The White Working Class Vote

With all the talk of Obama’s alleged problems with the white working voters this year, John Harwood does an excellent job of placing this issue in perspective by quoting Ruy Teixeira, author of America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters.

Mr. Obama, who leads the delegate count, “is clocking in where he needs to be” with white, working-class voters to win the White House in November, Mr. Teixeira said.

Through most of the primaries, the constituencies supporting either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama have remained remarkably stable. While Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has energized young, African-American and affluent voters, his rival from New York has dominated among women, Hispanics, blue-collar whites and older voters.

Among white, working-class voters — most commonly identified as those without a college degree — Mrs. Clinton has won by 2 to 1 or better in states like Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Mr. Obama has fared better among less culturally conservative working-class whites in states like Oregon, where the environment is a central issue for voters.

While Teizeira and this article are primarily concerned with voting trends, ideology is also important here. Yes, Hillary Clinton does do better among the culturally conservative working-class voters than her more liberal opponent, but this comes as a cost. I see no benefit in backing a Democratic candidate who is even more conservative than the presumptive Republican candidate on some issues.

Clinton has increasingly adopted both the views and tactics of her new friends in the vast right wing conspiracy. Clinton backed the Iraq war, despite her attempts to hide this fact. She also differs significantly from Obama on the drug war, including on sentencing reform and needle-exchange programs. Clinton has stronger ties to the religious right and those who deny separation of church and state than the presumptive Republican candidate. Her conservative ties have influenced her support for legislation to ban flag burning and support censorship of video games. Clinton also opposed the banning of cluster bombs. She backs the same types of abuses of executive power practiced by George Bush while I suspect that even John McCain would do a better job of respecting the role of Congress.

Returning from ideology to electoral trends, Clinton has distorted primary returns to exaggerate her electability:

Still, Mrs. Clinton’s claim that she is best positioned to win the “hard-working Americans, white Americans” has become the linchpin of her argument that she is more electable than Mr. Obama.

But Mr. Teixeira, who is not backing either candidate, does not buy that argument. He dismisses intraparty contests as “pretty poor evidence” of whether Mr. Obama, as the Democratic nominee, could attract the blue-collar support he would need against Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee.

And how much blue-collar support would Mr. Obama need? Not a majority, said Mr. Teixeira. Though blue-collar Democrats once represented a centerpiece of the New Deal coalition, they have shrunk as a proportion of the information age-economy and as a proportion of the Democratic base.

Al Gore lost working-class white voters by 17 percentage points in 2000, even while winning the national popular vote. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts lost them by 23 points in 2004, while running within three points of President Bush over all. Mr. Teixeira suggests that Mr. Obama can win the presidency if he comes within 10 to 12 percentage points of Mr. McCain with these voters, as Democratic candidates for the House did in the 2006 midterm election.

In recent national polls, that is exactly what Mr. Obama is doing. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Mr. Obama trailing by 12 percentage points with working-class whites; a poll by Quinnipiac University, showed him trailing by seven points. In each survey, Mr. Obama led over all by seven points.

While Clinton had done better than Obama in attracting the white working class vote in the primaries, many of these voters will still vote for Obama in a general election. While Clinton’s support is limited to her core Democratic voters, Obama can do far better by bringing in voters who do not usually vote Democratic:

But Mr. Ayres concedes that resistance need not be fatal to Mr. Obama’s candidacy. “The question is whether they’ll be counterbalanced by the new voters and young voters he brings in,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s advisers, and some unaffiliated strategists, acknowledge that he would lose some working-class votes that Mrs. Clinton might receive should she somehow win over enough superdelegates to capture the nomination. But they insist the answer to Mr. Ayres is yes, Mr. Obama would attract other voters to offset those losses.

In two states where Mrs. Clinton swamped Mr. Obama among working-class white voters, some recent surveys have shown him leading Mr. McCain. Is working-class resistance in Ohio and Pennsylvania going to be enough to prevent Mr. Obama from winning, asks Mark Mellman, an adviser to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and other Democratic politicians. “I think the answer is, not.”

Mr. Teixeira argues that Mr. Obama’s standing with working-class whites may be artificially low in the wake of his skirmishing with Mrs. Clinton and the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

“Yes, he has a problem,” Mr. Teixeira said. “But it’s a solvable problem.”

