Hitler the Politician

In modern society the name Adolf Hitler is synonymous for evil. As the perpetrator of the greatest crime of this century and its most destructive war, Mr. Hitler well deserves this reputation.

Yet too often in speaking of Adolf Hitler people forget the man and see only the legend he has become. Hitler, after all, gained power as a politician in a democratic Germany. He played the game of compromises, elections, and leverage that all politicians play. Indeed, Hitler was quite adept at politics; without his skill the National Socialists would have remained a fringe party like so many others

Take the Enabling Act of 1933, the law which effectively turned a semi-democratic Germany into a one-party dictatorship. It essentially shifted all power – the ability to make laws, most importantly – from the legislative Reichstag (Germany’s parliament) to Germany’s executive government (Hitler, in other words). One clause, for instance, read:

Treaties of the Reich with foreign states which affect matters of Reich legislation shall not require the approval of the bodies of the legislature. The government of the Reich shall issue the regulations required for the execution of such treaties.

In getting this law passed Hitler could not merely declare his will and have all Germany follow; there were still checks against his power at that time. Because the Enabling Act modified the Germany’s constitution, it required a two-thirds majority in parliament. At the time the Nazis only controlled 288 out of 647 seats (under semi-free elections taken during the same month of March). Moreover, the Social Democrats and Communists – which together held almost one-third of parliament’s seats – were adamantly opposed to the Enabling Act. If Hitler was to pass his law, he would have to tread a very fine needle.

Events, however, had provided a useful tool for Hitler to wipe out his political opposition. A month before, in February 1933, unidentified arsonists set fire to the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament (today many suspect the Nazis themselves as culpable). Placing blame on the Communist Party, Hitler had passed an emergency decree eliminating civil liberties. Communist representatives in parliament were summarily jailed, prevented from voting against the Enabling Act.

Several other factors helped Hitler. The influential Catholic Centre Party agreed to support the Enabling Act; in return Hitler promised to protect the Catholic Church. Intimation was present: on the day of the vote Nazi Brown-shirts surrounded the legislature, chanting “Give us the Enabling Act or there will be another fire!” A number were present inside the building, armed and in full uniform, as voting proceeded.

In the end, the vote was 441 in favor, 94 against. On March 23rd, 1933 the Reichstag voted itself out of existence.

All in all, the Hitler portrayed here is quite different from the evil caricature. One sees a clever and ruthless politician, not a madman. Watching Hitler the politician makes the myth more mundane, but it also paints a more accurate picture of events as they were.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Conclusions

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

This is the last part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia, which aims to offer some concluding thoughts. The previous parts can be found starting here.

Conclusions

As a state, Virginia’s population has always been located in three metropolitan areas: the Northern Virginia suburbs south of Washington D.C., Richmond and its suburbs, and the communities surrounding Hampton Roads. Together these three places compose more than half of Virginia’s electorate:

Link to map of Virginia's county votes

In all three metropolitan areas, Democrats have been improving their margins. Virginia’s suburbs, expansive and traditionally Republican, have shifted leftwards with startling quickness. This movement has been most apparent in the largest of its suburbs, rich and diverse Northern Virginia. The addition of NoVa to Virginia’s heavily Democratic, heavily black cities has given the Democratic Party a coalition that has won a number of recent elections.

Not everything has gone badly for the Republican Party. They have captured a formerly loyal Democratic constituency – the Appalachian west, which voted Democratic based on economic appeals. Moreover, they still dominate the rural whites who in bygone days voted Democratic:

Link to Virginia voting shifts 

Thus, Virginia today is a state in change, like most states. Parts of it are shifting left and parts of it are shifting right; in aggregate, the effect has been to change it from a solidly Republican to swing state. Undoubtedly, other states will and are moving in the opposite direction.

Colorado, the next state in this series, is probably not one of those Republican-shifting states.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

An Era of Republican Presidential Dominance?

