"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
October 27, 2015
POLITICS/HISTORY: How and Why Ronald Reagan Won
Fifty-one years ago today in Los Angeles, a 53-year-old political amateur, Ronald Reagan, gave a half-hour nationally-televised speech, "A Time For Choosing," on behalf of Barry Goldwater's campaign in the following week's presidential election. 16 years later, Reagan would win 44 states and an almost double-digit popular vote margin of victory, kicking off the most successful and conservative Republican presidency in U.S. history, leading to a 49-state landslide in 1984 and the election of his Vice President for a "third Reagan term" in 1988, the only time in the past 70 years that a party has held the White House for three consecutive terms.
Given the extent to which Reagan's legacy still dominates internal debates within the GOP and the conservative movement, it's worth asking ourselves: What did he accomplish? How did he do it? And what can we learn from him today?
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1. Reagan Moved The Country To The Right
From an ideological/political conservative perspective, the most important measurement of Reagan's success is that he moved the country further Right than he found it. This is an important factor to bear in mind when Reagan's legacy is misused both by those seeking unerring ideological purity and by those trying to capitalize on some of the ways in which Reagan took positions that would now be considered unacceptably moderate, liberal or compromising in today's GOP. Reagan was a creature of his time and - to use Gandalf's great line from the Lord of the Rings - "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." And so Reagan was, on the one hand, more interested in getting results than in demonstrating his 100% adherence to principle: he was fond of saying that "if you agree with me 80 percent of the time, you're an 80 percent friend and not a 20 percent enemy" and "if I can get 70 or 80 percent of what it is I'm trying to get ... I'll take that and then continue to try to get the rest in the future." On the other hand, if you told Reagan that the party had moved further to the right on some issues since 1988, he would undoubtedly be greatly pleased by the news. He himself moved to the right over time - from a New Deal Democrat in the 1940s, from the bill he signed early in his tenure as California Governor partly liberalizing the state's abortion laws before Roe v Wade. And on other issues, as noted below, Reagan himself either left a lot of work unfinished (as on domestic discretionary spending) or made compromises (as on entitlements) as a concession to the political realities of his day.
Reagan unquestionably (though not alone) shifted the nation further to the right than he found it, in some ways temporarily and in other more lasting ways. Victory in the Cold War was the obvious headline - as late as 1979, there were voices throughout the West arguing that we could never defeat the Soviets and that Communism represented a viable alternative model to the American system, whereas today even an open socialist like Bernie Sanders cites the increasingly more free-market Scandanavian model. Reagan revolutionized the politics of taxes - in 1980, the top federal income tax rate was 70%, and married couples making $30,000 a year paid a top rate of 37%; at $35,000 they hit the 43% bracket. Taxpayers over $200,000 in income paid, on average, a total effective tax rate over 40%. These would be unthinkable tax rates today, when we argue over top marginal rates in the 35-39.6% band. Other long-term policy wins that shifted the conversation included ending the Fairness Doctrine, nominating the first explicit originalist to the Supreme Court (Antonin Scalia), breaking the air-traffic controllers union, finishing the (started under Carter) project of airline and trucking deregulation, and starting the free-trade processes that would yield dividends into the 1990s (he promised a NAFTA-like agreement in his 1979 speech announcing his candidacy). And Reagan's victories laid the groundwork for the welfare reforms of Newt Gingrich (presaged in some of Reagan's own policies as California Governor) and the law-enforcement revolution spearheaded by his U.S. Attorney in New York, Rudy Giuliani.
Or look at the electorate. We talk today about a general electorate dominated by Democrats, because the exit polls showed a D+7 electorate in 2008, D+6 in 2012 (that is, for example, 38% Democrats and 32% Republicans in 2012), and how this gave Barack Obama an unbeatable edge. But the electorate in 1976 and 1980 was D+15, with only 22% of voters in 1976 identifying themselves as Republicans. Yes, many more of the Democrats in those days were fairly conservative-leaning, not just in the South but in the Midwest, but these were still not people you could walk up to and say "I'm a conservative Republican" and have their vote (a March 1979 poll had Reagan trailing Carter 52-38). Even the South had gone heavily Democrat in 1976, with Carter carrying all but one state (Virginia) below the Mason-Dixon Line. Reagan in 1980 carried 27% of Democrats to Carter's 67, and 56% of independents to Carter's 31. And Reagan's success changed the electorate's view of his party - the electorate was D+3 by 1984, D+2 by 1988.
