Clinton’s Electability Now Being Questioned

Projected 2016 electoral map

While it is far too early to make many meaningful predictions about the 2016 election, there is one safe bet–the media will concentrate on the horse race, as opposed to the issues, even at this early state. Eric Ham argues at The Hill that Jeb Bush as the edge in the electoral college over Clinton. David Atkins disagrees at The Political Animal blog, arguing that even if the Republican candidate picks up Florida and Ohio (map above) this still leaves them two votes short of victory. Adam C. Smith, the political editor of The Tampa Bay Times, argues that Florida is not a lock for either Bush or Rubio:

Part of what makes Florida such a challenging state politically is its fast-changing and ever-growing nature. Statewide candidates must constantly introduce themselves. Bush, for instance, won his two gubernatorial races by huge margins — nearly 11 percentage points in 1998 and 13 points in 2002 — but Florida is vastly different now.

The Florida Democratic Party still has the voter files from those Bush elections and can pinpoint which voters are still around and which aren’t. Only 28 percent of currently active Florida voters participated in either of Bush’s past two elections and only 13 percent of today’s registered voters are Republicans who voted in those 2002 or 1998 gubernatorial races.

“There has been so much growth in Florida, that 13 years since his name was last on the ballot, only around 18 percent of registered voters in Florida ever could have voted for Jeb,” Joshua Karp of the Florida Democratic party extrapolated.

Nor have Bush or Rubio ever run in a presidential election year, when Democratic turnout is far higher than in off-year elections.

Barack Obama narrowly won Florida in 2008 and in 2012 after mounting the largest and best-funded campaigns ever seen in the state. That Obama barely eked out a win against Mitt Romney, who had antagonized many Hispanic voters with his clumsy talk of self-deportation, might suggest Bush or Rubio at the top of the ticket would all but ensure Florida’s 29 electoral votes for the GOP.

“Nothing in life is a lock. But Jeb Bush beats Hillary Clinton in Florida hands down. I don’t care what the polls say today,” said former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, suggesting Rubio would be formidable, too, but has less broad appeal.

What the polls say today is that Clinton vs. Bush is a toss-up. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed Clinton leading 45 percent to 42 percent, while a Public Policy Polling survey released last week found Clinton leading 47 percent to 44 percent. She led Rubio by 2 percentage points in both polls.

The problem for the Democrats is that beyond inevitability Clinton has little else going for her, and like in 2008 once her inevitability becomes questioned there is the risk of her campaign self-destructing. If nothing else, this is making Republicans such as Joe Scarborough more optimistic:

 I think she has a glass jaw, and I’ll be really blunt. I don’t think she’s going to be the next president of the United States. Everybody acts like she’s inevitable. But I know a lot of people very close to Hillary Clinton that are very worried right now that she has what it takes to win a general election. They think she’s going to win a primary, the Democratic primary, but they’re very worried. And think about it, Hugh. Everybody’s been talking for four years about how the Democrats are stacked against the Republican Party, there’s no way we’re going to win nationally again. All we need is somebody to win all the states Mitt Romney won, which is a pretty low bar for the Republican Party. And then you win Florida, Virginia and Ohio, which I think any of these major candidates can beat Hillary, and then you just have to pick up four electoral votes. And there are about ten states that Republicans can win there. I’m actually feeling very bullish on 2016 right now if we nominate the right guy or woman.

Jeffry Frank discusses the key fact of the Democratic race so far at The New Yorker–Clinton is essentially running alone:

Democrats, meanwhile, seem ready to cede the whole thing to Clinton, who, for all her experience and intelligence, may be a less-than-ideal candidate. Even her e-mail problems, which polls at first suggested could be shrugged off, aren’t going away. It didn’t help when her lawyer, David Kendall, in response to a subpoena from a congressional committee looking into the 2012 attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, told the Times, “There are no hdr22@clintonemail.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized.” That her personal e-mail server has been wiped clean of any records from her years at the State Department erases the chance of anyone ever making an independent study of their contents and is bound to encourage the suspicion that there was something worth hiding. The investigation community is like a perpetual scandal-seeking machine, quick to seize on any hint of inconsistency, and both Clintons, understandably, are weary of being pursued by those who don’t wish them well. But the public may be getting weary of seeing the words “Clinton” and “lawyers” juxtaposed yet again with any sort of frequency, which could explain her slippage in the polls in three battleground states.

