Why Many People In The Middle Now Identify With The Left

While the country has become more liberal in some ways, the Republican Party has moved to the extreme right, and the Democratic Party has filled in the vacuum in the middle by also moving to the right on many issues. As a consequence, many people who previously considered themselves in the middle are finding that the current views of the left are closer to their views. Thomas Ricks, who wrote Fiasco, and excellent look at the Iraq War, described why he moved to the left at Politico:

Disappointment in the American government over the last 10 years. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first big shocks. I thought that invading Afghanistan was the right response to the 9/11 attacks, but I never expected the U.S. military leadership would be so inept in fighting there and in Iraq, running the wars in ways that made more enemies than were stopped. I believe that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, not only launched on false premises but also strategically foolish in that ultimately it has increased Iran’s power in the Middle East.

Torture. I never expected my country to endorse torture. I know that torture has existed in all wars, but to my knowledge, its use, under the chilling term “enhanced interrogation,” was never official U.S. policy until this century. In fact, until our recent wars, the American military had a proud heritage of handling its prisoners better than most. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington reminded his men of the need to “Treat [captives] with humanity, and Let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army.”

How we fought. I never thought that an American government would employ mercenaries in a war. And yet we did this in Iraq by hiring thousands of armed “security contractors” who in practice were subject neither to local law nor to the American military justice system, and so could and often did treat Iraqis badly. In September 2007, I remember, American officers, who by then understood the need to treat Iraqi civilians well, were outraged when Blackwater employees shot 37 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square—the rough equivalent of opening up on the lunch crowd in Dupont Circle. Yet to my knowledge, the U.S. government has not studied how the use of mercenaries poisoned the conduct of the war. Indeed, it gives every indication of planning to operate the same way in the future.

Intelligence officials run amok. I think that American intelligence officials have shown a contempt for the way our democracy is supposed to work in turning a vast and unaccountable apparatus on the citizens it is supposed to be protecting. I remain wary of Edward Snowden’s motivations and connections, yet still am worried by the intrusive surveillance by the National Security Agency he has unveiled. At the very least, in a democracy, we should be able to be informed about the actions that have eroded our privacy but supposedly were taken in our name.

Growing income inequality. I also have been dismayed by the transfer of massive amounts of wealth to the richest people in the country, a policy supported over the last 35 years by successive administrations of both parties. Apparently income redistribution downward is dangerously radical, but redistribution upward is just business as usual. The middle class used at least to get lip service from the rich—“backbone of the country” and such. Now it is often treated like a bunch of saps not aware enough to evade their taxes.

This led to a lengthy discussion at The Moderate Voice, where I also blog. Many of the bloggers and regular commentators there are in a similar position, thinking of themselves as moderates but finding their views are now more in line with the left, especially on social issues. While Ricks didn’t mention social issues, the desire to keep government out of the private lives of individuals has led many people to abandon the Republicans and the conservative movement.

Opposition to the Iraq War and related issues has generally been the defining issue for the formation of the liberal “netroots” and this dominates Ricks’ reasons. Republicans typically use fear and distort Democratic views, such as with the misquotation of Obama as the theme of the last Republican convention, to falsely paint liberals as being for socialism. There are no such economic views listed by Ricks, and the same is typical of many liberals. There is a far greater variation in views on the left than on the right, but the center of gravity has moved rightwards on economic issues. Liberals tend to be  more pragmatists and closer to Eisenhower Republicans than anything close to socialist (by its classic meaning).

If the word conservative really meant anything, in many ways today’s liberals are the conservatives who want to preserve our market economy, while eliminating its abuses, while Republicans are the radicals who want to destroy the system and make our economy more like a banana republic. It is the Republicans who are irresponsible fiscally, financing their policies on credit (while Democrats are more likely to include financing for their policies), caring more about tax cuts for the rich as opposed to cutting the deficit, and rigging the system to redistribute wealth from the middle class to the rich. Besides the ethical problems with this, destroying the middle class is horrible for the economy, and in the long run doesn’t even benefit the rich either, unless you want to live in a banana republic. On top of this we have the Republicans engaging in irresponsible action such as shutting down the government and making an issue out of increasing the debt ceiling, resulting in a lowering of the country’s credit rating.

