Democrats Need A Message

One reason that the Republicans get people to turn out to vote in off year elections, often to vote against their economic self-interest, is that they have a message. The message might be based upon dishonest claims and incorrect views as to how the economy and government work, but it is a message. In contrast, many Democratic voters feel less interested in turning out to vote, especially in off year elections. To some degree the Democrats have difficulty in defining a message as they are a big tent party which wins elections by appealing to a wide variety of voters, ranging from center-right to left wing. Issues which appeal to some Democratic voters might turn off others.

The Washington Post describes how Senate Democrats are struggling to define a message:

Senate Democrats’ latest effort in that regard is a 10-point plan for legislation they intend to bring to the floor over the spring and summer.

The issues are familiar ones for Democrats, and poll well among Americans generally.

Yet they are top priorities to narrower slices of the Democrats’ constituency — particularly those who showed up to vote for President Obama in 2012, but who do not have a history or voting in off-year contests.

The first items up for Senate debate will be increasing the minimum wage, from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, and a bill to assure paycheck equity between male and female workers.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said that those are measures that would have their greatest impact on young people, unmarried women, Latinos and African-Americans — all of whom can be difficult to turn out in years when there is no presidential election.

“This doesn’t replace a broader economic message. In the long run, we have to do that. But in the short run, this is very helpful,” said Lake, who has warned that the Democrats face a large turnout disadvantage in a year when Republican voters appear to be more motivated.

GOP pollster Neil Newhouse said the Senate Democrats’ targeted strategy echoes that of Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, where he emphasized a number of “niche group” issues such as the Dream Act, mandatory contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act, student loan expansion and support for same-sex marriage.

Why haven’t Democrats been pushing for legalization of same-sex marriage more strongly in the past? As Michigan and other states saw recent legal victories for marriage equality I thought that, although this is an issue far more associated with Democrats than Republicans, the victories are in the courts and not the result of actions by the Democratic Party.

Perhaps Democratic leaders did not want to be associated with bringing about marriage equality out of a fear of losing socially conservative Democratic voters. Maybe, but I also wonder how many socially liberal people who lean Democratic don’t bother to get out to vote because of not seeing a real commitment from Democratic leaders for liberal causes.

Republicans have learned that people tend to take on the other views of the party they associate with when there is a consistent message. They get social conservatives to back their economic policies by joining these as a common conservative philosophy. If the Democrats were to put out a more consistent message, perhaps those who vote for Democrats for other reasons would also “evolve,” as Barack Obama has, on issues such as same-sex marriage.

Democrats should frame this as a consistent platform of keeping government out of the private lives of individuals, along with support for reproductive rights and ideally an end to marijuana prohibition (or at least a stronger defense of medical marijuana). It is amazing that Democrats have allowed Republicans to take an advantage on issues which should be seen as reasons to vote Democratic, from size of government as it relates to private lives to support for Medicare.

Democrats also think too small on economic matters. Rather than just concentrating on issues such as increasing the minimum wage, Democrats need an economic message showing how Democratic ideas strengthen and grow the economy while Republican economic policies lead to economic stagnation and a concentration of wealth in a small minority. Income inequality is an important issue, but only when placed in an overall economic message of expanding the economy and how extreme income inequality destroys the middle class. An economic message seen as merely dislike for the rich (or the Koch brothers) will never sell.

Of course making a coherent economic message which will not only mobilize their own voters but bring in new voters will take time and cannot be done in only one election year. The Republicans have been working for years at indoctrinating the country in their type of Voodoo Economics. It will also take several years to get out the message on how the economy actually works, but the Democrats might as well start now.

Health care remains one of the strongest reasons to vote for Democrats. Even those who have a negative view of the Affordable Care Act based upon Republican misinformation still prefer to improve it over either repeal or turning to any Republican alternative. As I have written before, Democrats need to go on the offensive on health care reform, not run away from the issue. Joe Conason has the same message again, with numbers now out showing that enrollment through the exchanges has exceeded the projected number of six million:

Success for Obamacare might boost the turnout projections that Republicans have tried so hard to suppress and that Democrats have so far proved unable to resuscitate.

Dominant forces in the Republican Party — including the tea party and its billionaire financiers — have staked everything on the commonplace assumption that Obamacare will drag down Democrats across the country.

Indeed, they make almost no other argument. Bolstering that cynical bet is the Democratic hesitation to mount a powerful counteroffensive on health care, with the impulse to push the minimum wage, unemployment benefits, and other vital issues that still feel safer.

But as Clinton warns, they will find no shelter from this storm. They cannot hide from their own history; and the more they pretend to do so, the more they risk contempt. For decades, Democrats have insisted that all Americans must have health coverage — a momentous and admirable goal advanced by the Affordable Care Act.

With the numbers now on their side, they should lift their heads, raise their voices, and lean into the midterm debate. They have no better choice.

