Well, if this isn't stupidity on stilts what is? Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips has gone so far as to suggest that it could be a good idea if the right to vote in America were once again restricted to the owners of property. To wit: "The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote," Phillips said. "It wasn't you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today," he continued. "But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you're a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you're not a property owner, you know, I'm sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners."
Okay I see the logic here. If you don't own property then you have little or no interest in safe streets, efficient and honest government, the quality of education, national defense, workplace and product safety, clean air and water, ad infinitum. Mr. Phillips points out that the founding fathers put in place "restrictions" that "you obviously would not think about today." Well that is certainly true but is this man so naïve as to think that the founding fathers in their infinite wisdom and their knowledge of world history expected that the country would never change and that the Constitution would not be subject to interpretation and amendment at some future date? Surely they knew enough about history to have understood the rise of world civilization, its ebb in Europe during the Dark Ages and its rebirth, renaissance and expansion thereafter. Does Mr. Phillips think for a moment that the nation's founders perhaps felt that they had arrived at the end of history in 1787 and that the world would remain static thereafter? Thus this astute Tea Party political operative thinks it could be a good idea to disrupt the unbroken link of democratic development in English-speaking societies that extends all the way back to field of Runnymeade and the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and which has continued to expand freedom to ever larger groups of people. Or is this a veiled plea to alter voting rights so as to preclude the political enfranchisement of millions of illegal immigrants now living here that may or may not become citizens in the next decade?
With the abovementioned commentary in mind, what then would be the political rights and obligations of the roughly one third of American households that rent rather than own their homes and apartments. Would they become second-class citizens? In a national emergency would they be exempt from military service or subject to a lesser commitment due to not having the same level of investment in American society? Would it be ethical to ask the guy who rents his home to fight and die for America even though he could not vote for its Commander in Chief? Would they be entitled to lower levels of Medicare coverage and reduced payouts from Social Security? What about the big property owning families in New York, Chicago and other major American metropolitan areas, would they be entitled to more votes as they own far more property than the single family home owner in the hinterland? What about all of those who live in mobile homes where they own the trailer but not the land beneath it, would they even have a vote?
I could go on with the hypothetical questions but I am sure you can plainly see just how absurd Mr. Phillips is in promoting this idea and how out of place in time is his theory on political suffrage. So not to be too glib, but is this supposed to be one of intended policy products of the great Tea Party effort to "take our country back"? Do members of the Tea Party Movement actually think they will expand their appeal within the body politic with leaders who advocate the political disenfranchisement of one third or more of America's households? I know there are many within the Tea Party Movement who believe that the 2010 election was "only the beginning" and that the best is yet to come. I for one think 2010 may more likely represent the high water mark of the Tea Party Movement and that comments like those of Judson Phillips will only work to undermine the appeal of the "Movement". Ideas such as these can only contribute to the idea that the Tea Party Movement is little more than a passing fad at best or that it is a collection of bizarre and disaffected political personalities at worst.
"It is fair to say that 2010 was the year of older, rich people." That's the conclusion of a new research memo from Project Vote, "An Analysis of Who Voted (and Who Didn't Vote) in the 2010 Election," by Dr. Lorraine Minnite. It finds that wealthier voters and Americans over the age of 65 surged to the polls in 2010, and increased their support for the Republican party, while young voters and minority voters (who strongly favor Democrats) dropped off at higher rates than in 2006.
Two years ago, African-Americans, lower-income Americans, and young Americans all participated in the 2008 presidential election in decisive numbers, making it the most diverse electorate in history. In 2010, however, these historically underrepresented groups were underrepresented again, as they (in common with most Americans) largely stayed home. Non-voters were the majority in 2010, a fact that "throws cold water on any victor's claims for a mandate."
This new memo analyzes exit poll and preliminary voting data to give the first comprehensive picture of the 2010 electorate. While this election largely followed patterns typical of midterms, Dr. Minnite found a few distinct features of the 2010 electorate that help explain the results. Absent a national race to galvanize new and minority voters, fewer voters turnout and the populations that do vote tend to be older. The racial composition of the population that voted in 2010 closely mirrored that of 2006: 80 percent of voters were white, 10 percent were black, eight percent Latino, and two percent Asian.
However, several distinct features of the 2010 voting population stand out, and contributed to the results on November 3:
1. Senior citizens turned out in force, with the number of ballots cast by voters over 65 increasing by 16 percent. While making up only 13 percent of the U.S. resident population, Americans in this age group constituted 21 percent of 2010 voters. This age group also significantly increased their support of Republican candidates, from 49 percent in 2006 to 59 percent in 2010.
2. The number of ballots cast by Americans from households making over $200,000 a year increased by 68 percent compared to 2006.
3. Relative to 2008, minority and youth voters dropped out of the voting population at higher rates than whites, undoing much of the gain in demographic parity achieved in 2008.
4. Women-already one of the most reliable voting groups-increased their share of the electorate, and significantly increased their support of the Republican Party.
5. Bucking the national trends, Latinos increased their share of the voting population in several states, saving at least three Senate seats for the Democrats.
"Perhaps the most significant point about voter turnout in 2010 is how many voters didn't vote," wrote Steven Thomma and William Douglas at McClatchy Newspapers on our study. "Some 38 percent of eligible voters didn't vote in 2008, and this November, another 33 percent didn't show up, which means that 'nonvoters were the majority in 2010.'"
As we know from our recent poll (among others), the electorate as a whole is shifting away from the views and values of these older, wealthier white conservatives who dominated the 2010 election: "As in most midterm elections, the people who voted in 2010 were not really representative of the American people," says Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote. "This study raises serious questions about which constituencies candidates choose to court and engage as they look ahead to 2012, since the electorate, as a whole, is shifting away from the views and values of the older, wealthier white conservatives who dominated the 2010 election."
If you have ever spent any time watching Fox News Network's cable news programming, and especially Bill O'Reilly, you would know just how much the network relies on Rasmussen Reports. Why political commentator Dick Morris is practically a shill for Rasmussen. In fact, during the 2010 election cycle, Fox News commissioned Rasmussen via one of its subsidiaries, Pulse Opinion Research, to conduct polling for the Murdoch owned network. The great irony of all this is, that like Fox News, Rasmussen is also anything but "fair and balanced." In fact a study of more than 100 polls conducted by Rasmussen revealed a pattern of bias towards the Republican Party and a level of accuracy far below that of the competition.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight concluded:" The 105 polls released in Senate and gubernatorial races by Rasmussen Reports and its subsidiary, Pulse Opinion Research, missed the final margin between the candidates by 5.8 points, a considerably higher figure than that achieved by most other pollsters. Moreover, Rasmussen's polls were quite biased, overestimating the standing of the Republican candidate by almost 4 points on average. In just 12 cases, Rasmussen's polls overestimated the margin for the Democrat by 3 or more points. But it did so for the Republican candidate in 55 cases - that is, in more than half of the polls that it issued."
