"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2015 Archives
January 4, 2016
POLITICS: End of 2015
My last two essays of 2015 were just before Christmas:
On to 2016.
December 18, 2015
POLITICS: Bomb Aladdin!
One of the favorite shticks of Democrat pollster Public Policy Polling (PPP) is to ask questions designed to make Republican voters look bad. This kind of "troll polling" flatters all the usual sorts of people who love to laugh at what yokels the GOP's supporters are, and as yet no Republican-leaning pollster has gotten into the regular business of giving Democrats a taste of the same medicine. If the last few years have taught us anything, it's not to trust individual polls that can't be checked against a polling average, but by definition these are all one-off polls. But there's a deeper issue here that the latest PPP trolling question illustrates: that average Americans are far too trusting of pollsters, and the ability of pollsters to exploit that trust shows why polling on individual issues is untrustworthy.
Here's the latest poll question that has PPP's followers floating on a cloud of smug this morning:
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Over six thousand Retweets at this writing! A flavor of what PPP is trying to accomplish comes from the following Tweets:
[UPDATE: Apparently the question was suggested by far-Left arch-feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte, who tweeted: "Idea: Let's come up with a fake country with a vaguely Arabic name and poll GOP voters on whether or not we should bomb it."]
If you look at the overall breakdown on PPP's poll question and how Democratic voters answered the same question, Republicans don't actually come out looking quite as bad as the Tweet headline suggests:
If you're keeping score at home, that means 55% of Democrat voters were willing to express an opinion on bombing a fictional country, compared to 43% of Republicans. PPP is dining out on the 30-19 edge in Republican voters who said "yes," but if you take this poll seriously, the 57-45 edge in Republican voters who were unwilling to answer a question with an egregious falsehood about world events embedded in its premise seems to cut in the opposite direction than what PPP is trying to accomplish here.
But really, you should not take these troll polls seriously, and in fact they should teach educated poll consumers to be skeptical about all issue polling. Why did 55% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans answer a question about bombing a fictional country? Partly, one assumes, because it didn't occur to them that the pollster would take advantage of them by asking a question that assumed facts that do not exist. Partly because people in general do not like to admit there are things they do not know. Partly because people do assume there are all sorts of little countries out there they have never heard of, a fair number of which (e.g., former Soviet republics, parts of the old Yugoslavia, breakaway African states) didn't exist 20 or 30 years ago, and that some of these are unstable places that may house the occasional wretched hive of scum and villainy. And partly because answers to issue polling questions tend to vary a lot by what the pollster says before asking them:
In this particular case, the Agrabah question was Question 38 on a 41-question poll. If you've ever taken a poll, 38 is a lot of questions - you're getting impatient, the kids may be yelling for you, but if you are a good-natured sort and want your voice heard and you've already invested several minutes of your time, you're determined to stick it all the way to the end by this point. (We don't know how many people hung up before they got to the end). Let's look at the issue questions leading up to this:
Question 29 Do you support or oppose requiring a criminal background check of every person who wants to buy a firearm? (6% were not sure)
You'll notice first that the number of people who didn't feel qualified to answer questions about gun ownership and the minimum wage was pretty low, but rose as they moved into the next set of questions and then abruptly more than doubled when they got to bombing the land of genies and magic carpets. You'll also notice how the poll led into this with a series of questions all tied around terrorism and Islam, so respondents were primed to expect that a question about bombing some obscure Arab-sounding place was related in good faith to the questions that came before it - that bombing Agrabah was a thing that our leaders were seriously discussing.
You'll also notice if you dig into the crosstabs that the most liberal (31%) and youngest (46% under age 45) and male (51%) poll respondents were the least willing to refuse to answer (all this is among Republicans; PPP hasn't yet released the poll of Democrats). Interestingly, aside from George Pataki (who polled at 0% so his support can't have been more than 1 or 2 people), the two candidates whose supporters were least likely to answer the question were Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee - 76% of Carson's supporters declined to answer it.
[UPDATE: PPP has now released the full poll. When questioning Democrats, PPP asked only ten questions; the Agrabah question was sixth, and was not preceded by any other issue questions, let alone a battery of questions about terrorism and Muslims. The disparity in how the question was placed in the two polls is stark.
But the crosstabs are beside the main point, which is that people are willing to tell pollsters all sorts of things about which they do not actually have anything like a fixed opinion, let alone an informed one. I very much doubt if PPP polled a single person who went into that call with an opinion about bombing Agrabah, and I doubt very many of them continued to have an opinion the next day. A machine asked them to press a button, so they just took their best guess.