Not long ago, Ryan Lizza wrote about Clinton’s aura of inevitability and the historic failure of most challenges to strong front-runners. At this point, though, any insurgencies are more notional than real. Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, has been gently critical of her as he shyly contemplates getting into the race. The former Virginia Senator James Webb, who began exploring a run last November, is still hinting that he intends to run. But when you look for signs of the Webb campaign, which promised a fresh view of income inequality, military commitments abroad, and the terrible waste of lives—mainly black lives—caused by mass incarceration, what you’re likely to find is the status of the James Webb space telescope, which will replace the Hubble. (That Webb ran NASA in the years of the Apollo program.) Clinton, meanwhile, has not exactly announced her intentions, but her campaign, without coyness, has reportedly leased two floors of office space in Brooklyn Heights, and that, as Politico notes, may be regarded by the Federal Election Commission as the beginning of a campaign.

Four years ago, Democrats were amused by the Republicans battling through the primaries, and by debates that even Republicans considered a “clown show.” This year, Republicans may be cheered by the absence of battle on the other side, by the sight of a major political party diminished by timidity and the uncertain candidacy of a single contender.

We are still months away from the first primary. Clinton has not even announced her candidacy yet but, now that she has signed the lease on election offices in Brooklyn, campaign finance laws require  her to announce, or at least open an exploratory committee, in the next two weeks. Democrats should be concerned about the major errors she has committed during her book tour and in response to the revelations about her email, and her fall in the polls,

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush scrapes past Clinton with a three-point lead, still within the margin of error, in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. Clinton had a one-point edge in the Florida dead heat Quinnipiac reported in early February.

The last two months have also erased Clinton’s previously double-digit lead over every other potential GOP contender for the presidency in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky, is now the man to beat in Ohio after he narrowed his margin against Clinton to just a five-point deficit, according to Tuesday’s poll. Paul, who is expected to announce his bid for the presidency next week, trailed Clinton by 12 points in Quinnipiac’s early February poll.

Every potential 2016 Republican contender included in the February survey has since gained on Clinton in Ohio — even if by just two points, like in Bush’s case.

Paul is also winning over Pennsylvanians, trimming his 9-point deficit to a virtual tie, landing 45% of support to Clinton’s 44% in the state.

Clinton remains a strong favorite — especially so early on — against virtually every other potential Republican contender for president in the three battleground states.

But it’s clear Clinton’s email scandal — first that she exclusively used private email housed on a private server as secretary of state, and then that she deleted all the emails on that server — has leveled a hit to Clinton’s public image and trustworthiness, according to the Quinnipiac poll.

About half of voters in all three states say Clinton is not honest and trustworthy — by a 5-to-4 margin in Florida and Pennsylvania, with a closer split in Pennsylvania.

And Clinton’s favorability rating has also slipped in Florida — to 49% from 53% — and Pennsylvania — now at 48% from 55% — though she still gets more favorable reviews than all of her would-be Republican opponents, except for Bush and Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio in that state.

Despite denials over the significance of the email scandal by Clinton supporters , the poll found that, “Clinton has provided satisfactory answers on the e-mail issue, 38 percent of voters say, while 55 percent say serious questions remain.” This is also the sort of matter which most people are not currently paying attention to at this stage,  and could be much more harmful in 2016. Despite the attempts of Clinton supporters to claim this is a trivial matter, this is actually an important matter which gets to the heart of Obama’s efforts to improve transparency in government in response to the abuses during the Bush years. With so much communication now being by email rather than written memos, it is also important to the historical record that these records be maintained. Hillary Clinton’s integrity is tarnished by her failure to follow the rules placed in effect in 2009, her false claims at her press conference of following the rules, and her debunked claims of having failed to use government servers in order to avoid needing to carry two email devices, even though she actually did use two different devices. Clinton’s attacks on Republicans for shredding the Constitution when they used a server from the Republican National Committee, and the citing of use of personal email as one reason for the firing of an ambassador under her, strengthen the view that the Clintons believe that the rules do not apply to them. How many voters are really going to believe that Clinton was not hiding something after she not only violated the rules but wiped the servers?

