Thursday, January 26, 2006

[No More Liebermans]

Explanatory note.

It occurs to me that if a fellow can't dump the first three chapters to his (brilliant but failed) nonfiction book proposal onto a personal blog, where can he dump it? Since I'll be gone for a week, seems like a good time for the dumping. The notion of the book was to draw on outsiders for advice about where to send the Democratic Party, since obviously insiders had done a pretty poor job of it. Although it garnered much interest, the book was rejected because I wasn't (this is richly ironic) a big enough name. Nor, apparently, were the other six major national bloggers I'd lined up to contribute chapters. Ah well.

This is what I wrote about the book in the proposal:
Following a devastating loss in 2004, everyone on the left will be looking for direction. Instinctively, they’ll resist tired old prescriptions that have delivered only punishing loss after punishing lossThe Party’s energy and future lie with the new ideas and new voices that fueled the antiwar movement,, and Howard Dean’s campaign.>The book to capture that coiled energy will be poised to become the political must-read in 2006 and beyond. [This book] is a timely and important contribution to liberalism in the age of George W. Bush.
I still believe that. The book was to be called No More Liebermans: Radical Ideas to Save the Democratic Party. Below are the first three chapters, the extant part of the book from the proposal. Obviously, they're grossly long posts. Hey, it'll keep you busy while I'm gone.

See you in a week.

[No More Liebermans]

Introduction: Where Do We Go From Here?

In the weeks leading up to the election, giddy lefties of my acquaintance began planning. Locations were selected, guests invited, hors d’oeuvres prepared. In our little blue state bubble of Portland, Oregon, certainty was the order of the day.

I was susceptible to it, but also wary, recalling how my anticipation was rewarded two years earlier. Not only were Congressional Democrats surprised by a strong off-term showing by Republicans, but in Oregon, the governor’s race was very tight. In that contest, a shady hard-right conservative with thin qualifications launched attack ads against a Democrat with a stellar resume—Marine, Oregon Attorney General, and Oregon Supreme Court justice. When I went to bed late on the evening of the election, the margin was too close to call. It was no night for levity. (The Democrat eventually won.) And so as plans were being laid, I mentioned gingerly that nothing fouls a celebration like getting beat. “Pah,” the planners said.

The polls remained bad for Bush, and even reluctant liberals nurtured hope. After-work parties became gala celebrations as confidence grew. “Everyone knows that undecideds break for the challenger in the end. An incumbent needs a lead heading into an election—a tie spells doom. Look at what happened to Carter.”

These and other arguments seemed so sound that I was finally won over. Bush really was a poor candidate. The war, the crony favoritism, the lies, the constant suggestion of scandal, the growing list of dead soldiers. The polls remained in a dead heat, and I couldn’t help but think that meant hesitant Bushies would stay at home and wavering voters would put their check in Kerry’s box.

On the day of the election, I was further buoyed by early exit polls. I was jubilant. To celebrate, I bought a bottle of Scotch with which to toast John Kerry’s victory and made for a gala.


Do you recall how long liberal America sat and contemplated the question “how?” About 36 hours—enormously long in the CNN world. It took that long for liberals to gather themselves from a stunned silence, by which time right wing howlers had already provided the answer: moral values. It became the authorized version, and we’ve been flogging ourselves for our paganism ever since.

That answer is correct and incorrect. In a real sense, morality is always the reason a candidate wins an election. To add shading to the question: how did the party of FDR and JFK lose the mantle of morality, and how on earth did it fall to a man as apparently corrupt and bereft as George W. Bush?

We have to go back 115 years.

At the end of the 19th Century, American liberalism was but a tiny candlelight in the darkness of the Gilded Age. It arose as a reaction to the industrial barons of late century, who had more or less enslaved cities of immigrants to toil in their dim brick factories. This was an age of rudimentary “equality,” when women and nonwhites and the Irish weren’t quite full people in the eyes of their countrymen and the law. Therefore, even exploratory notions about human suffrage—the idea that women should be allowed to vote or that six-year-olds shouldn’t be working an eighteen hour day—were greeted with violent suppression.

The ideas, so ingrained in American culture that they now seem like moral positions, were truly revolutionary at the time: maybe economic and social justice shouldn’t be reserved only for landowning white males.

What followed, in fits and starts, was modern liberalism, and its champion was the Democratic Party. On the economic front, the United States transformed itself from a country where the top one percent held 45% of the wealth to one where most families could live in their own homes, drive their own cars, and send their kids to college. The Democratic Party brought us Social Security and Medicare, labor protections, public education, bank reforms, public broadcasting, and regulations on food, health, business, and pollution. Without liberalism, we wouldn’t have had a civil rights movement or the scientific research that made the US the world’s leader in innovation or the space program that put humans on the moon or the kind of foreign investment that helped rebuild Europe after World War II. In short, most of what we celebrate in America is thanks to the liberal reforms of the Democratic Party.

For Republicans hoping to climb back into power in the 1960s, this was pretty strong stuff. Almost everyone in the country had benefited from Democratic reform, and until a generation ago, they knew it. After a few decades of these liberal reforms, the Democratic Party had made a virtual morality out of their own policy positions. During the “great compression” of the post-war years, the wealth of the country flowed downward. At its height, the middle 60% held 55% of the nation’s wealth and the share of the top 20% had declined to 40%.(1)

The wealthy were represented by the Grand Old Party, who, by the 1960s were living in political Siberia. Except for Ike, the last Republican president had been elected in the 1920s. The Republicans had only briefly controlled either house of Congress since the 20s, and they didn’t have hope of controlling either any time soon. And thanks to their disenfranchisement in the executive branch, they weren’t appointing judges. Democrats had the power, the bully pulpit, and popular support of the people. Their politics were equated with morality and America itself. Republicans, on the other hand, had no voice in the political discourse, no power, and meager support.

So what did they do? They changed the rules of the game.

Despite their overwhelming advantage, there were a few chinks in the Democratic armor. Democrats had made lots of change, and they had plans for lots more. Sure, they’d put a man on the moon, but they’d also put urban black kids in white suburban schools, and now there was talk of putting women on construction crews. Some people were uneasy.

Republicans understood that they couldn’t make a plea to working class Americans to give up the economic gains they’d made over a generation just so fat cats could get fatter. They couldn’t argue that regulations protecting workers, water, air, drugs, and public safety should be rolled back so corporations could make more money. So instead of asking working class Americans to vote against their economic interest, Republicans asked them to vote for “stability” and “tradition.”

Their cause was aided in short order by the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Now Republicans had a certifiably-winning position: Democrats were baby killers. Looking around at long-haired kids bombing university buildings and burning flags, at college professors and Democratic pointy-heads arguing for “moral relativism,” Republicans started to get a handle on a new strategy. Democrats didn’t represent America. They were secular, elitist, materialistic, atheistic, indulgent, snobby, and irreligious. And godless.

For most of the 20th Century, liberals had effective control over the rules of political engagement. Morality was defined by compassion and equality, values they wove into every policy. Democrats spoke of the community, of the common good. As long as they ceded this political morality, Republicans would never hold power. To compete with Democrats, Republicans had to create an entirely different framing mechanism(2) that made their politics the moral standard.

To do this, they shifted emphasis. America is founded on twin, competing principles: liberty and equality. For the better part of a century, equality had been winning. All of this equality had a restraining effect, however; it impinged on the ability of the rich to get filthy rich, and it prevented white men from keeping all the choice jobs. The wealthy took a look at what America had become, and felt their liberty imperiled. So they dispatched with the talk of equality and emphasized liberty.