Silver went on to further point out: "Rasmussen's polls have come under heavy criticism throughout this election cycle, including from FiveThirtyEight. We have critiqued the firm for its cavalier attitude toward polling convention. Rasmussen, for instance, generally conducts all of its interviews during a single, 4-hour window; speaks with the first person it reaches on the phone rather than using a random selection process; does not call cell phones; does not call back respondents whom it misses initially; and uses a computer script rather than live interviewers to conduct its surveys. These are cost-saving measures that contribute to very low response rates and may lead to biased samples. Rasmussen also weights their surveys based on preordained assumptions about the party identification of voters in each state, a relatively unusual practice that many polling firms consider dubious since party identification (unlike characteristics like age and gender) is often quite fluid." Moreover further analysis by FiveThirtyEight revealed discrepancies in Rasmussen Poll results on the subject of the president's favorability ratings which go all the way back to the beginning of the Obama Administration. Rasmussen's byline is "The Most Comprehensive Public Opinion Data Anywhere". Surely that claim is a bit of a stretch even when viewed in the most generous light.
In contrast to Rasmussen that had the highest combined error and bias scores, the top tier firms surveying voter sentiment in this election had error scores below 4 points and most had bias ratings below 1.0. These results were obtained even though Rasmussen conducted far more polls than any of its competition. The methodology employed by FiveThirtyEight was to analyze all the polls for average accuracy in predicting the margin of victory for the top two vote recipients and then to see to what extent the polling consistently missed the trends. Thus a very fundamental question comes to the fore. To what extent are the folks who rely primarily on Fox News for their political views being led astray by consistently faulty information? Or to put it another way, how can anyone who is interested in forming an unbiased conservative political opinion do so if Fox News is his or her primary information source? Don't these findings call into question the very integrity of Fox's political and news presentation? How can the Fox News Network continue to display its "fair and balanced" byline given its heavy reliance, if not its incestuous relationship with Rasmussen Reports? Based on the evidence produced by FiveThirtyEight, there is little reason to believe that the conservative audience is being well served if it is spending its evenings watching Fox News in search of fair and balanced programming upon which to shape its opinions. In fact one could conclude that America's conservatives are being deliberately led astray.
I was going to call this post Revolt of the Screwed, but decided that I didn't want to get readers who were looking for porn sites. However, that is a good summary of what happened in the election: the middle class voters most hurt by this terrible recession turned against the Democrats with a vengeance. They were looking for someone to blame for their economic woes. The good news is that their first pick was Wall Street. The bad news for Democrats is that they associated Obama with Wall Street. The two most important and dramatic statistics coming out of the exit polling were (1) the 40% of voters who felt worse off economically in the last couple of years went Republican by 29% after going for Obama in 2008 by 42%; and (2) the 35% of voters who said Wall Street was more to blame than anyone else for the bad economy broke 56-42 for the Republicans. That first number is the biggest swing by far in any demographic group I have ever seen after looking at exit poll numbers for the past 25 years. I have seen swings in the 30s before, maybe even into the low 40s in some small segment of the electorate once or twice, but I have never seen anything close to a 71% swing before.
I wrote early in 2009 that voters were going to be in a very bad mood in November of 2010, and that this would be a blame election, where economically stressed swing voters would be wanting to take their misery out on someone. I was certainly right about that, but here's the ironic thing: I suggested that since I thought it was unlikely we could get them to blame the economy on Bush since we were in charge now, that our best hope was to get them to blame it on Wall Street. They did, that 35% who laid the blame on Wall Street's door were primarily the middle class swing voter bloc in this election, but they associated us Democrats and Obama with Wall Street more than Republicans. The TARP bailout and Obama and Geithner's vigorous defense of it, the kid glove treatment of the big banks at the hands of Geithner, the AIG and big bank bonuses that closely followed, the failure to prosecute or break up the Too Big To Fail banks: it all came together in those angry middle class voters' minds as Obama being associated with the same Wall Street actors people were blaming for their economic problems. The fact that once the financial reform bill that had some important wins for the middle class was passed, Democrats barely ever talked about it again didn't help.
So now that this election from hell is over, the question is how do Obama and the Democrats come back in 2012. There's a lot of talk about moving to the center, but what does that even mean? When Washingtonians talk about the center, they tend to mean cutting Social Security and doing trade deals, but what do the economically stressed swing voters who turned against Democrats mean by the center? Well, these voters have very strong feelings about certain issues, and they don't tend to track with what pundits in DC talk about much. Check out these numbers from a Stan Greenberg poll done for the Campaign for America's Future. Stan did a careful analysis of which voters were the key swing voters, and what he found is striking:
Swing voters supported a message about challenging China on trade, ending subsidies to corporations that send jobs overseas, and stopping NAFTA-like trade deals over a message about increasing exports, passing more trade agreements, and getting government out of the way by 59-28
Swing voters supported a message about ending tax cuts for those making over $250,0000 a year, adding a bank tax to curb speculative trading, cutting wasteful military spending and ending subsidies to oil companies over a message about cutting 100 billion dollars from domestic programs, raising the Social Security retirement age, and turning Medicare into a voucher program by 51-37
Swing voters supported a statement about politicians keeping their hands off Social Security and Medicare over a statement about raising the retirement age by 62-36
89% of swing voters supported a statement about full disclosure of campaign donations and limiting the power of lobbyists
90% of swing voters supported a statement about cracking down on outsourcing and creating jobs by fixing schools, sewers, and roads in disrepair
Even when framed in direct opposition to a statement about stopping increasing government spending and tax increases, swing voters said they were more worried that we will fail to make the investments we need to create jobs and strengthen the economy by 54-44
The voters who were the swing voters in this electorate, the ones who supported Republicans this time but generally supported Obama and Democrats the last time, are the economically hurting middle class- the ones most worried about their jobs, most stressed about their mortgages being underwater or close to it, and most squeezed by stagnant wages. They blame Wall Street for the financial crisis, they strongly dislike outsourcing and "NAFTA-like" trade deals, they favor higher taxes on the wealthy and speculative trading, they don't want Social Security or Medicare benefits cut or the retirement age raised, they think infrastructure jobs ought to be created by the government, and they hate corporate special interest lobbying and money. These voters are the populists who Lee Atwater focused on in 1988, and the middle class populists we ought to be focused on now. The reason they are swing voters is that they think both parties- and yes, government itself- have let them down. They don't like partisan bickering because they want politicians to focus on their needs instead of trying to keep their own jobs, but they have no patience for bi-partisan deals that once again screw them on these economic issues.
The only way President Obama and other Democrats will win in 2012 is by focusing on improving the economic lives of these stressed out voters, and by doing it now. That means first and foremost dealing with the foreclosure crisis and underwater mortgages, and having DOJ actually start prosecuting these bankers who have so clearly violated the law. It means re-orienting government contracts to ones that really will buy American goods and pay a decent wage doing it. It means aggressively using executive orders to spur new manufacturing jobs. And it means eagerly picking some fights with Republicans over these middle class issues.