And if you read every issue poll from today forward with that in mind, you will realize how much of the issue polling that gets published is no more useful or predictive than knowing people's opinions about bombing a place that exists in a Disney cartoon. PPP may have been looking to discredit Republican voters, but it really did more to reveal the problem with the trustworthiness of its own industry.
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December 16, 2015
POLITICS: Fifth Debate Analysis and Boyd Strategy Essay
My longest deep dive of the year, from the theories of John Boyd: Military Strategist Explains Why Donald Trump Leads - And How He Will Fail
In the LA Times: To understand Donald Trump, look to Europe
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:55 AM | History | In Print | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | Writings Elsewhere
December 10, 2015
POLITICS/LAW: Up With Scalia, Down With Kasich
December 9, 2015
POLITICS: Latest Essays Through Dec 8, 2015
November 26, 2015
POLITICS: Happy Thanksgiving, 2015!
November 20, 2015
POLITICS: Democrats Start To Show Early Signs of Panic About 2016
Fear and Loathing in Hillaryland
To all outward appearances, Democrats and liberal-progressive pundits are confident to the point of arrogant, gloating certainty about the 2016 presidential election. In part this is “victory disease” – they were sure they would win in 2008 and 2012, they were right, so they are convinced it shall always be so. In part it’s a defense mechanism – they got shellacked in 2010 and 2014, and the best way to convince yourself that these losses were illegitimate as a repudiation of their party and its message is to argue that lower-turnout off-year elections don’t represent the real American people who turn out for general elections, who are presumed to give Democrats an unstoppable demographic advantage in all future elections. In part it’s a matter of having settled on a famous and “historic” (first woman) nominee while Republicans are still going about the messy business of sifting through the 14 remaining GOP candidates. And in part it’s calculated strategy, given how much of modern campaigning in general and the strategy of the stilted, sclerotic Hillary campaign in particular will depend on simply bluffing the voters into believing that she’s already an inevitable lock to win. But behind the facade of braggadocio, there are signs that Democrats are starting to worry that their 2016 strategy and prospects may not be as foolproof as advertised.
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This is not merely an academic theory; what you believe to be necessary to constitute a popular majority has enormous consequences for every aspect of politics and campaigns, from the policies you champion to the messages you campaign on to the places you send your candidates and the ways you raise money, and even to the people you choose to put on your national ticket. The theory might be proven correct in 2016; but it is also possible that the 2008 and 2012 electorates were a feature of the candidates in those races (matching the first-ever black presidential candidate against two uninspiring moderate Republicans with specific political vulnerabilities) and the conditions of those elections (including a financial crisis and Iraq War fatigue in 2008 and a lavishly funded incumbent in 2012). Yet, everything we have seen of the Democrats’ public behavior and statements thus far this cycle suggests that they are all-in on the assumption that driving up progressive voter turnout at the left-end margins, rather than appealing to swing voters in the ideological center, is all the Democrats need do to prevail (see, just for one example out of the pander-a-thon in the Democratic debates, Hillary’s approach to immigration).
In fact, the party recently produced an “autopsy” of their rout in 2014, which included the diagnosis that Democrats have no coherent message, yet recommended no alteration of their stances but rather a project to develop “narratives”:
The only actual concrete recommendation in the document was a discussion of filing lawsuits to defang laws against voter fraud.
The Static Electorate Fallacy
I have criticized the Democrats since 2012 as falling into the Static Electorate Fallacy: the assumption that the 2012 results are the demographic and geographic starting point, which presents a high barrier to Republicans’ ability to maneuver within a narrow band to eke out the additional votes they need. The static, between-the-48-yard-lines map that most Democratic-leaning analyses describe is an accurate picture of the 2012 election, when President Obama was running for re-election; the 2004 election, when President Bush was running for re-election; and the 1996 election, when President Clinton was running for re-election. But it is a terribly inaccurate description of the 2008 election, when the voters faced two new candidates after 8 years of President Bush, and the 2000 election, when the voters faced two new candidates after 8 years of President Clinton. That’s not a coincidence. As I’ve explained at length before over at The Federalist, in thirteen straight elections since 1816 in which the re-election of an incumbent was followed by an election with no incumbent on the ballot, the popular vote shifted significantly away from the party in power every single time, in all but one case (the election of 1868) by a margin wide enough to hand the GOP the election in 2016. Without rehashing that whole history, one reason for this is that voter turnout tends to grow almost three times as fast from the prior election when there’s no incumbent on the ballot. To pick a recent example from the Republican Party’s last successful candidate, Bob Dole got 39 million votes in 1996: George W. Bush got 50 million in 2000, and 62 million in 2004. Dole carried 19 states; Bush, four years later, carried 30. Obama, likewise, carried nine states John Kerry had lost, including Virginia (where Bush had carried 54.1% of the two-party vote and Democrats hadn’t won since 1964), North Carolina (Bush took 56.2% of the two-party vote) and Indiana (Bush took 60.4% of the two-party vote). Maybe changing demographics mean that history has no relevance anymore, but it seems risky to assume that the pattern of dramatic changes of just 8 or 16 years ago, continuing an unbroken trend that dates back to the demise of the Federalist Party, is no longer relevant.