Not of course, in those terms. Instead, the virtues they promoted were of “personal responsibility;” the immorality they eschewed, those that supported “welfare queens.” Down the line, Republicans refashioned their pro-rich agenda as a pro-individual agenda. They clothed social Darwinism in the rhetoric of American freedom. It was a brilliant strategy: policies that benefited poor and middle-class Americans were dismantled to support tax cuts that went to rich ones, all under the banner of political morality.

The Republican “morality” argument really took off when the GOP embraced newly-engaged Evangelical Christians outraged by abortion and the secularization of American culture. Much of the ferment bubbled up from the Deep South, where whites were still stinging over the changes brought about by the civil rights movement. Looking backward, they pined for a wholesome America of yore founded on Christian values. Leaders like founder Jerry Falwell argued that abortion, divorce, and gay rights were threatening the fabric of the country. Politics—and liberalism in particular—had abandoned the “moral majority” of America.

The face of the Republican Party shifted in the 1970s and ‘80s. Where it had formerly been a wire-rimmed banker from Boston, now it was a red-faced, righteous Southern preacher or a devout family, two kids and two parents (one mom, one dad), exiting a Buick on their way to Bible study. In either variation, the image was the new face of the national political morality.

In 1970, just as Republicans were beginning to regain political power, the median household paid 16% of their incomes in tax (income and FICA) and the top 1% paid 69%.(3) In 2000, after a generation of personal responsibility, both median income families and the richest 1% both pay about 25% of their income in taxes. Payroll taxes have nearly doubled in that period, corporate taxes have been nearly halved.

And in that same period, even as poor, rural red-state Americans have become poorer, they’ve turned their anger on Hollywood and Michael Moore, and are now true-blue Republicans.

Thanks to big money and small town support, the Republican Party has now controlled the Presidency for 24 of the past 36 years (soon to be 28 of 40), and both houses of Congress for ten years (minus a few months following the Jeffords defection). They have a lock on the House, with gerrymandered districts that show no signs of changing soon. They have added to their lead in the Senate, and now approach that magic, filibuster-proof number of 60. And their dominance in the Executive Branch has resulted in seven of nine appointments to the Supreme Court (with more expected under Bush). Thanks to their control over private media, the extraordinary events of 9/11, and their effective use of the bully pulpit, Republican politics are now equated with morality and America itself.


On November 3, 2004, I awoke from my gala-gone-wrong to a nasty hangover (the Scotch came in handy after all) and considered, along with the rest of Blue America: how? I made a cup of coffee and turned on NPR (that’s what blue-staters do) and then heard Bush’s voice. I turned off NPR and flipped open the newspaper—to the Sports page. I sat and considered.

Never mind the fuzzy math that may have contributed to Bush’s win, the truth is that a huge number of Americans voted for a man who seemed clearly corrupt, dishonest, and dangerous. On November third, Democrats awoke with no voice in the political discourse, no power, and meager public support. The pressing question, for 2006 and beyond, then looms.

Where do we go from here?

We have two choices. We can either proceed with the current Democratic strategy—the idea that Democrats should meet hard-right conservatism with a feel-good, soft-moderatism—or we can get radical and change the rules of the game. Let us consider the two choices.

Following the 1980 and ‘84 elections, Democrats found themselves confronted with the specter of “Reagan Democrats”—blue collar workers who were fed up with what Republicans described as an overweening government. Failed candidates like George McGovern and Walter Mondale convinced the Democrats that they had become too liberal and were out of step with the common voter. The group within the Democratic Party leading this movement was the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), founded by such notables as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman.

In order to appeal to Reagan Democrats, the DLC (and others) accepted the new Reagan worldview. Reagan said government was too big and the DLC agreed; he argued that social programs were a drag on society and robbed people of their liberty and the DLC agreed; he said Democrats were too liberal, and the DLC agreed. In a switch, the party of equality was re-imagined by the DLC as the party that “demanded responsibility from everyone.” They appealed to corporations to help create “non-bureaucratic market-based solutions.” And they tried to reach out to newly-offended rural America with “mainstream values.”(4)

The DLC had one great success: Bill Clinton, a past chairman of the group. Throughout the 1990s, the DLC touted Clinton as evidence that the “New Democrat” model they fostered was a winner. Even after Al Gore and Joe Lieberman failed to get elected in 2000, the DLC approach was still the de facto strategy of the Democratic Party. After all, the moderates pointed out, Gore actually won a majority of votes. But excepting Bill Clinton, who else was winning with the DLC? Two years following Clinton’s election, Democrats lost the Congress, and they’ve been out of power since.(5) It is far easier to argue that Clinton’s charisma got him elected, not the politics of the DLC. He is clearly the exception, not the norm.

The second choice is to abandon the DLC’s bogus prescription and remake the Democratic Party from the ground up. Remaking a party means considering radical new (and sometimes old) ideas. It means stepping away from the echo-chamber inhabited by old lions trying to protect their shrinking hunting grounds.

In early 2004, as his campaign was drifting into irrelevance (despite endorsements from George Will and the National Review), former DLC chair Joe Lieberman declared that his campaign had Joe-mentum. He was trying to put some gloss on his fifth-place New Hampshire primary finish (“we are in a three-way split decision for third place”). That’s where we are folks—stick with the same old Democrats, and we’ll have the same old Joe-mentum.

Or we can change the rules.

(1) Figures come from Kevin Phillips’ indispensable Wealth and Democracy (2002, Broadway).
(2) More on framing can be found in George Lakoff’s wonderful
Don’t think of an Elephant! (2004, Chelsea Green).
(3) All the statistics in this paragraph come from
Wealth and Democracy.
(4) Quoted material was taken directly from the DLC’s webpage. See “About the Democratic Leadership Council” for details.
(5) With the exception of a year and a half in the Senate following the defection of GOP Senator Jim Jeffords. The Democrats held power in the Senate from June 2001 through the end of 2002, when they were again defeated in the midterm elections.
[No More Liebermans]

Part One: Blueprint for a Machine.

Why did John Kerry lose to George Bush in 2004? It is seductive to offer an oversimplistic answer—”moral values,” say—when we know that the causes are many. On the other hand, sometimes a pithy example can cut through the tangle of confusion and point to the heart of the problem. Here are two.

The first is the Republican Party’s “Team Leader” program, which combined a vast database of information and a sophisticated online tool and turned average citizens into media lobbyists. Each week, the RNC posted a new topic, complete with talking points and background information. This might have been an initiative the President wished to highlight, or an attack campaign against Kerry or the Democrats. Loyal party activists would swing into action using Team Leader. Following a personalized interface through a series of drop-down menus, Republicans could select e-mails for talk radio hosts, reporters, and columnists for local newspapers, or producers and reporters for local TV. Using the (often misleading and always one-sided) GOP talking points, they would then compose brief messages urging the media to parrot their position. If you wished to telephone or fax, this information was also provided.

Team Leaders were encouraged to create a network of friends and relatives to join the effort, all of them sending out coordinated messages promoting Bush’s ideas. The interface was so easy that in a half hour activists could easily send personal messages to scores of journalists. For their effort, Team Leaders were rewarded with GOPoints that could be redeemed for merchandise, like bumper stickers or tote bags, which themselves promoted Bush.

The program worked. I would receive my weekly e-mail from RNC Chair Ed Gillespie, reminding me to get to work (I had signed up, of course—no reason to let the GOP hog such a powerful tool). Like magic, within days, our local right-wing columnist at the Oregonian would have an op-ed voicing support for the topic of the week. I can’t say if he was specifically motivated by Team Leader, but the GOP and its surrogates presented remarkable message discipline throughout the election.