The Affordable Care Act is a good example of how both parties have moved to the right on health care. Obamacare is quite close to Richard Nixon’s health care plan, the GOP counter-proposal to HillaryCare in the 90′s, and Mitt Romney’s plan. Republicans used to push for mandates, exchanges, and recommended high deductible plans tied to medical savings accounts. Once Obama pushed for all of this, as opposed to previous more liberal health care proposals, the Republicans suddenly claimed that everything they supported in the past is socialism and amounts to a government takeover of health care. (Of course part of the Republican opposition is because Obamacare does differ from the old Republican proposals in including regulations to keep insurance companies from ripping off consumers while pushing to increase use of private insurance companies.)

Conservatives are likely to misinterpret the inclusion of concerns about income inequality by Ricks, as well as myself  in this post, as indicating support for socialism. Concern about the deleterious effects of  the concentration of wealth to our economy is not an exclusively liberal viewpoint–see the works of Kevin Phillips on this. Nor does this mean that socialism is being advocated as the solution.

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed on income inequality which is worth reviewing:

First, economic inequality has worsened significantly in the United States and some other countries. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Oxfam estimates that the richest 85 people in the world own half of all wealth.

The situation might be tolerable if a rising tide were lifting all boats. But it’s lifting mostly the yachts. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created in America went to the top 1 percent.

Second, inequality in America is destabilizing. Some inequality is essential to create incentives, but we seem to have reached the point where inequality actually becomes an impediment to economic growth.

Certainly, the nation grew more quickly in periods when we were more equal, including in the golden decades after World War II when growth was strong and inequality actually diminished. Likewise, a major research paper from the International Monetary Fund in April found that more equitable societies tend to enjoy more rapid economic growth.

Indeed, even Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, warns that “too much … has gone to too few” and that inequality in America is now “very destabilizing.”

Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised. That has been a classic problem in “banana republic” countries in Latin America, and the United States now has a Gini coefficient (a standard measure of inequality) approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries.

Third, disparities reflect not just the invisible hand of the market but also manipulation of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a terrific book two years ago, “The Price of Inequality,” which is a shorter and easier read than Piketty’s book. In it, he notes: “Much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions, with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others.”

For example, financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking — and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s.

Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices. That

Fourth, inequality doesn’t necessarily even benefit the rich as much as we think. At some point, extra incomes don’t go to sate desires but to attempt to buy status through “positional goods” — like the hottest car on the block.

The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block. So the lawyer who buys a Porsche is foiled by the C.E.O. who buys a Ferrari, who in turn is foiled by the hedge fund manager who buys a Lamborghini. This arms race leaves these desires unsated; there’s still only one at the top of the heap.

Fifth, progressives probably talk too much about “inequality” and not enough about “opportunity.” Some voters are turned off by tirades about inequality because they say it connotes envy of the rich; there is more consensus on bringing everyone to the same starting line.

Unfortunately, equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe.

We know some of the tools, including job incentives and better schools, that can reduce this opportunity gap. But the United States is one of the few advanced countries that spends less educating the average poor child than the average rich one. As an escalator of mobility, the American education system is broken.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Update: Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

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Three Reasons Democrats Might Retain Control Of The Senate

Republicans have an excellent chance to gain control of the Senate this year due to a combination of Republican voters traditionally turning out in higher percentages in midterm elections and the need for Democrats to defend several seats in red states. Current projections from most sources give the Republicans a slight edge but there are a few reasons to believe that the Democrats might hold on to one or two more seats than projected, and retain control of the Senate:

1) The power of incumbency:

Democrats must hold onto seats in red states, but they are states that Democrats have won once before, even if in a presidential election year which was more favorable to Democrats. While they don’t have this advantage in 2014, having candidates running as incumbents might increase the chance of winning. Since 2000 Democratic Senate candidates have usually won reelection in the south, despite their states going heavily to the Republicans in presidential elections. Polls are showing that incumbent southern Democrats remain competitive.

2) Women voters:

Republican hostility towards reproductive rights and attempts to restrict access to contraception as well as abortion has many women voters angry, hopefully enough to turn out to vote. The Hobby Lobby decision might also motivate women.

With their Senate majority at stake in November, Democrats and allied groups are now stepping up an aggressive push to woo single women — young and old, highly educated and working class, never married, and divorced or widowed. This week they seized on the ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, five men, that family-owned corporations do not have to provide birth control in their insurance coverage, to buttress their arguments that Democrats better represent women’s interests.