While this analysis concentrates on one group, white working-class voters, it ignores another important swing group, the more affluent, educated voters. I’ve previously discussed a post from Norm Scheiber which explains that currently, “There are really two broad swing groups: one working-class, the other affluent.” Just recently I noted that Marc Ambinder has looked at such an analysis and concluded that Obama can win the election due to the number of swing voters backing him (in his case, the affluent, more educated group). By 2006 many such swing voters, such as the Starbucks Republicans, rejected the GOP due to their turn to the right on social issues and support for the Iraq war. Obama is pulling in even more of these voters. In contrast, many affluent, educated voters will see no reason to support either the economically populist or socially conservative views of Hillary Clinton and will either vote for John McCain or stay home.

The tendency of the Clinton camp to write off those who disagree with their conservative viewpoints as “elitists” whose views do not matter acts to further widen this divide and limit Clinton’s potential support. The objection to Clinton’s views and conduct in this race cannot simply be ignored as meaningless fake scandals as some Clinton apologists like Paul Krugman claim.

While Clinton clings to the politics of polarization, Obama is running a far more inclusive campaign. Although his strongest support in the primaries comes from the more affluent Democratic voters, Obama’s economic positions are actually far more sounder and beneficial to the working class voters than Clinton’s polices which even ignore the views of economists as elitist. I support Obama over Clinton primarily due to their considerable differences on social issues, foreign policy, and government reform, and would do so even if he was less electable, but fortunately Obama is also the more electable of the two.

Electability And The People Each Candidate Attracts

Prior to the 2006 election the Democrats had been a minority part for quite a while. They often managed to come close in presidential elections and when out of power in Congress often only needed a handful of seats, but the Republicans edged them out most years. To become the majority party did not require a massive realignment. All that was really necessary was for Democrats to pick up one new group of voters. In 2008 electability may also come down to which candidate can best add new voters to the traditional core Democratic voters.

There is more than one path to such electoral success as there is more than one group which might potentially be added. When people speak of electability they also have biases as to which direction they want the party to go. I’ve written many posts here and in previous blogs regarding the Democrats adopting a more socially liberal, anti-war, and economically pragmatic viewpoint to pick up affluent professionals who were dissatisfied with the Republicans. Of course this is biased by the fact that I’m a socially liberal, anti-war, economically pragmatic, affluent professional and would naturally prefer to see either political party reflect my views.

There’s clearly a much better chance that the Democrats as opposed to the Republicans would follow such a path, and being seen this way was one of the factors contributing to the Democratic victory in 2006. Many independents and moderate Republicans (such as the Starbucks Republicans) turned to the Democrats in response to the GOP’s move to the right on social issues and their support for the war.

This is also playing out in this year’s nomination battle, as it has in the past. The Clintons, representing the socially-conservative economically populist wing of the party won in 1992. Paul Tsongas represented the socially liberal economically pragmatic wing and was no match politically for the Clintons. This year Hillary Clinton continues to represent the socially conservative populist wing, but this year the dynamic is quite unusual. The socially liberal, economically pragmatic wing is represented by Barack Obama. Obama, although starting out as the insurgent candidate, had advantages which insurgent candidates generally do not. Most significantly, he brings the support of black voters and he has the charisma to bring in far more independent voters than most Democratic candidates are capable of. In normal years the establishment candidate quickly knocks off the insurgent, but Obama will probably accomplish what most insurgent candidates cannot do by uniting the black voters with the affluent educated socially liberal voters. The internet further changes the dynamic, allowing Obama to raise funds to compete in a manner which would not have been possible in the past.

Obama will probably win the Democratic nomination with this coalition. Clinton hopes that she can still win by getting the superdelegates to consider electability, but only on her terms. The Clinton supporters have the electability argument all wrong when they claim that their big state victories makes Hillary more electable. The “big state” argument is fallacious as general election campaigns are nothing like primary campaigns. Winning a primary does not mean the candidate has a better chance at winning the general election. Obama does better than Clinton in many head to head polls against McCain in the big states which Clinton won. Steve Benen wrote more on the problems with the “big state” argument.

