When Democrats Used to be the Daddy Party

In today’s political world, Democrats and Republicans often come with labels preattached. Republicans constitute the “Daddy Party”: they are hawkish on foreign affairs and are perceived as stronger with issues such as national security. Democrats, on the other hand, constitute the “Mommy Party.” In contrast to Republicans, they are peace-niks; the political beltway labels them as stronger on domestic, “Mommy” issues such as the economy. Interestingly enough, men are more likely to vote Republican, women to vote Democratic.

There was a fascinating period in American politics, however, when this was not the case. During the time of President Dwight Eisenhower, certain Republicans delighted in calling Democrats war-mongers. These Republicans, to be accurate, did not represent the whole party’s attitude – Republicans still had their Richard Nixons and Joe McCarthys.

Nevertheless, a group of Republicans did argue that Democrats were the party of war. In contrast, they painted themselves as the party of peace and prosperity. Behind this seemingly implausible claim was compelling evidence. Every previous Democratic president, they noted, had gotten the country involved in a war. President Woodrow Wilson had rushed into World War I; President Franklin Roosevelt had fought World War II; and President Truman had taken on the Korean War (which Mr. Eisenhower had promised to end).

Today the label of war-monger has long been shed by the Democratic Party; it is more popular to accuse them as weak on national defense. Yet for the Mommy Party, Democrats have involved the United States in a whole lot of Daddy Wars (WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan). For all that Republicans like to talk tough, it’s the Democrats you have to watch.

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

A First-World Crisis

The recent troubles faced by Greece bring to mind a fascinating way in which this financial crisis has been different from so many others. Namely, it has been the wealthy, Western countries that have been hit hardest and who have been made to look bad.

It was troubles in the United States, the world’s preeminent economic power, which first initiated the recession. Its sophisticated, modernized financial system self-destructed in a manner previously thought only possible in places like Indonesia or Argentina. For the first time since the Great Depression, First-World banks were in danger of falling; Great Britain even had an old-fashioned bank run.

And it was rich Westernized Iceland that was the first to collapse. Not some Latin American Argentina or Asian Indonesia – but Iceland. Today the country is still in financial chaos – an Icesave bill to restore stability has proven deeply unpopular, much like the bail-out bill for the banks. The bill is being put into a national referendum, where it will almost certainly lose.

Indeed, all of Europe has suddenly seemed vulnerable. In Eastern Europe, countries from Hungary to Estonia have been closely scrutinized, their finances built upon weak foundations. For a while Ireland appeared similarly weak, until its government enacted a set of bills to reduce debt. Now analysts are wondering about the Mediterranean PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece especially, and Spain). It looks like Germany will bail out Greece, to the fury of its citizens.

Meanwhile, the Third World has largely stayed above and out of the fray. China’s economic growth only briefly dipped from 13.0% to 9.0%, and practically no Third World countries have experienced financial crises of the type that roiled Iceland or the United States.

It seems that one legacy of the global recession may be to help close the gap between the rich and poor in the world. On the other hand, not all countries would benefit. Africa, for instance, is still plagued by the same problems that have beset it for generations. Finally -and quite unfortunately for the United States – more worldwide equality would probably lessen its relative power. What is good for the world is not always good for us, and vice versa.

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


A Close Call With Education Reform

Several months ago I wrote about the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, a bill which aims to make college more affordable.

The bill does this through several mechanisms. Firstly, it expands federal Pell Grants, which are government grants to low-income college students. These individuals would not be able to attend college without such types of aid (although an average Pell Grant these days would cover barely more than one-tenth the cost of attending a place like Harvard). The bill also sets Pell Grants to rise year after year, in line with inflation. President Barack Obama perhaps best explains the significance of this reform:

...we are also changing the way the value of a Pell Grant is determined.  Today, that value is set by Congress on an annual basis, making it vulnerable to Washington politics.  What we are doing is pegging Pell Grants to a fixed rate above inflation so that these grants don't cover less and less as families' costs go up and up.  And this will help prevent a projected shortfall in Pell Grant funding in a few years that could rob many of our poorest students of their dream of attending college.  It will help ensure that Pell Grants are a source of funding that students can count on each and every year.

Unfortunately, if the bill does not pass, this year's Pell Grants will be cut by more than half. In a bad recession and with ever-rising college tuition prices, this would severely impact a large number of Americans. Many individuals seeking to better their lives through college would be deeply hurt. Some might be forced to drop out. Others might have to add on yet more crushing student debt, forced to take exorbitant loans from private lenders.

The good news is that the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act also reforms the system of student debt. I previously wrote that under the current system:

...the federal government encourages banks to loan money to students. These loans are guaranteed and subsidized by the government.