If the Team Leader program demonstrates where the Republican Party is organizationally, then my second example, from a regular meeting of my local party, the Multnomah County Democrats (Multco Dems), may serve to illustrate where our team is.

In the autumn of 2003, I had recently gotten religion from the campaigns of Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean and decided to get involved on the party level. I had been doing other volunteer work for area activists as well as spreading propaganda on my subtly-titled blog “Notes on the Atrocities,” but it was clear that if Bush was going to be shown the door, it would be a Democrat holding it open. So I wanted to see what I could do for the local party.

I knew the guy who was trying to update the party’s early-‘90s website aesthetic (also a blogger), and so we met outside the Hollywood Senior Center on an uncharacteristically hot afternoon to begin our new careers as party volunteers. (Try not to dwell too firmly on the rich symbolism of the Multco Dems meeting site, lest you miss the real point I’m about to raise. But yes, a senior center. Hmmm.)

Inside it was just as hot, but airless, and a couple hundred precinct committee persons sat around folding tables fanning themselves. The election season was in full swing, and the room buzzed with side conversations about the primaries. At the front of the room, the chairman droned on about party business—the budget, the agenda, welcoming new committee people, and so on. It had the insidery feel of groups with long histories and long-time members, and I was busy looking around as much as listening to the chair. That is, until he dropped this bombshell, which caused my ears to prick and my jaw to drop. There was exciting news to relay, he said with animation: after a long period of discussion and coordination, the party had finally secured a credit card machine.

On the one hand, a fleet of citizens across the country acting as coordinated messengers and lobbyists for the GOP; on the other, my local party able, near the end of the third year of the new millennium, to receive donations via MasterCard.

Is it any wonder we’re getting worked over at election time?


Despite the restrictions imposed by McCain-Feingold, which political observers predicted would disproportionately affect Democrats, in 2004 the money race was nearly a dead heat. (1) Democrats received support from a previously nonexistent network of internet PACs and via websites and blogs. Throughout the campaign, Kerry stayed even in the polls with an incumbent president who was running with the lowest approval rating since Jimmy Carter. And on election day, Democrats increased Kerry’s total by more than 12% over Gore’s.
But here’s the shocking thing: despite those low approval ratings (dipping periodically below 50%), on election day, Bush brought out his base as well, increasing his numbers by twenty percent over 2000. Twenty percent!

The ten million additional people who showed up to vote for the president weren’t persuaded to do so because of his position on “moral values”—never mind what David Brooks may have said. Those ten million came out because the Republican political machine is extremely well-organized, targeted, and on message. It wasn’t something they slapped together in a few months, but an accretion of methods developed over a generation. Here’s how they did it, a playbook from which Democrats need to steal liberally.

Identifying and Nurturing Constituencies
Ruling parties are formed by coalitions of interlocking groups. The voters who elected Bush in 2004 were a patchwork of carefully-identified constituencies. Some voted because they believe in the neo-conservative ideal of active interventionism. Some voted because they are Christians and identify with Bush’s position on social issues. Some voted because they believe in free markets and small government. Some voted because they believe the economy will collapse under a Democrat (contrary to all historical evidence).

In some cases, the constituencies were tiny populations targeted to tip the balance in battleground states. For example, Bush’s seemingly quixotic effort to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage helped him appeal to conservative Catholics in battleground states like Pennsylvania and New Mexico. It didn’t work in Pennsylvania, but in New Mexico, Bush increased his share of the Latino vote by 11% (2)—enough to tip the state.

The coalition groups may have very little in common. For neocons, arguments about abortion and school prayer are often as irrelevant as policy on North Korea is to Evangelical Christians. But they don’t conflict, either, and that’s why they both see Bush as champions of their causes.

Identifying groups that together would help create a ruling majority was the first piece of the GOP puzzle, and fine-tuning these groups has allowed them to continue to enlarge their overall support. Democrats have been far less effective at identifying new constituencies, and as a result, traditional groups like women, minorities, and labor continue to shrink. No matter how effective their vision or messages is, or how charismatic individual politicians might be, Democrats will fail to build a ruling consensus until they clarify which groups comprise their coalition.

Holding a Cohesive Vision
Over the course of several election cycles, the Republicans began to knit together a vision of how they wanted the United States to look. What began as a haphazard statement of divergent policy positions ultimately developed into a vision. Americans instinctively understand what Republicans stand for: a shift in responsibility from the government to the individual that leads to small government; personal freedom and opportunity as exemplified by low taxes and free markets; an aggressive foreign policy unencumbered by the UN; and a defense of moral values, as embodied by the teachings of the Bible.

As the vision grew, each of the elements informed the others. Personal responsibility, initially code language to criticize welfare and social programs, became a key principle in the emerging focus on freer, unregulated markets. But personal responsibility also shifted the focus away from government and toward the family, which harmonized perfectly with conservative Christian beliefs.

As this vision grew and became the dominant political currency, all other ideas were measured against it. Democrats either tried to argue that their policies were more in keeping with the spirit of the Republican vision, or they were relegated to trying to carve out small niches in the shadows of the dominant vision. Either way, Democrats lent credence to the vision’s very dominance.

The Democratic vision had once squarely been focused on social and economic justice. But after a generation of assault, it has been reduced to policy positions. Despite the longest post-primary period of any presidential candidate, voters still said they didn’t know what John Kerry stood for. (3) Democrats favor a social safety net, progressive taxation, multilateral diplomacy, a living wage. But how do these relate to each other? It’s no wonder voters don’t know where candidates stand; candidates often don’t know themselves or send mixed messages. Once they have identified key constituencies, it will be time to Democrats to again find their vision.

Crafting and Delivering a Message
Perhaps more than anything, the GOP have been remarkably successful at getting out their message. When Republicans began building their ruling coalition, they felt their message had no outlet. What did they do? They began manufacturing new ways of distributing it. Because university studies inevitably endorsed liberal policies, they began creating think tanks to do research that would produce pro-conservative findings. Republicans saw the mainstream press as a mouthpiece for liberal ideas, so they took their message directly to the people via mass mailings. Eventually they discovered talk radio and cable television. Along the way, they also learned that they could target population segments directly, by appealing to church groups to support pro-values causes, for example.

Getting out the message accomplished two purposes for the GOP: it attracted and converted on one hand, subverted on the other. At first, creating a message machine was designed just to get the word out—to attract and convert. But once conservative opinion began to hold sway in Washington, the message machine became the principal mechanism for creating opinion and, by extension, exerting control.

To cite just one example, following the 2004 election, Karl Rove called the president’s margin “a bigger percentage of the vote that Bill Clinton had.” This was a classic subversion of truth—while remaining technically correct. In fact, Clinton easily beat Dole in his re-election, winning by nine percentage points—more than three times Bush’s margin over Kerry. But Bush, running in an election year of heightened interest, won a larger percent of the total population. But by Rove’s math, Kerry also had a much bigger percentage of the vote than Clinton had. Of course, Rove wasn’t celebrating the triumph of civic engagement, he was trying to create the perception that Bush had a mandate—which supported Republican spin of a popular president with broad support.

One of the key challenges to building a successful machine for Democrats will be offsetting the GOP spin machine. They need to not only wrest control of news cycles, but prevent Republicans from subverting the dialogue. This will require a coherent message to spread their vision, and a network of media through which to deliver it.

Running Candidates Who Embody the Vision
The eleventh commandment of Ronald Reagan was to “never speak ill of a fellow Republican.” Once the GOP began to take back power in the eighties, candidates exercised remarkable discipline in sticking to the script. The final piece of the puzzle doesn’t depend on a single charismatic figure who can energize a party, but a national slate who will work together and carry the vision forward.