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click to map links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

It’s been somewhat fashionable amongst the Washington beltway to classify the past few decades as an era dominated by the Republican Party, at least on the presidential level. According to this view, Republican presidential dominance started under President Ronald Reagan, who initiated the Reagan Revolution. Since then America has been under continuous Republican hegemony, interrupted only by the centralist term of President Clinton. In light of the 2008 Democratic victory, holders of this idea sometimes assert that President Obama has initiated a new era of Democratic presidential dominance.

The idea of Republican presidential dominance, however, fares poorly when compared to the evidence. It is true that Mr. Reagan dominated politics during his administration, enacting a series of conservative policies and winning two landslide elections. His term paved the way for another comfortable Republican victory, in 1988.

However, this was to be the last time Democrats ever lost badly in a presidential election. Mr. Reagan’s term came near the end, not the beginning, of the cycle of Republican presidential hegemony. Indeed, the real man responsible for Republican strength was President Richard Nixon, whose law and order policies constituted the foundation for Reagan Republicanism:

Link to graph of presidential popular margin from 1968 to 1988

Ever since 1988, however, Republicans have not done so well. In terms of the popular vote, they have lost four out of the past five presidential elections. Their only victory in the popular vote was by a mere 2.46% – akin to President Jimmy Carter’s 2.06% victory during the cycle of Republican strength:

Link to graph of presidential popular margin from 1992 to 2008

Under this series of graphs, Mr. Obama’s election appears less a realignment than a continuation of Democratic dominance on the presidential level.

Of course, this analysis ignores Republican gains on the congressional and statewide level. In 1994, most famously, Speaker Newt Gingrich led Republicans to a sweeping mid-term victory – taking control of Congress for the first time in more than two generations. To label these recent decades as an era of Democratic hegemony would be inaccurate.

Then again, Democrats were controlling Congress during those very years of Republican presidential dominance. In no way can one describe the past few decades of the United States as dominated by either the Democratic or the Republican Party.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

Watching Young Obama

Out of the many politicians in America’s democracy, President Barack Obama is unique in several ways. For one, the books authored under his name are actually written, beginning to end, by himself. In Washington politicians author many books, but very rarely are the words their own; the tradition is to use a ghostwriter.

Mr. Obama is also unique in that his first book – Dreams From My Father – was written in 1995, before he became a politician. This offers a view into the president’s true beliefs, a valuable exercise given how difficult it sometimes is to determine what a politician really thinks. (What did former president George W. Bush really think about Iraq, for instance?) Unlike a book such as My Life – the autobiography of former president Bill Clinton – one does not have to wonder how much of Dreams From My Father is authentic.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Obama did take some steps to promote Dreams From My Father. One such interview provides a revealing hint of his early philosophy:

Part two can be found here; part three is here.

The video does not arouse the electrifying excitement of, say, an Obama speech. It is, to be truthful, somewhat boring.

Nevertheless, the interview contains a substantial discussion of race, far more than that of the campaign or Mr. Obama’s current presidential term. This is somewhat natural, since race is a major element of the book being discussed. Yet race does appear to have occupied many hours of thought for Mr. Obama. He even appears more “black” to this viewer – though “blackness” is a very subjective evaluation. On the other hand, apart from the slight outdatedness of the video, Obama also looks much like a thoughtful student or professor – though perhaps too young for a president.

Finally, one can tell that the Obama in the video is not substantially different from the one today. His ideology and beliefs seem to have held constant over time. That is either a comforting or worrisome thought, depending on whether you are liberal or conservative.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

 

Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Part 5

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click to map links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

This is the fifth part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia. It focuses on the traditional Democratic base and its decline. The last part can be found here.

In the days of the Solid South, Democrats worried more about primary elections than Republican challengers. The party, under the sway of the Byrd machine, dominated almost every part of the state – as it did throughout the South.

Civil rights and suburban growth broke the back of this coalition. In 1952 Virginia voted for Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower. By the 1970s Virginia had elected its first Republican governor, senator, and attorney general in nearly a century.