2. Reagan Delivered Tangible Results
Closely related to Reagan's political and ideological success was that he did not just win inside-the-Beltway fights: he delivered real-world changes that voters could judge with their own eyes, which they did not need pundits to interpret for them. Inflation, which had been a dominant issue in the Ford and Carter years and which hit voters directly in the pocketbook, was decisively defeated by Reagan and Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; it has never returned as a major issue. The gas lines of the 70s went away. Tax relief, including not just lower rates but an end to "bracket creep" (inflation pushing people into higher tax rates while their standard of living declined) was something people could see in their take-home pay. Unemployment, while stubborn, was in decline for years, the stock market boom roared, interest rates went down, and the economic growth rates from 1983-86 were out of this world. 15.1% of all U.S. workers made the minimum wage in 1980; by the mid-2000s, that number was down around 2%. The same dynamic was visible in foreign policy: problems that had been described as intractable under Carter suddenly started to give way, with an age of Soviet expansion and U.S. hostages giving way to the growth of U.S. power and the ultimate decline and collapse of the Soviet system.
Here's how Reagan himself described his welfare reforms in California:
One lesson from this is that today's conservatives still need to show people that their policies work. Another is not to focus too much on the abstract virtues of long-range fiscal policy to the detriment of things people can see and feel in their own lives. And listen: Reagan had always been against high taxes, but the 1978 California Prop 13 tax revolt helped convince Reagan to become a full-throated supporter of the Kemp-Roth supply-side tax reforms that would be the central defining feature of Reaganomics.
Reagan didn't go around on the stump pledging fealty to conservative ideals, but rather explaining why his ideas would work in practice and why they were common-sense positions in line with what the voters already believed in, what had worked previously in practice, and what had long been traditional in America. And he wasn't The Great Communicator because his speeches felt good, but because they said something concrete that people remembered. His pitch to voters was fundamentally a practical one: our ideas work.
3. Reagan Did His Homework and Knew What He Stood For
While Reagan's pitch was practical, his grasp of public policy and institutional politics was well-grounded in years of study of both the theory of conservative philosophy (often bandied about in those days in publications like National Review and Human Events, of which Reagan was an avid reader) and the practical details of foreign policy and domestic political controversies (Reagan was also a voracious consumer of public-policy journals in the 50s, 60s & 70s). He was no Johnny-come-lately to the movement, like some of our more recent and nakedly opportunistic presidential candidates. His firm philosophical grounding enabled him to appraise potential compromises to see whether, in fact, conservatives were getting more than they were giving up - and his understanding of the playing field abroad and at home meant that he wasn't learning on the job what the various agendas and procedural traps were.
I'd recommend five books to anyone trying to grasp Reagan - Thomas Evans' The Education of Ronald Reagan, which covers the years in the 1950s and early 1960s when Reagan was evolving into a conservative and becoming more politically active; Reagan in His Own Hand, a collection of Reagan's self-penned 1970s radio commentaries, which shows the breadth of his mastery of public policy at the time; Steven Hayward's 2-part Age of Reagan series, the 1964-80 volume covering Reagan's rise to power in the context of the political landscape of his day, and the 1981-89 volume covering his presidency; and finally Peggy Noonan's What I Saw At The Revolution, her speechwriting memoir that captures the mood, the personalities, and the view of the "Reagan Revolution" seen from the eyes of an idealistic young speechwriter.
And knowing that the media and even the GOP's own party elites would caricature him as an ignorant actor and an ideologue, Reagan put an enormous amount of effort into demonstrating his knowledgeability, and loved to pepper his speeches with statistics and concrete anecdotes. First of all, while he always had an eye on national issues (about a quarter of the 1964 speech was focused on foreign affairs), he didn't dive directly into federal or national politics, but ran for and won two terms as Governor of the nation's largest state, and still only won the White House on his second go-round. And his 1966 campaign focused on showing the voters that Reagan knew what he was talking about. From a 1966 profile:
from a retrospective on the campaign:
Reagan won over 3.7 million votes in 1966, enough votes to have won a majority even in the 2014 Governor's race, after half a century of growth in California's population. (In fact this was not Reagan's first election, either; he'd been elected to two separate terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild). A few excerpts from Reagan in His Own Hand should give a sense of the kinds of things Reagan was talking about a decade later, before he launched his 1980 presidential bid.