While many Democrats have been willing to back Clinton, despite being out of step with liberals on the issues, because of the feeling she had the best chance to win. Now that she is looking like a weaker candidate there has been increased discussion of the possibility of other candidates taking on Clinton for the Democratic nomination, but so far there has been little action by other Democrats. Martin O’Malley is currently the only one making serious moves towards a candidacy. While the Clintonistas have begun their inevitable campaign against  him, he is starting to get favorable coverage. Some Clinton supporters deny how Clinton is to the right of O’Malley and most other Democrats, using flawed rating systems which do not mean very much when most Senate votes are along party lines. (Republicans used such bogus arguments to claim in 2004 and 2008 that John Kerry and Barack Obama were the most liberal Democrats.) Clintonistas have an even more difficult task when pitting O’Malley against Clinton based upon competence. A. H. Goodman argues at The Huffington Post that O’Malley or Elizabeth Warren, along with other possible Democratic candidates, can beat the Republicans. In Iowa, which has not been a strong state for the Clintons, some are seeing O’Malley as the nation’s new JFK.

Joe Biden has the advantage over other potential challengers in terms of name recognition against other potential candidate, but  has made only very preliminary moves. While he has not taken any actions towards organizing a campaign, a Draft Joe Biden site has started. If Biden plans to run I think he bypassed an opportunity this week. Biden was often the voice of reason, in contrast to Clinton’s hawkishness, in the first four years of the Obama administration. If he was interested in taking on Clinton, I would think he should have reminded voters of Clinton’s opposition to Obama’s desire to engage in diplomacy with Iran. This issue might still come up, being yet another example of how long it often takes for Clinton to learn from her mistakes.

With many months to go before the first primary, there remains hope that other candidates will emerge once it no longer looks like resistance to Clinton is futile. Sources from Salon to The Christian Science Monitor have offered suggestions as to alternate candidates for the Democratic nomination.

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Democratic Support Falls For Hillary Clinton Even Prior To Yet Another Clinton Scandal

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York

There is yet another scandal involving Hillary Clinton, with the latest Reuter’s poll showing a drop in Democratic support for Clinton even before today’s scandal broke. First the latest scandal, then the poll.

Barack Obama came into office promising greater transparency. This included changing email practices following the abuses under George Bush–abuses which Hillary Clinton referred to as shredding the Constitution. We now know that Clinton violated the rules. Obama also wanted greater transparency regarding contributions to eliminate concerns that members of his administration were serving interests other than the interests of the voters. Reuters found that Clinton violated promises made upon taking office regarding disclosure of contributions:

In 2008, Hillary Clinton promised Barack Obama, the president-elect, there would be no mystery about who was giving money to her family’s globe-circling charities. She made a pledge to publish all the donors on an annual basis to ease concerns that as secretary of state she could be vulnerable to accusations of foreign influence.

At the outset, the Clinton Foundation did indeed publish what they said was a complete list of the names of more than 200,000 donors and has continued to update it. But in a breach of the pledge, the charity’s flagship health program, which spends more than all of the other foundation initiatives put together, stopped making the annual disclosure in 2010, Reuters has found.

In response to questions from Reuters, officials at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the foundation confirmed no complete list of donors to the Clintons’ charities has been published since 2010. CHAI was spun off as a separate legal entity that year, but the officials acknowledged it still remains subject to the same disclosure agreement as the foundation.

The finding could renew scrutiny of Clinton’s promises of transparency as she prepares to launch her widely expected bid for the White House in the coming weeks. Political opponents and transparency groups have criticized her in recent weeks for her decision first to use a private email address while she was secretary of state and then to delete thousands of emails she labeled private.

The two scandals very well might be connected. While there is no way to prove this after Clinton destroyed some of the email, members of the news media have suggested that if Clinton was hiding anything, it was most likley regarding contributions to the Foundation, as opposed to any smoking guns related to Benghazi. This includes liberal columnist Frank Rich, along with Ron Fournier, who wrote:

“Follow the money.” That apocryphal phrase, attributed to Watergate whistle-blower “Deep Throat,” explains why the biggest threat to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential dreams is not her emails. It’s her family foundation. That’s where the money is: corporate money, foreign money, gobs of money sloshing around a vanity charity that could be renamed “Clinton Conflicts of Interest Foundation.”

Despite all the evidence that Clinton broke the rules in effect when she took office, many Democrats will continue to defend her because of her name and gender. Some Democrats would continue to defend Clinton even if we had  incontrovertible evidence that she kicks puppies and bar-b-que babies. While maybe exaggerating, it seems that there is no crime which will cause some Democrats to question Hillary Clinton–even if it is something they previously attacked Republicans for. So much for consistency or adherence to principle.