Warning Sign Number One: The Greenberg Poll
The first major warning sign that a static 2012 electorate – or one inevitably progressing in the Democrats’ direction – may not materialize in 2016 is a recent battleground-state poll by longtime Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg and his firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, as explained by the Washington Post’s progressive activist Greg Sargent:
You might think such a poll result counsels caution in ignoring the middle; Salena Zito argues that it shows Hillary’s reliance on the gender card isn’t going to provide a silver bullet. But Greenberg, despite his decades-long role in the Clintons’ vaunted triangulation and 80/20 wedge-issue machine, is using the poll to argue that Hillary needs to go full-bore progressive, not to beat Bernie Sanders but for the general election:
Few other polls have directly measured enthusiasm; other polls seem to be at least assuming it, and though it’s an open question whether these are poll findings or simply assumptions, Democrats assume at their peril that the polls are all just skewed to ignore shifts in the electorate, as the losers argued in both 2012 and 2004. The latest Quinnipiac Colorado poll, for example, shows Hillary losing by double digits to every major Republican candidate – she trails Sen. Marco Rubio by ten points and Ben Carson by five among women. The Marquette Law poll, the gold-standard poll in Wisconsin (which simultaneously shows a grim prognosis for Ron Johnson in his re-election bid against Russ Feingold) shows Rubio leading Hillary 45-44 in Wisconsin after trailing her 48-40 in September. A national NBC poll shows the electorate D+1 (29% Republican, 30% Democrat) with independents leaning 30-22 in favor of the GOP, all significant shifts in the Republican direction since the spring of 2015. And of course, the RCP poll average shows a very longstanding trend of Americans disapproving of Obama’s job performance…
…and an even longer-standing trend of them believing by large margins that the country is on the wrong track:
None of this is in any way conclusive – it’s a year from the election, and Republicans haven’t picked a nominee yet and still might choose a weak one. But these are all early warning signs that the traditional dynamics that lead to rising voter enthusiasm in favor of the party out of power, and the decline of the party in power, may well be in play in 2016 as they have been without fail since 1816. If so, Democrats are right to be alarmed. Whether they are right to react by lurching even further left than Obama remains to be seen.
Warning Sign Number Two: Debate Ratings
Polling isn’t the only sign of a 2016 enthusiasm gap that has Democrats’ worries breaking through their usually united front to air their concerns in public. There’s also the fact that a whole lot more people are watching the Republican contenders debate, as this graph (which is accurate despite coming from Vox) shows:
The ratings for the first two main GOP debates swamped all prior records for primary debate audiences, and even the debates on hard-to-find networks like CNBC and Fox Business News (even I don’t have FBN on my cable package) and up against the World Series have outstripped the Democrats’ debate ratings. Heck, even the first Republican undercard debate drew 6 million viewers to watch Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki. Hiding the Democrats’ debates against college football hasn’t helped, and some Democrats are complaining:
Newell argues that, however well-designed to shield Hillary (and Sanders’ off-message criticisms of Obama’s economic record) from public view, the low-rated debates are doing Democrats no favors:
Warning Sign Number Three: Small-Donor Fundraising
Early in the process, one important sign of voter engagement is small-dollar donations – people may not be focused on the election when they answer polls, but opening their wallets means they really feel strongly. You may have heard that both Hillary and Bernie Sanders have raised more money than Ben Carson, and vastly more money than any other Republican candidate. What you may not realize is that the 2016 cycle has seen a vast increase in Republican small-dollar fundraising, and only the huge and unwieldy size of the primary field compared to the essentially bi-polar Democratic field – and the fact that so much attention has focused on Donald Trump, who is mostly self-funding – masks the fact that this is going on.