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Tying Republicans To The Koch Brothers To Campaign Against Plutocracy

Republicans often do a better job of messaging than Democrats, but they make their job much easier by making things up. They don’t care that the economic theories they promote have no relationship to how the economy really works or if the “facts” they use to justify their policies with are frequently false. Democrats have a tougher time explaining the problems caused by an economic system which has increasingly been rigged to transfer wealth to the top one tenth of one percent at the expense of the middle class. Those who do not understand the dangerous degree of concentration of wealth in a tiny plutocracy, and how this harms the entire economy, easily fall for bogus Republican economic arguments and false cries of socialism.

Republicans succeed with phony elevator pitches that they stand for capitalism and limited government. Democrats must stop letting Republicans get away with these misrepresentations. Republicans who promote plutocracy are no more supporters of capitalism than Republicans who support the agenda of the religious right are supporters of limited government. Of course I mean a main street form of capitalism in which people who work can profit from their efforts, as opposed to the Republican false-capitalism of using government to rig the system for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy.

As I noted recently, Democrats have recently been trying to make their case by standing up to the Koch brothers. Besides financing many of the dishonest ads spreading misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, the Koch brothers have made their fortune by taking advantage of government, and then come out with faux cries for libertarianism to protest needed regulations on their business. Greg Sargent explained the Democratic strategy:

As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) while cutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.

The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states –  become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.

In many ways this strategy is born of necessity. The 2014 fundamentals are stacked heavily against Democrats, who are defending seven Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 that are older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate. This is made even worse by the midterm electorate, in which core Dem groups are less likely to turn out.

GOP attacks on the health law in red states are not just about Obamacare. They are, more broadly, about casting Senate Dems as willing enablers of the hated president and blaming the sputtering recovery on #Obummer Big Gummint, to channel people’s economic anxieties into a vote to oust Dem incumbents. With the law and its author deeply unpopular in these states, Dems can’t really run on any Obama accomplishments. So they need to make these campaigns about the fact that Republican candidates don’t have an actual agenda to boost people’s economic prospects, and indeed are beholden to a broader agenda that has made the problem worse, even as Dems offer a concrete economic mobility agenda of their own. The goal is to boost turnout among Dem constituencies while minimizing losses among the older, blue collar, and rural whites that predominate in these states.

Adding such a framework may help, but there are limitations to the comparison to how Mitt Romney was harmed by the attacks for his actions at Bain. Romney was directly responsible for the actions he performed at Bain. Republican candidates are not directly responsible for the actions of the Koch brothers, and most people have no idea who they are. Democrats need to both explain why voters should oppose this type of policy and make the case that the Republican candidates are also promoting these ideas. I suspect that this might be too complicated for many of the voters the Democrats hope to attract, especially the low-information non-college educated white working class males who I recently discussed here and here, along with others brainwashed by Fox and right wing talk radio. If strategy helps, it will more likely help by motivating more Democrats to turn out as opposed to attracting additional voters.

Maybe this will work, and perhaps the wisdom of this approach will be clearer after it plays out. Unfortunately simpler elevator pitches typically prevail–an explanation of a position which can be explained in the span of an elevator ride. Explain how Republican economic policies are bad for the middle class and lead to economic stagnation. Democrats need to counter trickle down economics with trickle up economics. The rich don’t need any more special favors from government. They are doing quite fine on their own, and when more wealth is given to them, they are less likely to spend it. Instead concentrate on stimulating the economy and keeping more money in the hands of the middle class. The poor and middle class are far more likely to spend a higher percentage of their money, further stimulating the economy.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Republicans, White Working Class Voters, And Race

White working class males present a particular frustration for Democratic strategists. Most independent economists agree that Republican economic policies have increasingly led to redistribution of  wealth to the ultra-wealthy at the expense of the middle class yet Republicans obtain the majority of votes from low-information white voters who are hurt the most by Republican policies.  Last week I looked at attempts by Democrats to regain the votes of white males. This is hindered by low-information voters being misled by Republican misinformation (while better educated white male voters are more likely to vote Democratic). Many vote contrary to their economic self-interest based upon social issues. This is all reinforced by the Republican southern strategy which enhances economic insecurity by playing on racial fears.

Thomas B. Edsall has an op-ed in The New York Times on How Democrats Can Compete for the White Working Class. His analysis actually leaves many reasons for Democrats to remain gloomy about these prospects. He began with some differences in attitudes between these less-educated white voters and the general population in surveys conducted by Democracy Corps:

Democracy Corps found that less well-educated whites agree, by a huge 46.2 percentage point margin, with the statement “When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful.” This is 11.6 points more than all voters.

Similarly, the general public agrees that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves” by a 19.5 percentage point margin, while whites who did not go to college agree by half that.

He also cited a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute from September 2012 entitled “Beyond Guns and God: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America.” This also showed that working class whites tend to be more conservative on social issues but also that this was far more the case in the south. Grouping these numbers nationally made these voters appear more conservative on social issues than is actually the case:

…while working-class whites in the South opposed same-sex marriage by 61-32 in the P.R.R.I. survey, in the Northeast they favored it 57-37; in the West they were split 47-45; and in the Midwest they were modestly opposed, 44-49. In the case of abortion, majorities of non-college whites outside of the South believe the practice should be legal, while those in the South were opposed 54-42.