Fortunately this does not apply to all Democrats. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll does show support for Clinton to be softening:

Support for Clinton’s candidacy has dropped about 15 percentage points since mid-February among Democrats, with as few as 45 percent saying they would support her in the last week, according to a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll. Support from Democrats likely to vote in the party nominating contests has dropped only slightly less, to a low in the mid-50s over the same period.

Even Democrats who said they were not personally swayed one way or another by the email flap said that Clinton could fare worse because of it, if and when she launches her presidential campaign, a separate Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.

The polling showed that nearly half of Democratic respondents – 46 percent – agreed there should be an independent review of all of Clinton’s emails to ensure she turned over everything that is work-related.

The bigger problem is that while Democrats might stick with her and give her the nomination, by November 2016 a majority of the voters will have had enough of what could be a constant stream of revelations about Clinton. Giving Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination increasingly looks like a death wish on the part of Democrats.

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AP Poll Shows Majority Supports Marriage Equality

A poll from the AP-NORC Center shows a majority supporting same-sex marriage for the first time in their poll, with support up 8 percentage points since 2012 and 45 points since 1988. There continues to be a partisan divide, but while support among Republicans lags behind Democrats, there is a significant increase in support for marriage equality among Republicans. The key findings:

  • For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 percent) support same-sex couples’ right to marry, up from 48 percent in 2012.
  • Support for same-sex marriage among Republicans increased from 31 percent in 2012 to 45 percent in 2014. This increase is larger than the increase among Democrats and independents, although Republican support still lags behind those groups.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Americans ages 18-34 support same-sex marriage, an increase of 10 points since 2012.

Update: Then there are faux libertarians who think that the government should be able to intrude in the private lives of individuals:

Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul said on Friday affording the distinction to marriage to same-sex couples “offends myself and a lot of other people.”In an interview with Bret Baier of Fox News, the Kentucky Republican, who described himself as a “libertarian conservative,” made the remarks when asked about his views on gay rights.

“I’m for tradition marriage,” Paul said. “I think marriage is between a man and a woman. Ultimately, we could have fixed this a long time ago if we just allowed contracts between adults. We didn’t have to call it marriage, which offends myself and a lot of people.”

Paul continued, “I think having competing contracts that would give them equivalency before the law would have solved a lot of these problems, and it may be where we’re still headed.”

Separate but equal.

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Obama Approval Now Rises To Reagan-Levels As Economy Improves

president-obama-in-the-white-house

An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Obama’s approval reaching 50% on the eve of his State of the Union Address:

Obama’s overall approval rating now stands at 50 percent, the highest in a Post-ABC poll since the spring of 2013. His standing is nine points higher than in December and seven points higher than in October, just before Republicans captured control of the Senate, increased their House majority to its highest level in eight decades and recorded advances in the states.

The Post-ABC survey puts the president’s approval rating slightly higher than some other recent public polls. But most have shown improvement since the November elections as the president has moved aggressively and unilaterally on issues such as immigration and climate change.

A breakdown of the poll also shows greater support for Obama than for Republicans on the issues, which could be significant now that Obama will be facing a Republican-controlled Congress. These numbers put him well on course to exceed Ronald Reagan’s approval at this point in his presidency, which is quite an improvement after the many comparisons to George Bush’s approval ratings last year.

It is far too early to predict where his popularity will be at the time of the 2016 election. Nate Cohn, looking at his average improvement and not this specific poll, wrote on the political impact Obama’s popularity might have on the 2016 election:

There is a well-established relationship between the pace of economic growth and a president’s approval ratings, and Mr. Obama is clearly benefiting from signs of accelerating economic growth. For the first time since the start of the recession, more Americans believe the economic conditions are good or excellent than poor. Consumer confidence rose to an 11-year high last week, according to the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index…

Only a handful of modern elections have not had an incumbent president on the ballot. In these contests, the president’s approval ratings are unsurprisingly less important than when a president is running for re-election. So Mr. Obama’s approval ratings will matter in 2016, but it is hard to say exactly how much.

The balance of evidence suggests that the break-even point for the presidential party’s odds of victory is at or nearly 50 percent approval. If the only thing you knew about the 2016 election was Mr. Obama’s approval rating on Election Day, you might guess that the Democrats had a 37 percent chance of holding the White House with a 46 percent rating — rather than a 23 percent chance with a 41 percent rating. The difference between 41 and 46 might be worth between one and two percentage points to the Democratic candidate in 2016 — the difference between a close race and a modest but clear Republican victory.