Unfortunately, private banks are not in the business to help students. Many private student loans can be compared to sub-prime mortgages; they charge exorbitant interest rates, add numerous fees (e.g. the origination fee), and often take advantage of vulnerable, low-information customers. Moreover, under Republican banking reforms, student debt cannot be wiped away through bankruptcy.

Federal loans are different. Because the government is not out to make a profit, government loans (e.g. Stafford loans, Ford Direct student loans) generally carry lower interest rates and no fees.

Such a change, moreover, would reduce the deficit. The federal government would no longer refund private lenders if students defaulted, saving about $87 billion.

A bill which makes college more affordable, reduces student debt, and screws over the banks - it sounds too good to be true. What mad creature in Washington wouldn't support such a reform?

There are, in fact, two such creatures. Firstly, a number of Republican oppose the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act because of philosophical concerns. The reform substantially expands the role of government in education, which goes against the tenets of conservatism.

Secondly, banks and private lenders oppose the bill, for obvious reasons. These special interest groups have mounted an intense lobbying campaign, arguing that they can give more choices to 18-year-olds. They also give Senators something rather more important than choices: money.

A number of senators responded to this incentive. At least six Democrats - Bill Nelson (Fl.), Tom Carper (Del.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Jim Webb (Va.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) - wrote a letter expressing opposition to the bill because of job losses by banks. Yesterday Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota attempted to kill the bill, arguing that it did not fit budget reconciliation requirements. As of Thursday morning education reform appeared in trouble.

By the evening, however, a determined push by more supportive Democrats ended in progress for the law. Under the tentative agreement, it will be passed along with health care reform under Senate reconciliation.

Education reform is still by no means certain. There is still much time for banking lobbyists to kill reform with nobody noticing. With the public inattentive, a failure would have very little political consequence.

Yet a failure would have dramatic real-life consequences. The costs of college would continue to rise inexorably. Government education grants would be cut in half. Private student lenders would continue to prey upon unsophisticated teenagers, burdening them with astronomic, unfair loans. Millions of Americans would be left unable to attend college - unable to reach the American Dream.

This bill would not end these problems - it would not address the fundamental catalysts behind ever-rising college tuition. But perhaps, if it survives the assault by the banking community and becomes law, it will represent a beginning.

P.S. If you as the reader support the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, please call your senator, briefly voice your support for this reform, and go on with your day. Senators listen to the calls of their constituents. It is high time college became less expensive and more affordable, and a tiny step like this may yield urgent reform. Their numbers can be found at this useful site (although its purpose is somewhat different from education reform).

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



Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois

This is the first part of a series of posts analyzing competitive Senate elections in blue states. The second part can be found here.


In November 2010, Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias will face off against Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, in what looks to be a competitive Senate race. A heavily blue state, Democrats have been hurt by a bad national environment coupled with continuing fall-out from the Rod Blagojevich scandals.

Out of the three states being analyzed (the other two being California and New York), Illinois is the state in which Republicans are strongest. Out of the three, it is also the state with the most competitive forthcoming election. This post will analyze the political contours of the state, and the long and difficult path Mr. Kirk must tread for victory.

Illinois, 2008

With respect to demographics, Illinois is structured very simply. It has three parts: Chicago, its suburban metropolis, and the mostly rural downstate.

To win, Congressman Mark Kirk will need to run a gauntlet of challenges in each of section of the state. He must capitalize on Republican strength downstate, revive it in the suburbs, and hope that Chicago turn-out is depressed. If done properly, this will result in a close-run, Scott-Brown type victory.

Downstate Illinois

Mr. Kirk’s easiest task should be here.  Much of downstate Illinois has more in common with Kentucky and Missouri than far-north Chicago. Like these two states, the region has been trending Republican: Bill Clinton did far better than Barack Obama here.

There are several complicating factors. Downstate Illinois has several population centers – but these cities tend to vote less Republican (they all voted for Obama, for instance). Moreover, Mr. Kirk hails from the Chicago metropolis and has a reputation as a moderate congressman; he may not play too well with rural conservatives.

Nevertheless, the region constitutes the Republican base, and Mr. Kirk will need every vote he can get. He should be able to win downstate Illinois quite comfortably. He will have to. After all, President George W. Bush won practically every single county here – and he lost Illinois by double-digits.

Chicago’s Suburbs

The true test of Mark Kirk’s candidacy will come in the Chicago suburbs. His task is doable, but not exactly easy.

