Democracy & Elections

December 01, 2010

Letter sent to OR Sen. Jeff Merkley re: Filibuster reform

To Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR):

Thank-you for taking leadership -- effective leadership -- in crafting a reform to the filibuster.  While the principle of ensuring debate and ensuring a voice for a minority was sound, the implementation has rotted the Senate for years.  And this has gidlocked our entire system, emasculating the other two branches of government and the House.

I remember driving you between events when you were making a campaign swing through Yamhill County during your election.  The filibuster was the primary thing I thought needed work if America was to move forward again, so I'm very glad to see you pursuing it so vigorously.

Thanks for your hard work finding a solution that, if implemented, would help restore representational govermnet to the Senate.

- Will

November 23, 2010

The political center and partisanship

Adam Green makes the point that,

The reality is that the [political] "center" is not an ideological place but a political one, defined not by the nature of a specific policy but the political positioning of the right and left poles of debate. The reason why Democrats didn't produce a more liberal [healthcare reform] bill is because the coalition of preening centrists needed to move right every five minutes in order to locate themselves in the "middle" between a GOP sprinting to the right and a left willing to take major steps in the same direction.


The other problem comes from our use of a left-right continuum with swing voters positioned in the "center".  While there are true moderates that are center-left or center-right on issues, the thing that turns close elections is swing voters that I would argue are neither right, left or center, they are largely volatile, late-decider, low-information voters not reflecting a strong political position of any sort: not some notion of center but emotionally reactive to circumstance.  And with almost a revulsion of political parties: they hate political parties because of their strong beliefs and tribal cohesiveness, not necessarily because of what they want to accomplish.

For example, an election day poll showed that,

The economy was by far the dominant issue. Democrats were rebuked for the failure to create jobs, but there is little sign that voters embraced the conservative agenda or ideology.


That is, reacting to economic woes, they weren't seeking some ideological difference, but sending a message of frustration which can only be done by blaming those in power at the time.

November 06, 2010

Clip: Democrats didn't lose the battle of 2010. They won it.

The big picture isn't about winning or keeping power. It's about using it. I've made this argument before, but David Frum, the former speechwriter to President Bush, has made it better. In March, when Democrats secured enough votes to pass the bill, he castigated fellow conservatives who looked forward to punishing Pelosi and President Obama "with a big win in the November 2010 elections." Frum observed:

Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now. … No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the "doughnut hole" and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents' insurance coverage?

Exactly. A party that loses a House seat can win it back two years later, as Republicans just proved. But a party that loses a legislative fight against a middle-class health care entitlement never restores the old order. Pretty soon, Republicans will be claiming the program as their own.
... [Obama, Pelosi, and their congressional allies ] risked their jobs—and in many cases lost them—to pass the health care bill. The elections were a painful defeat, and you can argue that the bill was misguided. But Democrats didn't lose the most important battle of 2010. They won it.


July 02, 2010

Re: The Tea Party As Secular Fundamentalism

[The Tea Party] is a form of secular fundamentalism - the analog to "originalist" versions of constitutional interpretation. Now, I feel I understand it better. Having tried Biblical fundamentalism, the GOP is now trying secular fundamentalism. As a psychological response to a bewildering modernity with lots of least-worst options, this is a powerful force. As a practical politics, it is just performance art.


June 15, 2010

Re: Trying To Understand The Tea Party II

More from Sullivan.

...The cognitive dissonance and the obvious human misery behind it:

The pseudo-conservative believes himself to be living in a world in which he is spied upon, plotted against, betrayed and very likely destined for total ruin. He feels that his liberties have been arbitrarily and outrageously invaded ... he is the most bitter of all our citizens about our involvement in wars past but seems not the least concerned about avoiding the next one.

Brutally accurate, no? What you see is the predominance of acute alienation - the opposite of a natural conservative at peace with the world as it is - and the intensity of emotional rage it provokes. I would add one thing to this analysis. The Bush-Cheney presidency was, in some respects, the perfect pseudo-conservative administration. They waged war based on loathing of the experts (damned knowledgeable elites!); they slashed taxes and boosted spending for their constituencies, while pretending to be fiscally responsible; they tore up the most ancient taboos - against torture - with a bravado that will one day seem obscene; and they left the country in far worse shape than they found it.

Throughout all this, the Tea Partiers supported them. So how do they manage the cognitive dissonance that two failed wars, a financial collapse and a debt crisis have brought? How do they deal with the fact that their beloved president was manifestly the most incompetent and disastrous in modern times? They blame it on the next guy.

Yes, they are doing all they can to avoid facing the fact that they did all of this ... to themselves. And sometimes, the truly, deeply humiliated can only carry on through blind rage.


Re: Trying To Understand The Tea Party I

More on the Tea Party. From conservative blogger, Andrew Sullivan on the economic front, what he thinks is a pragmatic conservative response and puzzling out the Tea Party.  While agree with his list, I'm sure we might disagree on where the cut lines are!  But I think he needs to add: cutting the tax credits that serve no public good other than to subsidize some business or industry.