Warning Sign Number Four: The Splintering Coalition
The final sign is that Democrats are scrambling to keep the various fractious elements of their coalition in the same tent. An example from today: President Obama and many progressives are mocking opponents of Syrian refugee resettlement as bigots, yet such opponents include not only the Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia – who penned a letter favorably citing FDR’s internment of Japanese nationals, and who sits uncomfortably on Hillary’s Virginia leadership team – but also a number of Democratic Congressmen representing majority Hispanic districts – who voted for today’s House GOP bill – and Hillary donor and Univision president Haim Saban, who called for more scrutiny of Muslim immigrants. Yet Democrats are banking so heavily on their theory of how to appeal to Hispanic voters that their presumptive Vice Presidential candidate, former ceremonial San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, is apparently attempting to learn to speak Spanish, and Obama’s Administration is even going along with an ACLU lawsuit to allow deported immigrants with mental illnesses to re-enter the country.
On the black-voter front, Democrats are in enough of a panic about the “Black Lives Matter” movement that leading Democratic Party bundlers are meeting to discuss bankrolling the movement, which might look at first like a statement of dissent from the party but feels more like an effort to co-opt a group that has staged inconvenient protests of the Democratic contenders, in the hopes of channeling its energies into partisan turnout:
On the white-progressive front, Bernie Sanders’ campaign is not a real threat to Hillary’s odds of winning the nomination, for any number of obvious reasons; Sanders may win New Hampshire and Vermont and maybe another state or two with a heavily white caucus electorate, but he’s mostly going to end up much closer to Bill Bradley’s 2000 showing than Gary Hart in 1984, let alone Barack Obama in 2008. But Sanders can still do damage if he gives voice to a “there’s no important difference between the parties” sentiment among economic and foreign policy progressives, which shows up in depressed turnout next November or a Naderite third-party vote. This Salon column is a good sample of that sentiment:
That sort of purist thinking is electoral disaster for Democrats, and the longer Sanders goes and the more money he raises, the greater its threat may become. And the fact that Hillary is likely to win the primaries easily doesn’t lessen the threat – Gore lost, as did other candidates who cruised through the primaries without facing real jeopardy of losing:
Election Day is almost a year away and the GOP is far from settling on a nominee, so a lot can happen. But the early warning signs are all there: we could be coming up on an election where the Republican nominee does a lot more to excite turnout than Hillary Clinton does. If we nominate a candidate who also offers more to the independent and centrist swing voters Democrats are racing to abandon, Democrats could really have an unhappy November ahead of them in 2016.
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November 18, 2015
POLITICS: Aging Democrats
POLITICS: The Democrat Bench Is Shallow And Aging
The Democrats' extensive losses in the 2010 and 2014 midterms (as well as other off-year elections in 2009, 2011, 2015 and the Governors races in 2012) have left their party hollowed out beneath the White House, which is one reason why the top two contenders in their presidential primary are a 68-year-old who arrived in Washington in 1993, and a 74-year-old who has never held a leadership position in Congress. But beyond the sheer numbers of losses in the Senate, House, Governorships, and state legislatures, there is also the fact that the GOP is building a strong, deep farm team while the Democrats are aging and not replacing their leaders with much in the way of new blood.
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The Senate and the Governors
Let's start with the cream of the crop: the statewide elected Senators and Governors who provide the bulk of all Presidential candidates (of the 23 Presidential candidates this year, 19 had been Senators and/or Governors; the only Presidents since FDR who had not been were Eisenhower and Ford). Republicans have a decisive 85-65 advantage in these offices, and what's more, their Senators and Governors are much more heavily weighted towards the 40-64 age bracket, while the Democrats' center of gravity is more in the 55-74 age bracket - in fact, while the average Republican is about two years younger, the median is almost four years younger, since the GOP average is skewed a bit by having six Senators between the age of 79-82 (Grassley, Hatch, Shelby, Inhofe, McCain, and Roberts). Those old bulls may be fading slowly, but they are very much the exception, not the rule, in the GOP caucus. And some of these statewide officials will be around awhile - Bobby Jindal, who is leaving office in January and just bowed out of the presidential race, is only 44, the same age Ronald Reagan was in 1955. Here's the full breakdown, counting the nation's three "independents," all elected as de facto Democrats, with their parties:
Here's a quick graph of the age distribution, courtesy of Moe Lane:
The Democratic wipeouts in several recent midterms, after GOP wipeouts in 2006 and 2008, are partly responsible for this. But there's also a generational aspect: anyone born between 1960 and 1976 would belong to "Generation Reagan," people who cast their first presidential ballot between 1980 and 1996, when conservative ideas were at their greatest ascendancy and even Democrats like Bill Clinton had to pay tribute to them in word and deed to win elections. 26 of the GOP's Senators and Governors hail from this generation, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jindal, Scott Walker, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Chris Christie, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Pat Toomey, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) (so do Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sarah Palin). Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), born in 1977, is the only Senator or Governor of either party born after 1976. Kentucky Governor-Elect Matt Bevin, age 48, will add to this cohort.