But the challenge for Democrats is that many single women do not vote, especially in nonpresidential election years like this one. While voting declines across all groups in midterm contests for Congress and lower offices, the drop-off is steepest for minorities and unmarried women. The result is a turnout that is older, whiter and more conservative than in presidential years…

Single women, Democrats say, will determine whether they keep Senate seats in states including Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina — and with them, their Senate majority — and seize governorships in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, among other states.

The party is using advanced data-gathering techniques to identify unmarried women, especially those who have voted in presidential elections but skipped midterms. By mail, online, phone and personal contact, Democrats and their allies are spreading the word about Republicans’ opposition in Washington — and state capitals like Raleigh — to pay equity, minimum wage and college-affordability legislation; abortion and contraception rights; Planned Parenthood; and education spending.

3) Black Southern Voters:

Black southern voters have long voted Democratic, but now might turn out in high enough numbers to influence the results. Republican efforts to prevent them from voting might backfire, motivating more blacks to turn out:

Southern black voters don’t usually play a decisive role in national elections. They were systematically disenfranchised for 100 years after the end of the Civil War. Since the days of Jim Crow, a fairly unified white Southern vote has often determined the outcome of elections.

This November could be different. Nearly five decades after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, black voters in the South are poised to play a pivotal role in this year’s midterm elections. If Democrats win the South and hold the Senate, they will do so because of Southern black voters.

The timing — 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and 49 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act — is not entirely coincidental. The trends increasing the clout of black voters reflect a complete cycle of generational replacement in the post-Jim Crow era. White voters who came of age as loyal Democrats have largely died off, while the vast majority of black voters have been able to vote for their entire adult lives — and many have developed the habit of doing so.

This year’s closest contests include North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia. Black voters will most likely represent more than half of all Democratic voters in Louisiana and Georgia, and nearly half in North Carolina. Arkansas, another state with a large black population, is also among the competitive states…

Democrats lamented low black turnout for decades, but Southern black turnout today rivals or occasionally exceeds that of white voters. That’s in part because black voters, for the first time, have largely been eligible to vote since they turned 18. They have therefore had as many opportunities as their white counterparts to be targeted by campaigns, mobilized by interest groups or motivated by political causes.

Mr. Obama is part of the reason for higher black turnout, which surpassed white turnout nationally in the 2012 presidential election, according to the census. But black turnout had been increasing steadily, even before Mr. Obama sought the presidency. In 1998, unexpectedly high black turnout allowed Democrats to win a handful of contests in the Deep South; in 2002, Ms. Landrieu won a Senate runoff with a surge in black turnout.

The Supreme Court’s decision last year to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act unleashed a wave of new laws with a disparate impact on black voters, including cuts in early voting and photo-identification requirements.

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Liberal Democrats and Libertarian Republicans Working On Common Goals

Republicans have always had a libertarian wing but their influence and willingness to fight for true freedom has varied over time. Far too often Republican talk of freedom turns into the freedom of businesses to ignore necessary regulations or the freedom to impose their social and religious values upon others. Limited government also far too often turns out to mean reducing the authority of the federal government in order to allow state governments to infringe upon the rights of minorities. With true defense of freedom being rare among Republicans in recent years, it was good to see a report from The New York Times that Liberals and Libertarians Find Common Ground in House.

The article lists several areas where some Republicans have crossed the aisle to work with liberal Democrats:

From abortion to electronic privacy to background checks for gun purchases, a strange thing has been happening on the floor of the House as it debates its spending bills for the coming fiscal year: the stirrings of liberalism.

The House on Thursday voted 221 to 200 to approve an amendment by one of its most vocal liberal members, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, to ban federal contracts for companies that set up sham headquarters in offshore tax havens like Bermuda. Thirty-four Republicans bucked their party to push it to passage.

That was only the most recent stirring of life on the House’s left flank. Democrats have long hoped they could find common cause on at least some issues with the Republican conference’s libertarian wing. That is starting to happen, fueled by rising distrust of government on the right, a willingness of Democrats to defy the Obama administration in some instances and a freewheeling amendment process on appropriations bills.

The article cites examples of liberals and libertarians working together on legislation to increase individual liberty, from medical marijuana to privacy protections:

The tally of left-libertarian legislation is growing, with the House at least on record voting to limit federal law enforcement actions, intelligence efforts and social policy reach. On May 30, 49 Republicans crossed the aisle to approve language barring the federal government from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries.