Democrats were left with strength in two reliable regions – the southeast and the western panhandle. These places constituted the traditional Democratic base, which Democrats relied on for a number of decades.

The 1996 presidential election provides an excellent illustration of this base:

Link to 1996 presidential election map

With his rare ability to command support among both poor Appalachian whites and poor Southern blacks, Mr. Clinton performed powerfully with the traditional Democratic coalition. As the map indicates, the incumbent president dominated the southeast, while winning a number of counties in the panhandle. It is an illustration of the traditional base at a strong point.

Clinton also lost Virginia by two percentage points. This indicates something else: it is actually very difficult to win the state with the traditional Democratic base. There are just not enough Appalachian whites and blacks (20% of the population) in Virginia. Take mostly black, heavily Democratic Richmond. In 2008 a little more than 90,000 votes were cast in the city. A respectable number – but barely more than half the 162,088 votes cast in neighboring, suburban Chesterfield County.

Richmond also constitutes an important part of the Virginia’s Democratic-voting southeast – the first prong of the classical Democratic coalition. Democratic strength in this region can be explained through demographics; the region is home to much of the state’s black population:

Map of Virginia's black population

Black voters, grateful for its passage of Civil Rights, remain a vital constituency of the Democratic coalition. They constitute a stable block of voters  for a Democratic candidate to build upon.

Geographically, Democrats usually win a few rural, majority-black counties in the southeast. In addition, black votes give Democrats sizable margins coming out of Richmond and four Hampton Roads cities – Norfolk (the largest), Portsmouth, Hampton, and Newport News. In 2008 Senator Barack Obama’s vote ranged from 64% (Newport News) to 79% (Richmond) in each of these cities.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the second prong of their traditional base – the Appalachian panhandle – is quickly moving away from them. This area is fairly rural and somewhat poor; as the map above indicates, its population is fairly homogeneously white. Until recently, Democrats could rely on panhandle votes even in the event of a double-digit loss. Its residents voted Democratic based off a combination of economic interests and tradition.

As the party becomes more metropolitan-based and liberal, however, the panhandle has been drifting away. The election of President Barack Obama, an ill-fit with Appalachian America, has accelerated the rightward movement. In 2009, Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds lost the panhandle by a landslide.

Map of Mr. Deeds's loss (county lean)

Even in the days in which the panhandle voted loyally Democratic, the base – as has been noted before – was insufficient for statewide victory. Democrats needed to add another prong to their coalition. Mr. Clinton attempted to do so by reviving support amongst the rural whites who’d long ago abandoned the Democratic Party; he mostly failed in his endeavor. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter did much better with rural whites but much worse with their suburban counterparts; Mr. Carter also barely lost Virginia.

Statewide Democratic candidates, on the other hand, have been able to win the state through a combination of the traditional base and a respectable suburban showing. Indeed, no Democratic presidential, senatorial, or gubernatorial candidate has won Virginia, for at least two decades, while losing suburban Fairfax County.

In recent years Democrats have traded the Appalachian panhandle for these NoVa suburbs. This switch has, in the aggregate, been to their benefit. The old Democratic base was rarely enough to win Virginia. With the addition of NoVa, Democrats have won three out of four past statewide elections. Virginia has moved from a red state to a purple one.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Helping Iceland

Iceland is a small country in big trouble.

During the heady times of economic growth, its banks expanded operations far beyond what the country could possibly support. When the global financial crisis came, all three collapsed. Millions of depositors in Britain and the Netherlands would have lost their savings.

When banks collapse nowadays, fortunately, governments intervene. The governments of both Britain and the Netherlands guaranteed the accounts of their citizens. In total, this cost said countries approximately 3.9 euros (or 5.3 billion dollars).

Understandably, said countries were also angered at picking up the tab of Iceland’s failed banks. The root of Iceland’s current troubles lies in their demands that Iceland repay the €3.9 billion. To force Iceland’s hand, Britain – in a rather mean gesture – used anti-terrorism laws to freeze Iceland’s financial assets. This helped crush the country’s economy.