In some cases, the weakness of current GOP candidates speak volumes about the success of the party machine. In Oklahoma, Senate candidate Tom Coburn argued that abortion doctors should receive the death penalty. He won. In South Carolina, Senate candidate Jim DeMint argued that gays shouldn’t be allowed to teach in the public schools. He won. And in Illinois, uber-conservative Alan Keyes argued that Christ would have voted against his opponent, Barack Obama, and that that incest was “inevitable” for children raised by gay couples. Okay, even in the age of Bush, Alan Keyes is unelectable—he lost. But the point is still clear: build a successful machine and then run candidates who will get on board.

Democratic candidates will never have the kind of party discipline seen among Republicans, but they must voice a basic fidelity to the vision and message if the Party as a whole is to regain the majority.


Following a half-century of control, the power of the their machine was so absolute that Democrats began to forget that there was a machine. We began to regard politics more as a logical proof: our vision is the vision most Americans hold, therefore, most Americans will vote Democratic as a matter of course.

Instead of rebuilding the machine after the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s —constituencies, vision, message, and candidates—Democrats and their leading strategists have been too quick to reach for the next glamorous candidate or issue or clever message as a magic bullet for success. The party grew top-heavy in its organization, forgetting that it was the shoe leather of local precincts that built up the party in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Even now, as Democrats survey the devastation following 2004, there has been an immediate instinct to clamor for the easy solution (Hillary Clinton? Moral values? The two Americas?). But if that’s the direction we pursue, we’ll continue to list along, rudderless, hoping that our credit card machines are a match for the GOP Team Leaders.

The lesson of 2004 is that a successful machine wins elections. Despite Bush’s enormous weaknesses—low approval, war, a weak economy—he managed to find a way to beat Kerry. But Bush’s victory wasn’t evidence of his strength as a candidate. Quite the opposite—it was evidence of the GOP’s success as a party, of the effectiveness of their machine. They didn’t win because of Bush, but in spite of him.

If Democrats are going to begin to win back real estate in the Capitol, we must first rebuild our machine.

(1) Bush raised $367 million, Kerry $323 million.

(2) According to CNN exit polling done in 2000 and 2004.

(3) For example, a late September LA Times poll found that only 30% of voters felt Kerry had done an adequate job describing his policies—despite the fact that he had done nothing but describe his policies for six months. See Ronald Brownstein, “Bush Leads Kerry Going Into Debate,” September 30, 2004.

[No More Liebermans]

Part Two: Constituencies.

It's axiomatic that any robust political movement must have at its core a clear vision. But as the failures of Democrats in the past several elections show, a clear vision isn’t enough. There must first be an audience. The reason the Democratic vision hasn’t resonated with voters is largely the result of the party’s failure to identify an audience receptive to it.

As an example, consider the fortunes of the following two groups: trade unions and Evangelical Christians. In 1976, evangelical Christians were a political non-entity. In 2004, labor is. The lesson of the GOP's rise could be reasonably reduced to understanding how the fortunes of these two key constituencies changed in that 30-year period.

In the mid-1970s, the progressive coalition that had first formed in the 1930s was still intact, if wounded and reeling. Key to Democratic success throughout the progressive era had been an appeal to middle- and lower-class workers through social programs like Medicare and Social Security and through labor protections. A quarter of US wage and salary workers belonged to a trade union, and in the 1976 election, nearly two-thirds of them voted for Carter.* That single bloc helped secure the White House for the Democrats—as it had for decades.

But following the election in 1976, union support for Democrats fell sharply, directly contributing to Reagan’s election in 1980. Perversely, even while blue collar workers were turning toward the GOP, Reaganomics reduced union membership dramatically, to just 16% by 1988. And by 2003, only 13% of American workers belonged to a union. In the 2000 election, union support for Gore had returned to older, pre-Reagan numbers (59%), but accounted for just a fraction of the entire Democratic voting base.

In 1976, Evangelical Christians voted for the Evangelical candidate—the Democrat, Jimmy Carter. This was consistent with a long history that connected Christians with liberal initiatives—and therefore the Democratic Party. In his bid for the presidency in 1896, William Jennings Bryan brought these threads together at the Democratic National Convention: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” The ideals of Christian charity were at the foundation of traditional liberalism, and Jimmy Carter had no difficulty invoking it during his presidential run.

But following the decision in Roe v. Wade, Christians lost some of their confidence in Democratic ethics. In the election of 1988, they were poised to leap permanently into the Republican camp, and that year George W. Bush was brought into his father’s campaign to secure their loyalty. They leapt, and they’ve been a central reason Republicans have been the ascendant party in Washington for the past 20 years.

The proportion of Evangelicals has remained consistent since the 1970s—about a third of the population—but their support has swung dramatically in favor of Republicans. In 2000, Bush won 68% of the Evangelical vote, and in 2004, a shocking 78%. (1)

In 1976, Carter won large victories in two key blocs, labor (a quarter of the population) and Evangelical Christians (a third). But in 2004, the labor block had shrunk and Kerry lost almost all of the Evangelical vote. Yet Democratic constituencies have remained roughly the same since Reagan was elected: labor, minorities, women, and social liberals.(2) Of these, the first three have not grown or have declined. The black vote has consistently gone to Democrats by large margins, but the Latino vote has eroded. Where only 29% of Latinos favored Republicans between 1976 and 2000, Bush won 43% in 2004. Women have supported Democrats by substantial majorities since 1980, but in 2004, they favored Kerry by only 3%. (3)

Social liberals—those who feel abortion should be “always legal” and who support gay marriage—gave a Kerry a 50-point margin, but they were in no way as inspired by Kerry as they were by Howard Dean. Many of those same voters strayed from Gore to Nader in 2000, and there’s no guarantee they’ll remain in the Democratic camp in future elections. So, even among the base, there’s work to do.

Without thinking of how to appeal to these groups, let’s pause to consider what other groups Democrats should be appealing to.
  • Rural, non-union wage earners. Lost to the GOP following Roe, this mostly-white group voted overwhelmingly for the first JFK in 1960. In 2004, they gave the second JFK a resounding Bronx cheer. Fed on a bitter stew of “authenticity” and God politics, this group remains fiercely conservative, but is a rich—and critical—demographic for any Democratic coalition.
  • Small business owners. In his first four years, Bush talked a good small-business game even while he dismantled some of the most important programs that support it: cutting funding to a program designed to help small-business exports, cutting funding to the Small Business Association more than any other federal program, cutting a program designed to foster new technologies among small business, and favoring corporations in federal contracting. Small business owners, further burdened by skyrocketing health care prices, are looking for help.
  • New Testament Christians. Not all Christians are inspired by the GOP’s current agenda of enforced morality. The Christian ideals that Jimmy Carter extolled while supporting social programs to help the less fortunate still resonate with large numbers of devout Christians. Democrats can appeal to those who feel more inspired by the New Testament vision of charity and generosity than Old Testament authoritarian submission to social absolutes.
  • Land users. A natural constituency who care about the environmental consequences to the land are farmers, ranchers, hunters, fishers, and loggers. These groups have been alienated from policy discussions as environmental groups use the courts to enforce federal laws. With outreach and a shift in emphasis from the courts, many in these groups are poised to switch allegiance.
In the following two chapters, we’ll look at how each of these groups—whether traditional or potential—can be better exploited by a focused Democratic Party.

(1) Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “Religion and the Presidential Vote,” Dec 6, 2004.>In other studies, where the Evangelical vote was calculated differently, put the proportion even higher.