The problem with all the arguments with regards to Clinton’s electability is that Clinton does well with core Democratic voters but has difficulty bringing in additional voters. Clinton can win in the big Democratic states but so can Obama. The difference is that Obama can win bring in new voters and win elsewhere. Norm Scheiber breaks down the different groups which each candidate might add to the Democratic base:

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, as the Clinton campaign argues, that Hillary is a better general election candidate because the groups she’s winning in the primary more closely resemble the groups Democrats need in November. But, even if you accept that premise for the sake of argument*, the relevant question isn’t: Which demographic groups is each candidate winning the primary? The relevant question is: Which candidate is most likely to win the general-election version of their primary coalition (assuming they more or less hang on to the Democratic supporters of their primary opponent)?

In concrete terms, Hillary’s primary coalition consists of working-class people, seniors, and women. Obama’s consists of African-Americans, younger voters, and affluent/educated voters. Set aside African-Americans, who aren’t really a swing group. The question then becomes: 1.) How likely is Hillary to win non-Democratic working-class people, non-Democratic seniors, and non-Democratic women? 2.) How likely is Obama to win non-Democratic young people and non-Democratic affluent/ educated people? With the possible exception of women, I’d say the likelihood of 2.) is greater than the likelihood of 1.).

You can obviously disagree with me. But you should understand that, if you think Hillary is more electable, you’re basically saying that likelihood 1.) is greater than 2.). (Unless, of course, you think Obama will suffer big defections among working-class Democrats, Democratic women, and Democratic seniors if he’s the nominee. But that’s a different argument, and I’m skeptical of it for the reasons Matt lays out.)

*There are really two broad swing groups: one working-class, the other affluent. In principle, you could win the general by winning one or the other, or some combination of the two.

Clinton has the Democratic base but unless she can add to this we risk returning to the situation in which the Democrats were a minority party. Obama can expand the base by bringing in affluent, educated, socially liberal voters who can no longer support the Republicans due to their views on social issues and the war. Hillary Clinton will have difficulty bringing in such voters. With her poor record on civil liberties issues, social issues, and her support for the war, Clinton gives socially liberal affluent voters little reason to back her.

To get educated, affluent liberals to vote against our economic interests it is necessary to be seen as offering something significant in return on issues we care about, but Clinton is far too often on the wrong side. It is possible that with current distaste for the GOP that Clinton could still win, but there’s also a strong risk that the election will be seen, and portrayed by the media, as one between a dishonest liberal and an honest centrist. That’s a tough election to win.

Triumph of The Independents, And of Reality Based Voters

It is probably safe to say that John McCain will win the Republican nomination. While the Democratic nomination battle is certainly not over, the momentum is going in Obama’s direction. Assuming that these trends continue, the primary battles in each party can be seen as a triumph for the independents and the more reality based members of each party. We are also seeing a defeat for extremism, hyper-partisanship, voodoo economics, and anti-scientific views.

The conventional wisdom before Rove’s strategy fell apart was that the center did not matter. Each party was seen as being primarily composed of hyper-partisan extremists, and the winner would be which ever party which could get more of their extreme party members out to vote. There were not believed to be enough votes in the center, or enough swing votes, to matter any more.

This idea was destroyed when groups such as the Starbucks Republicans voted Democratic in the 2006 Congressional elections. These consisted of affluent socially liberal former Republicans who also were questioning the war. Of course other voters also rejected the Republicans, contributing to the Democratic majority. It turned out that, as I’ve argued all along, the voting population isn’t separated into two groups on the left and right which all hold one or the other set of beliefs. Not all agree with the most extreme members of their party even if they agree on most issues. People can also be socially liberal and fiscally conservative, can be religious fundamentalists without holding conservative economic views, or can hold a wide variety of other viewpoints which differ from the the party line of either party.

Assuming Obama’s momentum persists, it now looks like each party will nominate a candidate who is preferred by independents and who has raised reservations among the ideologues of their party.

Obama both pursues liberal goals and receives economic advice from adherents of the Chicago School. His views appeal to independents, but are opposed by ideologues from both the right and left. Ideologues of the right start from the assumption that government action is always bad and close their minds to any evidence to the contrary.

Ideologues on the left sometimes fail to recognize the limits of government action both in efficacy and in principle. While they will defend choice with regards to abortion or marrying a partner of either sex, they fail to understand that those of us who run businesses also value choice in running our businesses, and that most individuals value choice in personal economic as well as sexual matters. The far right calls Obama a Socialist. The far left fails to acknowledge that others do have valid objections to some government action, and mistakingly claim that any consideration of personal choice in economic matters, or any arguments to limit government, constitutes use of conservative frames.