Now, there are two problems with the demands of Britain and the Netherlands. Firstly, Icelanders really do not want to repay the money. To the average citizen, suffering for the mistakes of a few bankers smacks of unfairness. Giving money to what many view as a big bullying country is also unpopular. In a recent referendum on the question, 93% of voters rejected a deal to repay Britain and the Netherlands.

Secondly, it’s practically impossible for Iceland to repay the money. The country’s population, after all, numbers only around 300,000. The €3.9 billion in debt amounts to almost half of its GDP. Imagine if the United States owed $6.5 trillion to another country because of Goldman Sachs.

The best step for Britain and the Netherlands would just be to forgive Iceland’s debt – or, if that fails, to negotiate a very generous deal. Third World countries have their debt relieved all the time; there’s no good reason for Iceland to be an exception.

Perhaps United States can lend a hand. €3.9 billion is a lot for Iceland, but practically nothing for a country of America’s size. It may not even need to actually spend money to help Iceland; Britain, after all, still owes the United States £40 billion pounds (inflation-adjusted) that it borrowed from it to fight WWI.

More fundamentally, this situation may end very badly for the West. Iceland’s predicament brings to mind the massive reparations Germany faced after WWI – something which ended disastrously for all countries involved. Already hostility to Britain and the Netherlands is quite high in Iceland; it will probably rise further. Last November the president of Iceland accused its neighbors of betraying Iceland during its time of need.

There may come a time when the West is likewise in a dire strait – whether it be war, economic peril, or something else. It may need all the help it can get. Then Britain and the Netherlands may rue taking a country like Iceland for granted. In the best case scenario, Britain and the Netherlands get their €3.9 billion, and Iceland forgives and forgets. In the worst case – one of those “unknown unknowns” – their bullying may end up costing the West far more than €3.9 billion.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

How I Became a Democrat

It’s been more than a year since the 2008 presidential election, when Illinois Senator Barack Obama and Arizona Senator John McCain engaged in that great, quadrennial contest for votes.

Initially, this poster was not quite sure who to support. Mr. Obama seemed quite the exciting, inspiring candidate. On the other hand, like many Americans, I was concerned about his relative lack of experience. Mr. McCain, I knew, was an honorable, decent man who had served the country well. Throughout the summer I hesitated, leaning towards the side of Senator McCain.

I remained in this state of mind until the Republican National Convention. It was then, in the second or third day of watching the RNC, that I decided to support Mr. Obama. More fundamentally, it was then that I decided to become a member of the Democratic Party.

This was because the experience left my deeply, profoundly uncomfortable with the Republican Party as it is today. I felt that an individual like myself would not have been welcome in that convention. I felt like a card-carrying computer geek in a room full of football jocks.

The RNC was very big on characterizing America as a nation of small towns and the Wild West. I remember, for instance, that a number of delegates wore cowboy hats. Others liked to chant “Drill, baby drill!” or “USA! USA!” The politicians – Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson – were fiery, inflamed, and sometimes quite hateful. At one point, I concluded that the Democratic Party’s appeals to small town-folk were hopeless. Small towns were in the very DNA of the Republican Party. They were just naturally more genuine than anything Democrats could hope to be.

That emphasis on rugged individualism and the good ‘ole days appeals to a large segment of white suburban America, the base of the Republican Party (very few Americans actually live in small towns). It left me, however, quite uncomfortable. I like small towns, but I also like colleges and big cities. I prefer curling up with a good book to horseback riding or backpacking – as I found out this past week. And I’d vote for the intelligent nerd over the awesome-to-hang-out-with dude.

I left the convention having concluded that the Republican Party was just not for me. Until that time I had considered myself an independent, quite happy to vote for either a Republican or Democrat. Ever since that experience I have been a Democrat. The party just appeals more to a guy like me.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

The Conservative Pope and the Secular Media

Over the past few weeks, the Catholic Church has found itself mired in controversy, plagued by an ever-growing sexual abuse scandal unfolding in Europe. The pope himself has come under substantial criticism, to such an extent that a leading German magazine titled a report, “The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI.”