On power politics in Africa:
On the Law of the Sea Treaty:
On telecom regulation:
On the SALT II Treaty:
4. Reagan Compromised and Picked His Battles
Reagan would never have been able to get the things done that he did - with the Democratic legislature in California, with a Democratic House in DC, even with the Soviet Union - if he didn't know how to cut deals that gave the other guy something he wanted, a skill Reagan had learned in labor negotiations as both a union head and (with GE) negotiating for management. Thus, the reference to getting 70 or 80% of what he wanted - but thus also the recognition that Reagan could, for example, justify a tax hike here or there (as he did in 1982 and in some parts of the 1986 tax reform) because his overall record was unambiguously one of lowering taxes. But unlike some of today's GOP leaders in DC, Reagan could pull this off because he had delivered enough of those tangible wins in the past to have earned some trust (Peggy Noonan described this attitude as "l'droit c'est moi" - Reagan so embodied the Right that it was impossible to convince voters he couldn't be trusted). His reputation for making deals, but only those deals that benefitted him, let him usually negotiate from a position of strength: for example, he resisted calls for a summit with the Soviet Union until 1985, five years into his defense buildup and after he had clearly demonstrated that he was willing to take the heat for having no agreements with the Soviets at all. Yet while he used that leverage well, he also did ultimately sign a series of arms control agreements, agreements that made some real U.S. concessions in order to get a more broadly beneficial deal and keep a dynamic going that would be a winning one for us.
Reagan also trimmed his sails when needed on the campaign trail. In his 1976 campaign, he had talked about Social Security privatization and criticized Medicare and the Davis-Bacon Act; in 1980, he dropped any criticism of entitlements and won union support by pledging to retain Davis-Bacon. In office, he made only modest reforms to Davis-Bacon and signed a compromise bill on Social Security. He promised a woman on the Supreme Court, and delivered the decidedly moderate Sandra Day O'Connor. And even in his foreign policy, Reagan adhered to the first principle of U.S. foreign policy: triage that sets priorities rather than picks fights everywhere at once or else nowhere. Keeping his eye on the Cold War ball allowed him to get the maximum use of his political capital. At home, he accepted the loss of his pledge to balance the budget because it was more important to retain support for his defense buildup. And he knew when to lure his opponents into picking battles, too: while staging a symbolic and unsuccessful protest against the elevation of William Rehnquist to Chief Justice, the Senate let Scalia through unopposed.
5. Reagan Understood The Complementary Roles Of Party Establishments and Insurgents
Reagan's famous "11th Commandment" - not speaking ill of another Republican - was a defensive tactic, designed to convince other 1966 contenders to debate him on the issues rather than attack him personally. After winning the nomination, he mended fences with the endorsement of moderate party elders like Dwight Eisenhower. Reagan was never averse to upsetting applecarts: he did, after all, run a primary challenge to an incumbent President in 1976. But when the nomination was cinched, after Reagan's last-minute effort to mollify moderates with a liberal running mate (Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker) Reagan publicly stood on the dais with Gerald Ford. Reagan wore down establishment opposition - by 1980, while the moderate establishment preferred George H.W. Bush, Reagan actually had more endorsements from elected officials (and picked Bush as his running mate). And he was unafraid to debate others on the Right - witness his vigorous 1978 debates with William F. Buckley over the Panama Canal Treaty.
In short, Reagan saw the value of populist insurgencies, but also the practical value of translating them into a new governing structure side by side with the old bulls. Reagan's CPAC speech in 1977 was explicit about the fact that bringing people along to join the party would have to mean being more open to listening to the new converts:
That was in line with his overall philosophy as set forth in his 1979 announcement speech:
I believe this nation hungers for a spiritual revival; hungers to once again see honor placed above political expediency; to see government once again the protector of our liberties, not the distributor of gifts and privilege. Government should uphold and not undermine those institutions which are custodians of the very values upon which civilization is founded—religion, education and, above all, family. Government cannot be clergyman, teacher and parent. It is our servant, beholden to us.
6. Reagan Understood The Role of Culture, Humor and Meeting The Voters Where They Are
Reagan was not, as our party sometimes appears, distant, dour or perpetually angry. He was legendary for his humor (even when being wheeled into the operating room after being shot), unafraid to make jokes at his own expense but also expert at wielding mockery against the nation's enemies. But his years in Hollywood also meant he still had friends in show business:
Reagan reached out to voters where he could find them, not always successfully but with a great overall record. He won young voters in 1984 by 19 points. He won 37% of Hispanics in 1980. He won self-described moderates, the only Republican candidate since 1976 to do so. He spent almost a full week in August 1980 pitching for black votes - speech to the Urban League, interviews with Ebony and Jet magazines, tour of the South Bronx. He touted to unions his background as a labor union president. In 1981, he got one Democratic Congressman to vote for his tax cut plan by calling in to him on a live radio show. Reagan argued for the GOP as a club anyone could join. And he loved to explain his conversion from a New Dealer and why he had become a Republican, rather than simply trying to convince people that he was - to pick a phrase - severely conservative.