Barack Obama, who famously grew up and came of age outside the mainstream of America (ranging from his youth in Indonesia to his immersion with Pakistanis in college), hails from the older edge of this generation (he was born in 1961), but the Democrats have only 14 Senators or Governors born in this age group, and half of those were born between 1960-64 at the tail end of the Baby Boom: Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Jr. (son of a Democratic Governor), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kate Brown, Jack Markell, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Coons, and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). That leaves a narrow bench of candidates from the heart of Generation Reagan: Steve Bullock, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Gina Raimondo, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Chris Murphy. Few of those are especially impressive political talents. John Bel Edwards, age 49, could enter those ranks if he wins the Louisiana Governor's race on Saturday (departing Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is 71). Martin O'Malley, who will be 54 next year, is running for President now for little other reason than that he sees a party headed by Hillary and Bernie Sanders as presenting few obstacles to advancement even for a man who wants America to look like Baltimore.
And even the Democrats' successes of the past few years haven't added a lot of young blood. Of the 31 new Democratic Governors or Senators added since Election Day 2010, 9 are over 65, 16 are over 60, and just 6 are under 50. California elected a new Governor in 2010 - Jerry Brown, now 77, who was first elected to statewide office in 1974 and ran his third presidential campaign in 1992. Sen. Angus King (I-ME), a new Democratic Senator in 2012, is 71 and was previously a Governor. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), another new Senator in 2012, is 69 and had already been in statewide office a quarter century. Massachusetts added two new Democratic Senators since 2012 - Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is 66, Ed Markey is 69 and had been in the House since 1976. Joe Manchin is 68 and had already been a sitting Governor; Tom Wolf, the new Pennsylvania Governor, is 66. New Hawaii Senator Maizie Hirono is 68.
Then there's the House, where the GOP has a massive 247-188 majority:
This is the farm team for future Senators and in some cases Governors, and the picture for Democrats is even bleaker - almost a 5 year spread in average age, 6 years in median age. At the youngest end, each party has 11 Representatives born after 1976, indicating the eventual arrival of the Democrats' Millennial cavalry (the second-youngest of whom is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) of Hawaii, who has already been feuding with DNC leadership). But in the "Generation Reagan" years, the GOP has 110 Representatives; the Democrats have 51. There are two House Republicans in their 80s compared to four Democrats (including Charlie Rangel and John Conyers, symptoms of the tendency of majority African-American districts to keep electing the same grizzled veterans forever). There are 13 House Republicans in their 70s, compared to 32 Democrats, and many more of the Democrats are in the latter half of that age bracket (14-2). Fully 39% of House Democrats are 65 or older, compared to 16.5% of Republicans.
American politics and its moods and demographic and ideological currents are cyclical. But leaders still matter; personnel is policy. President Obama built his national majorities on the unique personal appeal he offered to segments of the electorate that previously hadn't turned out to vote much - and the Democrats, having nurtured precious few non-white statewide officeholders over the years, lucked out in getting him into the Senate when his primary and general election opponents in 2004 self-destructed due to dirt in their divorce records. Yet his presidency has bled his party, as scores of officeholders have lost their jobs over their association with his agenda and rhetoric that is aimed at a geographically narrow band of urban voters and rural minority voters.
The cupboard right now is pretty close to bare of another generation of talented leaders (bare enough that a former ceremonial Mayor of San Antonio is widely assumed to be their most likely candidate for Vice President), while Republicans' is stuffed to bursting. This is why 2016 is so urgent for Democrats - not only will they have trouble mustering up a good presidential ticket in 2020 if they're not running Hillary as an incumbent, but the turnout effects of the top of the two tickets are likely to have down-ticket coattails, just as they did in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and if the Democrats face yet another cycle of electing fewer new faces with a future than Republicans, they may find their future as a party facing a self-reinforcing cycle of underachieving.