The election numbers could not be clearer: the voters we need to focus on are the folks who feel the weight of this damaged economy on every muscle of their tired shoulders. And those are the people our policies ought to be focused anyway, so it is a twofer: it's the right thing to do and the best way to win the election.
For the better part of post 2008 election period, we have been deluged with an almost non-stop rant about the failures of "progressive" ideas in America. Some have been so bold, or naive if you will, to suggest that the rise of the Tea Party Movement and the 2010 election have spelled the beginning of the end for "Progressives" and all that they stand for. According to this premise Americans now want to do away with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, Disability and Workers Compensation, the 40 hour Week, Workplace and Product Safety, Weekends and Holidays Off From Work, Environmental Safety, Financial Reform, ad infinitum. The "people" now want to return to a world where you work 12 hours a day, six days a week for straight time wages, no overtime, no retirement plans and no employer provided healthcare. Moreover, you will be happy to do so and even happier to forgo all of the workplace health and safety standards that you have enjoyed for the past half century or more. The "people" will now look forward to consumer products that are less safe, water and air that is more likely to harm one's health and rivers and seashores that are far less inviting on a hot summer afternoon due to the higher levels of pollution. Oh and least I forget, the "people" will spend half of their day off so they can go to church and thank God for the end of "progressive" ideas in America and a return to the unrestrained "free market system" that brought you economic inequality and the Great Depression.
Of course, to some extent, I am being sarcastic in the above. But don't fool yourselves, there are those among us who have completely misread this historic election and are well along the way to furthering their self delusion in the process. What you have just witnessed is the biggest hustle job in American political history. The Tea Partiers are already being shunted off to the side as Boehner and his minions divvy up the committee chairmanships among seasoned and veteran politicos. And let's not forget all of the outside cash that flowed into the G.O.P. during the 2010 midterms, those donors will be up on Capitol Hill shortly looking for their payback. And this just out: "Michele Bachmann's Leadership Bid Gets Cool Reaction" -"Self-proclaimed tea party leader Michele Bachmann's bid for a top Republican post in the House received a cool reaction Thursday from Speaker-to-be John Boehner, an early test of how GOP leaders will treat the antiestablishment movement's winners in Tuesday's elections."(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/04/michele-bachmanns-leaders_n_779290.html)
Thus, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Welcome to two more years of political gridlock, and it's brought to you by the folks who want to "take their country back."
There's all the usual post-election palaver that happens after a Democratic loss: Republican and right wing triumphalism, the pro-corporate wing of the Democratic party and conventional wisdom pundits arguing that Democrats should "turn to the center" (by which they mean the Washington center- cutting Social Security, doing more trade deals, not antagonizing Wall Street- as opposed to what the center is for voters), and progressives arguing that Obama should stand strong on Democratic values and not cave to the Republican agenda. There's also a classic dynamic where some Democrats are urgently calling on people not to attack each other or the President, to try to keep the party from looking like it is in disarray, and others wanting to really engage in that old centrist versus left debate and critique.
I have been thinking hard about all this in part because it's the obvious thing everyone is thinking and talking about and in part because I am doing a lot of panels and media interviews right now- the latest one yesterday at Harvard where I did left-right panel with Bill Kristol on analyzing the elections. Interestingly, while Kristol and I naturally disagreed on the substance and political dynamics on many key issues- Afghanistan, tax cuts for the rich, health care among the big ones that came up- we agreed on the essential point that Obama can only survive by reconnecting with both the Democratic base and working class swing voters by being more populist on jobs, banking issues, and Social Security/Medicare (Republicans get honest while speaking academically in the weeks immediately after the elections- like Lee Atwater, also speaking at Harvard after the 1988 election, Kristol agreed that the swing vote in national elections is a working class populist vote).
At the end of the day, though, I keep coming back to one thing. Political positioning is significant, and I continue to believe populist rhetoric and substance on issues helps. Energizing the base and doing more to turn out Democratic base voters in 2012 will be important. But ultimately there will be only one way for Obama and the Democrats to come back in 2012, and that is for the economy to be substantially better. The thing Washington insiders always seem to glide over is the level of economic pain that is out there. The real unemployment rate is far higher than the official numbers because they don't include part time and temporary workers still looking for full time jobs as well as those who are too discouraged to look for work. Incomes have been flat while a lot of every day costs for things like groceries, gas and utilities, health care, and college tuition are a lot higher than they were a few years ago. Pensions and savings wiped out by the stock market collapse still haven't recovered for most people. And the housing crisis- 25% or more of homeowners are in real trouble, and housing prices are staying down- looms like a massive New York skyscraper towering over everything else.
Traditional Democratic ideas around Keynesian solutions for jumpstarting the economy, which we tried some of but not nearly enough, are politically dead with the incoming Congress. That means there is only one thing that will help revive this economy right now, and give working class homeowners some tangible benefits: getting these underwater mortgages written down so that people can stay in their homes. It is the only thing that will stabilize the housing market, and the only major lift to the economic well being of middle class voters. It will mean the big banks taking a big hit financially, but not many folks will shed a lot of tears about that. And here's the deal: Treasury, Federal Housing Administration, other regulators, and the Justice Department can make this happen without Congress doing a thing (which they won't). It would mean a big shift in administration policy, but I have come to believe it is the one thing that they can clearly do to give a major boost to the economic fortunes of the stressed out middle class. And if they do it, I hope they do it fullout, not by muddling through.
The political urgency of this is shown by the two most important statistics that explain the fate of Democrats on Tuesday are these:
-In 2008, Obama won the votes of people who said their personal economic situation had gotten worse by a 43% margin. In 2010, Democrats lost those voters by 29%. By the way, the number who said things were worse for them? 40%. That is an incredibly big swing in such a massive slice of the electorate, one on a scale that I don't remember in 25 years of looking at exit polls.
-People were asked by exit pollsters who they most blamed for the bad economy. Obama was only third on that list with 24%, while Bush was actually higher with 29%. Pretty much everyone who said Obama voted Republican, and everyone who said Bush voted Democratic. But the number one culprit on the list, the one that working class swing votes landed on, was Wall Street, at 35%. Guess who that swing group blaming Wall Street? Yup, the Republicans won 56% of their votes. Pretty ironic: these voters get right who was most to blame for our economic problems, but they don't feel like Obama has done enough about setting things right.
Better positioning, turning out base voters, having a unified party effort: it's all great. But Barack Obama will not win in 2012 unless he brings back the voters who turned against him in the two statistics above (which obviously were mainly overlapping voters). He won't win without reviving the economy at least to some extent, and that won't happen with another stimulus: it will have to happen by going to the heart of the problem, which is the housing market. This debate we are about to have on the foreclosure issue because of the problems the big banks created is actually an opportunity for Democrats to seize the initiative. They can take dramatic and effective action without having to do anything with the new Congress. It is the best thing they can do for themselves politically and economically. Let's hope they are bold and aggressive in fighting for the middle class on this issue.