I confess to staying baffled by this whole movement. I spent many years wailing about spending under Bush, and the Tea Party was largely silent. I'd like to see serious cuts in entitlements, means-testing of social security benefits, and sharp reductions in military spending ... to avoid the default that could one day come when we least expect it. The Tea Party has proposed no such entitlement cuts - let alone defense. Because taxation is historically low, and because we're never realistically going to tackle the debt without more revenues, I also favor some tax increases - on carbon, and on consumption. The Tea Party is opposed to any new taxation. So at that point, I don't know what to do. I don't know how to respond. Do I share a generalized frustration with a government that takes away half my earnings every year? Yes. Does an intervention to ease a huge market collapse drive me nuts? Sorry, but: no. Neither does a modest attempt to provide some subsidies to help millions get access to affordable healthcare at a time of extreme economic insecurity. Call me a Marxist, I guess. But I have yet to see anything in Obama's first eighteen months to convince me of a need for conservative rage.


June 14, 2010

The Very Angry Tea Party

Interesting take.

What has gripped everyone’s attention is the exorbitant character of the anger Tea Party members express.  Where do such anger and such passionate attachment to wildly fantastic beliefs come from?

My hypothesis is that what all the events precipitating the Tea Party movement share is that they demonstrated, emphatically and unconditionally, the depths of the absolute dependence of us all on government action, and in so doing they undermined the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency that are intrinsic parts of Americans’ collective self-understanding. 

... what has been undone by the economic crisis is the belief that each individual is metaphysically self-sufficient, that one’s very standing and being as a rational agent owes nothing to other individuals or institutions.

In politics, the idea of divorce is the idea of revolution. The Tea Party rhetoric of taking back the country is no accident: since they repudiate the conditions of dependency that have made their and our lives possible, they can only imagine freedom as a new beginning, starting from scratch. About this imaginary, Mark Lilla was right: it corresponds to no political vision, no political reality. The great and inspiring metaphysical fantasy of independence and freedom is simply a fantasy of destruction.

In truth, there is nothing that the Tea Party movement wants; terrifyingly, it wants nothing. Lilla calls the Tea Party “Jacobins”; I would urge that they are nihilists. To date, the Tea Party has committed only the minor, almost atmospheric violences of propagating falsehoods, calumny and the disruption of the occasions for political speech — the last already to great and distorting effect. But if their nihilistic rage is deprived of interrupting political meetings as an outlet, where might it now go? With such rage driving the Tea Party, might we anticipate this atmospheric violence becoming actual violence, becoming what Hegel called, referring to the original Jacobins’ fantasy of total freedom, “a fury of destruction”? There is indeed something not just disturbing, but frightening, in the anger of the Tea Party.


May 25, 2010

President Obama has tense visit with Senate Republicans -

They seem to have pretty unrealistic attitudes. When you are in the minority, with just 40 Senators and a minority of Representatives and don't have the presidency, you don't get to drive much legislation, you mostly only get an opportunity to shape the majority's legislation.

[an] angry Republican [Senator] accused Obama of treating members of the opposition like political props, saying the president's bipartisan words have repeatedly been followed by partisan deeds on such issues as regulation of Wall Street, healthcare and economic stimulus.


May 17, 2010

Senate delays: Newer senators fed up with delaying tactics

Newer senators complain that rules originally created to protect the rights of the minority have turned into impassable obstacles to dealing with big issues.

The junior members are getting unlikely support from their seniors, who are loath to be seen as defending the status quo at a time when some voters seem ready to punish incumbents regardless of party.

Against that background, the Democratic leadership has promised to reexamine some of the old rules — including that most vaunted of time-encrusted mechanisms for delay, the filibuster.

The sheer number of new Democratic senators — 21, representing nearly half of the party's caucus — and the unwillingness of others to stand in their way provides a momentum unfelt since the Watergate babies were elected in 1974.


April 17, 2010

Tea Partiers, in short ...

A couple of polls out last week (CNN/Opinion Research and New York Times/CBS) about the Tea Partiers. Without belaboring the point, here's what it boils down to: older, whites who are very conservative, often too conservative even for the Republican Party. Depending on the polls I've seen, between 18 - 24% of Americans are supportive of the Tea Partiers but only about 7-10%% actively participate, donate, etc. in advancing the Tea Parties.  Given their self-described "very conservative" nature, we can be sure that almost none of them voted for Obama in the first place.

Even if you count the full, roughly, 20% that are supportive and not just the 7% that do anything about it, it is 20% vs 53% who voted for Obama. Yet Tea Partiers claim Obama is out of the mainstream when 2.6X as many people voted for Obama as support Tea Partiers.  Looked at another way, they represent roughly 43% of the people that voted for McCain. So you can see why the Republican Party is struggling to figure out how it fits with Tea Partiers because they represent a huge fraction of their "base".


... while most Republicans say they are “dissatisfied” with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “angry.” [Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated

No Tea Parties when Bush ran up the big deficits, started the Great Recession and had to bail out our financial system to avoid global economic collapse.  Obama is elected.  Tea Parties start up.

In short, Tea Partiers are some pretty sore losers.

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