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November 16, 2015
POLITICS: What Conservatism Is
POLITICS: Jindal for President
November 4, 2015
BLOG/POLITICS: My Latest, 10/6/15-11/3/15
September 24, 2015
POLITICS: Rubio on "Amnesty"
September 17, 2015
POLITICS/LAW: My Latest, 9/17/15
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:40 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | War 2007-Present
September 4, 2015
POLITICS/LAW: Latest Roundup
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:44 AM | Hurricane Katrina | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016
August 13, 2015
My two most recent posts at RedState:
1. My quick reaction to the first debate (it seems from post-debate polling that many viewers disagreed with me about Ben Carson, who I thought had a very weak debate but who finished strong.
2. Laura Ingraham Gets Punked By Donald Trump, on the recklessness of conservative talk radio in boosting Donald Trump.
July 24, 2015
POLITICS/HISTORY: Connecticut Democrats Erase Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson From Their History
LAW/POLITICS: King v Burwell
I forgot to add this one the last time I updated here - I didn't get around to writing up a full analysis of the King v Burwell decision and its many glaring flaws, but I did put together a Storify essay from my Tweets.
July 10, 2015
BLOG: Welcome Back, Blog!
I've been neglecting this blog rather badly for altogether too long - the archives say I haven't posted here since September 21, 2014. I've been busy in the interim on Twitter, of course, and publishing elsewhere. I probably need to post archived versions of some of those posts here. For now: links.
I will start with The Weekly Standard, where I have this issue's cover story, just posted today: Giving Thomas His Due, on Justice Thomas' opinions over the past year and what they tell us about his philosophy.
Then there's The Federalist, where I tend to post my longer essays these days. I ran a lengthy 5-part essay prior to the Obergefell decision, "Can Gays And Christians Coexist In America?". Part I looked at the Biblical reasons why Christians believe in one-man-one-woman-for-life marriage. Part II looked at the history of Catholicism and other Biblical Christianity in the battles over slavery and Jim Crow. Part III looked at the Christian concept of scandal and the battle between liberty-based and equality-based views of "LGBT rights." Part IV looked at the legal arguments over the rational basis for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex marriage. And Part V traced possible ways forward for coexistence post-Obergefell, which admittedly are not looking especially promising at the moment.
The First Principle Of U.S. Foreign Policy looked at various approaches to our foreign policy.
Others from the fall, including some of my poll-analysis posts:
Polling Postmortem: The Best And Worst Senate Polls Of 2014 (I keep meaning to run the companion piece on the Governors races before 2016 polling heats up).
Do Democrats Always Win Close Statewide Elections? (covers the 1998-2013 elections; I should update this with 2014 results).
And of course, if you missed it last time, my essay on how History Is Not On The Democrats' Side In 2016 is still an important read on the coming election, undoubtedly the most significant piece I will write on the 2016 election.
The Rise & Fall of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina - I wrote this a few weeks back, but it's very relevant to today's news.
Reading Tea Leaves on the 2015 Supreme Court Term - Basically just some educated speculation on who would write what and when, which ended up having mixed results.
Democratic Party Now Literally Selling Hate - a Father's Day gift post!
Bernie Sanders, Deodorant and Diversity - a meditation on central planning and markets.
Marco Rubio Recounts The History of Obama’s Treatment of Israel - quick hit on a great Rubio floor speech. Rubio isn't my first choice in 2016, but he's done nothing but impress this year.
From the fall:
2014 and Republican Morale - a GOP victory lap and a reflection on what it meant.
The Breakers Broke: A Look Back At The Fall 2014 Polls - A personal victory lap on my 2014 poll analysis and how it relates to the polling controversies of 2012.
The 2014 Polls And The 2012 Exit Polls - An earlier look at the same topic and at some specific issues with exit polling and poll methodology.
BREAKING: Supreme Court Takes Obamacare Subsidies Case (on King v Burwell).
First Cut: 7 Polling and Elections Lessons From 2014 (Immediate 2014 election aftermath)
Why I Voted Yes On Question 1 (NY) (Election Day post on a NY ballot initiative)
A Sad and Desperate Attack on Chris Christie - Actually a fairly deep dive on voter fraud controversies.
Introducing The Senate Breakers Report - September 26, 2014, the start of my Fall 2014 stretch drive when I started getting too busy to cross-post here.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 PM | Blog 2006-Present | In Print | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2014 | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
June 23, 2015
POLITICS/HISTORY: The Rise & Fall of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting, held a press conference Monday with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and legislators from both parties calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from its place on the grounds of the state capitol. This is a good thing. Despite persistent efforts to use the flag as a partisan club, it is worth recalling some history on the matter.