“Some people are suffering, and if a doctor feels that he needs to prescribe something to alleviate that suffering, it is immoral for this government to get in the way,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, once one of the chamber’s most ardent conservatives, now a co-sponsor of the marijuana measure.

The day before, 76 Republicans joined Democrats to add $19.5 million to the federal instant background check system for gun purchases. The House Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to allow Peace Corps volunteers who become pregnant by rape to have a federally funded abortion and another measure limiting the federal government’s access to private email communications.

“By passing this amendment, the Appropriations Committee is taking a critical step towards ensuring all Americans are protected by the Fourth Amendment — their mail, documents on their desks at home, and now their private emails,” said Representative Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kansas and one of the measure’s authors.

On June 19, the House voted 293 to 123 to prohibit the National Security Agency and C.I.A. from placing “backdoor” surveillance technologies on commercial technology products and to end warrantless collection of Americans’ online activities. That amendment, passed over the White House’s objections with a veto-proof margin, was written by Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky and one of the House’s most outspoken libertarians, with the Democratic Representatives Zoe Lofgren, who represents Silicon Valley, and Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, a physicist.

An amendment by Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington, reversed cuts to a Bill Clinton-era program that funds local police forces, a program long on the Republican target list. The liberal Democrat that Republicans love to hate, Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, convinced just enough Republicans to pass an amendment blocking the Justice Department from compelling journalists to divulge confidential sources. Another Democratic amendment clears a legal path for states to cultivate industrial hemp.

To be sure, Republicans note, plenty of amendments have driven spending bills to the right. Just last week, the House voted to block the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change on multiple fronts, including one amendment that prohibits any funding for any aspect of the administration’s “climate change agenda.”

Amendments also have passed to end the deferring of deportations of immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, to fund a Justice Department investigation of the Department of Homeland Security’s release of illegal immigrants and to block high-speed rail in California.

But, Mr. Massie said, the libertarian-liberal alliance is real and growing. He said he has been working with Ms. Lofgren on legislation that would repeal a federal law that makes it a felony to unlock a cellphone tied to a particular carrier, even after a contract is expired. Libertarians are also teaming with Democrats to change laws on federal mandatory minimum sentencing.

It would be helpful if left-libertarian goals were a higher priority from the executive branch. Obama had initially raised hopes that he would have governed as more of a left-libertarian, and Obama did receive some libertarian support when initially running for president. While he has been far preferable to George Bush on civil liberties, he has disappointed civil libertarians in areas ranging from continuing many of the Bush surveillance plans (even if seeking reform in some areas) to failing to keep his campaign promises regarding ending federal raids related to medical marijuana. While nothing is a certainty in politics, it looks most likely that Hillary Clinton, who has been to the right of Obama, is likely to win the 2016 nomination. This could leave it up to such a liberal and libertarian coalition in Congress to pursue liberal goals. There is hope for greater emphasis by the Democrats (and possibly some Republicans) on matters of personal freedom in the future as polls show that younger voters are more “determined to protect personal liberties from conservative moral constraint.”

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You Say Red, He Says Tight

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Chris Mooney has a post on  another way to look at the polarization between the states, Forget Red State, Blue State: Is Your State “Tight” or “Loose”?

It is obvious to anyone who has traveled around the United States that cultural assumptions, behaviors, and norms vary widely. We all know, for instance, that the South is more politically conservative than the Northeast. And we at least vaguely assume that this is rooted in different outlooks on life.

But why do these different outlooks exist, and correspond so closely to different regions? In a paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (and discussed more here), psychologists Jesse R. Harrington and Michele J. Gelfand of the University of Maryland propose a sweeping theory to explain this phenomenon. Call it the theory of “tightness-looseness”: The researchers show, through analysis of anything from numbers of police per capita to the availability of booze, that some US states are far more “tight”—meaning that they “have many strongly enforced rules and little tolerance for deviance.” Others, meanwhile, are more “loose,” meaning that they “have few strongly enforced rules and greater tolerance for deviance.”

He later described the difference between people in loose versus tight states:

Citizens of “tight” states tend to be more “conscientious,” prizing order and structure in their lives. Citizens of “loose” states tend to be more “open,” wanting to try new things and have new experiences.