Democratic voters already rejected John Edwards who based his campaign on arguments of class warfare, and now appear to be rejecting Hillary Clinton’s views which are based upon the philosophy that more government programs can solve any problem. This is no more valid than the view on the far right view that all government programs are bad and that government is not able to solve any types of problems. Similarly the attempts of the Clinton campaign to attack Obama for merely mentioning Ronald Reagan in a historically accurate perspective failed to stop Obama’s momentum.

Republican voters are also rejecting the voodoo economics of the far right. The most extreme cling to the Laffer Curve as justification to cut taxes without facing the consequences. McCain, facing the political realities of the Republican Party, has often strayed from conservative orthodoxy on tax policy, but has also been known to repeat conservative claims.

Partisan Democrats (including many liberal bloggers) claim it would be impossible for Obama to work with Republicans as they note the difference between their views and the Republican orthodoxy. The reality is that most people who vote for both Democrats and Republicans do not hold the views of the most vocal ideologues or bloggers. I know many Republican businessmen and professionals who vote Republican because, rightly or wrongly, they see Democrats as hostile to business and supporters of higher taxes. This does not meant they follow the Republican line on all issues, or are uncompromising extremists.

The reality on taxes is that most people, whether Democrats or Republicans, would prefer to pay as little in taxes as possible. The ideologues of the left who have no qualms about raising taxes are no more correct than the ideologues of the right who argue that we can continue to pay for a war while also cutting taxes. Many Republicans beyond the ideological extreme want to keep taxes as low as possible, but recognize that a Grover Norquist style pledge to never raise taxes, even in time of war, is simply unrealistic.

I’ve often written about how Obama transcends some of the views of the left/right linear spectrum. Many moderate Republicans see McCain in a similar manner. Dennis Sanders wrote of what he sees as McCain’s Decent Conservatism at The Moderate Voice.

I could be totally wrong, but he seems to offer a more decent and civil conservatism that is far different from the stuff we are used to hearing.

He does go after the Democrats, but he seems to express what is wrong with their ideas instead of saying that they are evil. He expresses a desire for small government, stating that government isn’t the answer to every problem, but without all the anti-government rhetoric. He is willing to listen to those who disagree with him.

There is no talk about “family values” or other hot button issues.

There is room to argue as to whether McCain remains too conservative on these issues, but this provides an example of how many independents and moderate Republicans see him. Just as extremists on economic issues have been rejected by members of both parties, many are voting for the Republican candidate who they see as not being the candidate of the religious right. Mike Huckabee still appeals to a distinct minority of Republicans, but even he has found a way to place a kinder, gentler face on such views. While George Bush has governed from the far right, even he first was elected by claiming to be a compassionate conservative who opposed nation building.

Just as extremists often ignore reality in economics, the extremes on the right have increasingly been denying reality with regards to science. There is a view on the right that science is open to debate in political magazines, on talk radio, and in the blogosphere. They think that if they can win debating points and put forth a good argument, they can claim to be right and ignore reality. Many fail to understand the scientific method, or that science is best discussed in peer reviewed journals, not by armchair amateurs in the press or on blogs. They will typically cite any report, regardless of how weak, which seems to support their biases and ignore the large body of scientific evidence which contradicts their personal opinions. Their ultimate failing is that they reach their viewpoint first and then try to work backwards by trying to make the data fit. In science, as well as economics, it is necessary to keep an open mind and accept the conclusions as demonstrated by the evidence, even when the evidence forces you to change your original opinions.

Many conservatives support creationism and deny evolution based upon their religious views and do not care about the actual science. Several Republican candidates this year have denied evolution, which is firmly established as a fundamental principle of modern biology. While two creationists, Huckabee and Paul, remain in the race, neither is likely to win.

Similarly many conservatives have decided to deny global warming because they fear the consequences of accepting the scientific conclusions will be inconvenient to their life styles. Many ideologues also find it necessary to deny global warming because they cannot accept the existence of a problem requiring government action as this would contradict their viewpoint that government is always the problem and never the solution. As I said before, most Republican voters do not accept the full range of views held by the extremists. In this case they are willing to nominate a Republican who does not deny the consensus of scientific thought.

I also believe it is foolish for economic conservatives to take themselves out of the discussion of climate change by taking the untenable position of ignoring the scientific consensus. While there is a consensus on the nature of the problem, science does not offer a single solution. This is an area where I would prefer to see rational people from both the left and right consider the problem and offer solutions.