(2) Two other groups, youth and seniors, are often considered reliable Democratic blocs. Yet according to post-election polling by CNN, young voters favored Kerry by only a nine-point margin, 54-45%, despite a large Democratic push for the youth vote. In 2000, Gore beat Bush by only 2%. Seniors actually favored Bush by 5% in 2004, after giving Gore a 3% win in 2000.

(3)See “On the Record,” November 18, a post-election poll analysis by Ron Faucheux in Campaigns and Elections. Further data from Pew, Zogby, and CNN.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

[Supreme Court]

Miers Disproves Their Bogus Claims.

Not so much time for blogging today, and tomorrow I'm off to Boston for a week. In that week, or perhaps later, the full Senate will consider Sam Alito for the Supreme Court. There is no dispute about his qualifications--his mind is good, which the Democrats readily acknowledge. What will be at issue, explicitly or covertly, are Alito's politics. The Republicans will make three arguments:

1. You can't consider politics.
2. He's open-minded and you can't say how he'll rule.
3. Anyway, he's moderate.

They are all three bullshit and have, handily, already been refuted. By the Republicans themselves. How to defeat three arguments in two words? Harriet Miers.

1. Obviously politics is all Senators do consider. Why else did Republicans torpedo Miers before she got a hearing? Were her qualifications truly at issue, Republicans would have defeated her in committee to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

2. He's not open-minded, he's close-mouthed; you can say how he'll rule because you have a rich, 15-year history of his previous rulings. There is, in fact, no better way to know how he'll rule. Republicans know this, and they specifically didn't know it about Miers, which is why they couldn't take the chance she'd make it to the court.

3. Argument two is roughly applicable here. Bonus refutation: if the Republicans truly wanted a moderate, or someone acceptable to the Dems, they would have consulted the Dems. When the two sole Democratic appointees to the bench were considered, that's exactly what Clinton did--he vetted choices with one of the more hypocritical politicians in Congress, Orrin Hatch.

If the Dems don't wish to filibuster Alito (and they don't), it would be cool to hear every one of them stand up and make all of these points. The least they can do is explode that myth.

(Not that anyone will, but in five years, an enterprising reporter could look through Alito's rulings and compare them to this grand spectacle of coordinated lying.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

[Koufax Awards]

Always Nice to Be Nominated.

Some goodhearted soul nominated the Hog for the blog "most deserving of wider recognition" in the annual Koufax Awards. Bless you. I, of course, would settle for doubling traffic to 23 readers a day. Anyway, the least you can do is show the good folks at Wampum a little traffic yourself by perusing the 299 (!) other blogs deserving of wider recognition. A few cool ones I discovered by panning through (there are also many familiar names on the list):
Yep, another goddamned blog
Whatever it is, I'm against it
Total Information Awareness (My vote for best new name)
Psychotic Patriot
Preemptive Karma (Oregonian!)
Pam's House Blend
No Blood for Hubris
Merlot Democrats (a name I hope is ironic)
Lenin's Tomb
The Happy Feminist
The Garlic
Dadahead (Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.)
Capitalist Pig Vs. Socialist Swine (Hog brethren and Canadian Bacon!)
Axis of Evel Knievel
Arse Poetica
Good names, good blogs. Go see what you think.
[GOP Corruption]

Corruption Ahoy.

The WaPo has a story out I find remarkable. Not because it documents corruption among the House GOP (it does), or because the mode of corruption is particularly egregious (it's not), or because of who it will benefit (big business) or who will get screwed (the sick, elderly, and poor). It's mainly remarkable because they're reporting it at all:
House and Senate GOP negotiators, meeting behind closed doors last month to complete a major budget-cutting bill, agreed on a change to Senate-passed Medicare legislation that would save the health insurance industry $22 billion over the next decade...

That change was made in mid-December during private negotiations involving House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the staffs of those committees as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee. House and Senate Democrats were excluded from the meeting.
Republicans have been doing business like this in Washington for the better part of five years. But thanks to Jack and Tom and Duke, it's finally become news.
[Foreign Policy]

From Iran's Side.

Not to belabor the point, but the discussion on yesterday's thread got me thinking a little more about Iran. Our foreign policy is a stew of projections--anyway, the justifications and rationales are. Iran has emerged as a threat in the past couple years, but why? Developing nukes is never a good thing, but come on--Iran's not a rival to the US. This isn't the cold war again. So what is threatening about Iran's nukes? If the US regards them as a danger, it must be because we think the mode of delivery will be via terrorism, not war. That fails the smell test: if Iran builds nukes, it's to strengthen its hand internationally. Were Iran interested in developing nukes to use in a terrorist war against the US, it would procure them through other means--like the vast, leaking network of failed Soviet states.

So instead of seeing black hats and beards and shivering, let's think a little. Long before the notion of Iranian nukes there was ... Bush's saber rattling. It was he who branded them dangerous, evil terrorists--and not loosely. Following that talk, he invaded Iraq, felling domino one of the axis of evil. If you get outside the FOX echo chamber, you might perceive Americans as something other than the source of goodness and light. Their threats to "democratize" your region and their subsequent invasions toward that end may look a whole lot like a superpower bent on world domination. From our side, bringing stability to the region (and eliminating threatening rivals). From their side, bringing shock, awe, death and instability.

The American narrative right now is that the Iranian nuclear program is the cause, not the effect. Our media dutifully report that Iran has suddenly grown bellicose. Yet pull the blinders off, and it looks like the obvious, rational response to US designs. If Iran had invaded Panama with the intent to "Islamize" North America--with all the attendent goodness and light Muslims might feel that would provide--what would the US do? Would we be "bellicose" to regard it as a threat?

Monday, January 23, 2006

[Foreign Policy]

Time to Invade Iran.

If, that is, you bought the bogus rationale that Iraq was a "threat" in 2003.

There are a couple of interesting questions here. When Bush came to office, he pushed through a new national security strategy that allowed the US to invade pretty much anyone it was scared of, using as justification that very fear. Well, if the neocons got spooked by Saddam, they must surely be piddlin' in their pants over Iran. But to put aside paranoid neocon panic, Iran is emerging as a serious issue.

Way back when--late 2002--many of us argued what the neocons called discredited pacificist pap: invasions piss people off. We said that the notion you could bring peace to the middle east on the wings of your shock and awe was delusion. They said the old rules don't apply: watch us democratize the Middle East.

Well. Having exercised their little trillion-dollar, 100,000-life experiment, the neocons are now discovering what we held from the start: shock and awe, shockingly, rouses anger, not guazy-eyed love. So the emergence of Iran as a real threat and a destabilizing force in the Mideast is actually the result of the great Iraq invasion. Yesterday, John McCain rattled sabres and implied that invading Iran wasn't such a longshot inevitability:
"If China and Russia want to be on record as being supportive of Iran in their nuclear ambitions, then I think that obviously has consequences as well... "A nuclear capability in Iran is unacceptable."
I suspect many good liberals are also in the invade camp, owing to their fear of wild-eyed, black-hatted ayatollahs; they were the same folks who bought into the "bringing democracy to Iraq" rationale--[cough] Tom Friedman [cough].

Who knows what to do? The same idiots who spoke so very seriously about our doom if we failed to invade Iraq will predict the same fate about Iran. "Serious people" will nod sadly and agree that it makes the most sense. No one will consider seriously the fact that Iran, as a sovereign nation, has the same rights to nukes that we have. Nor that that Iran, who has watched the US twice send invasions into the neighborhood, may actually have a pretty damn good reason for thinking that it needs some firepower to defend itself.

But hey, if John McCain thinks we ought to invade Iran, what can you do? He looked very serious on FOX. Serious people are never wrong, of course, only idiot peaceniks who think that ill-conceived invasions may not stabilize dangerous countries.