In general, the findings of the P.R.R.I. study suggest that outside the South, Democrats should be able to make significant inroads among working-class whites – and, in fact, they have. In 2008, when Obama was losing nationally by 18 points among noncollege whites, in Michigan he carried these voters 52-46; in Illinois, 53-46; and in Connecticut, 51-47.

There remains another huge stumbling block to Democrats winning these white votes–race:

The P.R.R.I. study did point to one Democratic stumbling block: affirmative action and “reverse discrimination.”

Three out of five working-class whites believe “that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.” This view is strongest in the South, at 69 percent, but it is the majority conviction of working-class whites in all regions of the country, where it is never lower than 55 percent.

In another key measure of white working-class racial resentment, the P.R.R.I. survey found that by a margin of three percentage points, the white working class agreed “that the government has paid too much attention to the problems of minorities.” White noncollege voters were split down the middle on this issue in the Northeast and Midwest. In the South, 58 percent agreed.

Thirty years ago, in the aftermath of the 1984 presidential election in which Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale, Democrats were deeply alarmed over the defection of blue-collar voters.

Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster, conducted focus groups in 1985 in the white working-class suburbs of Detroit and found that “these white Democratic defectors express a profound distaste for blacks, a sentiment that pervades almost everything they think about government and politics.”

The perception of reverse discrimination was an even more acute source of anger: “The special status of blacks is perceived by almost all these individuals as a serious obstacle to their personal advancement. Indeed, discrimination against whites has become a well-assimilated and ready explanation for their status, vulnerability and failures.”

A separate study that year, financed by the Democratic National Committee, found that white working-class voters were convinced that “the Democratic Party has not stood with them as they moved from the working to the middle class. They have a whole set of middle-class economic problems today, and their party is not helping them. Instead, it is helping the blacks, Hispanics and the poor. They feel betrayed.”

While these attitudes are stronger in the south, I fear that Democrats will continue to face serious obstacles to attracting white low-information voters in other regions. That does not mean I disagree with Democratic attempts to  try to pick up votes. There are white working class voters who are less conservative and less motivated by race than those in the south and some might be convinced to vote more along economic interests. Even if Democrats continue to win a minority of these voters, increasing their share could still add to Democratic margins.

This strategy has also begun to backfire against Republicans nationally. The realization that Republicans have based their electoral strategy to such a considerable degree on stroking racial fears has been one reason why they have been so unsuccessful in obtaining Jewish votes, and why Republican use of racial fears on immigration issues is hurting their long term prospects due to the loss of Latino voters.

Among other measures, Democrats have attempted to improve the economic conditions of millions of workers by pushing for an increase in the minimum wage. Now Obama has escalated this with an executive order which will provide overtime pay to millions of Americans who have been denied this:

President Obama this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated.

On Thursday, the president will direct the Labor Department to revamp its regulations to require overtime pay for several million additional fast-food managers, loan officers, computer technicians and others whom many businesses currently classify as “executive or professional” employees to avoid paying them overtime, according to White House officials briefed on the announcement.

Mr. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to change the nation’s overtime rules is likely to be seen as a challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president’s economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25…

Under the new rules that Mr. Obama is seeking, fewer salaried employees could be blocked from receiving overtime, a move that would potentially shift billions of dollars’ worth of corporate income into the pockets of workers. Currently, employers are prohibited from denying time-and-a-half overtime pay to any salaried worker who makes less than $455 per week. Mr. Obama’s directive would significantly increase that salary level.

In addition, Mr. Obama will try to change rules that allow employers to define which workers are exempt from receiving overtime based on the kind of work they perform. Under current rules, if an employer declares that an employee’s primary responsibility is executive, such as overseeing a cleanup crew, then that worker can be exempted from overtime.

White House officials said those rules were sometimes abused by employers in an attempt to avoid paying overtime. The new rules could require that employees perform a minimum percentage of “executive” work before they can be exempted from qualifying for overtime pay.

“Under current rules, it literally means that you can spend 95 percent of the time sweeping floors and stocking shelves, and if you’re responsible for supervising people 5 percent of the time, you can then be considered executive and be exempt,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research organization in Washington.

Conservatives are likely to protest the use of an executive order here, ignoring the fact that Obama is just reversing a previous executive order by George W. Bush in 2004. Think Progress has more on the economic effects of this executive order. Jared Bernstein, former executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, also predicts that “a potential side effect is that you may see more hiring in order to avoid overtime costs, which would be an awfully good thing right about now.”

The question remains whether low-information white working class voters will realize that they are benefiting from such policy differences between the parties or whether they will continue to fall for right wing talking points on the economy, and allow the Republicans to continue to scare them with the prospect of blacks and immigrants challenging them for jobs.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Paul Ryan’s Big Idea

Paul Ryan spoke of wanting Republicans to be the party of ideas, but once again he acted as a representative of the party of lies. His speech was far more notable for false claims as opposed to ideas. Here’s the gist of his CPAC speech:

The way I see it, let the other side be the party of personalities. We’ll be the party of ideas.

