to this idea (imagine how different the trajectory of this country would have been if Al Gore won 800 more votes in Florida in 2000), but I do think that the differences between one party and another winning any given election often make only incremental changes in the country.
Jonathan Alter in his new book, The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, makes an argument that 2008 was a very significant election in American political history, but this argument is based not on Obama’s own agenda, but on the reactionary agenda of the Republicans who sought to unseat him. As Alter argues, if the Republicans were to take the Presidency and the House, it would have represented a significant rightward shift in American politics. The mere fact of Obama’s re-election insures that the Republican agenda to use the budget crisis to force radical changes to the social safety net is not going to happen. Rachel Maddow made this point beautifully in her MSNBC promo about the aftermath of the election.
We are not going to have a Supreme Court that overturns Roe versus Wade.
A remnant from the Rand Paul filibuster story. I’ve watched this video of Marco Rubio quoting Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa on the floor of the Senate about ten times. It always leaves me with my mouth open. If you told me 7 years ago that the President of the United States would be a black guy named Hussein Obama and that the likely Republican front runner to succeed him would be quoting Jay-Z on the floor of the Senate, I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Come on man!” Just more evidence that The Times Are A Changin’.
Anyway, this video led to some mildly entertaining discussions with my conservative uncle. He pointed to Rubio’s comment that things would be much different if President Bush waffled when asked if he had the power to order drone attacks to assassinate US citizens within the United States and citing a Glenn Greenwald blog post calling out liberals for their embrace of Bush era policies, including (amazingly), the keeping of Gitmo opened. Good points all, but I reminded him that hypocrisy is a double edged sword. Both Rubio and Mitch McConnell lent support to Rand’s filibuster, but where have they been for all this time on the expansion of government powers to fight terrorism? #StandWithRand starts trending on twitter and these guys are newborn civil libertarians? Can anyone imagine them joining a Democratic filibuster in protest of Bush Era executive overreach?
It was all good just a week ago.
Same with spending: where was brave deficit hawk Saint Paul of Wisconsin when the prescription drug bill was passed without any source of funding? Oh yeah, he provided one of the deciding votes.
Last week, Rand Paul caught the imagination of people who pay attention to politics and in the process did himself some good on the Senate floor. Paul staged a 12 hour filibuster to protest the Obama Administration’s vacillation when asked whether drones could be used to attack American citizens in the United States.
I’m not overly concerned that drones are going to be dropped on my local coffee shop, but I did think that it was offensive that Obama’s team bobbed and weaved when asked about it. As Charles Pierce put it:
The question of whether or not the president can drop a couple of hellfires on an apartment block in Cincinnati, or a farmhouse outside Salinas, or a fucking brownstone in Brooklyn is a yes-or-no question. And, if your answer is “yes,” you need to explain yourself at considerable length.
But it wasn’t so much the issue as it was somebody finally having their Howard Beale moment on the national stage. Ironically, in addition to providing a badly needed shot in the arm to a demoralized Republican party, it also highlighted how broken the system is by showing what a filibuster used to look like, as well as what it should be. Paul’s 12 hour Mr. Smith Goes To Washington style soliloquy was a throwback to the days when people actually used to filibuster, not just declare their intent to filibuster and watch the other side fold.
Well, after 3 months off, I had hoped to start with something more positive, but inspiration often comes from outrage, so I want to rant a little about what Joe Klein dubbed the Benghazi Circus back in November, and which any close viewer of politics can tell you is apparently still parked in Washington DC.
Last week, Senate Republicans bestowed on themselves the dubious distinction of being the first Congress ever to filibuster a Secretary of Defense nominee. The reasons for this vary (the main reason was to see if they could dig up a little more dirt on Chuck Hagel), but one cited by both Senators McCain and Graham is that they wanted the White House to release more information on the Benghazi attacks. This latest stunt is just one in a series dating back to the campaign, with the most prominent being Senator Ron Johnson’s ill advised attack on Hillary Clinton and the gentle smackdown provided by John Kerry the following day.
In order to understand the reasons that Republicans have wasted so much energy on the Benghazi attacks, you don’t have to look far. As Kevin Drum pointed out months ago, it’s the same thing that makes Republicans think that it would be good politics to hold the Attorney General in contempt of Congress over the “Fast and Furious” scandal that no one who doesn’t watch Fox had ever heard of, or that our electoral system has been severely compromised by Acorn and the six guys in the New Black Panther Party: Fox News. Even after the rest of the country had moved on, many Republicans continued to “very closely” monitor the story of “who knew what, when” after the Benghazi attacks. Why? Because it was on their TV every night.