On the other hand, it might be worth considering a more multilateral response--something that doesn't isolate and enrage, something that helps encourage Iran to move out of the 8th Century. Just a thought.
[White House]

Bush Finishes a Book.

When other presidents finish writing a book, it becomes news. But for Bush, the news is that he actually read one.
Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said last week that Laura Bush gave the book to her husband as a gift, and that the president had just finished reading it.
Leader of the free world, folks. Ain't we proud?

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Obama on Corruption.

I don't want to insinuate that Barack Obama reads Hog, but you have to say that his comments today on Meet the Press sounded an awful lot like the advice I offered last week. Listen:
The specific problem of inviting lobbyists in who have bundled huge sums of money to write legislation, having the oil and gas company companies come in to write energy legislation, having drug companies come in and write the Medicare prescription drug bill—which we now see is not working for our seniors—those are very particular problems of this administration and this Congress. And I think Jack Abramoff and the [K Street]* Project, that whole thing is a very particular Republican sin.

MR. RUSSERT: No sin for the Democrats?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, with respect to how Tom DeLay consolidated power in the House of Representatives, invited lobbyists like Abramoff in to help write legislation, leveraging those lobbyists and telling them that they can only hire Republicans, manipulating the rules of the House and the Senate in order to move forward legislation that was helpful to special interests.
Of course, when I say I don't want to insinuate that he reads the Hog, what I mean to say is that, strong evidence to the contrary, I do want to make the insinuation. Hey, you never know.

*In the rush transcript, this was rendered as "Case Freak" Project. Hmmm.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Iggi on Cookies.

I'm generally pretty ignorant about how the internet functions, but I've generally sided with the libertarians on tracking data. Now with the news that the Feds are trying to subpeona Google on their search records, and the additional news that Bush is data-mining my email, I've become generally right paranoid. At Divine Invasion, Iggi sets the record straight on cookies.
So, I keep seeing the Lefty blogs freaking out about the NSA leaving cookies on visitors computers - ostensibly to "track return visits" to the NSA's website. The general consensus is that this is evil (not really) and invasive (quite possibly) though there may be some merit to this obscene paranoia seeing as government guidelines disallow setting permanent cookies on users machines. What concerns me is the howling fear emanating from both the Lefties and the Libertarians regarding cookies...cookies are not the enemy. As a programmer, I find this kind of smear talk somewhat offensive. They do not damage your machine, send personal data from your machine, or lie in wait for you to go on vacation so they can steal your mail and eat all the food out of your refrigerator.
Okay, I guess that clarifies part of it. But what about my email!
[Stupid Democrats]

Which Is Not to Say Reid's Not a Bonehead.

Say it ain't so, Harry! My man, the conservative Dem from Nevada Harry Reid has never thrilled me with his politics. But until yesterday, he's always shown a steel spine. Until yesterday:

Sen. Reid's office put out a report entitled "Republican Abuse of Power." It singled out 33 Republican senators for various ethical lapses and transgressions.

Republicans are treating this as some sort of outrage. And they actually got Reid to apologize for it. "The document released by my office yesterday went too far and I want to convey to you my personal regrets."

Come on, Harry.


The Corruption Pitch in Four Easy Sentences.

A blogger or two has been critical of Harry Reid's performance recently on the Newshour. I have no beef with them:
By coming up with this "reform package" we have managed to make people think this is about reforming arcane congressional rules when it is actually about a bribery and protection racket. And that is exactly what the Republicans wanted us to do. After all, if its only a matter of changing a few rules, they can do that themselves and just move along. Reid starts out with all the right rhetoric and then ends up calling for bipartisanship, for heaven's sake.
But then the question is, how do you communicate--very briefly and very pithily--what the problem is? Drawing on my two part posts on corruption, this is what I'd say:
Since they took control in 1994, Republicans have changed the rules about how things operate in Washington and in the process created the largest corrupt political machine in American history. They changed the way the rules of the Congress operate so that now Democrats are excluded from drafting or altering legislation while Senate and House Republicans collude in conference committee to draft law. Democrats are rarely even given the opportunity to review appropriations legislation before a vote. Finally, Republicans have removed laws that keep lobbyists outside the Capitol; now corporate lobbyists work as an arm of the Republican Party, forced to swear loyalty oaths while they funneling money into campaigns and unregulated "issue" ads to help pass laws that in many cases they themselves have written.
Yeah, there are big words there, and references to processes the average American hasn't a clue about. So what. Say it anyway and demand that the press do a little work and explain "conference committes" and "appropriations." Wouldn't actually hurt if people learned that along the way.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Blunt's Our Man.

No one will know what I'm talking about or care, but I'm saying it anyway. In the inter-party race to succeed Tom DeLay, there are two badly compromised candidates and one moderately compromised candidate. The front-runner is the most compromised, Roy Blunt, the current interim Majority Leader, Tom DeLay's appointed successor. A minor candidate named John Shadegg, who is the moderately-compromised and longshot candidate, today got a boost:
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), publicly endorsed Shadegg Thursday after saying he would wait to endorse any candidate until hearing from each of them during the RSC retreat later this month.
For really obvious reasons, it would be far more beneficial to people of goodwill if Roy Blunt, who's as crooked as the day is long, were to replace DeLay. He's a fine example of the modern Republican Party, and I'd like them to sink or swim (by which I mean sink) on his reputation. Last-minute window-dressing is no help.
[GOP Corruption]

Legalized Corruption Part 2: The K Street Project

There is an
actual K Street,--it's in Washington DC, a few blocks north of the White House. Lined along it are the offices of the world's largest and most powerful corporate lobbyists. They were there before the Republicans seized control of Washington, but their function has shifted noticeably sinee the mid-90s, and dramatically since 2000. Where under Democratic power, they were reduced to trying to offset liberal efforts to support the working classes, under Republicans, they have formed a fourth branch of government--one by and for the corporate donors.

The K Street Project was the conceit of key politicians and power brokers (like our man Grover) to accomplish exactly this end. If you want the definitive text on K Street, go see Nick Confessore's "Welcome to the Machine." It's long but well worth the read. I'll condense some of the key points here.

Following the Republican takeover in 1994, the Republicans resolved to seize control of lobbying. Previously, lobbyists spread their money around evenly between the parties to ensure their interests were served. Republicans changed that--they demanded complete fealty:
In 1995, DeLay famously compiled a list of the 400 largest PACs, along with the amounts and percentages of money they had recently given to each party. Lobbyists were invited into DeLay's office and shown their place in "friendly" or "unfriendly" columns. ("If you want to play in our revolution," DeLay told The Washington Post, "you have to live by our rules.") Another was to oust Democrats from trade associations, what DeLay and Norquist dubbed "the K Street Strategy."
Once the lobbyists were on board, Republicans and lobbyists began to coordinate their strategies. Norquist developed a database that tracked party affiliation, Hill experience, and political giving of every lobbyist--and then made sure they were replaced with loyal elephants.
Beginning in the 1990s, Washington's corporate offices and trade associations began to resemble miniature campaign committees, replete with pollsters and message consultants. To supplement PAC giving, which is limited by federal election laws, corporations vastly increased their advocacy budgets, with trade organizations spending millions of dollars in soft money on issue ad campaigns in congressional districts. And thanks to the growing number of associations whose executives are beholden to DeLay or Santorum, these campaigns are increasingly put in the service of GOP candidates and causes.
It is no surprise, then, to realize that those industry lobbyists are actually writing legislation. Policy affecting agriculture no longer emerges from the Department of Agriculture (where corporate toadies are parked), but from the companies that will profit from it. This is handy, because where the Department of Agriculture is subject to oversight from Congress and the courts, lobbyists are not.