And I’m optimistic about our chances—because the Left? The Left isn’t just out of ideas. It’s out of touch. Take Obamacare. We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. And the Left thinks this is a good thing. They say, “Hey, this is a new freedom—the freedom not to work.”But I don’t think the problem is too many people are working—I think the problem is not enough people can find work. And if people leave the workforce, our economy will shrink—there will be less opportunity, not more. So the Left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach—and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.

This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.

Here he lied about Obamacare discouraging millions of people from working–a gross distortion of the CBO report which showed that the Affordable Care Act frees people from the “insurance trap.” It does not discourage people who should be working from working so they can sit home on welfare, as Republicans suggest. It ends the days of people who otherwise would not need to work to support themselves from having to work because of this being the only way they could obtain health insurance. Up until this year, people who otherwise were financially ready to retire to in their 60′s would often continue working because if they stopped working they would be uninsured until they qualified for Medicare at age 65. Often the spouses of affluent professionals work at jobs for the health insurance when they otherwise do not need the money because  someone in their family has preexisting medical conditions which kept them from purchasing insurance on the individual market. Leaving a job because they can now keep their insurance after leaving does not necessarily mean they will not work. It is anticipated that many people will leave jobs with large companies to work for smaller companies, or perhaps start their own small companies and become, in Republican language, job creators.

This lie about Obamacare came after Paul Ryan lied earlier in the speech denying Obama’s record of promoting  economic growth. It has become the mantra of conservatives to deny the success of the stimulus, but their claims are untrue. We have had economic growth under Obama despite Republicans working hard to block his economic policies. Corporate profits and the stock market are doing exceptionally well under Obama, as is generally the case under Democrats. The problem now is that this prosperity isn’t always working its way to the middle class–demonstrating that Republican ideas about trickle down economics are wrong.

So what is Ryan’s big idea? He wants to take free lunches away from school kids. His story is hardly convincing. Generally when kids do not come to school with a lunch in a brown-paper-bag it is because they do not have parents who can afford to send them to school with a nutritious lunch. Of course in this case the story Paul Ryan told isn’t even true. He told this story presumably because it would sure be hard to come up with a real story to justify taking lunches away from children.

As Rand Paul once said, “This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important.”

Correction: I tried to get a post out too quickly while working and I messed up the Pauls, originally attributing Paul Ryan’s speech to Rand Paul. That is why it the post ends with a quote from Rand Paul which remains pertinent, with other references to Rand Paul removed in correcting the post.

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Are Many Conservatives Really Liberals?

Liberal or conservative, opposite signs

Polls have generally showed self-identified conservatives outnumbering liberals, with a recent slight increase in the number of liberals. I have often speculated that this is largely due to the success the right wing noise machine has had in demonizing the word liberal. Americans come out more liberal than would be expected by these poll findings when we look at individual issues.

While the pendulum swings both ways, the trend has been toward more liberal policies over the years. Most people wouldn’t think of returning to the days of child labor. Medicare and Social Security are deeply entrenched, to the point that even when Republicans vote for ending Medicare as we know it they realize they have to hide what they are doing. Recent polls show increases in the number of people who support legalization of same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. A majority even supports the individual components of Obamacare when asked without identifying the policy as Obamacare.

John Sides reviewed a recent book to argue that many conservatives are really liberals:

In Ideology in America, Christopher Ellis and James Stimson describe a striking disjuncture. When identifying themselves in a word, Americans choose “conservative” far more than “liberal.” In fact they have done so for 70 years, and increasingly so since the early 1960s.

But when it comes to saying what the government should actually do, the public appears more liberal than conservative. Ellis and Stimson gathered 7,000 survey questions dating back to 1956 that asked some variant of whether the government should do more, less, or the same in lots of different policy areas.  On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down.  For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government).

Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics.  Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics.  Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views.  The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.

This raises the question: why are so many people identifying as conservative while simultaneously preferring more government?  For some conservatives, it is because they associate the label with religion, culture or lifestyle.  In essence, when they identify as “conservative,” they are thinking about conservatism in terms of family structure, raising children, or interpreting the Bible. Conservatism is about their personal lives, not their politics.

But other self-identified conservatives, though, are conservative in terms of neither religion and culture nor the size of government.  These are the truly “conflicted conservatives,” say Ellis and Stimson, who locate their origins in a different factor: how conservatives and liberals have traditionally talked about politics.  Conservatives, they argue, talk about politics in terms of symbols and the general value of “conservatism” — and news coverage, they find, usually frames the label “conservative” in positive terms.  Liberals talk about policy in terms of the goals it will serve — a cleaner environment, a stronger safety net, and so on — which are also good things for many people.  As a result, some people internalize both messages and end up calling themselves conservative but having liberal views on policy.

Ideology has two faces: the labels people choose and the actual content of their beliefs.  For liberals, these are mostly aligned.  For conservatives, they are not.  American conservatism means different things to different people.  For many, what it doesn’t mean is less government.

This idea that nearly 30 percent of self-identified conservative are really liberals would explain the increased support for liberal positions despite a majority identifying themselves as conservatives.

There are some limitations to this, largely due to problems with these labels. It seems to use a simplistic definition of liberals as being for more government and conservatives being for less, but that does not really explain the differences. There are many areas where I am for less government. There is nowhere that I support more government for the sake of more government.