In my previous diary, I again argued how weak the Blue Dogs are. On another level--voter attitudes--the same is true of the GOP, too.
Despite having won a sweeping election in House elections, riding a tsunami of secrete cash, the GOP remains deeply unpopular with the electorate--even the rather narrow electorate that turned out for the mid-term elections of Tuesday. This contrasts dramatically with GOP claims to "speak for America." And yet, we can fully expect Versailles to embrace the delusional fiction that the GOP somehow does represent what people want. Exit polls say otherwise, as Pew reports:
A Clear Rejection of the Status Quo, No Consensus about Future Policies
GOP Wins Big Despite Party's Low Favorability November 3, 2010
Fueled by economic anxiety and unhappiness with Democratic stewardship of the country, an older and much more conservative electorate than in 2006 and 2008 propelled the Republican Party to a broad victory in yesterday's elections.
As pre-election surveys had predicted, the Republican Party enjoyed a wide enthusiasm gap. Conservatives and older voters made up a much greater share of the electorate than they did in 2006; and more voters opposed activist government than did so two years ago. These groups all voted for Republicans by wide margins, according to exit polls by the National Election Pool, as reported by CNN.
The proportion of self-described conservative voters increased by nearly a third from 2006 -- from 32% to 41% -- and is the highest percentage of conservative voters in the past two decades.
The age demographic difference from 2008 (exit poll date here) was particularly striking, though there was some difference from 2006 as well:
The difference in white voters was less pronounced:
Race/Sex '06 '08 '10
white men 39 36 37
white women 40 39 41
But even with this narrower, older and slightly whiter electorate, the GOP remained unpopular--as unpopular as the Democrats:
What's more, even this older, more conservative electorate doesn't represent a mandate for GOP or Tea Party policy priorities, as views remain significantly split:
The election is, quite simply, a reflection of Democratic failure to act decisively to put people back to work. They failed to do that, because it would be "too liberal". It require too big of a stimulus, maybe even government hiring people directly. And thus, by failing to even consider liberal policies, when they were the only thing that could work, the Democrats handed the GOP a landslide win in the House, even though people still disliked them by a good margin.
As the returns were coming in last night, despite the, to quote the President on this day four years ago, "thumpin'" we took, I did find several rays of light in victories for the LGBT movement and allies. I share them because while I'm not a Hope kind of guy, I do believe that finding what is positive and what worked is as important as what went wrong. We have some work to do, after all.
At the top of the list for me is that around the country, governors who pledged to sign important equality legislation were elected in key races- Cuomo in NY, Abercrombie in HI, Chafee in RI, O'Malley in MD, Brown in CA, and perhaps Mark Dayton in Minnesota who is leading at the time of this post. California is so important because of the standing issue that threatened to bring the whole Prop 8 case down, while MD, RI, NY and MN are, from what multiple sources on the ground have told me and my own observations, the four states in which we are closest to getting the freedom to marry for same-sex couples enshrined into law. In Hawaii, where Gov. Lingle callously vetoed the civil unions bill, we replaced her with proud progressive and LGBT ally Neil Abercrombie, who will sign it if/when should it pass through the legislature again. The biggest disappointment was major homophobe Paul LePage winning the governor's chair in Maine, who not only opposes marriage equality but also wants to repeal the 2005 anti-discrimination law, a law upheld even by the voters. This will make it very tough to get a marriage bill through again soon. On the whole, though, some good advances among state executives.
In New York State, where we lost the marriage vote in the State Senate 24-38 last December, we made gains. By my count, a minimum of 25 pro-equality Senators, either by previous vote or by voice, will take their seats, and that could go as high as 28 (three incumbent Democrats who voted for the bill are in tight races not yet called). 32 votes are needed to pass a bill. Between a handful who pledged to be with us should their votes pave the way for passage, and perhaps more whose minds will be changed, solid victories. Of equal concern is retaining Democratic control of the State Senate, as despite minority leader Skelos' promise to bring up the bill for a vote again, I don't believe him. At worst, it looks like a 29/33 minority and at best, retain control by the same margin of 32/30, but that is critical.
In California, Kamala Harris is putting up a fight that is a close one- it looks like with nearly all the votes in, she is up by a margin of 0.2%, but with Riverside County yet to come in, along with absentees and provisional ballots. That race is also important to the standing issue in Prop 8, and also because Kamala is as outspoken a straight ally as we'll find on the freedom to marry.
Losing the judges in Iowa who ruled in favor of the freedom to marry hurts, and is frankly offensive. As one colleague wrote to me this morning, another new low in NOM and the anti-gays playing with fire near the state constitution.
But, NOM's top dog in California, Andy Pugno, the author of Prop 8, went down in an Assembly race to a staunchly pro-LGBT ally. And they lost around the country, from Paladino (who they weirdly sued for the right to advertise in favor of without having to follow state law) to DC City Council candidates to NH Gov. John Lynch, re-elected despite heavy NOM advertising slamming him for signing the marriage bill.
California and Maryland now has seven openly gay members of the state legislature, highest in the nation (still too few, but the arc of history). David Cicilline also became the fourth openly LGBT member of Congress, and Barney Frank won in a walk over FreedomWorks with gay staffers GOProud endorsee Sean Bielat. In Lexington, KY, Jim Gray was elected mayor as an openly gay man. The Victory Fund reports a record number of openly LGBT candidates elected to office.
In the losses that perhaps hurt the most, LGBT heroes Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Patrick Murphy, and Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet- three candidates I worked perhaps hardest for, and many of you contributed to- all went down. I think in almost any other year, good men like these would have won- and I hope they all run again. Other openly gay candidates some of whom had a shot and some who did not, lost. Barbara Boxer returning to the Senate is the one good step on the national level.
Some of the losses yesterday felt like a punch in the gut, while others a ray of light. All in all, a step forward for marriage equality nationwide and LGBT people and allies. And the fight to return our strongest champions in those who lost continues anew.
The Kentucky senate race serves as a prime example. The Democratic candidate, Jack Conway, is currently Kentucky's attorney general. Conway is also currently prosecuting a nursing home for allegedly covering up the sexual abuse of one of its residents.
But that nursing home is owned by Terry Forcht, a millionaire who gives prodigiously to right-wing causes. He poured money into Karl Rove's organization, American Crossroads GPS, which ran ads backing Conway's Republican opponent, Rand Paul. Guess who came away with the victory last night?
As Holland emphasizes, the mid-term elections are just how the first phase of the justice system's corruption plays out. Eventually the mere threat of attack ads could be enough to prevent needed prosecutions. Corporate bigwigs could literally get away with murder, and pay for it only through attack ads.
Think this is bad? Just wait for 2012
As David Corn details for Mother Jones, the Supreme Court's ruling has put American democracy in grave danger. This year's big spending is just a warm-up for the 2012 presidential election. Karl Rove has already pledged to keep running attack ads after the mid-terms, and there's no doubt that he'll make good on that. As Corn emphasizes, this issue doesn't just affect how campaigns are financed-it will permanently reshape the very nature of American elections.