Other major distinguishing factors between “tight” and “loose” states:

  • Tight states have higher incarceration rates and higher execution rates.
  • Tight states have “lower circulation of pornographic magazines.”
  • Tight states have “more charges of employment discrimination per capita.”
  • Tight states produce fewer patents per capita, and have far fewer “fine artists” (including “painters, illustrators, writers”).
  • Most striking of all, the authors found “a negative and linear relationship between tightness and happiness” among citizens. Put more simply: People in loose states are happier.

It might be new terminology, but it really is the old blue versus red state divide, and looking at the map it is no coincidence that the red states overlap with the old slave states. The fundamental ideological differences in this country are between liberty and authoritarianism. All sorts of different ways have been devised to describe the same thing. Here it is tight versus loose. George Lakeoff previously described it as conservatives following the strict father model while liberals follow the nurturing parent model.

It all comes down to the same thing. Liberals, who vote Democratic and are more predominant in the blue states, especially on the coasts, support freedom while conservatives, who vote Republican and are more predominant in the red states, support authoritarianism. Conservatives might talk about wanting freedom and limited government, but what they really mean by freedom is the freedom to impose their views upon others, and their idea of small government is never too small to remain out of our bedrooms.  The map above might use different colors, but with some exceptions it is basically the old red versus blue state map. Some factions of conservatism are more libertarian-leaning, leading to some differences.

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Conservative Publication Claims Obama To Back Warren Over Clinton

Conservative publications often report on a Bizarro World, fact-free version of the real world. I’m sure readers know about the general outlines of their alternate reality. In conservative publications Barack Obama is a Muslim Socialist born in Kenya, Republicans support limited government, and the generally accepted principles of science and economics do not exist. There are also lots of conspiracy theories and other stories which haven’t been repeated as often outside of the right wing echo chamber.

Generally their stories are pure fiction which is not worth paying any attention to. A story in The New York Post today realistically fits in that category, but in this case it differs from most of their claims in that I wish it was actually true:

President Obama has quietly promised Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren complete support if she runs for president — a stinging rebuke to his nemesis Hillary Clinton, sources tell me.

Publicly, Obama has remained noncommittal on the 2016 race, but privately he worries that Clinton would undo and undermine many of his policies. There’s also a personal animosity, especially with Bill Clinton, that dates from their tough race six years ago…

Obama has authorized his chief political adviser, Valerie Jarrett, to conduct a full-court press to convince Warren to throw her hat into the ring.

In the past several weeks, Jarrett has held a series of secret meetings with Warren. During these meetings, Jarrett has explained to Warren that Obama is worried that if Hillary succeeds him in the White House, she will undo many of his policies.

He believes that the populist Warren is the best person to convince the party faithful that Hillary is out of touch with poor Americans and the middle class. Warren, in his view, would carry on the Obama legacy after he leaves the White House.

If only they could have it right on this one, considering my hopes for a better Democratic candidate than Hillary Clinton, but it is doubtful there is any validity to this story.

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Republicans Plan Frivolous Law Suit Against Barack Obama’s Use of Executive Power

After over fifty votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act the Republicans are in the need for another gimmick. John Boehner believes he has come up with a new one in suing Barack Obama for doing what he supported when Bush was president. Republicans are giving up their claimed opposition to frivolous law suits to sue Barack Obama for issuing Executive Orders despite the fact that Obama has used issues far fewer executive orders and signing statements than other recent president such as George Bush. As Paul Waldman wrote:

It’s irresistible to charge Republicans with hypocrisy, especially given the fact that they were unconcerned when the Bush administration pushed so vigorously at the limits of presidential power. Bush and his staff regularly ignored laws they preferred not to follow, often with the thinnest of justifications, whether it was claiming executive privilege to ignore congressional subpoenas or issuing 1,200 signing statements declaring the president’s intention to disregard certain parts of duly passed laws. (They pushed the limits of vice presidential power, too—Dick Cheney famously argued that since the vice president is also president of the Senate, he was a member of both the executive and legislative branches, yet actually a member of neither and thus not subject to either’s legal constraints. Seriously, he actually believed that.)

It is certainly hypocritical for Republicans to object to abuse of executive power after they backed Dick Cheney and George Bush’s claims on the Unitary Executive with virtually unlimited power. It is also notable that the problem stems from Republican abuses in the Congress which are responsible for the current gridlock which necessitates executive action.