I supported the Affordable Care Act because financing of health care is an area where the market has failed, as insurance companies found it more profitable to find ways to collect increased premiums while finding ways to avoid paying out claims. Conservatives opposed the Affordable Care Act based upon greatly-exaggerated arguments that it is more government (ignoring its similarities to health plans previously advocated by conservatives). Republicans widely supported an individual mandate to buy health insurance until this became part of the plan supported by Barack Obama (who ran against Hillary Clinton opposing the individual mandate). Similarly, conservatives previously supported ideas comparable to the health care exchanges.

On the other hand, conservatives support more big government when it comes to military spending, mandatory vaginal probes, and other intrusions into the private lives of individuals. Even Ron Paul, who voted no on virtually any spending by the federal government, would allow for far greater government restrictions on individual liberties if it came from the state or local level.

Republicans in office generally perform different than their rhetoric would, with big increases in the size of government under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. This has been described as being “ideologically conservative, but operationally liberal.” If we just go by their effects on the size of government, Reagan and Bush were the liberals while Barack Obama has been the most conservative president since Dwight Eisenhower. Part of this is because Republican rhetoric is incompatible with actually governing, leading Reagan and Bush to promote far more government spending than would be expected by their rhetoric. Many conservatives realize they didn’t get what they wanted from Bush, but continue to buy the myth of Ronald Reagan as a supporter of small government.

Another problem is a concentration on economic issues and the size of government, as misleading as those issues can be in assigning labels. How would they classify someone who wants to ban abortion, limit access to contraception, opposes same-sex marriage, and supports everyone carrying a concealed weapon, but doesn’t follow the entire Republican line on economic policy? I bet a lot of self-identified conservatives would have no real opposition to a modest tax increase on the wealthy and increasing some government economic regulations (especially if they don’t affect them personally) while holding a number of other conservative positions.

Today many are self-identified conservatives based upon social issues. This didn’t always identify conservatism. Barry Goldwater was a strong opponent of the religious right. He sure called it right in 1994:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

Or maybe they just like being members of the club.  They like to listen to people like Glenn Beck and agree with what they say. However Beck has previously described himself as “a rodeo clown” and conceded, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.”

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Democrats Seek To Regain Votes Of White Males

The Republicans have built a strange coalition. In terms of priorities,  it is primarily the party of the top one percent, but many other upper income Americans still mistakenly believe the Republicans represent their interests. This still would not give them anywhere near enough votes to win elections so they have gone after primarily two other types of supporters. For years they conned the religious right into following them while only throwing them a few bones, but in recent years the Republicans have more fully adopted their agenda. This still was not enough voters but in the past they could win elections by scaring low-information poorly educated white males into voting for them.

It made absolutely no sense for these white males to vote against their interests and vote for Republicans but this has been a group which has been easily fooled. The New York Times looked at Democratic attempts to win some of these voters back:

Some white men have proved to be within reach: single men, college students and graduates with advanced degrees, the nonreligious, and gay men. But working-class married men remain hardest to win over and, unless they are in unions, get the least attention — to the dismay of some partisans.

“You can’t just give Republicans a clear field to play for the votes of white working-class men without putting up some sort of a fight because that just allows them to run the table with these voters, thereby potentially offsetting your burgeoning advantage among minorities, single women, millennials,” said Ruy Teixeira, an analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

“I just think Democrats are having a hard time figuring out how to effectively pursue it,” he added.

What discourages Democrats is that men’s attitudes shaped over generations — through debates over civil rights, anti-Communism, Vietnam, feminism, gun control and dislocations from lost manufacturing jobs and stagnant wages in a global economy — are not easily altered.

“Democrats are for a bunch of freeloaders in this world as far as I’m concerned,” said Gari Day, 63, an Avis bus driver from suburban Detroit. “Republicans make you work for your money, and try to let you keep it.”

Michael Bunce, 48, buying parts at a Lowe’s in Southfield, Mich., first ascribed his Republican bias to fiscal matters, but quickly turned to social issues like gay rights. “I don’t see why that’s at the top of our priority list,” he said. “But you say that out in the open, and people are all over your back.”

Democrats’ gloom about white men was eased temporarily by Mr. Obama’s 2008 election when he won 41 percent of white male voters — the first time a Democrat exceeded 40 percent since Mr. Carter in 1976. But their support for his re-election fell to 35 percent, roughly what Democrats have gotten since they lost to Richard Nixon.

Republicans say Democrats’ appeals to women, minorities and gays have been counterproductive with white men. “When you’re spending 60 percent of your time talking about birth control and Obamacare, not a lot of men are paying attention to you,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Another issue arose later in the article which also explains their support for Republicans–guns. While Democrats have done little, largely out of fear, to push gun control, that is an issue which is going to work to the advantage of Republicans. If this article is representative and social issues play a big factor, this also does not leave Democrats with a good opening. However, if Democrats can get them to think rationally about economics, then they could win votes if they can get past the type of misconceptions quoted above. Those who have been convinced that Obama is a socialist are seriously ignorant about both economics and current events.