I believe that John McCain’s reputation as a moderate is exaggerated, but at least an election between McCain and Obama means that neither candidate is a supporter of torture. Unfortunately McCain is not being entirely consistent in his views, but I suspect that should McCain be president he will be more moderate than when trying to appeal to conservative voters. I also suspect he will return to the pre-Bush policy of Republicans of offer some verbal support to the religious right but limit what they actually do.

I suspect that both McCain and Obama are allowing the realities of a partisan nomination battle affect what they are willing to say, although Obama has often shown a willingness to stray from Democratic Party orthodoxy even before potentially hostile audiences. I am anxious to see how both candidates campaign in a general election campaign when the goal is also to appeal to swing voters and independents. I am hoping there will be reluctance from both camps to resorting to the types of attacks which have been characteristic of recent elections and we have a genuine national debate on the issues. A top adviser to McCain is already stepping down rather than engage in a campaign based upon attacking Obama.

At present both Obama and McCain are seeking independent voters in their party’s primaries and the battle for the independent voters will become even more intense between the two in a general election campaign. This will force the candidates to take a more reasonable line than would be expected from candidates appealing to their party’s base. While this will create greater anguish among partisans and ideologues of both parties, it is will be a welcome development to an independent such as myself.

Latte Liberals, Dunkin’ Donut Democrats, And Which Candidate Is Really Best For All

Back in 2006 coffee preference became a factor in predicting voting behavior. At that time the talk was of the influence of Starbucks Republicans on the Congressional race. For background information I’ll post a copy of a post at a previous blog on this topic under the fold. Basically the Starbucks Republicans were fiscally moderate, socially liberal upscale voters who opposed the war. We now know the outcome. The Starbucks Republicans are voting Democratic, joining many independents and Democrats who fit into their demographic. This year the same demographics are separating supporters of Obama and Clinton. The Times of London Reports:

Among voters whose voting choice is not based on identity politics, Mr Obama’s supporters are the latte liberals. These are the people for whom Starbucks, with its $5 cups of coffee and fancy bakeries, is not just a consumer choice but a lifestyle. They not only have the money. They share the values.

They live by all those little quotes on the side of Starbucks cups about community service and global warming. They embrace the Obama candidacy because to them he transcends traditional class and economic divides. He is a transformative political figure – potentially the first black man to be president – and is seen as the one to revive America’s faith in itself and restore America’s status in the world. For these voters the defining emotion is hope.

Mrs Clinton is the candidate of what might be called Dunkin’ Donut Democrats. They do not have money to waste on multiple-hyphenated coffee drinks – double-top, no-foam, non-fat lattes and the like. Not for them the bran muffins or the biscotti. They are the 75-cent coffee and doughnut crowd. For them caffeine choice doesn’t correlate with their values but simply represents a means of keeping them going through their challenging day.

Though they don’t doubt that global warming is important, they think it can wait. They want to make sure first they can pay the heating bills. They’re not in favour of the Iraq war but neither are they so focused on restoring America’s image in the world. They’re not necessarily racist, it’s just that they’re not especially animated by the idealism represented by the first black president. For them anxiety, not aspiration is the defining factor.

One factor is that, at least among the more educated upscale segment of his supporters, is that liberal values trump personal economic need in determining their vote. Issues such as the war matter more, making Obama voters reluctant to vote for a supporter of the Iraq war such as Hillary Clinton. While Clinton supporters view government in terms of what government can do for them personally, Obama voters look at the bigger picture. Obama supporters are more likely to view a need for government in terms of goals which cannot be accomplished by individuals alone, including responding to global warming, making health care more affordable, and fighting poverty on a national scale. Principles matter more to Obama supporters, making them prefer the candidate who has vowed not to resort to Swift Boat tactics and making them oppose the Democratic candidate who lacks personal principles and has engaged in Rove style dirty politics.

The downscale Democratic voters are more willing to vote for Clinton because they are willing to place their personal need over principle. They don’t mind if Hillary lies and cheats if they perceive that she will lie and cheat to give them more government assistance. Obama voters are more concerned about matters such as which candidate will restore the Constitutional balance between the President and other branches of government, while Clinton voters don’t mind an autocratic president if they believe she will use her power to help them.