Just to be clear, I’m not someone who thinks that there was no issue here. Clearly the White House soft pedaled the attack carried out on the anniversary of 9-11. While Susan Rice’s mentions of the “spontaneous response” to an anti-muslim video can be explained with reference to the talking points she was given by the intelligence agencies and the evolving reports from Benghazi, President Obama’s repetitions of this incorrect narrative are harder to justify. In addition, there are lessons to be learned about how we protect our embassies in distant lands, many of which were detailed in the a State Department commissioned report on the incident.
Obama managed the unlikely feat of winning 8 of the 9 swing states, losing only North Carolina. Not bad considering the challenges he faced.
The Democrats picked up of two seats in the Senate in an exceedingly difficult year, with the class of 2006 defending their seats. Scott Brown out in Massauchsetts, Claire McCaskill and John Tester re-elected, Tim Kaine takes the seat that Jim Webb won by less than 10,000 votes in 2006, an unlikely Democratic win in North Dakota, the first openly lesbian Senator in Wisconsin…. No one would have predicted these results earlier in the year.
The House elections were less fruitful, in no small part a result of Republican gerrymandering that allowed Republicans to keep a 40 some seat majority even though they garnered less vote share than Democrats. One small ray of sunshine on this front is that some of the most annoying Tea Party candidates like Joe Walsh and Alan West are on their way to defeat (Michele Bachman managed to escape by about 400 votes).
John Stewart’s classic look at the moment the Republicans realized they had lost and tried to justify it to themselves.
What an incredible story to tell yourself: We would have won were it not for the moral failings of the non-real America. Fox lost because last night minorities, who feel entitled to things, came and took the country from the self sufficient white Medicare retirees and upper class tax avoidance experts, or as they’re also known, your audience.
Last week’s election was a big victory for President Obama and the Democrats. But aside from a win for the Democrats, the election was also a win for the pollsters — you know, the trained statisticians who make their living surveying public opinion? These guys were under attack this year by Fox News and the conservative media. According to the perpetually paranoid over at Fox News, the pollsters who were showing Obama leading in the Electoral College for the entire year were just as liberally biased as the overwhelming number of scientists who believe in global warming and the statisticians in the Bureau of Labor Statistics who showed a decline in the unemployment rate in the run up to the election.
Even to the bitter end, Fox contributor and Harvey Fierstein impersonator Dick Morris was predicting an electoral college landslide for Romney, and the conservative media bought it hook line and sinker. I always try to keep Mark Twain’s maxim about statistics in mind, but when you have different polls with varied methodology all telling you something that’s at odds with your view of the world, that’s a pretty good indicator that your assumptions might be incorrect. Morris was contrite this week, explaining that he assumed a turnout more in line with 2004, but it’s not clear that there was any evidence to suggest this except the personal opinions of him and others on Fox.
I was having this debate months ago with my conservative uncle whose comeback for “the polls are showing you behind” was always “not according to Scott Rasmussen.” Rasumssen was was the king of the 500 person automated poll which assumed a strong Republican turnout based on responses to questions regarding party identification. Rasumussen’s polls consistently showed a Republican bias of a few points, which can make a real difference in a close election. But a little knowledge can be dangerous and Rasmussen’s polling bred a cottage industry of bloggers contesting the polling in the presidential race by adjusting the party identification mix the pollsters were predicting based on their interviews. The website unskewedpolls.com was the most prominent of the naysayers and they “specialized” in taking other peoples polls and recasting the results by adding more Republicans to the mix.
Meanwhile, the conservative media shills needed to find a visible scapegoat and they found it in Nate Silver, a statistician who turned to election prediction in 2007. Silver had a great record in 2008, predicting every state except Indiana for Obama. In the wake of that election, he was hired by the New York Times as a blogger, where (in case you were wondering) he did well predicting the Republican Congressional landslide year of 2010 as well.
Today’s Meet the Press panel on the demographic bomb that helped to decide this election.
I joked this week that the good news for Mitt Romney is that he won the white vote decisively. The bad news is that it’s not 1952…
As Chuck Todd wrote the day after the election:
Yes, the auto bailout mattered in Ohio. Sure, Hurricane Sandy helped the president. And, yes, the economy was the No. 1 issue. But make no mistake: What happened last night was a demographic time bomb that had been ticking and that blew up in GOP faces.
Steve Schmidt points out that the last Republican to win 60% of the white vote was George H.W. Bush and he won 400 electoral votes as a result. This week, Mitt Romney won 206 with a similar percentage. Not only did Obama benefit from increased numbers of Hispanics in the electorate, his get out the vote efforts brought out a higher percentage of African Americans in 2012 than in 2008, as well as (contrary to most predictions) increasing youth turnout, with 60% of 18-29 year olds voting for him. Romney also took a beating at the hands of single women, losing that demographic by a whopping 36%.