7. Reagan Wasn't Perfect
Finally, the challenge of adapting Reagan's lessons to today includes recognizing that he, too, made mistakes. Some he came to see: the California abortion bill, his decision to send "peacekeeping" troops to Lebanon. Others were revealed by events: the 1986 immigration amnesty, the failed late-80s pursuit of "moderates" in the Iranian government, the Bob Jones tax fight. But this too should offer us perspective: even the best political leaders are not perfect. We should not be afraid to criticize our own leaders, nor expect of them perfect judgment. We must, instead, ask whether they have left our country, our party and our movement a better place than they found it.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:30 PM | History | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | Writings Elsewhere
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
September 2, 2015
LAW/POLITICS: How The Supreme Court Created Kim Davis
A thread previously on Storify
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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.
August 11, 2015
POLITICS: Laura Ingraham Gets Punked By Donald Trump
Donald Trump presents a threat - we can debate how big a threat, but a threat - to the conservative movement and the Republican Party. As conservatives and Republicans, we need a battle plan that has an endgame that gives Trump a way out of the primaries without running a third-party campaign, and brings his current supporters into the fold to not only support the Republican presidential nominee, but ideally help us select a more conservative nominee, party and platform. So there are limits to how much we should be attacking voters who are listening to Trump and like what they hear.
But there's a difference between followers and leaders. If you're in a position of leadership - elected officials, organizers, fundraisers, cable and talk radio hosts, pundits, columnists, bloggers - and you're actively encouraging the Trump phenomenon, you are neither a conservative nor a Republican anymore and should not expect anyone to take you seriously again. Today's case in point: Laura Ingraham.
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Ingraham has hardly been the worst offender in Trump-boosting, but she has tirelessly aided the raising of Trump's profile, attacked his critics and made the ridiculous argument - given the dynamics of this 17-candidate field - that any criticism of Trump must mean you support Jeb Bush. A taste just from her Twitter feed:
Meanwhile, she hauls off on this website over Erick's decision to disinvite Trump from this weekend's RedState Gathering, going so far as to call this site "JebState" despite the fact - clear to anyone capable of basic English reading comprehension - that none of our front-page writers has been touting Jeb (at most, some but not all of us consider him an acceptable third, fourth or fifth choice).
The problem with building this narrative - that there is only The Establishment For Jeb and The Conservatives For Trump - is that it requires that we be born yesterday and know nothing at all about Donald Trump or the dynamics of the Republican Party. On the former point, I'm a New Yorker and I've been watching the man up close since the mid-80s...look at Trump's long history of big-government social liberalism, of major, recent donations to Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer. The man is simply no sort of conservative - he has a few vaguely right-wing positions, like dislike of immigration, but on the whole his politics are those of Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire who likes law and order but has no time or patience for really any of the philosophical traditions of our movement.
BUT HE FIGHTS! That's what we're told, although unlike a whole list of the people running in our party in 2016, he has no history whatsoever of ever lifting a finger for a single thing conservatives have ever wanted, or to resist any of the many insanities visited on my city by the Democrats (where was Trump in 2013 when Bill de Blasio defeated a badly underfunded Republican opponent? Heck, Trump could have run - unlike the presidency, Mayor of New York is actually a job that fits his experience, qualifications and hazy ideology). And lo and behold, Ingraham finds herself shocked this morning to discover that, on the great social-issue and size-of-government battle of 2015, Trump is...not so ready for a fight:
Trump: I would look at the individual things that they do, and maybe some of the things are good, and maybe, I know a lot of the things are bad. But certainly the abortion aspect of it should not be funded by government, absolutely.
Meanwhile, several of Trump's opponents have actually done something about Planned Parenthood - Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and, yes, Jeb Bush all actually took serious action against Planned Parenthood in their states, in several cases defunding them. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have all been engaged in the battle in the Senate to do the same at the federal level. We can compare and contrast the degree of their involvements and success in these initiatives, but at least they have a record to judge. Trump has been MIA on this for years - and one of the results of that is that he hasn't thought through the basic fact that, because money is fungible, subsidizing any of the operations of the nation's largest performer of abortions (rather than re-routing that money to community health centers not engaged in abortions) is a boon to the merchants of death.