There is good news and bad news for Republicans. First the good news: unlike other solidly blue states, the Chicago suburbs still vote Republican. Like Orange County, for years their strength kept Republicans competitive in Illinois. Take a look at suburban DuPage County:

(Note: A negative margin indicates that Democrats lost Cook County, or that Republicans lost DuPage County.)

Even after Democrats started winning suburbs, during President Bill Clinton’s time, Chicago’s suburbs continued voting Republican. In 2004, for instance, George Bush won DuPage county by a little less than 10%.

The bad news for Republicans is that each election, they win the suburbs by a little less. In 2008 President Barack Obama swept DuPage County and the rest of Chicago’s suburbs by double-digits. This victory constituted the culmulation of decades of leftward movement.

The test for Mr. Kirk is the extent to which he can reverse this trend. He will not just have to win the suburbs, but turn the clock back two decades – back to the glory years in which Republicans won around 70% of the vote in DuPage County. (Mr. Kirk will probably not have to do that well, given rising Republican strength downstate.)

Is this doable? Given that Republicans seem to be winning suburbs everywhere this year, it is certainly possible. Mr. Kirk, moreover, has spent a decade representing a Chicago suburb congressional district; this is why Republicans have nominated him.


43.3% of Illinois residents live in Cook County, home to America’s third-largest city. Of these, half call Chicago home; the other half live in an inner ring of suburbs.

If God decided to create the ideal Democratic stronghold, he would get something like Chicago. The city is heavily populated by black and Latino minorities, mixed together with a dollop of white liberals. As a cherry on top, it is also home to President Barack Obama – and Chicagoans are highly aware of this fact.

Whether he loses or wins by a landslide, Mark Kirk will not win Cook County. He will just have to take the blow, cross his fingers, and pray that minority turn-out is low (as it has been, this year). That is not a good strategy, but it is the best Republicans can do when 89% of them are white, and they are competing in a minority-majority city.


So what does Mr. Kirk have to do? Say that he gets 35% of the vote in Cook County – propelled by inner-ring suburban strength and minority apathy – and wins a landslide everywhere else in the state (for instance, a 3:2 margin). This gives him 50.3% of the vote in the 2008 Illinois electorate. If white Republicans downstate turn out, and minorities in Chicago do not, Mr. Kirk may get bumped up to a 2-3% victory.

One hypothetical:

As we will see, this task is easier compared to the challenges Republicans face in California and New York. In Illinois they can (barely) get away with a white-only coalition. In California Republicans absolutely must win minorities – a novel challenge. As for New York – it is similar to Illinois, except that New York City is double the size of Chicago. And upstate New York is trending Democratic.



Previewing Senate Elections

Over the next few posts I will be previewing a select few competitive Senate elections. These posts will focus less on individual personalities and more on overarching state dynamics – what parts of the state vote Democratic, swing, and vote Republican.

These states will be mainly Democratic strongholds, rather than swing states, because this election cycle is the first in many in which they have been competitive. Another opportunity for analyzing these places will probably not occur for a while.

I am specifically talking about Illinois, New York, and California. Each state has different qualities: some are moving Democratic, parts of others are moving Republican. Versus Massachusetts, Democrats have several advantages. Big cities are a major factor in all three states, and high percentages of minorities live there. These compose the core of Mr. Obama’s strength.

On the other hand, Republicans have one distinct advantage over Massachusetts. In Massachusetts there were only two types of voters: Democrats and Independents. Illinois, New York, and California all have another type of voter. These are commonly called “Republicans.”

In comparison to my series analyzing swing states, I hope to keep these posts relatively short and simple. First off will be Illinois, where Congressman Mark Kirk looks set to run an extremely close race with Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Maps of Ohio Elections

A few maps of Ohio’s presidential elections are posted/linked below, for your enjoyment. Each map comes with some brief analysis.

Ohio, 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.)

Senator Barack Obama wins Ohio by 4.6%, a solid but unimpressive victory. Mr. Obama performs poorly in traditional Democratic areas – the northeast and even Cleveland – but offsets this with unique strength in Columbus and Cincinnati. Senator McCain runs strongly in the Republican base.


Ohio, 2004 Presidential Election

President George W. Bush wins Ohio by a close but decisive margin. Senator John Kerry does extremely well – winning Columbus and Cleveland by what his campaign wants – but Mr. Bush’s exurban strength famously overwhelms this strength. Nevertheless, Ohio votes more Democratic than the nation, the first time since 1972.


Ohio, 2000 Presidential Election

Vice President Al Gore gives up Ohio before election-day; Governor George W. Bush wins the state by 3.5%. Perhaps, campaign strategists later muse, they should not have abandoned the state.