This division is really unnecessary as the perception that Clinton will do more for them is not based in reality. Hillary Clinton, who supported Wal-Mart in their fights against unions, can easily afford a $5 million personal loan to her campaign, and refuses to disclose her tax returns hardly shares the interests of the voters she seeks. Whenever the economic views of Obama versus Clinton are evaluated rationally rather than emotionally, Obama’s plans come out as far superior. For example, The Washington Post compared the economic stimulus plans of each candidate. Obama’s plan earned an A- while Clinton’s plan received a C-, barely beating John McCain’s D+. Clinton’s economic plans are devised to inspire political support but, like her poorly constructed plan to help with the mortgage crisis, do not stand up to scrutiny. Obama is the best choice for both Latte Liberals and Dunkin’ Donut Democrats


Battlestar Galactica Finale Leaves Many Questions

The Battlestar Galactica season finale answered little and left fans waiting nine months for answers to most of the mysteries. Baltar was acquitted, but that was hardly a surprise. They weren’t going to toss such an interesting character out of an airlock. Besides, the almost religious fever of Baltar’s supporters probably foreshadows his role for next season. We still don’t know why Gaeta hates Baltar to the point where he would even lie in his testimony.

While we were led to believe that we would find out that a member of the cast was a Cylon before the end of the season, this remains uncertain. The four crew members who hear the music believe they are Cylons, but to believe this and actually be Cylons are two different things. There isn’t much significance to this yet as they wound up returning to work as usual. We are left with many possible explanations of why they hear that music. Perhaps they are members of the final five, with Starbucks being the fifth. I doubt that they would make so many of the Cylons unless the point is to have something in between the humans and the Cylons we knew to create new situations. I also question if Tyrol is a Cylon as this would give us a second human-Cylon hybrid baby, reducing Hera’s significance.

There are many other possibilities. Perhaps they received some type of implant while on New Caparica. I have a suspicion they might turn out to be humans but with a different background which makes them different from the others. One reason that I suspect this is that Ron Moore has revealed that the move before the start of Season 4 will involve the Pegasus. In an interview in Salon, which I’ll post more on later, Moore said, “The story will be set on the Battleship Pegasus and will take place in the past, relative to where we are in Season 3. But the events set up in that story will then pay off in Season 4.” As the Pegasus has been destroyed, this leaves questions as to how a back story on the Pegasus would relate to Season 4. It’s just a hunch, but I wonder if the existence of humans who are somehow different from the others will be a factor in the Pegasus story to lead into Season 4.

As anticipated, we saw Katee Sackhoff back, but is she really Starbuck? Even if she ejected or was somehow saved, how is she flying in the viper that we saw destroyed? Maybe she isn’t even real, but is now Lee’s equivalent of Six in his head. That’s possible, but this wouldn’t satisfy the early talk of her having a significant destiny. Maybe she’s a Cylon trying to trick the humans with promises to take them to Earth. We know that they aren’t going to have them reach Earth at the start of next season. If a Cylon, was Starbuck a Cylon all along who was resurrected or did the Cylons recreate something new that looks like her (along with the viper) after her death? I also wonder if they aren’t introducing yet another life form that Kara Thrace was chasing before her apparent death that is responsible for her return.

Nine months is a long time to wait for answers to these and other questions. Sometimes cliff hangers are over done. It was a novelty when we wondered who shot JR. The third season cliff hanger of Star Trek: The Next Generation created tremendous buzz and help establish the show as fans wondered what would happen with the Borg. Now we have cliff hangers on multiple shows per year. I’d prefer that shows work to get their viewers to return by providing a satisfactory ending to the season rather than relying on such cliff hangers. A memorable conclusion which tied up the loose ends from this season would also have led to discussion of the show and given us reason to look forward to the next season.

Finding The Libertarian Democrat

John Samples, in an article entitled In Search of the Libertarian Democrat at Cato-at-Liberty, writes that a libertarian-liberal coalition is not possible. Andrew Sullivan agrees, considering this a fantasy. Samples repeats the same fallacy which has been cited by other libertarians who feel closer to the Republicans in only looking at certain issues, and concentrating on the rhetoric as opposed to the actual policies of the GOP.