The permanent, neverending campaign will become even more permanent and neverending. These big-and-secret-money groups will be working 24/7, opposing and discrediting President Barack Obama and the Democrats in the so-called off-year and then revving up for the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. The negative ads never have to stop.
That, ultimately, is the major take-away from last night's elections. Not the number of seats Republicans picked up in the House, or the Tea Party's ability to infiltrate the Senate, but the formal incorporation of American politics. With literally no limits on the amount of money they can spend to influence elections, corporations and secret billionaires are going to be tipping the democratic scales wherever they smell profit.
I have that Han-Solo-encased-in-carbonite feeling this morning. The powers that be in modern America- the insurance industry, big oil and coal companies, most of all the big Wall Street banks that control 60% of our country's wealth- had gotten used to having everything go exactly their way in Washington. They had come to expect that they would write the laws, and then get to rewrite them if something happened to make the original law inoperative. They were used to politicians say "yes, sir" and "what hoop do you want me to jump through now, sir." And when a new group of politicians came to town that wouldn't say yes to every single demand, that stood up to them some of the time, they hit back hard- very hard. And they won this round.
Our elections were awash in big business money this year, and it went overwhelmingly to the Republicans. We don't even know for sure which industries gave the most to the Republican slush fund that the Chamber of Commerce has become, or to the new ones set up by folks like Karl Rove, because they don't have to disclose their donors. But we do that these corporate front groups played almost exclusively for the Republicans, and that the direct contributions to candidates and party committees shifted dramatically toward them as well. Given the Democratic control of both Houses and the White House, this kind of giving shift is unheard of, since usually corporations give to the party in power. But because Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Congressional Democrats had stood up to insurers on pre-existing conditions, had stood up to the energy giants on pushing for climate change, and had stood up to Wall Street on the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and some other new regulations, these corporate leaders were pissed and looking for blood. The fact that the Democrats had unfortunately made major concessions to these corporate interests on things like the public option and breaking up the big banks didn't mollify them at all: they were still loaded for bear and ready to pull the trigger.
So they funded the tea party uprising, and they funded Republican candidates, and they funded secretive groups to run attack ads. It worked, for two simple reasons. The first is that middle-class swing voters are mad at everyone in Washington. They think both parties have failed them, that neither party cares about them, and they are happy to send a message to whichever party is in power- as they have three elections in a row- that they will keep voting out those in charge until something changes to make them think that government works again. The second is that the voters most hurt by this terrible economic crisis the Bush presidency handed to us are precisely the voters most open to voting for Democrats: young people, working class women, blacks, Hispanics. Getting hammered as hard as they have been economically put them in no mood to come out to vote.
Democrats' fate was probably sealed when the same Wall Street bankers who wrecked the economy and who we had to bail out were still giving themselves hundreds of millions in bonuses while the rest of the economy continued to tank. It was the ultimate insult, and it fed the idea that our system is only working for the fat cats but has stopped working for ordinary folks. As long as the economy stayed as bad it did, voters were not going to be convinced that Obama had brought the change he had promised.
What now? Democrats have a choice. They can cower in fear at all the corporate money that will be thrown against them, and backpedal on everything that would actually help working families get out of the bind that they are in. Or they can be determined fighters for jobs, a stronger economy, and cleaning up special interest corruption in Washington. Having rejected both parties so thoroughly in the last 3 elections, Americans will be looking in 2012 to figure out who will be truly fighting for them in the years to come.
Lots of pundits are trying to read into the different results in the House and Senate. Why did Republicans take over the House but not the Senate? Did Pelosi do too much? Is it redistricting? Do bigger Senate races make for more moderate results?
No one seems to bother to pay attention to actual results. Only a third of the Senate was up for election. These are the results so far:
Senate: 38 seats up for election
Democrats: 11 seats won for 29%
Republicans: 24 seats won (including Alaska) for 63%
House: 435 seats up for election
Democrats: 180 for 41%
Republicans: 233 for 54%
So Republicans actually did better in the Senate races then in the House races. Near as I can tell, not one single pundit has noticed this. You'd think the fact 2/3 of the Senate wasn't up for reelection would be obvious.
This inability to do basic math is extremely telling. At the group level, we remain a story-based species, and given how deeply wired this reality is, we almost certainly always will be. We're never going to be Vulcans. All the more reason, then, that those who are the most influential story-tellers should be educated in other modes of thinking as well, particularly math and science, but also visual imagery (h/t BagNewsNotes), music, dance/movement, etc. Half a century ago, C.P. Snow wrote a much-discussed book The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (an article that became a lecture that became a book). As Wikipedia explains:
The Two Cultures is the title of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow. Its thesis was that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society - the sciences and the humanities - was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. As a trained scientist who was also a successful novelist, Snow was well placed to articulate this thesis....
Snow's original thesis was actually somewhat limited, focused on the British educational system, with its over-focus on the humanities (especially Latin and Greek) and relative neglect of scientific education, despite the importance of scientific achievements in winning WWII. This narrower focus was quickly lost, however, and for good reason, as Mark's comment underscores. It's not just that pundits can't do basic arithmetic. It's that it never even occurs to them to do it. More importantly, that's utterly typical of everything about how our politics is run.
Since the very beginning of Obama's time in office (months before, in fact), it was obvious to anyone with a basic knowledge of history and a layman's knowledge of macro-economics that we needed a massive dose of fiscal stimulus--much like that supplied by WWII--in order to get us out of the Great Recession. But such knowledge was severely hindered by Snowe's gap. The grasp of the basic economic reality--that demand had to come from somewhere, and if private demand had failed, then government demand was absolutely necessary--was ephemeral at best, since it was not grounded in a scientific/mathematical understanding of the world. Rather, it was filtered through a rhetorical, narrative understanding, and it was no match for any number of other narratives that were far more popular with influential people and institutions that had been dominating political/economic discourse for decades, as we drifted soporifically toward the catastrophe we experienced shortly before the 2008 election.
The same dominance of narrative (story-telling) also applied to the other great challenges we faced, most notably the unprecedented ecological threat of global warming, but also the challenge of health care reform, in which our dreadful international standing stood in sharp contrast with a heavily promoted narrative tradition in which we have, "the best health care system in the world." In all these cases, a dispassionate scientific understanding pointed to a clear need for a drastic change in policy. This did not follow from any sort of radical analysis, but simply from the most sober consideration of all the facts at hand, from a clear-headed scientific point of view.
But, of course, such a viewpoint is utterly alien to us, as the broader version of Snowe's thesis makes clear. And so it was that a "stimulus package" that couldn't possibly do the job was fixed on as the answer, and readily mis-portrayed as mammoth. From which the bloodbath in the House last night flowed inevitably as a direct result. Likewise, anything remotely approaching the needed action to counter global climate change was excluded from consideration from the very beginning.