Ohio, 1996 Presidential Election

Incumbent Bill Clinton cruises to a comfortable victory – the best Democratic performance since LBJ (and before that, FDR). The former Arkansas governor runs strong in the industrial northeast and the Appalachian southwest, while severely undercutting Senator Bob Dole’s margins in Republican territory. It’s a classic Democratic victory.


Ohio, 1992 Presidential Election

It’s an exact replica of the 1996 map – except this time the Democratic strongholds are a bit less blue, the Republican strongholds a bit more red, and Ross Perot is running strong. Governor Clinton wins by a mere 1.8%.



A Modest Proposal: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

(Note: This post is a satire.)

A number of outlets have criticized the recent Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down restrictions on corporate spending during elections.

I also disagree with the decision: it does not go far enough.

As every conservative knows, the Second Amendment is by far the most important part of the Constitution. It reads that:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

It is high time to extend the Second Amendment to corporations.

After all, the Supreme Court argues that corporations constitute human beings with feelings and rights, such as the freedom of speech. If speaking freely is fundamental to a corporation’s human dignity, so is bearing arms.

It may be slightly difficult for a company to own a gun, but there is a solution. Remember that the Second Amendment talks about “A well regulated Militia.” If corporations “bear Arms” by hiring private militias, they can then exercise their Second Amendment rights.

Think about it. Corporations need to be protected from the government. What happens if the government tries to take away their rights? The fact is, if corporations don’t protest when they take one right, they’ll take them all. It’s about having the ability to resist the government if it ever gets to corrupt.

So if the government decides to fight Goldman Sachs, Goldman Sachs and its privately owned militia is going to fight back – thanks to the Supreme Court’s logic and the Second Amendment.

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

The Massachusetts Special Senate Election: Aftermath

It’s been a bit since the Massachusetts election, in which unknown Republican Scott Brown emerged to upset the favored Democrat Martha Coakley in one of union’s deepest-blue states. Since then, Democrats have been reeling and recalibrating their strategy.

In a previous post, I outlined the results of how a tied election might look like. Let’s take a look at the prediction:

Now let’s see the actual results:

A clear pattern emerges: counties that the model forecast Ms. Coakley to win turned out more Democratic than expected, while counties that the model forecast Mr. Brown to win turned out more Republican than expected. The model, in predicting results, relied – incorrectly – on a uniform Republican shift from previous elections which Democrats won. The actual deviations indicate that Massachusetts shifted in a polarized manner: Democratic strongholds shifted Republican to a lesser extent than the state at large, independent areas shifted far more.

Here is a table of the results:

Results as of 1/29

A number of outlets – especially the people at swingstateproject – have gone even further, taking a look at the results by town. Here is the NYT:

The red areas constitute suburban Massachusetts, home to many of the white working-class Catholics that supported for Senator Hillary Clinton. These areas usually almost always vote Democratic, but they do so based off economic appeals rather than any innate liberalism (much like how West Virginia used to vote).

Republicans generally win Massachusetts by taking away suburban Massachusetts. Mr. Brown’s coalition replicated previous Republican victories:

Interestingly, President Barack Obama did relatively poorly in these suburbs – his performance was the worst since President Bill Clinton’s first run in ‘92. He still won them, of course (Massachusetts, lest people forget, is a Democratic stronghold), but by less than previous Democratic candidates. In fact, Mr. Obama underperformed throughout the Northeast, which is something few people know.

The areas Ms. Coakley won generally constitute the “liberal Massachusetts” Republicans love to insult. They are college towns and generally well-off, liberal places.

On the other hand, a number of  towns do not fit these stereotypes. Minorities in Boston, for instance, are responsible for it being a Democratic stronghold (unfortunately for Ms. Coakley, they did not turn out). Much of the rural west, which supported Ms. Coakley by a wide margin, is very white and not that wealthy.

If there is any good news from this election for Massachusetts Democrats, it is that they now have this information. The data provided by Mr. Brown’s surprise victory should prove useful for redistricting, future campaigns, and even predicting the future of Massachusetts politics. Hopefully they will not be caught off guard a second time.

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

Two Interesting Differences from 1994

In light of the Massachusetts Senate elections, which Republican Scott Brown won by a narrow but clear margin, I have been comparing the 1994 congressional elections to those coming up this year. In particular, I have been conversing with some old friends – people who were actually there in ‘94, reading the newspapers and watching the news.

These conversations eventually came to the subject of two intriguing factors that were apparently quite important in 1994 but almost totally absent today.