Yet the media’s growing chorus of criticism reveals as much about itself as it does about the mishaps of Pope Benedict XVI. It reveals much about how the media thinks about itself, and about the media’s worldview of what society ought to be like.

Historically, the Catholic Church and the Western media have always had moments of tension. The two are almost naturally at odds; their philosophical foundations constitute polar opposites. The church is fundamentally a conservative institution, hierarchy-bound and traditional. It embodies a force – religion – which often works in a conservative direction.

The modern Western media could not be more different from this. If liberalism were to be characterized, describing the media could do the job well. The media sees itself as an agent of change, uncovering society’s injustices and working towards reform. Under this view, the world is consistently getting better, and media lies on the vanguard of the forces of progress. Religion, on the other hand, constitutes an obstacle standing in the path to a better world.

To many holders of this belief (i.e. the media), Pope Benedict XVI is moving the church backwards in the 21st century. Unlike his predecessor, Benedict XVI is not considered a hero, nor is he adept at media relations (or particularly photogenic, for that matter). Instead, Benedict XVI is an intellectual traditionalist who spent much of his career attacking liberal reformists in the church before becoming pope.

In many ways, therefore, the media’s negative coverage of the pope is not only due to the current sexual abuse scandal. Rather, it is a critique of everything the media dislikes about the pope – his conservative worldview, his reintroduction of the Tridentine Mass, his apathy towards dialogue with other religions, his lifting of Holocaust denier Richard Williamson’s excommunication, and his many writings condemning the forces of secularism which created the media.

This is not to defend Pope Benedict XVI nor to attack the media. The church’s mishandling of the abuse scandal does indeed merit substantial criticism; its response has been defensive and clumsy. There is plenty of material to justify the media’s criticism; the cases of sexual abuse appear quite outrageous. On the church’s side, the pope’s traditionalist views are genuinely felt while his critiques against moral relativism are often quite legitimate.

Rather, this is to look beneath the surface of the sexual abuse controversy. Its widespread negative coverage constitutes part of a deeper, long-standing conflict between a conservative church and a liberal media. It won’t be the last time the church and the media come into conflict.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

Assessing the National Mood: A Special Election in Florida and its Implications

Believe it or not, last Tuesday was election night. Several million Americans voted (or more accurately, did not vote) in mostly local races.

These results provide a helpful snapshot of the national mood. Polls may be inaccurate, or – more commonly – different pollsters may have different pictures of the public mood. Unlike polls, elections have that useful tendency of never being wrong.

Special elections for congressional districts are especially convenient, because there is already a wealth of accumulated data about them. Moreover, because name recognition of both candidates is generally very low, they come as close as one can get to “generic Democrat versus generic Republican.”

Quite happily, a special election occurred on Tuesday in one such congressional district. Specifically, voters in Florida’s 19th congressional district went about replacing retired House Representative Robert Wexler. Here are the results:

Of course Democrats do not and have – almost – never have enjoyed a majority anything close to that pictured here. These results must be placed in the context of the congressional district’s political lean. If, for instance, FL-19 constituted a Democratic stronghold, this result would be fairly unremarkable. It might even be quite worrisome for Democrats, depending on the district’s Democratic lean (there are some very, very, very Democratic congressional districts out there). On the other hand, if FL-19 usually voted Republican, Democrats would have some reason to celebrate a victory of this magnitude.

As it turns out, FL-19 constitutes a reliable Democratic stronghold. Located in the Miami metropolis, elderly and Jewish voters compose much of the district’s population. The latter accounts for Democratic strength, making Florida’s 19th 15% more Democratic than the nation as a whole.

With this in mind, last night’s election results do not look so impressive for Democrats. In fact, it appears that the party underperformed relative to the district’s lean.