It goes without saying that Republicans have no answers for any of the problems we face. Indeed, they are almost constitutionally incapable of even recognizing the problems we face. They are perfect in opposition, since any wild fantasy that pops into their heads (death panels, anyone?) will do just fine for their purposes. But when you are actually trying to impliment wild fantasies as policy? Needless to say, there will be problems galore.
But the biggest problem is the one Snowe identified half a century ago. If we don't somehow find a way to crack it, America will never recover economically, and the entire planet will plunge into a new climate regime that is utterly unfit for the level of human population and civilization that we have known in all our history and prehistory as well.
That is a much, much bigger problem than all the pundits in Versailles can even begin to imagine.
Today is the first election in American history in which corporations have been allowed to spend their own money to buy political favors. This legalized corruption comes courtesy of the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which injected massive amounts of corporate cash and unprecedented levels of secrecy into American politics.
And all of this crazy corporate spending will not be restricted to elections. That's right. As Jesse Zwick reports for The Washington Independent, two front-groups founded by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie plan to keep running ads attacking Democrats well after the elections are over.
As Zwick emphasizes, this is actually a way to help keep one of the organizations, known as American Crossroads GPS from breaking the law. Many groups that spend money on elections register as 501(c)(4) organizations, which must devote no more than half of their activity to political operations. In return for limiting their political activity-advocacy or condemnation of specific candidates-they don't have to disclose who their donors are. So groups like American Crossroads GPS plan to run "issue ads" focusing on the budget deficit and immigration reform this fall to balance out the ads directed at specific candidates that they've already run.
Under the Citizens United ruling, so long as corporations or wealthy elites launder their political expenditures through a front-group, they can give as much as they want without ever being held publicly accountable. But the high court's decision also allows these front-groups to keep their actual expenditures secret as well. It's not just that we don't know who is funding them-in many cases, we also don't really know what they're funding.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce's foreign dues
The secrecy surrounding anonymous donors may very well extend to foreign corporations. As Harry Hanbury emphasizes in this video for GRITtv, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-a lobbying front-group for the largest American corporations-is facing heavy scrutiny over is foreign contributions. Nearly $900,000 in annual dues to the Chamber come from foreign firms, and the Chamber aggressively courts foreign donors who might benefit from weak U.S. laws-particularly environmental laws. The Chamber insists that it's playing by the rules, but Hanbury catches them lying twice about the nature of the group's foreign funding.
California's environmental laws for sale
Corporations aren't just targeting federal elections to influence public policy. As Tara Lohan explains for AlterNet, big oil companies have financed a campaign to repeal California's carbon emission reduction law. Two major polluters-Valero and Tesoro-have spent a combined $7 million boosting the repeal, while Koch Industries-a major Tea Party funder-has kicked in about $1 million as well. A full 70 percent of the $10.7 million that has been spent to bolster the anti-environment ballot initiative has come from out-of-state sources.
Even the Tea Party's worried
When the Tea Party Patriots received an anonymous $1 million donation for get-out-the-vote efforts, left-wing bloggers weren't the only people upset about it. As Stephanie Mencimer reports for Mother Jones, some of the Tea Party Patriots' own members were nervous: Who was funding this operation, and where was the money going?
We'll probably never know, because the Tea Party Patriots aren't legally obligated report their donors or expenses. The group has only disclosed $15,000 worth of expenditures of the $1 million donation, $10,000 of which was re-granted to another organization run by the father of Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Meckler. The remainder is anybody's guess.
But wait, there's more!
Writing for In These Times, Sam Ross-Brown highlights a potential legislative solution to some of these campaign finance shenanigans. The Fair Elections Now Act would limit individual campaign contributions to $100, and match them by a factor of four-to-one, increasing the spending power of ordinary citizens and helping to level the distorted playing field created by Citizens United.
Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones details who got hit the hardest this election season in the final push leading up to Election Day: Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) got some of the biggest expenditures. This year also smashed previous campaign expenditures, coming in at $443 million.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.
I have spent thousands of hours over my career picking up absentee ballots, planning early vote field operations, raising money for them, and encouraging people to vote early, but I have rarely done it myself. For me, going to my local polling place on election day, standing in line with my fellow citizens (hopefully for a good long time), and going into the polling booth and casting my ballot is a sacred ritual, a moment that thrills me and almost always brings tears of joy to my eyes. I am religious about democracy, and the act of voting is the ultimate democratic ritual there is.
Thomas Jefferson's words launching this great modern experiment with democracy sum it up, and they are part of my scripture:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to pursue these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed."
We vote because government requires consent of the governed, and in that voting booth, we are the equal of every other citizen in this country. Some people have more money, some have more power, but in the act of voting, everyone's vote counts the same. And no matter how messed up things get, as long as we get to vote, we have a chance to change things. Wealth and power can and do manipulate our economy and manipulate our system of government, but when we vote, we still have the power to take things back into our own hands.
This power we hold in our hands to be a part of choosing who governs us did not come without a fight- or to be accurate, a whole series of them. Jefferson and his fellow signers of the Declaration of Independence had to quite literally endanger and pledge their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" to get us our vote, and each generation has had to fight to expand and to keep the vote. From the abolitionists to the civil rights heroes of the 1950s and 1960s, African-Americans were killed for seeking the vote. Poor people and immigrants have had to struggle to win the vote again and again through several generations. Women had to suffer arrest and humiliation while agitating 90 years for the right to vote. And still today, in every election we have candidates and a political party (the Republicans) who do not benefit from black and Hispanic and poor and young people voting who try to discourage voting in all sorts of appalling ways. In my book The Progressive Revolution , I listed a sample of the ways I have seen Republicans try and suppress the vote in my years on the campaign trail, and my list had to go on for three pages.
When people have died, when people have been beaten, when people have risked everything to give me and my fellow citizens the right to vote, how can I not vote? How can I not encourage everyone I know (and many thousands I don't over the years through door knocking and phone calling) to vote? It is our sacred duty and our great honor as citizens of a nation who invented the idea of a modern democracy whose citizens are equal under the law and in the voting booth, and who give their consent to their government. We owe it to our neighbors, to our fellow countrymen and women, to all those who came before us and whose shoulders we stand upon- to vote, and to be engaged enough to encourage our friends and neighbors to vote as well.
Because in a democracy, civility isn't enough. I really appreciate Jon Stewart's earnestness about the importance of people respecting each other's points of view and being able to work constructively together. I too believe in treating everyone, including my political opponents, the way I would want to be treated, with respect and courtesy no matter how heated the debate. But to hold a rally the weekend before the election, and never once mention voting, was fundamentally wrong. A democracy requires that people treat each other with respect in the political debate that we don't stomp on each other's heads and shoot bullets into our opponents' campaign offices. But it also requires action: the action of voting and encouraging others to vote, the action of standing up for what you believe and who you are for, the action of being engaged in the debate. There is nothing passive about making a democracy work, and we need to all be about the business of telling each other what we passionately believe in, and most importantly voting on the basis of what and who we think is right.