Samples quotes polls showing that Democrats are more likely to support increased government spending for services such as education and health care. The problem is that some libertarians dwell so much on size of government and amount of government spending that they forget about basic issues of liberty. They also ignore the fact that government spending in recent years has grown more under Republicans than Democrats despite Republican rhetoric. It was Bill Clinton who left office with a budget surplus. If reduced government spending is the major goal, then libertarians will be disappointed in both parties, but should still back Democrats over Republicans.

The many differences between the parties which aren’t related to government spending are far more important. Republicans have eroded the checks and balances on the Executive Branch which are necessary to limit the power of government and preserve liberty. Republicans increasingly deny that there should be a separation of church and state as they attempt to impose the agenda of the religious right by law. Republicans have eroded civil liberties with the Patriot Act. They have taken advantage of the 9/11 attacks not by defending the nation or concentrating on those responsible for the attack, but by attempting to create a state of permanent warfare which is used to further justify suppression of civil liberties.

Any discussion of a fusion of libertarian and liberal interests must also recognize that there exists a variety of people labeled both libertarian and liberal. Such discussions typically refer less to hard core libertarians who reject virtually all government and more to socially liberal and fiscally conservative individuals who are also often considered libertarian-leaning. These include the so-called Starbucks Republicans and South Park Republicans who are rejecting the GOP in favor of Democrats in increasing numbers.

In the past the conventional wisdom was that conservatives were more libertarian on economic issues while liberals were more libertarian on social issues. This idea was perpetuated by attacks by the right wing noise machine which often mischaracterized the views of both parties. There have also been significant changes in recent years. Having the Republicans in power has demonstrated that their policies of corporate welfare are even further from the libertarian ideal of laissez-faire capitalism than the views of many liberals.

The meaning of liberal has also changed as the number of those advocating leftist economic ideas has decreased and liberalism has increasingly come to mean opposition to the war and other recent Republican policies. Increasingly liberals stress opposition to the war (which has now become the mainstream position) and social issues while being more pragmatic and nonideological on economic matters. The major difference between liberals and conservatives is not their position on government spending but how often they attend church. While some libertarians and liberals may always be incompatible, there are also people who consider themselves both libertarians and liberals whose major concern is in increasing our liberty and fighting the authoritarian policies which have been promoted by the Republicans.

Beware of the Nanny State: Ban Proposed On Walking & Listening to MP3 Players

Lyndon Johnson used to claim that Gerald Ford couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time, but a New York State Senator is taking this a bit too far. Karl Kruger has proposed legislation to “ban people from using an MP3 player, cell phone, Blackberry or any other electronic device while crossing the street in New York City and Buffalo.”

NewsChannel 4 reported that Sen. Carl Kruger is proposing the ban in response to two recent pedestrian deaths in his district, including a 23-year-old man who was struck and killed last month while listening to his iPod on Avenue T and East 71st Street In Bergen Beach.

“While people are tuning into their iPods and cell phones, they’re tuning out the world around them,” Kruger said. The proposed law would make talking on cell phones while crossing the street a comparable offense to jaywalking.

There’s some justification for limiting use of cell phones while driving, but this is going way too far. From what I’ve seen when visiting Manhattan, I just don’t think that New Yorkers can survive walking the streets without a cell phone in one hand and a cup of Starbucks in the other.

Coffee Reduces Post-Exercise Pain

Yet another benefit of coffee has been found. A small study shows that caffeine equivalent to two cups of coffee can reduce post-gym muscle pain. MSNBC reports:

“If you can use caffeine to reduce the pain, it may make it easier to transition from that first week into a much longer exercise program,” said lead researcher Victor Maridakis of the University of Georgia.

Maridakis and his colleagues studied nine female college students who were not regular caffeine and coffee drinkers didn’t exercise on a regular basis. One and two days after an exercise session that caused moderate muscle soreness, the participants took either caffeine or a placebo. Then they completed two thigh exercises, one requiring maximum muscle effort, the other sub-maximal effort.

Those who consumed caffeine one hour before the maximum force test had a 48 percent reduction in pain compared with the placebo group. Students who took caffeine before the near-maximum force test showed a 26 percent reduction in soreness.

Anyone who has needed a pick-me-up knows caffeine can increase alertness. Past studies have shown it also boosts endurance, and one experiment found caffeine reduces pain during moderate-intensity cycling.

In a related study I just found that if you drink two cups of coffee and stay at Starbucks instead of going to the gym you will enjoy the coffee more and have a total absence of pain.

If you find this to be too off-topic, a previous post on another benefit of coffee more relevant to this blog is under the fold.