This flip flop on executive orders includes Speaker Boehner personally:

President Obama has issued about 180 executive orders — a power that has been utilized by every president since George Washington except for the brief-tenured William Henry Harrison — and taken other executive actions. A Boehner spokesman denounced these as “a clear record of ignoring the American people’s elected representatives and exceeding his constitutional authority, which has dangerous implications for both our system of government and our economy.”

But Boehner embraced the power of a Republican president to take action, even at times when he would circumvent Congress by doing so. President George W. Bush’s issued hundreds of orders of his own over his eight years in office. In 2001 and 2007, Boehner strongly supported unilateral actions by Bush to prevent embryonic stem-cell research involving new embryos, saying the 2001 decision “preserves the sanctity of life and allows limited research that could help millions of Americans suffering from life-threatening diseases.” He endorsed a 2008 Bush executive order to limit earmarks. In the final days of Bush’s second term, he even wrote to the president asking him to use an executive order to exempt a historic steamboat from safety regulations after Congress opted not to do so.

Boehner even pushed for administrative compliance with one of President Obama’s executive orders. In 2010, he asked Obama for a progress report on implementation of an executive order banning taxpayer funding for abortion in Obamacare. In a letter to then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, he noted that the order had “paved the way” for the law’s passage and that the lack of update on implementation “does little to diminish widespread skepticism about the administration’s commitment to enforcing the Executive Order and preventing the law law from increasing federal support for abortion.”

Most likely this comes about in response to demands from the far right wing base. It has cost the Republicans a fortune to block most Tea Party challenges in the primaries this year. In the process the establishment Republican Party has become almost as radical as the Tea Party and is forced to pull stunts such as this. It is largely a way to appease those who are demanding impeachment after the Republicans saw how that worked for them when they tried it against Bill Clinton. I imagine many Democrats would love to see the Republicans try impeachment. For now they will have to settle for this, already using the threatened law suit to raise money.

Democrats have been more successful than Republicans in raising money so far this year with small Democratic donors contributing more to the Democrats than people like the Koch Brothers are donating to the Republicans.  This is undoubtedly coming from a small percentage of the country which is more politically engaged. Ideally we would have a higher percentage of the voters outraged by the Republican tactics and abuse of the democratic process. This is unlikely to occur as the Democrats lack the ability to make an issue out of the ways in which the Republicans abuse the system. Of course it is harder to make voters aware of such problems in a country in which only 40 percent are aware of which party controls which house of Congress.

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Two Polls Give (Limited) Hope For A Democratic Upset In November

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There are two recent poll findings which you might think should help the Democrats in November but most likely will not. Gallup found that the Democratic Party had a favorable rating of 44 percent while the Republicans have a with 34 percent favorable rating.

Unfortunately this type of lead has not necessarily translated into election victories in the past. It also doesn’t help the Democrats that, while leading the Republicans, they are still under 50 percent.

Republicans also have an advantage in House elections due to gerrymandering, and due to the concentration of Democrats in urban areas, leading to a larger margin of victory in a smaller number of districts. Democrats are defending several Senate seats in red states where they would not enjoy this lead over Republicans.

Brendan Nyhan looked at a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll which showed that more people agree with the Democrats on the issues:

More Americans say they trust Democrats than Republicans on the “main problems the nation faces over the next few years” as well as a number of key policy issues, including the economy, health care and immigration. Members of the public also typically indicate that Democrats are closer to their opinion than Republicans on specific issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and raising the minimum wage.

This apparent political advantage is less important than it might seem, however. For instance, Democrats had greater advantages on several major issues at comparable points in the 1994 and 2010 electoral cycles, which both resulted in Republican landslides…

Why haven’t these issue advantages translated into electoral success? First, the midterm electorate is not representative of the American public. The public’s preferences for Democrats on the issues may diminish or disappear once you look at registered voters or those who claim they are “absolutely certain” to vote, as Jaime Fuller of The Washington Post has noted. The Democrats’ edge on the issues is likely to dissipate further among the older, whiter group of Americans most likely to vote in November.

In addition, the importance of the issues in congressional elections is typically overstated. Structural factors like presidential approval, the state of the economy, the type of election (midterm or presidential year) and the composition of the seats that are up for election tend to matter more.