The first involved the length of Democratic dominance in Congress. In 1994, the Democratic Party had controlled the institution for forty years with an alliance of Southern representatives and the party’s modern strongholds. This long stay-in-power had built a reputation for corruption and ethnics problems; scandals worsened the perception. Apparently, the media talked almost continuously about this subject. The possibility of a Republican-controlled House, for the first time in two generations, gripped the Beltway.

The second involved the growing power of the Congressional Black Caucus. Since the advent of the Civil Rights movement, increasing numbers of black representatives had been elected to the House. Once elected, these congressman enjoyed practically life-long terms, given the black population’s heavily Democratic lean.

Eventually, due to seniority, black representatives began taking important positions on committees (something that is still the case today). By 1994, the public started taking notice and Republicans began airing the issue – adding the insinuation of unseemliness. My friends report that the media also talked quite a bit about the strong influence wielded by the Congressional Black Caucus.

Today, there is practically no discussion over these two subjects. Democrats have only controlled the House for four years this time. The issue of the Congressional Black Caucus has also dissipated as racial appeals have become less powerful, perhaps best symbolized by the election of President Barack Obama.

This does not mean, of course, that Democrats will maintain control of the House in November. If congressional elections were held today – taking into account the Massachusetts result – a Republican take-over would constitute a very likely possibility. As long as unemployment remains 10%, this state of affairs will continue.

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



The Human Factor Behind Republican Opposition

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

As has been fairly widely noted, House Republicans have stubbornly resisted every aspect of the Democratic program. The stimulus package and financial reform failed to gain a single House Republican vote, while a grand total of one Republican voted for health care – Congressman Joseph Cao.

Many commentators have cited naked political calculus as behind House Republican noncooperation. The explanation goes that House Whip Eric Cantor saw that opposing President Barack Obama’s agenda would best revive their party’s strength. The best option would be to stand against the president, hope/encourage his failure, and then ride public dicontent onto renewed congressional majorities.

This explanation is true as far as such things go; it fits Republican incentives well. Yet contrary to what some may believe, congressman are not unthinking automons who calculate their every action for political gain. They are human beings with very human emotions: pride, anger, humiliation, frustration. Just as you and me do many things based upon feelings rather than logic, so do politicians. One needs look no farther than Senator Joe Lieberman to find a politician driven entirely upon emotion.

When analyzing House Republican actions, therefore, viewing them through the lens of an emotional, human framework puts an entirely novel spin to their opposition. House Republican votes against Democratic legislation function just as much as an expression of frustration and anger as they do as an attempt to advance a political agenda.

Being a House minority member is often called a demoralizing experience, but these words merely scratch the reality. The minority never, ever wins; it is defeated day after day after day. Members of the minority are shut off from decision-making or bill-writing; their ideas are not even considered, let alone put into law. Every day constitutes a journey through frustration, doubly so for a congressman who probably considers him or herself a person of importance who ought be listened to.

So the minority strikes back in the only way it can – by voting against majority legislation. It’s frustrated; it’s angry; if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not going to listen to it, it’s not going to vote for her legislation.

Perhaps the most revealing instance of this human factor came on September 2009 2008, when House Republican opposition infamously defeated the bail-out bill. For a very brief moment, House Republicans publicly talked about this human factor, addressing an action of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi which caused their resentments to explode. Minority Leader John Boehner:

I do believe that we could have gotten there today, had it not been for the partisan speech that the Speaker gave on the floor of the House. I mean, we were — we put everything we had into getting the votes to get there today, but the speaker had to give a partisan voice that poisoned our conference, caused a number of members that we thought we could get to go south.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor:

Right here is the reason, I believe, why this vote failed, and this is Speaker Pelosi’s speech that, frankly, struck the tone of partisanship that, frankly, was inappropriate in this discussion.

Think for a moment about how the average House Republican felt at that moment. He or she probably personally disliked the bill and knew that voting for it will seriously hurt his chances for re-election. Chances are, he didn’t even understand what the bill was supposed to do, except somehow save the economy (to be fair, it did save the economy). And to top things off, the moment before the vote began, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this:

Madam Speaker, when was the last time someone asked you for $700 billion?

It is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush Administration’s failed economic policies—policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system.

She insults everything he stands for and then expects him to vote for the bail-out she’s pushing? It’s no wonder so many Republicans voted against it.

Now of course this explanation was universally condemned: the fate of the nation was literally at stake, and House Republicans were voting against a bill because their feelings were hurt. For this reason, the human factor is rarely brought up in House Republican explanations of their opposition votes. It is bad politics to say that one voted against the Democratic agenda because one’s feelings were hurt.

Yet the next time House Republican unanimously oppose a Democratic bill, try understanding the human factor’s role in all this. It is there, and it affects politics much more than one might first guess.




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