Mr. Obama’s surge among Hispanic voters might be particularly telling. It is a sign that Democratic-leaning voters dissatisfied with Mr. Obama’s performance might not be so disillusioned that they can’t be lured back to the Democrats by the issues and messages that brought them to the party in the first place. The president’s ratings among liberals and Democrats remain mediocre — perhaps only in the low 70s and low 80s, respectively — suggesting that there are additional, low-hanging opportunities for Mr. Obama and his party’s next nominee.

 

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Gallup Finds Increase In Self-Described Liberals

Gallup Liberals

In a poll of limited significance, Gallup has found an increase in the number of self-described liberals:

Conservatives continued to outnumber moderates and liberals in the U.S. population in 2014, as they have since 2009. However, their 14-percentage-point edge over liberals last year, 38% vs. 24%, is the smallest in Gallup’s trends since 1992. The percentage of U.S. adults identifying themselves as politically conservative in 2014 was unchanged from 2013, as was the percentage of moderates, at 34%, while the percentage considering themselves liberal rose a percentage point for the third straight year.

While not a huge number, this might contradict the idea that the Republican midterm victory was a sign of greater support for conservative views.

I find this to be of limited significance as people tend to take more liberal positions on polls than would be expected if self-described labels had a real bearing on political positions. I have generally seen this poll to be more a measure of the demonization of the word liberal by the right wing noise machine than a measure of ideological beliefs, and perhaps this trend shows that conservatives are having less success in demonizing liberals.

Besides polling on issues, I find the recent Pew survey on religious affiliation to be more meaningful than this poll. Among their findings which might be of significance in speculating on political trends, Pew found that “Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”

Another finding of interest is that, while 70 percent of Republicans label themselves conservative, only 44 percent of Democrats label themselves liberal. Is this due to a majority of Democrats not being liberal, or again due to people simply avoiding the term liberal? I suspect it is a combination of each, with the Democratic Party being a more centrist party, but also with many Democrats supporting liberal positions without using the liberal label.

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Goals Of The New Republican Congress: Repeal Obamacare Despite Success In Lowering Uninsured, Declare War On Math, Promote Pseudoscience To Restrict Abortion

Uninsured 2015

While Republicans are probably on the verge of voting yet again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and will continue to make false claims that it has been a failure, Gallup shows once again how successful the law has been. The uninsured rate has fallen to 12.9 percent, down from 17.1 percent a year ago. The open enrollment period for 2015 remains open making it likely that the uninsured will fall further, especially if there is a last minute surge in people enrolling as last year. The number will further increase if more states go ahead and accept the expanded Medicaid program, and more people are also likely to receive insurance from employers with the trend towards decreased unemployment. Gallup also found that most who have obtained insurance plan to continue coverage, either through the same or a different insurance company.

Even before the inevitable vote to repeal Obamacare, the new Republican controlled Congress has declared war on math, as Jonathan Chait described it, and have introduced a national ban on abortions after twenty weeks. I recently discussed the pseudo-science used by Republicans to justify this, and there is more at Think Progress.

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Red State Republicans Are A Minority Of Population Despite Senate Gains

Congress

The Senate is probably the strongest example of how our political system is (small-d) non-democratic. Each state receives two Senators, regardless of size, and the District of Columbia, with a population greater than several states, receives zero. The difference in size between the smallest and largest states has also increased significantly since this compromise was reached in the writing of the Constitution. A combination of factors including Senate races primarily in red states, the usual problems faced by either party in the sixth year of a presidency (with Republicans even losing control of the Senate under Ronald Reagan), and several tactical errors by Democratic candidates, led to the Republicans taking control. However, Vox has an interesting calculation:

But here’s a crazy fact: those 46 Democrats got more votes than the 54 Republicans across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. According to Nathan Nicholson, a researcher at the voting reform advocacy group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”

Republicans also receive an advantage in the House due to a combination of gerrymandering and the fact that Democratic votes are more concentrated in cities, leading to Democrats winning a smaller number of districts by higher margins, and in some years allowing Republicans to control the House with a minority of the vote.

Republicans will be forced to defend more seats in blue states in 2016 but the magnitude of the Republican pick up in 2014 will make it much harder for Democrats to actually regain control. The Atlantic looked at key election races, pointing out:

Democrats will be benefiting from a favorable landscape, with Republicans defending 24 seats (many of them in blue territory) while Democrats will be defending only 10. To leverage that advantage into control of the Senate, however, Democrats need to net at least four seats (five, if Republicans win the presidency). That requires sweeping out blue-state freshman Republicans in states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin while also defeating a couple of brand-name senators, such as Rob Portman or Marco Rubio, in perennial swing states.