Most likely, based upon fundamentals in a midterm election the Republicans should do better than the Democrats. However, if the Democrats are seeking to significantly beat historical expectations, they sure have a better chance at the upset if they are the party which a majority support than if they did not have this support. How they do will depend a lot on whether the Democrats can get more of their supporters out to vote than is typical in midterm election years.

While the Democrats face a difficult task in holding onto Senate seats in the red states, there is an advantage to incumbency which should allow some to win. This might be enough to allow the Democrats to maintain control of the Senate until 2016 when the fundamentals are in their favor, including having an election year electorate and it is the Republicans who will be defending Senate seats in several blue states.

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Vulnerable Democrat Takes Offensive On Obamacare

I have been writing for a while that Democrats need to take the offensive on the Affordable Care Act. As long as they fail to promote its significant accomplishments, voters will only hear the Republican misinformation. If Democrats act scared, people will assume they have something to be afraid of. I was happy to see this example of a Democrat in a tight race using Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act to her benefit:

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A Closer Look At Insurance Cancellations Under The Affordable Care Act

Last fall opponents of the Affordable Care Act made noise way out of proportion to its actual meaning when insurance companies sent out cancellation letters to policy holders whose policies were not compliant with the law. A combination of the initial failings of healthcare.gov and exaggerated reports on cancellations led to much of the negative publicity about the Affordable Care Act which still has many Democrats reluctant to run on the party’s accomplishments. President Obama subsequently allowed these policies to be grandfathered in even if not meeting the initial qualifications for being grandfathered, but questions persist regarding winners and losers under Obamacare. A study in the current issue of Health Affairs provides some information on those whose policies were canceled.

The study’s key finding was that there is normally a high degree of turnover in policies on the individual market, and most of the people who received cancellation letters would have changed insurance even if there were no changes under the Affordable Care Act:

The Congressional Research Service has estimated that 10.8 million people had nongroup coverage in 2012.6 According to my estimates for the sample population, this suggests that 6.2 million Americans typically leave nongroup coverage each year. Presumably some of them do so voluntarily, because they qualify for Medicaid or start a new job with employer-sponsored coverage. Others lose coverage through inability to afford increased premiums, loss of income, or changes in health status that affect eligibility for nongroup insurance.

In this context, reports that recent cancellations of coverage may affect as many as 4.7 million adults (though precise estimates are lacking)6 are likely capturing a great deal of the normal turnover in this market. The findings presented here also suggest that overall coverage rates in the United States are unlikely to fall as a result of these cancellations: Most people who left nongroup coverage in this study acquired other insurance within twelve months, even before the ACA offered increased coverage via the Medicaid expansion and tax credits for Marketplace insurance.

Of course, the ACA’s regulations are presumably leading some people to lose nongroup coverage that they would prefer to keep. The results of this study indicate that certain subsets of people—in particular, those who are older than thirty-five, white, or self-employed—with nongroup insurance are likely to retain that coverage for three years or more. For some people who were covered by nongrandfathered plans, cancellations related to the ACA represent an unwanted change in coverage options that may be quite disruptive.

However, the ACA creates a range of new coverage alternatives via Medicaid and the Marketplaces. In addition, most insurance companies that are issuing cancellations are making efforts to enroll into alternative plans those customers receiving cancellation notices.19 Notably, 65 percent of the sample in this study had incomes below 400 percent of poverty. This suggests that many, if not most, of those who received cancellation notifications are now likely to be eligible for subsidized coverage that may be less expensive than their previous insurance.

This study’s findings are also relevant to the issue of premium “sticker shock”—which occurs when a person has to pay significantly more than in the past to remain covered by a plan—in the nongroup market. Some policy makers have expressed concern that the market reforms in the ACA are leading to significantly higher premiums for many healthy young adults (particularly men)20 and may lead people to drop their current coverage.

In this context, it is notable how rapid coverage turnover was among adults ages 19–35 in this study. Even before the ACA was implemented, nearly 80 percent of these adults experienced a change in coverage within two years. Undoubtedly, some adults in this age range with nongroup coverage will experience premium increases due to the ACA. However, most of them will qualify for lower premiums due to tax credits,21 and many of them will experience even larger declines in total out-of-pocket spending because of reduced cost-sharing requirements. Thus, true “sticker shock” is the exception rather than the rule for younger adults in this rapidly changing market.