Democratic economic policies both better enable working people to earn more money and Democratic taxation plans have proposed taxing the middle tax less then Republicans. Republican tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy don’t do anything to help the bus driver quoted above. Plus, while the low information white males might not care about birth control (although they could also suffer from Republican attempts to restrict access to contraception) they do benefit considerably from the changes in health care under Obama.

The article points out that, “No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white men since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.” There is a significance to this date. The Democrats lost the south and the low-information white voters after the passage of the Civil Rights bill. Much of this came down to the Southern Strategy as described by Lee Atwater:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

It works just as  well in northern white states to scare low education white voters into fearing that minorities are a threat to them. Homophobic white males, like the one quoted above, are just as likely to be racists.  Such tensions decreased a little when Obama ran in 2008, but the Tea Party has helped bring about a return to old patterns. Democrats will need to make a strong pitch explaining the truth about economic issues,  overcoming considerable misinformation they have been exposed to, if there is any chance to pick up the votes of the low information white voters. While it makes sense to go after additional voters, realistically if the Democrats are going to win, it will primarily be with the votes of educated white males, females, and minorities.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Republican Health Care Proposal Would Remove Employer Coverage From One Million And Increase Deficit

The Affordable Care Act is a great idea in principal, increasing the number of people with coverage and eliminating the abuses from insurance companies which had destroyed the individual market. So far it has been working out well as policy beyond the initial IT glitches. Republicans have repeatedly brought up horror stories, but each time they have turned out to be false when the details were examined (see here and here). Considering the complexity of the law it is certainly possible that some of the details might be improved upon. It also would not be surprising if the Affordable Care Act had aspects which might need changes considering the manner in which it was passed after the Democrats lost sixty votes in the Senate (in these days in which sixty votes are needed to pass anything of consequence over a Republican filibuster). Rather than passing the House bill, which I thought was better, or going to a Conference Committee to work out the differences between the two bills, it became necessary for the House to pass the Senate bill without any changes.

Republicans have been complaining a lot, but have not been very successful in suggesting improvements. Their overall health care proposals, on the rare times they bring one up, would increase out of pocket expenses for most Americans while increasing the number of uninsured. Republicans are now promoting a bill with some adjustments to the Affordable Care Act. Their plan is to change the definition of a full time employee from thirty to forty hours per week in order to reduce the impact of the requirement for companies with over fifty full time employees to provide insurance or pay a penalty.

The Congressional Budget Office came out with their analysis of this bill today (pdf here).  The result would be to 1) reduce the number of people receiving coverage thorough employers by one million people, 2) increase the number of people obtaining coverage through Medicaid, CHIP, or the exchanges by between 500,000 and one million, and 3) decrease the number of insured  by up to 500,000. As a consequence of the costs from these changes, the deficit would be increased by $25. 4 billion between 2015 and 2019. The deficit would be increased by $73. 7 billion between 2015 and 2024.

The irony here is that after the Republicans have made a lot of noise about policy cancellations (ignoring the fact that most of those who had policies canceled wound up receiving better coverage at a lower cost) it has repeatedly been their plans which would lead to more people losing insurance coverage. Another irony is the name of this Republican plan: The Save American Workers Act. How are they saving workers by reducing the number who receive health care coverage?

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Benefits Of The Stimulus

I have already had a recent post on the success of the stimulus but as The New York Times brought the topic up again today, and there has been so much misinformation spread, it is worth reviewing again what was achieved by the stimulus:

The stimulus could have done more good had it been bigger and more carefully constructed. But put simply, it prevented a second recession that could have turned into a depression. It created or saved an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years. (There are the jobs, Mr. Boehner.) It raised the nation’s economic output by 2 to 3 percent from 2009 to 2011. It prevented a significant increase in poverty — without it, 5.3 million additional people would have become poor in 2010.

And yet Republicans were successful in discrediting the very idea that federal spending can boost the economy and raise employment. They made the argument that the stimulus was a failure not just to ensure that Mr. Obama would get no credit for the recovery that did occur, but to justify their obstruction of all further attempts at stimulus.

So the American Jobs Act was killed, and so was the infrastructure bank and any number of other spending proposals that might have helped the country. The president’s plan to spend another $56 billion on job training, education and energy efficiency, to be unveiled in his budget next month, will almost certainly suffer a similar fate.

This may be the singular tragedy of the Obama administration. Five years later, it is clear to all fair-minded economists that the stimulus did work, and that it did enormous good for the economy and for tens of millions of people. But because it fell short of its goals, and was roundly ridiculed by Republicans and inadequately defended by Democrats, who should have trumpeted its success, the president’s stimulus plan is now widely considered a stumble.

This enabled Republicans to champion an austerity policy that produced deep reductions in discretionary spending, undoing many of the gains begun in 2009. The result has been a post-stimulus recovery that remains weak and struggling, undermining an economic legacy that should be seen as a remarkable accomplishment.

The legacy of that policy, detailed by the White House last week in its final report on the effects of the stimulus, affects virtually every American who drives, uses mass transit, or drinks water. It improved 42,000 miles of road, fixed or replaced 2,700 bridges, and bought more than 12,000 transit vehicles. It cleaned up water supplies, created the school reforms of the Race to the Top program, and greatly expanded the use of renewable energy and broadband Internet service.