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From Fritz Hollings To Jim Hodges: Democrats, Republicans and the Flag
The flag – technically the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, not the “national” flag of the Confederate States of America – was raised over the capitol dome in South Carolina in 1961, at a time when the Democrats completely controlled the state’s government. A South Carolina historian involved in the process recalls:
While the flag’s raising may not have been explicitly political or racial, however, the political context in which it was raised and kept flying was inseparable from the civil rights battles of the era and their revival of the federal government’s fight to reimpose the civil rights protections it instituted after the Civil War and then let fall into disuse for nearly a century after the end of Reconstruction. And the South Carolina governor responsible for that decision, Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, was a Democrat – and not just any old ancient Dixiecrat from a dusty, now-forgotten era of different partisan alignments, but a man who served in the U.S. Senate, in which he was warmly welcomed in the Democratic caucus, for 40 years from 1966 to 2005, alongside people like Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Hillary Clinton, Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer. In 2010, our current, sitting Vice President paid warm, glowing tribute to Hollings at the dedication of a library named for him at the University of South Carolina:
The partisan tilt of the state’s politics, of course, had shifted a good deal by 1996, when Republican Governor David Beasley proposed bringing the flag down and moving it to a less prominent site on the capitol grounds. Beasley’s plan never got through the state legislature, and was opposed by the NAACP. Democrats, seeing an opportunity, shrewdly pounced. The 1998 governor’s race was openly fought mainly over Beasley’s opposition to video poker, but Democrat Jim Hodges carefully avoided the flag issue while his video poker allies poured money into ads pounding Beasley over it:
Hodges had previously been a critic of the flag, but abandoned that principle to win the election:
As it turned out, Beasley’s compromise – which created the current placement of the flag – ended up passing the Legislature with bipartisan support in 2000 (again over the NAACP’s objections), and was signed into law by Hodges once the South Carolina presidential primary was over and there was no more partisan mileage to be dragged out of beating up George W. Bush for steering clear of the issue. And there things stayed until Gov. Haley’s press conference on Monday.
For some time now, liberals have been screaming about the Confederate flag, but their outrage is always selective and disappears when Democratic politicians like Hodges need to get elected. Bill Clinton himself went out of his way to commemorate the Confederacy by signing a bill in 1987 specifically noting that “[t]he blue star above the word "ARKANSAS" is to commemorate the Confederate States of America.” The Daily Caller (linked above) has more on that episode, including the refusal of either Clinton or Gore to disassociate themselves from this in 2000 when asked. Hillary Clinton, just today, was cheering on Wal-Mart for dropping Confederate flag merchandise from its stores – but she said nothing on the issue when she sat on Wal-Mart’s Board of Directors for six years. And the Washington Post has a look at some of the Confederate flag-themed buttons snapped up by Clinton-Gore supporters in 1992 and never disavowed by the campaign:
Howard Dean in 2003, famously declared that “I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks”. Two years later, they made him chairman of the Democratic Party. We’re not talking here about the Democrats’ role in slavery, which after all is the fault of people long dead, or the Democrats’ role in segregation, which is passing as well into history. Fritz Hollings, Jim Hodges and Howard Dean are the very recent past. The Clintons and Joe Biden are still with us.
Meanwhile, Republicans can never win. Haley gets blasted by liberals even when she does what they demanded. Mitt Romney repeated his stance last week on removing the flag; he’d been saying that since 2008, but got zero credit for it from the national media in 2012. When Jeb Bush took down the Confederate flag in Florida in 2001, he was criticized by a prominent Democrat, Kendrick Meek, the son of a Congresswoman and himself the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2010:
How dare a Republican try to improve his standing with black voters! Which is what so much of this is about – that and, as in the perennial debates over evolution, an effort by parochial urban liberals to signal to other members of their tribe their dislike for faraway people they neither like nor understand, and to congratulate themselves for moral superiority at no cost (it takes no courage to say something all your friends already agree with). The issue rises in prominence when liberals feel they are only beating up on people and places that elect Republicans, and then suddenly disappears when it’s about Democratic politicians wanting votes. In that sense, it’s a microcosm of the broader tendency to whitewash the history of racial politics in America to eliminate all the Democratic villains and Republican heroes from a story in which the real truth is much more complex and different from the narrative.