Victory in Suburbia

Back in the days when the Democrats were a minority party lacking any politcal clout (i.e. last month) I often warned that if they ever hoped to become a national party again Democrats would need to improve their support among the affluent. In a society which is fairly affluent, despite too many being left behind, a party which is seen to represent only the interests of the have-nots is doomed to failure. Most voters are either reasonably well off or have hopes of future success and affluence, and have little interest in a party which ignores their interests. Before the election I noted many hopes for success, including increased Democratic support in the suburbs and among groups such as the Starbucks Republicans and South Park Republicans. USA Today notes the increased success for Democrats in the suburbs:

Democrats made large gains in suburbia in this month’s elections, pushing Republican turf to the outer edges of major population centers in a trend that could signal trouble for the GOP, an analysis shows.

Democrats carried nearly 60% of the U.S. House vote in inner suburbs in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, up from about 53% in 2002, according to the analysis by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

They received nearly 55% of the vote in the next ring of “mature” 20- and 30-year-old suburbs, with 45% going to Republicans and third-party candidates. In 2002, the last midterm election, Democrats received 50% of the vote there.

“Republicans are getting pushed to the fringes of the metropolis,” said sociologist Robert Lang, director of the institute. “They simply have to be more competitive in more suburbs,” he said, to win statewide and presidential races.

There are many reasons for this victory. The article notes that, “Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin said Republican appeal is waning in the inner suburbs, due in part to socially conservative positions, while Democrats are getting better at reaching suburban voters.” Social issues were a major factor, but the change in the perception of Democrats on economic matters is also important. Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean have stressed their desire for fiscal conservativism and to avoid big government programs perceived as far left. The 2006 elections were largely a repudiation of Republican policies, with victory coming from a coalition of both those who support traditional Democratic goals and those who might not but see Democrats as the only alternative to years of Republican failures. To keep their new majority coalition, especially with the old New Deal coalition long gone, Democrats must continue to consider the views of suburbanites, including small businessmen and professionals.

Addendum: I should also point out that any argument, including the one I made above, can be taken to absurd extremes. This was seen in Thomas Edsall’s recent op-ed in the New York Times. While he is right to a degree in warning Democrats against governing from the old left, it appears that by the time you ignore all the constituencies that Edsall discards there’s not much remaining. The trick isn’t to discard old constituencies but to find ways to promote the shared goals of many groups. There are dangers for continuing to stand for out-dated ideas, but there is also a danger in not standing for anything.

Andrew Sullivan on How the Right Has Gone Wrong

Andrew Sullivan has become a litmus test to differentiate between true conservatives and the reactionaries of the religious right who have taken control of the GOP. Sullivan is a conservative on the issues which mattered in the past, but his opposition to the religious right results in many conservatives now mislabeling him a liberal. He may get the last laugh this November when there is the possibility the Republicans may lose the religious vote due to the immorality of their office holders, while simultaneously losing the support of socially moderate and liberal Republicans such as the Starbucks Republicans due to the Republican pandering to the religious right. Sullivan get his word in on the subject in The Conservative Soul, reviewed in The Washington Post.

Reviewer Byran Burrough is sympathetic to Sullivan’s position and echos several posts here on the loss of Republican support in the suburbs. He writes, “let me tell you, out here in the wilds of the New Jersey suburbs, it is pure hell being a Republican these days, or a conservative, which used to be the same thing.” Sullivan identifies religious fundamentalism as the problem:

The first half of The Conservative Soul , which explores the philosophical underpinnings of Christian fundamentalism and explains how they are anathema to a free society, made me as angry as anything I’ve read in months. That there are people in 21st-century America who believe the Bible is literally true, who believe the Earth was created 6,000 years ago, and who believe that our lives today should be dictated by codes of conduct written by people who lived 2,000 years before modern medicine, electricity or equal rights — and that these same Americans have influence in national affairs — should infuriate anyone with a functioning mind. Fundamentalism, Sullivan reminds us, is the antithesis of reason. Its adherents — Christian, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise — have been handed The Truth and cling to it, facts be damned. Quoting figures as varied as Pope Benedict XVI and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Sullivan repeatedly emphasizes how fundamentalism abhors the thinking mind, insisting that an individual’s conscious choices — whether to have an abortion or what to order at Burger King — amount to moral anarchy.