It’s probably too late for the White House to persuade skeptics about its program, but its assessment echoes the views of many independent economists and the independent Congressional Budget Office. “The Recovery Act was not a failed program,” the C.B.O.’s director, Douglas Elmendorf, told annoyed Republican lawmakers in 2012. “Our position is that it created higher output and employment than would have occurred without it.”

Government spending worked, helping millions of people who never realized it. And it can work again, whenever lawmakers agree that putting people to work is more important than winning ideological fights.

In retrospect the evidence is pretty clear that the stimulus should have been bigger, but at the time I have my doubts as to whether a bigger stimulus could have passed. Republican arguments about the harm of spending money we don’t have, even if simplistic and not well grounded in economics, were believed by too many people, and often accepted by the media. As I noted in December, the media often presents deficit-cutting as the centrist or desired viewpoint when there are times when increased government spending is needed to stimulate the economy. While Obama did too little, criticism of him must be balanced by the knowledge that the Republicans would have created far more damage with austerity budgets accompanied by further tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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The Battle For Control Of Congress 2014

While the media is increasingly talking about the 2016 presidential election, we have a major election coming up for control of Congress later this year. At present it appears that it is unlikely for the Democrats to take control of the House, and they are now fighting to retain control of the Senate. Predictions that the Republicans will hold the House and possibly take the Senate are based upon historical trends and which Senate seats are up for reelection this year. Of course it is possible to see a break from past trends.

Among the trends causing people to predict this to be a good year for Republicans: minorities and young voters don’t vote as often in off-year elections, a president’s party generally does poorly in the sixth year of the president’s term, a president’s party does poorly when the president has low approval ratings, and a president’s party does poorly when the economy is having difficulties.

On top of this, the Democrats are defending Senate seats in several red states this year, giving the Republicans a chance to pick up some seats. Fortunately the situation is reversed in 2016 with more blue-state Republicans up for reelection. Based upon these fundamentals in a presidential election which is likely to already be more favorable to the party, a Democrat winning the White House should also see a pick up of several Senate seats.

The Republican Party has been working in other ways to pick up votes. They have made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. On the other hand, their history of racism may backfire with the increase in minority voters, possibly turning some southern states blue in the near future. We saw this first in Virginia and to a lesser degree in North Carolina. In the future this could extend to Georgia, Texas, and additional states.

Republicans have an advantage in keeping control of the House as so many House districts are gerrymandered to protect the incumbent. In addition, Democrats tend to be more concentrated in urban areas, meaning that even if more people vote for Democrats than Republicans, the Republicans will win more seats by small margins while Democrats will win a smaller number with bigger majorities. More people voted for Democrats than Republicans in Congressional races in 2012 but the Republicans retained control of the House. It would probably take at least  a seven percent margin of victory for Democrats to take control of the House. Republican representation in the Senate is also exaggerated compared to their level of support due to lesser populated Republican states having the same number of Senators as more populated Democratic states.

There are some things which could throw off the fundamentals this year, but we cannot count on voters suddenly no longer being fooled by the GOP line. At present the Republicans receive far too many votes from low-information white voters. Over time the number of younger voters who receive their fake news from Jon Stewart will overtake the older voters who receive their fake news from Fox.

While Obama’s approval rating is low, Congress has an even lower approval rating. Typically in such situations people like their own Congressman even if they disapprove of Congress. This year polls show that many people also think their own Congressman should be thrown out. Based upon this, I wouldn’t be surprised if more incumbents than usual get upset, but that might not necessarily help the Democrats over Republicans. In addition, more people see the Republicans as being more responsible for gridlock, in contrast to a common false media narrative of treating each party as being equally responsible. Maybe they will surprise the pundits and throw the Republicans out.

Another factor influencing whether predictions based upon the fundamentals must occur is that any competent Democratic strategist is aware of every point here, and the party is doing far more than they did in 2010 to try to change this. They are working to increase turnout among Democratic voters this year. They  have a technological edge both in regards to get out the vote efforts and fund raising. It even appears that the same problems which are placing Republicans at a disadvantage with younger voters is also impacting their ability to recruit young tech savvy political operatives. Besides using their technological advantages over Republicans in getting out the vote efforts, they can  motivate Democratic voters with fear of the consequences of the Republicans taking control of the Senate. Tea Party extremism has led to an end to talk of a grand bargain. Democratic compromises on entitlement programs might have discouraged some voters on the left from turning out for Democrats.

I think Democrats will do better if they can successfully explain the advantages of their policies as opposed to Republican policies. Democratic economic policies turned around the economic collapse caused by Republican economic policies, even if the Republicans have managed to slow recovery with their obstructionist moves, decided upon from the start of Obama’s term. The deficit rolled up by George Bush has dropped considerably since Obama took office. The CBO  projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is near the average level for the past forty years, and a vast improvement from 2009 when the deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP.