All History Is Local
Personally, the Confederate flag has never had any meaning for me but that of a symbol of yet another of America’s defeated enemies. I’ve always regarded the flag’s support among some corners of my own party and movement as something of an embarrassment, and share Erick’s view of why it’s un-Christian to display it in your home. But then, I live and work in New York City, have (except for one semester on Capitol Hill in college) never lived west or south of the New York-New Jersey border, and none of my ancestors lived in this country before World War I. It’s cheap and easy for me to say that, and a lot of the piling on from conservatives far from the South has always seemed a bit opportunistic to me, given the deeply local nature of the issue, and the local nature of any solution.
Still, I can support Gov. Haley doing the right thing without reservation, even if she’ll get no thanks for doing it. Whatever you could possibly say in defense of the Confederate flag as a historical or cultural emblem, nothing good can come of keeping it flying on government property – not a museum, a war cemetery, or other location set aside to history, but the grounds of the statehouse – in the 21st Century. Like Erick, I’m proud of our site’s early and vigorous support of her since 2010. And she’s doing it the right way – just as Jeb did when he took the flag down in Florida in 2001, just as Greg Abbott did (with the support of Rick Perry) in fighting all the way to last week’s Supreme Court decision allowing Texas to keep the Confederate flag off license plates, just as happened in Georgia (where, as Ed Kligore notes, Newt Gingrich was an early supporter of conservative Democrat Zell Miller’s early-90s effort to take the stars and bars out of a state flag that Jimmy Carter had never touched).
That is, she’s dealing with a state issue by engaging the people of the state (and given the bill that passed under Hodges, this requires an act of the legislature). As prominent as South Carolina’s role in the Confederacy was, it is only four years in the history of a state that traces its roots back to the royal charter of the colony in 1663. The Confederate flag’s role in South Carolina since 1865 has been solely that of a symbol – but the meaning of symbols, especially symbols of resistance to outsiders, can only be changed from within. Just as Florida, Texas and Georgia had to deal with their histories, and just as Mississippi and Virginia (where Terry McAuliffe is only belatedly scrambling to follow Abbott and Perry’s lead on the license plate issue) are still doing, this is a step that could only ever come from within South Carolina. The very people who are always telling us to “have a national conversation” about this or that seem to forget that the whole point of taking symbolic steps towards reconciliation and reckoning is that it they have to come from within or the symbolism is meaningless. I know I’ve made this point before about President Obama’s habit of “apologizing” for things as a way of blaming them on other people, but repenting for someone else’s sins is just cheap moral preening. I should note that what Gov. Haley is doing – taking a stance on a hot-button cultural issue where she has to side with her ideological adversaries against her own supporters – is something Barack Obama in particular has never done on any issue in his entire career.
At the same time, while taking the flag down is the right move and has been for some years now, I can’t fault politicians who have felt that focusing on concrete reforms was a better use of their political capital than staging a fight over symbols of the past, let alone national politicians who steered clear of counterproductive blustering about its removal. Although Nikki Haley grew up in South Carolina, I suspect the flag never meant much to her either – she was born in 1972, and her parents were Sikh immigrants from the Punjab, a region with its own history of separatist controversy and strife. But she’s devoted her efforts to political fights with much more tangible stakes than this the past four years, and she’s now safely in her second term, something neither Beasley nor Hodges made it long enough in office to see. Only now is there a political moment to do this without a draining battle, and she’s making use of that for the right purposes. But she didn’t act sooner because she had more important things to do, for which she was elected and re-elected by the people of her state.
The partisan and ideological battle, of course, will rage on. Democrats will keep pushing until they can find some pockets of resistance to use as a wedge issue and keep stoking their base’s resentments, as the logic of the 2016 election demands. Already, the liberal/progressive commentariat, which has never met a limiting principle and never grasps the irony of their non-judgmental self-image, is moving on to pressuring retailers to stop selling the flag entirely, which strikes me as yet another symptom of our all-outrage-all-the-time culture, as censoriousness that only masquerades as tolerance. But facts are stubborn things. The rise and fall of the Confederate flag in South Carolina is not the partisan narrative they’d like you to read.
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August 8, 2014
POLITICS/LAW: Recent Posts Roundup
Now that my posts are single-sourced to RedState and The Federalist (for Google/traffic reasons), I've been forgetting to link to them all here. A roundup of my latest:
At the Federalist, a cross-posted version of the Obamacare bailouts piece.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:05 PM | Blog 2006-Present | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2014 | Politics 2015