So go vote tomorrow if you haven't already voted. Make sure all your friends and neighbors get out and vote. If you have a candidate you believe in (and I hope you do), go knock on some doors or make some phone calls on their behalf today or tomorrow. Do it for yourself and your neighbors. Do it for all your ancestors, wherever they came from and whenever they got to this country. Do it for those less fortunate than yourself, and do it because it is your chance to stand on equal footing with the richest and most powerful people in the country. Do it for all those who sacrificed so much getting you the right and privilege to vote, knowing that the vast majority of people who have ever lived never got the chance. And when you go and vote, remind yourself how lucky you are to get your chance to be a part of deciding your nation's destiny.
In the event of a Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress on November 2nd, it won't be long before the Tea Party Movement and the G.O.P. will be involved in one or more train wrecks, some of which could be pretty dramatic. These train wrecks will arise from fundamental differences in philosophy and will occur over a period of time that could begin sooner rather than later. Upending Republican establishmentarians during primaries was relatively easy; winning general elections where competitive ideas are at issue could be a bit harder. Governing will be much harder still, particularly when you take into account the differences between Tea Party rhetoric and American political reality.
The first obstacle newly elected members of the movement will face is the institutional nature of Congress. Tea Party freshmen in both the House and Senate will be at the bottom of Congressional seniority lists and thus not immediately in line for leadership roles as committee chairpersons. Thus they will be in the position of having to sell their policy proposals to the existing leadership. That leadership may be more amenable to the ideas of the newcomers given the fact that several veteran Republican lawmakers are no longer around thanks to the Tea Party. Conversely the G.O.P. leaders may let Congress work the way it always has thereby attenuating the influence of the Tea Party. In the Senate in particular the likely Republican winners are veteran politicians who will come to the office with considerable experience. According to political observer David Herszenhorn: "Insurgent challengers may be grabbing all the headlines in midterm elections this year, but most of the Republicans who are best positioned to snap up Senate seats currently held by Democrats are veteran politicians - and most of them have already served in Congress. Based on their experience, the 2010 class of Senate Republican freshman could well prove to be relatively pragmatic and wise to the ways of legislative deal making - almost certainly more so than the Tea Party-backed firebrands like Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky, who have built their campaigns around ideological demands and an end to business as usual." In all of the discussions surrounding this election, few have pointed out the difference between those candidates who come out of, or are closely aligned with the Tea Party Movement and those who have received the movement's support solely because of their Republican affiliation. This second group will not necessarily move in lock step with the hard-core ideologues of the Tea Party seeing as they are not beholden to the movement in any meaningful way. Therein lay the seeds of intra-party conflict and controversy.
The next challenge facing newly elected members of the Tea Party Movement will be the reconciliation of their penchant for spending cuts and ending earmarks versus what can be achieved in the realm of the possible. These desires will butt up against the fact that cutting government spending during a severe economic downturn could only make things worse and many Republicans favor an ending of the G.O.P.'s moratorium on the use of earmarks. There's a reason that the G.O.P's leadership has been mum on the political talk show circuit when it comes to detailing the particulars of spending cuts and the reason is that they don't have a viable plan. Even as late in the game as this morning, Haley Barbour, appearing on "Meet the Press" was unable or unwilling to fill in the blanks when asked how a Republican controlled Congress will reduce the size of government. Tom Brokaw, appearing on this same show pointed out that many Republican candidates have made rash promises on the campaign trail that can't be kept or will be nearly impossible to keep given the current political situation. Again we see the future of conflict as already being baked into the cake, so to speak.
I read "A Pledge to America" and it is full of general statements regarding spending cuts, but for the scope of its discussion, it lays out few policy specifics. The "Pledge" is equal parts indictment, rallying cry and Act of Contrition, but what it isn't is a blueprint for reducing government. I can't help but wonder why the G.O.P. trotted out the "Pledge" when they have Congressman Paul Ryan's (R-WI) "A Roadmap For America's Future" which is a well reasoned analysis full of specific proposed cuts. Again to Herszenhorn: "while polls show that the Republicans' message is succeeding politically, Republican candidates and party leaders are offering few specifics about how they would tackle the nation's $13.7 trillion debt, and budget analysts said the party was glossing over the difficulty of carrying out its ideas, especially when sharp spending cuts could impede an already weak economic recovery...(both) parties share blame for the current fiscal situation, but federal budget statistics show that Republican policies over the last decade, and the cost of the two wars, added far more to the deficit than initiatives approved by the Democratic Congress since 2006...Calculations by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and other independent fiscal experts show that the $1.1 trillion cost over the next 10 years of the Medicare prescription drug program, which the Republican-controlled Congress adopted in 2003, by itself would add more to the deficit than the combined costs of the bailout, the stimulus and the health care law." Moreover, most Republicans are calling for the permanent extension of all Bush-era tax cuts and that would add $700 billion more to the deficit over the next 10 years.
The "Pledge" has come in for scathing criticism on the right as well as the left. Janet Hook and Naftali Bendavid of the Wall Street Journal made the following observations: "The new policy manifesto released by House Republicans Thursday is laced with ideas and rhetoric designed to appeal to the surging tea-party movement. But it left some conservatives disappointed with its omissions and complaining that the plan had limited sweep... Yet the new agenda was silent on some of the most sought-after goals on the tea-party wish list, such as a balanced budget constitutional amendment and a ban on special-interest appropriations called earmarks." Many conservatives look to what is now happening in the United Kingdom as a model of inspiration for cut backs here. But that program involves a significant reduction in defense spending; something that would have to be included here as well as those outlays constitutes 58% of discretionary federal spending. With a large portion of federal spending being committed to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and paying off interest on Treasury Bonds, the amount of money subject to discretionary spending reduction is only one third of all outlays. There is a growing minority within the G.O.P. on Capitol Hill who are making the case that the projected debt is too big to handle through spending cuts alone. According to Saxby Chambliss (R-GA): "Everything has got to be on the table for discussion... "there are a lot of things people are going to have to be educated about, on the spending side as well as the revenue side. They're thinking we can come in and eliminate earmarks and everybody's going to be happy on the spending side. Gee, that just scratches the surface." Is Senator Chambliss tacitly acknowledging that tax cuts will have to expire or even that tax increases may be needed to deal with the deficit? The "Pledge" is notoriously silent on the subject of earmarks and seeing as they are a major source of spending, this is sure to give rise to a rift within the new Republican caucus on Capitol Hill. It doesn't take a soothsayer or a professional handicapper to see that the G.O.P. and the Tea Party Movement are on a collision course with regard to spending and the practical ability to reign in that spending given the current economic situation and the present composition of federal government outlays. Thus there is little reason to believe that the Republican rhetoric of the campaign trail will carryover to policies that actually achieve what that rhetoric has promised. Therein lies the root of yet another G.O.P. - Tea Party collision.