Despite early IT problems, which the Obama administration does deserve criticism for, the Affordable Care Act has turned into a tremendous success on a policy level, both in terms of health care reform and its benefits for the economy. Both the Medicare Advantage plans under George Bush and the original Medicare program had early implementation problems which took a couple of years to solve. Of course Republicans will continue to spread unsubstantiated scare stories and it is possible Obama might never received the credit he deserves. Health care premiums will be remain high on the individual market as they were high before Obamacare. Insurance companies will continue to use restricted panels of physicians and hospitals as they did before Obamacare, leaving room for Republicans to blame the Affordable Care Act for problems unrelated to the law.

Other factors could come into play. The Tea Party might oust electable Republicans and replace them with extremist candidates which the Democrats can more easily beat. While doubtful, the Tea Party might force Congressional Republicans into a situation analogous to the government shut-down before the election which reduces public support for Republicans. While it is doubtful it will really alter that many votes, even the changes in the late night comedians could help the Democrats over the Republicans.

The easy prediction is now that the Republicans will keep control of the House and control of the Senate is up for grabs. Depending upon whether the factors discussed above alter the usual fundamentals, we still might wind up seeing the pundits talking about all the reasons they knew we would have a different outcome after the results are known.

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The Success Of The Stimulus

Barack Obama’s economic stimulus was launched five years ago. Regardless of how successful it turned out to be, conservatives would attack it in order to try to avoid giving Obama credit for reversing the economic problems created by George Bush and Republican economic ideas. Michael Grunwald looked at the report from the Council of Economic Advisers on the success of the stimulus, finding that its report is consistent with other reports on economic improvement:

The main conclusion of the 70-page report — the White House gave me an advance draft — is that the Recovery Act increased U.S. GDP by roughly 2 to 2.5 percentage points from late 2009 through mid-2011, keeping us out of a double-dip recession. It added about 6 million “job years” (a full-time job for a full year) through the end of 2012. If you combine the Recovery Act with a series of follow-up measures, including unemployment-insurance extensions, small-business tax cuts and payroll tax cuts, the Administration’s fiscal stimulus produced a 2% to 3% increase in GDP in every quarter from late 2009 through 2012, and 9 million extra job years, according to the report.

The White House, of course, is not an objective source — Council of Economic Advisers chair Jason Furman, who oversaw the report, helped assemble the Recovery Act — but its estimates are in line with work by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and a variety of private-sector analysts. Before Obama took office, it would have been a truism to assert that stimulus packages stimulate the economy: every 2008 presidential candidate proposed a stimulus, and Mitt Romney’s proposal was the most aggressive. In January 2009, House Republicans (including Paul Ryan) voted for a $715 billion stimulus bill that was almost as expansive as Obama’s. But even though the stimulus has been a partisan political football for the past five years, that truism still holds.

The report also estimates that the Recovery Act’s aid to victims of the Great Recession — in the form of expanded food stamps, earned-income tax credits, unemployment benefits and much more — directly prevented 5.3 million people from slipping below the poverty line. It also improved nearly 42,000 miles of roads, repaired over 2,700 bridges, funded 12,220 transit vehicles, improved more than 3,000 water projects and provided tax cuts to 160 million American workers.

My obsession with the stimulus has focused less on its short-term economic jolt than its long-term policy revolution: I wrote an article about it for TIME titled “How the Stimulus Is Changing America” and a book about it called The New New Deal. The Recovery Act jump-started clean energy in America, financing unprecedented investments in wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources of electricity. It advanced biofuels, electric vehicles and energy efficiency in every imaginable form. It helped fund the factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S., and research into the green technologies of tomorrow. It’s the reason U.S. wind production has increased 145% since 2008 and solar installations have increased more than 1,200%. The stimulus is also the reason the use of electronic medical records has more than doubled in doctors’ offices and almost quintupled in hospitals. It improved more than 110,000 miles of broadband infrastructure. It launched Race to the Top, the most ambitious national education reform in decades.

At a ceremony Thursday in the Mojave Desert, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz dedicated the world’s largest solar plant, a billion-dollar stimulus project funded by the same loan program that financed the notorious Solyndra factory. It will be providing clean energy to 94,000 homes long after Solyndra has been forgotten. Unfortunately, the only long-term effect of the Recovery Act that’s gotten much attention has been its long-term effect on national deficits and debts. As the White House report makes clear, that effect is negligible. The overwhelming majority of the Recovery Act’s dollars have gone out the door; it’s no longer adding to the deficit. It did add about 0.1% to our 75-year debt projections, but allowing the economy to slip into a depression would have added a lot more debt.

Grunwald did warn of the political ramifications. As conservatives have convinced themselves that economic stimulus doesn’t work as a knee jerk reaction to anything proposed by Obama, politicians are likely to shy away from stimulus when needed in the future, following the European mistakes in promoting austerity. Such views in this country already led to the stimulus being significantly smaller than it should have been, especially in light of continuing problems with unemployment.

.Stimulus

Steve Benen has more facts and tables on the benefits of the stimulus, such as the table above on the effect of the stimulus on GDP.

Think Progress cited several Republicans who attacked Obama on the stimulus and then took credit for its benefits.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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