The ability to write legislation is, obviously, a remarkable power. The "Halliburton Effect" is just the most obvious of the transition from federal to corporate. Now, wherever there's an opportunity to give a sweetheart deal to a company to perform a federal job (feeding the troops, providing health care, guarding prisoners), the company who will benefit from it writes up the legislation.

The result? Since 2000, the number of lobbyists feeding at the trough has doubled, overall spending on lobbying has increased 30%, and the kickbacks to those corporate interests from the federal government has grown 28%, from $1.79 to $2.29 trillion dollars (that's just the direct outlay, of course--profits off the outlay make the lobbyists' investment in government a tidy sum indeed).

Combine this seemlessness between the corporate interests and their elected patrons with the new rules Republicans have enacted to prevent Democratic interference, and you have one of the most effective, powerful political machines ever devised. And this ain't a local machine like Daley's or Tweed's, it's the US Government.

This is the reason the Abramoff scandal is such a big deal. It's why you're hearing the Dems talking daily about dismantling K Street. And it's why, if the scandal does have legs, it could eventually expose the most corruption in a century.

We can hope.
[Supreme Court]

What About Alito Now?

Another ripple that I could have mentioned in yesterday's post is the effect the assisted suicide ruling may have on the Alito nomination. Now that "moderate" John Roberts has weighed in on the fringe right, are actual moderates wondering about Alito--whom everyone agrees is right of Roberts? It's all well and good that Alito is polite and pleasant, and that he has a supportive, emotional family. But it's a reminder that all of that means bupkis when he's handing down draconian rulings.

Anyway, it appears to settling the Dems into strong opposition. Only one (Nebraska's Bob Nelson) has come on record in support of Alito. While good liberals gnash and wail at the tepid resistence Dems have given to Alito, a strong rebuke of him in votes may be important for the future. When Dems failed to oppose the Iraq war, they lost credibility in challenging it later (wrongly, but that's politics); opposing radical Alito now will give them credibility later when they point to the radical court the Republicans wrought.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

[Supreme Court]

Ripples in the Supremes' Assisted Suicide Ruling.

So, a day after the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Oregon's Death with Dignity law and already the ripples are spreading. There seem to be two immediate conversations following the ruling--the first on the future of assisted suicide, the second about the character of the Supreme Court.

Predictably, conservative Christian groups have condemned the ruling. The Family Research Council called it a "perversion of medicine." For Pat Robertson, it was "disturbing and dangerous" (topics on which he is versed). Scott McClellan, speaking for the President, says he remains "committed to building a culture of life." The emergent theme: "doctors shouldn't be killing people."

Also predictably, those groups have now called for Congress to put a stop to our little law. Whether that dog will hunt remains to be seen; most members aren't in Washington to comment. It wouldn't be the first attempt--in 2000, former Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles promoted the Pain Relief Promotion Act, which might have passed without the threat of a filibuster by Ron Wyden. The odds seem even longer now--Wyden again promises a filibuster, and now Gordon Smith has pulled his support. Moreover, everyone recalls the last great federal power grab on end-of-life issues--the Terri Schiavo debacle--and with 64% of Americans supporting a law like Oregon's, it seems likely that scandal-weary Republicans won't be itching for the fight.

Will that stop the hard right from pressing this issue, or will they remind their senators that it was "conservative issues that won [the 2004] election?" Will the Democrats use it to highlight that somewhat radical agenda? We'll have to wait and see.

The second discussion revolves around the dissentors in the Supreme Court decision and the surprising addition of new Chief Justice Roberts in the Scalia-Thomas axis of originalism. A key element of conservative jurisprudence is the reliance on federalism--the notion that states should have the power to make law that an overweening federal bureaucracy won't overturn. For much of the 20th Century, conservatives made much hay of federalism, for it fit neatly next to their opposition to liberals who controlled the government. Ah, but so much less neat has federalism become! Now justices try to ignore abuses of federal power, and their fealty to the states appears to be on the wane. So noted both Cato and the Wall Street Journal following yesterday's ruling:

"The Supreme Court's decision is a welcome win for defenders of limited government. The Court not only strikes down federal efforts to squash Oregon's experiment with assisted dying, but calls the federal policy inconsistent with the 'principles of our federal system.' Last summer, the Court upheld sweeping federal power to regulate local medical decisions in Gonzales v. Raich. Court-watchers called Raich a disaster for the 'federalism revolution' (the Court's effort to revive constitutional limits on federal power.) As Justice Thomas notes, today's decision marks a 'hasty retreat' from Raich and signals that the federalism revolution isn't yet over."
-- Mark Moller, Cato senior fellow, and author of an amicus brief in the case

"The High Court's liberal wing ... has suddenly discovered the constitutional virtues of federalism," a Journal editorial states, adding, "Count us with the federalists in this one, even if they are of the born-again variety." The editorial states, "We don't favor assisted suicide as a policy," but "in the American system, there's no good reason that Washington should be able to trump states' rights in the matter" (Wall Street Journal, 1/18).

But if the liberal wing has discovered federalism, what of the axis of originalism? Shouldn't Scalia and Thomas have defended Oregon's right to enact this law with near-religious zeal? And "moderate" Roberts--he of the pretty face and polite demeanor--surely he would side with other moderates? Instead, perhaps we can read in these tea leaves the true liberalism of Justice Roberts--maybe he will emerge as a great champion of civil liberties, defending those being spied on just as he defends those who would foolishly waste the final, brutal weeks of life. (Or is my tea made of something else?)

So with a single decision, Christian conservatives have found themselves on the wrong side of the "values" debate even while erstwhile federalists have become toadies of big gubmint. A Cubs World Series must be just around the corner.

Originally posted on BlueOregon.


If Today is Your Birthday

My year, according to the stars...

It seems there's no end to your talent this year -- you hone your skills and do what it takes to go to the next level of creative and spiritual development. The money comes after mastery. Next month features the happy end to a longstanding problem. Spring is an adventure to new lands. Your relationships with Cancer and Leo people are magic.


You may be tempted to help someone out for the wrong reasons this year. Don't lend someone money or even your time before you take care of your own business. The opportunity to do something that you've always wanted to pursue is now -- stop thinking about it and go for it.


Expect to lose money in an inexplicable way, or you may discover resources that you did not know that you had. Your life is also affected by a person or event that awakens your creative or artistic juices. Plan to walk away from this experience or encounter with a new vision of what you would like to create for your future.


A Mars-Neptune aspect on your birthday will inspire you to aim higher but it will also tempt you to waste money on things you don't really need. If you want to develop your creative abilities look for ways you can do so that don't cost you an arm and a leg. Remember: if you are good enough others should pay you, not the other way around.


This is a time to look at your resources, finances and the way you judge yourself from a unique perspective. Around the middle of June there will be and excellent opportunity for a career change. So if you’ve been feeling locked and blocked in a job that less experienced people have sway over how you apply your abilities, now you’ll have the opportunity to put yourself in a better position to use what you’ve got to the fullest. Can you give up the limited security you now have for a job with much more potential? We shall see in June. Always remember the Capricorn belief that the means justifies the ends. Have a great holiday!


This could be the year to achieve your dreams if you are willing to work hard and make strategic plans. Sidestep crucial decisions or promises during the third week of February or June when the stars may throw a monkey wrench into proceedings. Do your best to be responsible and ethical in March, as others may be more critical of your actions. Plan to put your heartfelt desires into being in mid-November or December when you will have the most assistance from the universe.

Oh boy--all my dreams are going to come true this year!
[Global Warming]

More Bad News.