But this is not news at all – in recent months the public mood has shifted quite strongly against the Democratic Party. Almost the entire Beltway agrees that Democrats will lose seats in November’s midterm elections; the only question is the degree of their loss. Republicans are hoping for a repeat 1994-type landslide; Democrats would be happy to retain control of the House.

Due to the unfavorable public mood, Democrats have had a terrible batting average in the most recent special elections; they most famously lost the state of Massachusetts to an unknown Republican State Senator:

In this context, Florida’s result looks positively respectable. The Democratic Party can take heart in the relatively small drop-off since 2008 – especially compared to their previous performances. Given that President Barack Obama won the election by more than 4.65%, it even suggests that Democrats hold a slight lead on the national level.

Indeed, in recent weeks Democratic fortunes have been on the rise. The passage of health care, alongside a slowly but surely improving economy, has led to an ever-so-slight uptick in their polling. Florida’s result substantiates these polls.

Finally, the very nature of FL-19 can lead Democrats to be optimistic. Mr. Obama’s strongest supporters, young and minority voters, are not present in large numbers in FL-19. Instead, this district – whiter and much more elderly than the nation at large – is composed of the very groups which have been moving away from the Democratic Party. Although it still votes strongly Democratic, Fl-19 is not as blue as it once was:

That Democrats performed as well as they did in a district such as this provides further reason for Democratic optimism. Elderly and white voters have not all abandoned the party; it still can do well with constituencies outside the Obama coalition.

The national mood is still fairly unfavorable towards the Democratic Party; certainly the public is more antagonistic than it was when electing Mr. Obama. If an election were held today, there is a good chance Republicans would end up controlling at least one chamber of Congress. But perhaps, if these results are to be believed, the Democrats are climbing out of the hole the recession has dug for them.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Maps of Pennsylvania Elections

A few maps of Pennsylvania’s presidential elections are linked below, for your enjoyment. (Unfortunately, I don't know how to post images on this site). Each map comes with some brief analysis. Note how in each succeeding election, Democratic margins in the Philadelphia metropolis increase, while their margins in the Pittsburgh corridor decrease.

Pennsylvania, 2008 presidential election.

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

 As the national tide increasingly turns in Senator Barack Obama’s favor, Senator John McCain mounts a quixotic attempt to win Pennsylvania. While Mr. McCain improves in the southeastern rustbelt, Democratic dominance in eastern Pennsylvania ensures a double-digit blue margin.

________________________________________________________

Pennsylvania, 2004 presidential election.

President George W. Bush mounts a determined attack on Pennsylvania, coming within 2.5% of Senator John Kerry. Mr. Bush does quite well in the traditionally Democratic Pittsburgh corridor and Republican strongholds throughout the “T.” But double-digit losses in Philadelphia’s suburbs (and a 400,000 vote deficit coming out of the city itself) prevent Mr. Bush from victory.

________________________________________________________

Pennslyvania, 2000 presidential election.

Without President Bubba holding the line, Republican margins in Pennsyltucky are much higher. Nevertheless, Al Gore closely carries Pennsylvania based on Democratic strongholds in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolises.

_______________________________________________________

Pennsylvania, 1996 presidential election.

With incumbent Bill Clinton poised to win comfortably weeks before election day, Senator Bob Dole does not seriously contest Pennsylvania. Democrats improve in the east and weaken in the west, while Mr. Clinton sails to a comfortable victory.

________________________________________________________

Pennsylvania, 1992 presidential election

Governor Bill Clinton romps to a nine-point margin, following three straight Republican victories in the state. Mr. Clinton milks Democratic strength in the industrial southwest for everything it’s worth, winning 2-1 margins in a number of counties. More ominously for Republicans, President George H. W. Bush barely loses the Philadelphia suburbs – the first Republican to do so since Senator Barry Goldwater (and before him President William Taft, in 1912).

(Note: Credit goes to the NYT for these amazing images.)

 

 

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