Other factors could help Democrats in 2016 beyond the geography. The economy will hopefully be even stronger, unless the Republican-controlled Congress, or even factors beyond political control, create further problems. The Affordable Care Act will be even more established, assuming Republicans aren’t successful in dismantling it in Congress or the courts, and might be less of a divisive political issue. Perhaps most importantly, the Democrats will be running a more national campaign behind a presidential candidate as opposed to running as Republican-lite and hiding from Obama.

The Los Angeles Times reports, Obama to hit the road, selling economic progress:

Eager to stay on the offensive as new Republican majorities are seated in Congress, the president plans to take a more bullish economic message on the road next week in something of an early test drive of his State of the Union message.

During stops in Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee, Obama plans to draw a connection between actions his administration took early in his presidency and increasingly positive economic trends in sectors such as manufacturing and housing.

Officials say he’ll also offer specific new proposals — some that he’ll pursue with Congress and others he’ll advance with his own authority — that are intended to build on that progress, particularly for the middle class.

It’s an approach that upends the traditional White House script to start the year, when new policy rollouts are usually reserved for the president’s annual address to Congress.

But the White House is eager to sustain momentum  it says started to build after November with major actions on immigration and Cuba as Obama began what he calls the “fourth quarter” of his presidency.

Obama, and other Democrats, should have been made the successes of Democratic policies the major point of the campaign, as opposed to running away from their successes. They might have still lost in deep red states, but Democratic turnout would have been better and they would have done better in less red areas. Besides the benefits of running on Obama’s previous record, as a result of Obama’s post-election actions his approval has shot up in the Gallup and other polls.

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Republican State Governments Expected To Renew The Culture Wars And Promote Conservative Pseudo-Science On Abortion

Democrats made a tremendous tactical mistake in the 2014 midterms. As the key Senate battles were in red states, Democrats ran as Republican-lite and Obama stayed quiet. As a consequence, turn out was at historic lows as Democratic voters saw no reason to turn out across the country, giving Republicans increased control in both Congress nationally along with in many state governments. (In contrast, once Obama became active after the election, his support shot up in the Gallup poll and multiple other polls).

While many Republicans ran with little talk of their positions on social issues, knowing that doing so might get many more people to turn out to vote against their unpopular views, The Washington Post points out that they plan to pursue conservative goals on social issues now that they are in office:

Renewal of culture wars

A new round of the culture wars is also inevitable in 2015. Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List, said she expects that measures to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will advance in Wisconsin, South Carolina and West Virginia. Missouri, too, is likely to take up some abortion-related bills.

In Tennessee, voters gave the legislature new powers to regulate abortion, and state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) has said her chamber will take up three measures requiring mandatory counseling, a waiting period and stricter inspections of clinics.

Conservative efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks are based on ignoring science, just as many conservatives do in denying evolution and climate change. Conservatives make pseudo-scientific claims that the fetus can feel pain at this point, despite the cerebral cortex not being developed until well after this point. There is no real controversy over this point in medicine. Conservatives sometimes twist studies showing simple reflexes as indicating that the fetus is feeling pain. Often they misquote researchers to falsely claim their is a scientific basis for their bogus claims. More on this faux controversy over the science here and here.

The 20 week ban is especially harmful to the rights of women as fetal abnormalities are often not discovered until after this point. It is understandable that a woman who discovers after 20 weeks that she is carrying a fetus which has severe brain abnormalities which would prevent survival might want to abort, but Republicans would deny them this choice by setting an arbitrary limit before such abnormalities are apparent. It is also feared that once they set the line at 20 weeks they will use more pseudo-science to justify moving it up.

Conservatives have also practiced pseudo-science in trying to make the abortion debate over the moment when life begins, when development of the human embryo and fetus is a continuum. Conception is a process without an exact moment at which it occurs, and even fertilization can take twenty-four hours.