As a follow-up to last night's delightfully hopeful story that we will, within a few generations, be Mad Max-like refugees of global warming on the tropical Greenland shelf, we have David Ignatius today illustrating why global warming just can't compete with Britney Spears:
So many of the things that pass for news don't matter in any ultimate sense. But if people such as Lovejoy and Kolbert are right, we are all but ignoring the biggest story in the history of humankind. Kolbert concluded her series last year with this shattering thought: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing." She's right. The failure of the United States to get serious about climate change is unforgivable, a human folly beyond imagining.
He refers to Elizabeth Kolbert's groundbreaking three-part series in the New Yorker, now no longer available online. But fear not--it will be out in an expanded version in book form in April.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

[Global Warming]

"Past the Point of No Return."

Good Lord, I hope this is an advocacy view:
The world has already passed the point of no return for climate change, and civilisation as we know it is now unlikely to survive, according to James Lovelock... In a profoundly pessimistic new assessment, published in today's Independent, Professor Lovelock suggests that efforts to counter global warming cannot succeed, and that, in effect, it is already too late.

The world and human society face disaster to a worse extent, and on a faster timescale, than almost anybody realises, he believes. He writes: " Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable."

Professor Lovelock, who conceived the idea of Gaia in the 1970s while examining the possibility of life on Mars for Nasa in the US, has been warning of the dangers of climate change since major concerns about it first began nearly 20 years ago.
Hat tip to Iggi.
[GOP Corruption]

The Fox's Plan to Safeguard the Henhouse.

Denny Hastert finally roused himself from a doze, realizing that his tenure as Speaker might be in jeopardy:
House Republicans moved to seize the initiative for ethics reform Tuesday with a comprehensive package of changes, including a ban on privately sponsored travel like the trips arranged by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
And you can just bet this plan (AP details are scant) will really dull the power of the vast K Street/lobbyist revolving door/rigging of legislative rules juggernaut the GOP have spent a decade building.

(Psst: I got a seller who'll give you a hell of a deal on the Burnside Bridge.)

The Assisted Suicide Wedge.

The Supreme Court ruling on assisted suicide is potentially a huge issue--for a couple reasons. First, it will open up end-of-life issues to a real debate, and we may see other states begin to look into death with dignity. The social and medical effects of the discussion should be valuable. They certainly were here in Oregon when we debated the Death with Dignity law.

But more importantly, the ruling has the look of a major wedge issue for liberals. Looking back to the Terri Schiavo incident, it seems clear where religious conservatives fall on the issue. Not only are they against the practice, they're willing to go to extraordinary means to prevent it. But assisted suicide is supported by a fairly substantial majority of Americans. (It varies depending on how the question is worded, but a CNN poll from last fall, which asked about the Oregon law, found that 64% of respondents felt "physicians should be given the right to dispense prescriptions to patients to end their life.") If that radical minority plays hardball to prevent a popular initiative, it could be exactly the kind of wedge issue that splinters the Republican coalition.

Roe preceeded the national impulse toward abortion, came from a top-down ruling, and ultimately wedged the left, driving off rural, working-class Democrats. Assisted suicide already has broad support, and the law has came up from the states. It looks to have every chance of wedging the right. Dems should take quick note and lead the discussion on national end-of-life issues, simultaneously using the issue to expose the radical core who guides social policy on the right. It's been a long time since the left had a winning issue with "values" voters. This may be it.

[Supreme Court]

Court Upholds Oregon's Death with Dignity Law.

By a 6-3 decision (more on that in a moment), the Supremes handed down a decision preserving Oregon's landmark Death with Dignity law:
The Supreme Court upheld Oregon's one-of-a-kind physician-assisted suicide law Tuesday, rejecting a Bush administration attempt to punish doctors who help terminally ill patients die....

The administration improperly tried to use a drug law to prosecute Oregon doctors who prescribe overdoses, the court majority said.

"Congress did not have this far-reaching intent to alter the federal-state balance," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote.
The argument centered around John Ashcroft's attempt to imprison doctors, based on his assertion that it was not a "legitimate medical purpose" for doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs. This is actually a rather remarkable ruling, because it will now open up the door for assisted suicide across the country, and will ignite a legitimate end-of-life debate. The Terri Schiavo types will no longer have the courts to hide behind. For liberals, this is an especially important victory, because assisted suicide is gaining wider popularity. Reasons for opposing it--the imposition of religious will--will be difficult to defend politically. (Not that the "values" crowd won't try to force them, anyway.)

Oh, and it should be noted that the law had passed a number of previous court challenges. The Ninth District ruled that ""unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers interferes with the democratic debate about physician-assisted suicide."

The bad news: Roberts joined the minority and agreed with Scalia and Thomas that federal officials had the authority to stop Oregon's practice. (Which seems at odds with the whole originalism thing at first glance. Maybe I'll dig around and see if this is as hypocritical as it appears to be.) So with one ruling we learn that the new (very young) chief justice isn't a moderate after all. (Shocking! "But he's so nice! So handsome! His boy is so cute!") Alito, also polite, with a wife who cries, may shock some Americans when he, too, joins that growing nucleus of radical jurists.

But that's for another day. This ruling, and its positive implications, made it through.

Further: If you want to join a discussion among Oregonians who've followed this case closely, BlueOregon has a couple threads started: a general thread, and one about Roberts.

Monday, January 16, 2006


MLK: A Message For White Folks, Too.
"This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Dangerous passions of pride, hatred and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless Calvaries. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority."
Poor MLK: his legacy, along with his holiday, is in danger of getting ghettoized. He is the civil rights leader; today is a black holiday. He should indeed be celebrated as the greatest of civil rights leaders; it's not wrong for his name to be used in the same sentence with Gandhi. But listening to the commentary today, I'm afraid that's the only context his name is used in.

His name should be mentioned among the greatest Americans--Lincoln, Franklin, Roosevelt. His activity was aimed at securing civil rights for a category of American citizens, but his language and his message was pure democracy. He injected into the deeply troubled racial war--shot through with jailings and lynchings--a higher language. While it did not dispel the toxic sludge in the hearts of the most inveterate racists, it did expose that hidden complicity in the hearts of Americans. He managed to move the country by appealing to their better selves, by demanding that they pay fealty to the virtues of democracy they extolled. King didn't just bring civil rights to black Americans, he made all America a more civil place.

Thirty-eight years after his death, Americans have begun to listen to anti-democratic demons again. Our government is the least democratic of any since the 20s: we jail Americans because of their faith or race; we allow the poor to starve while transferring vast wealth to the rich; we let the sick die; we fail to educate our poor. Of all years, in 2006, we shouldn't reduce King's message to one of black leader. He's a great American, and his message is every bit as relevant today as it was in 1954.
"History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."

Friday, January 13, 2006


King of Beers

The Times--that's the paper of record, mind you--rightly identifies Portland, Oregon as the "King of Beers."
Take the Kennedy School on a rainy night. The spacious halls were teeming with children and parents as well as hip 20-somethings, and a band was playing under a basketball hoop in the gymnasium.

It could have been a high school dance, except that the local bluegrass band actually played well, and the punch bowl was a keg instead. People were walking through the hallways sipping pints of Hammerhead ale and Terminator stout, or sitting at tables chatting with friends, teenagers and adults alike. Children rushed to the front, dancing in time to the music. Here, the beer blended into the background, and the music, the people and the fun took center stage.

The McPubs are great, but if you do happen to come to Portland, and you do happen to wish to go to a representative pub (de rigueur, along with a pilgrammage to Powell's), I suggest the most Portlandish: the Lucky Lab. And, as it's getting near quittin' time, I may just make my way over there for a wee stout.