The erosion of our credibility - and unreliability of any results we might hope to obtain from doing so - from backing such a man is similar to my concern with running another Northeastern business tycoon four years ago:
The other point I would make about integrity is that it goes close to the core of why a Romney nomination worries me so much: because we would all have to make so many compromises to defend him that at the end of the day we may not even recognize ourselves. Romney has, in a career in public office of just four years (plus about 8 years' worth of campaigning), changed his position on just about every major issue you can think of, and his signature accomplishment in office was to be wrong on the largest policy issue of this campaign...But aside from his business biography, his primary campaign has been built entirely on arguments and strategies - about touting his own electability and dividing, coopting or delegitimizing other Republicans - none of which will be of any use in the general election. What, then, will we as politically active Republicans say about him? I was not a huge fan of John McCain's record, but I was comfortable making honest points about the things McCain had been consistent on over the years - national security, free trade, nuclear power, public integrity, pork-barrel spending. There were spots of solid ground on which to plant ourselves with McCain, and he had a history of digging himself in on those and fighting for things he believed in. But Mitt Romney's record is just one endless sheet of thin ice as far as the eye can see - there's no way to have any kind of confidence that we can tell people he stands for something today without being made fools of tomorrow. We who have laughed along with Jim Geraghty's prescient point that every Obama promise comes with an expiration date will be the ones laughed at, and worse yet we will know the critics are right. Every time I try to talk myself into thinking we can live with him, I run into this problem. It's one that particularly bedeviled Republicans during the Nixon years - many partisan Republicans loved Nixon because he made the right enemies and fought them without cease or mercy, but the man's actual policies compromised so many of our principles that the party was crippled in the process even before Watergate. We can stand for Romney, but we'll find soon enough that that's all we stand for.
Trump is Romney without the things that made Romney at least an admirable man and a plausible political candidate - his strong family, his leadership in his church, his many charitable works, the fact that his business enterprises always made money for his partners, his salvation of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and his having some actual experience winning an election and being a governor. And like Romney, Trump is using the single issue of immigration (on which, like Romney, his record before was not so consistent) as a substitute for having conservative convictions and a conservative record on all the other issues. And it seems that many of the same people who fell for Romney in 2008 and 2012 are falling now for the same act.
Besides Trump's incoherence (at best) on the issues conservatives care about, there's the electoral havoc. He has, of course, threatened to run third party, which as everyone knows would present a real threat of re-creating the conditions that helped the Clintons win the White House in 1992 and 1996, because Democratic voters, with their transactional relationship with power and their love for identity politics, will be far less interested in a third party campaign like Trump's. But even in the short run, what Trump is doing right now is sucking the oxygen out of the race the way, say, Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann did in 2012. And the net result of those campaigns was to make it harder for a lesser-known but serious conservative alternative to develop, which gave us Romney. This is precisely why multiple media reports suggest that the Jeb camp is almost as giddy about Trump as the Hillary camp - because when the Trump balloon inevitably deflates (and it will), Jeb will still have the highest name recognition left in the field. This is not my first rodeo, so I'm not fool enough to ignore the dynamics in play. And that's even before we discuss how the Democrats plan to Todd Akinize Trump - that is, to use things he says against other more responsible and sane Republicans.
A fair amount of Trump's current showing in the polls, of course, is just a figment of high name recognition, massive media coverage (greatly abetted by the likes of Ingraham and other conservative media figures) and poorly constructed polls that don't zero in on likely primary voters. And a fair amount of the really loud Trump support on Twitter in particular seems to come from either 1) the white supremacist fringe or 2) what seems like bought and paid-for astroturf, both of which tend to create noise vastly out of proportion to their numbers.
But for all of that, Trump does have some real support, both among Republicans fed up with the many failures of elected Republicans and among the broad mass of already-disenchanted eligible voters, many of whom we may want to reach and bring back to the fold if we want to alter the dynamics of 2012, let alone 1992:
So, I get the fact that - however frustrating it can be trying to bring the facts of Trump's actual record to his enthusiasts - we ultimately will need to persuade them rather than insult them if we want to build a winning coalition again. But that's the voters. I hold people like Ingraham to a higher standard. We did that here in late 2008, when people with various grievances against John McCain or Sarah Palin gave open or tacit support to Barack Obama:
We have been treated in recent weeks to an unfortunate procession of people on the Right lending their assistance to Barack Obama against the Republican presidential ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin. These people should never be listened to or employed in any responsible or prominent position by anyone in the Republican Party or the conservative movement again.
I believed that of those people then, and seven years later everything we have seen from Obama has vindicated it. And I am quite comfortable saying the same to those who would encourage the destructive path that Trump has chosen. Leaders - and even talk radio entertainers are leaders, whether they like it or not - have a responsibility not to lead those who come to them for guidance astray. Jesus was never more condemnatory than on this topic, in Matthew 18:6-7:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!”
Donald Trump's feckless campaign is a millstone. Please, Laura Ingraham and everyone else in conservative media: take it off your necks, or be drowned by it.
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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.
2018 UPDATE: Storify is going out of business, so I'm reprinting this below the fold.
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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