If conservatives are really concerned about preventing fetal pain their policies are counterproductive. Late term abortions are very rare in this country, primarily done when the mother’s health is in danger. Another common reason for abortions being delayed until after 20 weeks is the inability of the mother to obtain the abortion earlier, often due to roadblocks placed by Republicans making abortions more difficult to obtain. Of course Republican opposition to contraception further increases the number of abortions. If conservatives were consistent in desiring to prevent fetal pain, they should facilitate the ability of women to obtain both contraception and to obtain early abortions even beyond twenty weeks and before the actual ability to feel pain is present.

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Obama Approval Reaches 48%

Obama Affordable Care Act

Gallup reports that President Obama’s job approval has increased to 48 percent, the highest since August, 2013. This matches his disapproval rate, being the first time this gap has not been negative since September, 2013. They don’t give firm data to explain this improvement, but note that this partially can be explained by an improvement among Hispanics. They further speculate that the increase might be due to improved views on the economy, as well as people being more generous in their ratings around Christmas.

I wonder if other factors are involved, including his recent successes on foreign policy, the disappearance of the Ebola crisis in the United States which Republicans spread considerable misinformation about prior to the midterm elections, and the success of the Affordable Care Act.

As a sign of how desperate conservatives are to deny the considerable success of Obamacare in both expanding insurance coverage and making it more affordable, they are going further in cherry picking and distorting statements from Jonathan Gruber going back to 2009, with many conservative sites falsely calling him both the architect of Obamacare and its leading spokesman. Strangely, they don’t pay any attention to the far greater statements from him on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. The Tea Party New Network, which is essentially a dishonest propaganda outlet like Fox but more honest about its political position, even defends Sarah Palin for her rants about death panels, and repeats all the other claims greatly distorted by conservatives. Their complaints about Obama’s poorly worded statements about keeping one’s own doctor or insurance are hardly meaningful considering that their policies would greatly increase the likelihood that people would lose their doctor and insurance, while Obamacare (even if unable to guarantee this will never happen in a market-based system) greatly reduces this risk.

Obama’s improvement in the polls could be a consequence of him becoming more aggressive after the midterm elections, no longer being fearful of taking actions which might place Democratic candidates at risk in red states (a foolish plan which backfired when it led to Democrats staying home). I believe that the Democrats would have still lost seats because of the seats which were up for grabs in 2014, but would have done better if they hadn’t run as Republican-lite. On the other hand,  Dan Pfeiffer told Huffington Post that he believes that if Obama had not waited until after the election, his actions would have been overwhelmed by politics.

The big question is whether this is a transient bounce or if this improvement will continue. Either way his approval is certainly far greater than for Congress. The Republican Congress might give Obama an opportunity to gain further public support if the Republicans actually proceed to pass legislation pushing many elements of their agenda which will be unpopular with a majority of American voters.

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IRS Scandal Joins Other Republican-Created Scandals In Being Debunked When Investigated

As I noted at the start of the year, the Obama administration has been remarkably free of scandals–or at least real scandals as opposed to scandals manufactured by Republicans. Investigations of faux scandals ranging from Benghazi to Grubergate all failed to show any truth to right wing accusations and conspiracy theories. Now we find that not even Darrell Issa, despite often engaging in McCarthyist tactics, has been able to find any evidence for the Republican claims of coordination between the White House and the IRS to investigate conservative groups. The New York Times reports:

An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions has failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Despite lacking any evidence to back up the original claims, Issa did attempt to provide some rhetoric to excite conservatives in alleging that conservative groups did receive scrutiny in applying for tax exceptions. What conservatives ignore is that 1) it is the job of the IRS to review tax exemptions by political groups (with far too many probably getting away with unwarranted tax breaks) and that while Issa purposely limited his investigation to scrutiny placed on conservative groups, progressive groups faced an even greater amount of scrutiny by the IRS.

While conducting this investigation, Issa has repeatedly released selective testimony which suggested scrutiny of conservative groups and has refused to release other testimony which doesn’t line up with his claims:

Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who has compared the inquiry about the I.R.S. to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s investigation of suspected communists in the 1950s, was sharply critical of the report.

“It is revealing that the Republicans — yet again — are leaking cherry-picked excerpts of documents to support their preconceived political narrative,” Mr. Cummings said, “without allowing committee members to even see their conclusions or vote on them first.”

The Republican smears against Obama are no longer working out so well with them, and Obama might get the last laugh with his approval now surging to a twenty month high at 48 percent. Just maybe the stronger looking Obama we have seen since the midterm elections, accompanied Democrats who, despite being in the minority are less held back by the conservative members who lost in November, will be a more potent force in fighting the authoritarian right in the upcoming years.

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