Newly elected Tea Party Movement lawmakers may find themselves running into some strong headwinds in the form of those special interests that have invested heavily in this election on behalf of conservative causes. While it is now likely that in the final analysis Democrats may end up spending more money than their opposition, there is an unprecedented amount of money flowing to the Republican side from outside sources as a result of the Citizens United ruling. According to OpenSecrets.org the 2010 midterms have seen a whooping 186.7 million dollars flowing into Republican coffers vice 88.6 million for the Democrats. Likewise an article on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and business donations shows the tide running against the Democrats among these groups at a rate of almost two to one. Ostensibly one would say what difference does it make where all this money is coming from if the Democrats are actually spending more? But within the confines of this argument, what matters is that this tidal wave of money spent by outside interests is being spent for a reason, to influence the election's outcome and thereafter to buy influence with the winners. Washington lobbyists are already courting the potential new Congressional chairmen and in the process could effectively be
outmaneuvering the Tea Party activists in the game of power and influence. Thus the many questions that beg to be asked: Won't all of this money muscle out the grassroots crowd and how will the Tea Party activists compete for attention with the lobbyists who are already prowling the halls of Congress and the bars and restaurants of downtown Washington? Is the movement about to get mugged on K Street? Are the rank and file Tea Party patriots in the process of "taking their country back" just to have it taken away in turn by the wealthy interests who have spent all of this money to influence the outcome of the 2010 elections? Surely this money was not spent because it was burning a hole in someone's pocket. Does anyone believe that these special interests were in the mood to do the activists a favor on November 2nd? Will the rank and file Tea Partier unwittingly deliver "his country" as a gift to a new class of plutocrats that will have no use for him except for his vote during the next election cycle and his attendance at rallies? Don't look now but we may be about to witness the greatest political hustle since the evangelicals came out in force for George W. Bush only to get nothing of substance in the bargain.
Finally, the Tea Party Movement will continue to run up against the fact that many of its essential beliefs are divorced from reality and therein lay the seeds of train wrecks to come. First and foremost is one of its core ideas, that Americans are over taxed. The fact is that taxes are as low as they have been in sixty years; lower than they were when Ronald Reagan was President. As Senator Chambliss implied above, increased taxes may be inevitable if people are serious about reducing the deficit. The Tea Party waxes nostalgic for the Reagan era, yet unemployment was higher when the "Gipper" went into his first midterm election than it is now and his approval rating was roughly the same as Obama's. The movement preaches fiscal restraint while refusing to consider reductions in defense spending where wasteful spending is well documented and widespread. This will lead to calls for a reduction in social programs during the worst economic downturn since the 1930s and that will only create resistance on the left and reluctance on the part of practical Republican officeholders on the right. The Tea Partiers clamor, "keep your hands off my Medicare" but underplay how to reign in the program's cost increases. They rail against TARP, blaming Obama for its inception all the while ignoring the fact that many of the very Republicans running for re-election are the ones who originally put the bailout in place. How will they address the fact that TARP's costs will be less than originally anticipated? Even conservative observer Ross Douthat admits that for all its shortcomings TARP was a necessary evil at the time of its inception. On the issue of repealing health care reform there is now no clear consensus to do so, according to the latest CBS poll, yet repeal is a major Tea Party goal.
The continued Tea Party fixation with Obama as a Socialist, Fascist or both at the same time reveals a lack of understanding of what actually comprises these two somewhat similar yet fundamentally different schools of political thought. If it's not that, then what else could it be other than a deliberate attempt to misinform the public for partisan ends. It goes without saying that this is something that can only contribute to further gridlock. This fact stands in direct contrast to what the public wants. The latest polling by both Bloomberg and the New York Times / CBS News reveals an electorate that wants compromise not confrontation. Yet with the arrival of Tea Party backed lawmakers the stage is now set for a political environment more favorable to confrontation than to compromise. Attempts to fix the blame on President Obama for the current economic situation are likely to fail as well as "nearly 60 percent of Americans were optimistic about Mr. Obama's next two years in office and nearly 70 percent said the economic slump is temporary. Half said the economy was where they expected it would be at this point, and less than 10 percent blamed the current administration for the state of the economy, leaving the onus on former President George W. Bush and Wall Street." In the final analysis, the 2010 election is shaping up to be something of an anomaly. On the one hand you have widespread voter dissatisfaction with the status quo while at the same time the party likely to gain seats has a favorability rating below the party that will be turned out of office. Thus for the Republicans this victory will be a political windfall rather than an endorsement of the party and its platform. The G.O.P. will find itself in an inopportune marriage of convenience with the Tea Party Movement which in the long haul may turn out to the G.O.P.'s detriment as the public grows weary of the gridlock and political train wrecks that are sure to come. Rather than being on the cusp of a Republican revival or a "return to our core values" we are more likely on the verge of an environment of political chaos which is just what we don't need at this point in time and that chaos may well come back to haunt the Republican Party and hobble its chances in the 2012 election and beyond. Ladies and Gentlemen, fasten your seat belts.
The traditional media loves to create sweeping narratives about elections, and they worship the winners and detest the losers. The winners are geniuses whose every plan played out to perfection, while the losers are insufferable idiots who were terrible campaigners with worse campaign teams (this is true, by the way, even when the "loser" wins the popular vote, as Gore did in 2000). Well before elections are over they start their sweeping analysis of why the expected winner created a cresting wave that could not be held back.
Here's the dirty little secret, though: little things like who actually controls Congress are decided by narrower margins than the sweeping narrative writers like to admit. While there are of course tides that go for and against both parties, the fact is that even in tide years, who actually controls Congress will be settled by a few votes in a modest number of races.
Take 1994, for example. It certainly felt like a tidal wave to those of us sitting in the White House that year. The Republicans picked up a devastating 52 House seats, 12 more than needed to win control. But they also won 16 races by 4 percentage points or less, meaning a stronger field operation in those 16 races might have saved us control of the House. The losses still would have been devastating, but Newt Gingrich would not have been Speaker. In 1996, Republicans won even more close races, 21 of them, as we fell 10 seats short of retaking the House.
Over the next four elections, the number of closely contested races dropped, as the Republicans averaged only five close victories a cycle in years where not too much changed in the House in general. But 2006 was another wave year and the number of close elections jumped again. Democrats won enough, 14, to make sure we won back control of Congress, but the Republicans won enough not to be slaughtered even worse (17). In 2008, part of the reason Democrats were able to pick up another 21 seats on top of the wave in 2006 is because the Obama GOTV organization helped carry Democrats to victory in 13 of 20 (65%) of the closest House races.
What does all this mean? Regardless of all the mathematical formulas on likelihood of Republicans winning the House, ultimately this will all come down to GOTV operations in probably 30-35 races (since wave elections produce more close elections). Going into the last weekend before the election, if you and ten of your friends join with other Democratic and labor and netroots and other progressives in turning out the vote, we can still win this thing. The kind of races I have been talking about generally come down to one, two, three votes a precinct, and that can be made up by knocking on extra doors, making extra calls, bringing in those last straggling absentee ballots this weekend, working people outside of polling places one more time as they come to vote on Tuesday. What you do matters, so keep fighting until the last poll is closed.