While the study did find that most people would have changed insurance polices regardless of requirements under the Affordable Care Act, and the majority of people changing policies wound up paying lower premiums, there was a significant subset of older, white, self-employed individuals who received cancellation notices who otherwise might have kept the same insurance plan. Of this group, sixty-five percent qualified for subsidies.

The thirty-five percent of this group who wound up paying higher premiums might be consider “losers” because of the change, but it is not that simple. As I pointed out last month, one group of actual winners under Obamacare are the satisfied unsubsidized. Many people in this group, including myself, were offered alternative less expensive plans from our insurance companies but chose to purchase more expensive plans because of the added benefits of compliance with the regulations under the Affordable Care Act. These benefits include a cap on out of pocket expenses, coverage of preventative services with no copay or deductible, and, most importantly, being non-cancelable if there is a change in medical condition.

Policies sold in the past on the individual market were often less expensive as they were primarily sold to healthy individuals who the insurance companies did not anticipate having high medical expenses. A policy which must be sold to anyone, regardless of health status, is obviously going to cost more. Policies on the individual market often were severely limited in their coverage, with subscribers often unaware of the limitations unless they developed medical problems and found that their older plans did not cover them as well as they anticipated. For many people, it is to their benefit to replace older policies sold on the individual market with new policies which are compliant with the Affordable Care Act.

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Republican Extremism Gives Democrats The Edge

Jonathan Chait looked at demographic and political trends to consider whether the trend towards the Democratic Party is likely to continue. Much of what he wrote is a recap of the conventional wisdom these days, with some disagreeing. He considered multiple factors including the tendency of the young and minorities to vote Democratic. To some degree this could be offset by an increased trend for white voters to vote Republican out of a backlash against the increase in minorities. While Democrats are expected to dominate in presidential elections, there certainly can be exceptions if there is a major occurrence favoring Republicans as the party out of power. Plus Republicans should continue to maintain a sizable portion of Congress due to the higher turnout among Republicans in off year elections as well as structural advantages in each House. Republicans have an advantage in the House of Representatives due to gerrymandering and the greater concentration of Democrats in urban areas, giving Democrats victories by larger margins in a smaller number of states. Republicans have an advantage in the Senate due to smaller Republican states having the same number of Senators as the larger Democratic states. Republicans therefore have a reasonable chance of controlling each House, or come close as is now the case in the Senate, despite a larger number of people voting for Democrats to represent them.

The key point which gives us our status quo, and gives the Democrats the edge, is that the Republican Party is now firmly in the hands of a radical fringe which will always have difficulty winning a national election, but which is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future:

My belief, of which I obviously can’t be certain, is that conservatism as we know it is doomed. I believe this because the virulent opposition to the welfare state we see here is almost completely unique among major conservative parties across the world. In no other advanced country do leading figures of governing parties propose the denial of medical care to their citizens or take their ideological inspiration from crackpots like Ayn Rand. America’s unique brand of ideological anti-statism is historically inseparable (as I recently argued) from the legacy of slavery. Whatever form America’s polyglot majority ultimately takes, it is hard to see the basis for its attraction to an ideology sociologically rooted in white supremacy.

Jonathan Bernstein sees the United States as remaining more of a 50:50 nation as in 2000, also citing George Bush’s victory over John Kerry in 2004. However the Democratic advantage in the electoral college has increased tremendously since 2000 when George W. Bush was able to come in a close enough second to take the presidency due to irregularities in Florida and a friendly Supreme Court. This victory in 2000, along with the 9/11 attack, gave Bush, as an incumbent during time of war, an edge which future Republican candidates are unlikely to enjoy.

The current political divisions won’t last in their current form forever. At sometime there is likely to be a major event which shakes up the current divisions. Chait noted that this might have been the 9/11 attack if the Republicans hadn’t squandered their political advantages by their disastrous invasion of Iraq. I would add to that being on the wrong side of far too many other issues prevented the Republicans from becoming a long-term majority party.

Most likely at some point in the future the far right will lose their grasp on the Republican Party as those who actually want to be able to win an election eventually regain control. Perhaps this will come as a newer generation rejects the most extreme ideas of the current conservative movement. If the Republicans don’t change, eventually a third party might challenge them, as difficult as it is for third parties to compete in our current political system. We might also see the Republicans persisting in their current form as a southern regional party as others battle for political control in the rest of the country.

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