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Showing posts from February, 2016

Rubio Lurches Into the Gutter to Join Trump

Back when my writing tasks were mostly focused on producing PR for a nonprofit, I remember hearing an old axiom which said that in order to reach the maximum audience, you should target the comprehension level of the typical 8th grader. That's why I found this information from Dana Milbank to be so interesting. One language gauge, the Flesch-Kincaid grade-level index, measures sophistication by syllables per word and words per sentence. This is meant for written language, but, applied to campaign speeches and debates, it gives a rough sense of the relative levels of candidates’ rhetoric. ...In speeches after the Nevada caucuses, Cruz and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders were at a ninth-grade level, Hillary Clinton was at a seventh-grade level. And Trump? Second grade. Milbank goes on to assess Trump's performance in the last debate. Trump rarely left the primary grades the entire debate. On illegal immigration, he was in fifth grade. His views on Mitt Romney and on p

Assessing the Threats We Face

Obviously, Hillary Clinton's firewall held - at least in South Carolina - where she beat Bernie Sanders by almost 50 points on Saturday. In doing so, she won 86% of the vote from African Americans. But perhaps even more importantly : Black voters in South Carolina cast 6 in every 10 Democratic primary votes, according to CNN's exit poll data. That ratio is huge — and sets a record-high in South Carolina black voter participation rate. The previous high was 55 percent, set in 2008, when the first black president was on his way to being elected. For a while now, the question has been whether or not people of color - particularly African Americas - would turn out for the Democratic candidate in the numbers we saw when Barack Obama was on the ballot. At least in the South Carolina primary, they actually exceeded that benchmark. That was surprising to some people. But perhaps a quick walk down memory lane explains what happened. First of all, I've already noted how the

Republicans Breaking Ranks with the Likely Nominee

It is interesting to note that today, conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt felt the need to write: Six reasons Trump is still better than Clinton . I'm not as interested in his actual list as I am in the fact that he felt the need to write it in the first place. Barring some unforeseen circumstances - it is looking increasingly possible that Donald Trump will be the Republican Party's nominee. Even though we've been working up to that over the last few months, it is still quite the statement about the current state of affairs in the GOP. It is also no news to anyone that there are some Republicans who are none too happy at the prospect. And a few of them are starting to make their intentions clear if/when that reality materializes. Last week I noted an article by "former Republican" Robert Kagan that ended with this: So what to do now? The Republicans’ creation will soon be let loose on the land, leaving to others the job the party failed to carry out. For

A Rare Convergence From Two Sides of the Political Spectrum

This morning I read two articles that probably each deserve a post of their own...they're both that good. But I'm going to write about them together because, in an interesting way, they come from opposite ends of the political spectrum but converge on the same place. The first one comes from someone who now calls himself a "former Republican." Robert Kagan says that Trump is the GOP's Frankenstein Monster. He outlines much the same process I wrote about recently in: Post-Policy Republicans Gave us Donald Trump . Kagan describes the three things Republicans did to create this monster. 1. Obstruction Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements; the persistent call for nullification of Supreme Court decisions; the insistence that compromise was betrayal; the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters t

Blackish: The Confluence of Hope and Terror

The ABC series Blackish created quite a stir with this week's episode about a very timely issue. Here's how Bethonie Butler described it at the Washington Post : The episode, titled “Hope,” finds the Johnson family watching news coverage of a case involving an African American teenager. They grapple with how to talk to the family’s youngest members — twins Jack and Diane — about the community reaction to the case and others like it... Dre (Anthony Anderson) and his wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) have varying viewpoints about how much they should tell the twins about the case. Dre argues that they should tell the twins “the truth” and says “they’re not just children, they’re black children.” “I’m not ready for them to think and see the world the way that you do,” Rainbow replies. That captures the challenge of what it means to be a Black parent in this country...something white parents almost never have to confront. In this episode, it reaches its climax with this ex

Cecile Richards Gives Trump a Death Hug

The Republican establishment is having hissy fits over how to stop Donald Trump from being their nominee. The latest to weigh in is Karl Rove , who warns that they are running out of time. In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal out Wednesday night, the former senior adviser to President George W. Bush took stock of Trump's recent string of victories... The party has until about mid-March to coalesce behind one person, Rove said. “If not, the hopes of the party’s non-Trump majority will suffer the same fate as Caesar." Of course, for doing so, Rove can expect more of this from The Donald. Big defeat last night in Nevada for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. @KarlRove on @FoxNews is working hard to belittle my victory. Rove is sick! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2016 Perhaps the Republicans are in need of an assist from liberals. Ever since President Obama began to employ it years ago, I have appreciated the art of the political death hug . It was used

Please Proceed, Majority Leader

Only an hour after Antonin Scalia's death had been confirmed, Sen. Majority Leader McConnell announced that there would be no vote on a nominee from President Obama to replace him. Earlier this week, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said that there would be no confirmation hearings on the nominee. Then yesterday, Republican Senators began announcing that they would not even meet with the nominee. All of this is happening before the President has even announced his choice. You might be tempted to ask, "what is the strategy behind the Republican's decision to become the party of no, no and no?" Republican strategist Rory Cooper explained that the goal is to pretend that "we have already reached the conclusion of the debate." He suggests that to argue the credentials of the nominee would be "to give up a critical piece of leverage in how this is portrayed in the media." Republicans must keep it "a debate over a process, no

Let's Talk About Welfare Reform

Bernie Sanders has finally done what some of his supporters have been suggesting he should do for a while: challenge Hillary Clinton about her support of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, i.e., welfare reform. "I spoke out against so-called welfare reform because I thought it was scapegoating people who were helpless, people who were very, very vulnerable," Sanders said Wednesday. "Secretary Clinton at that time had a very different position on welfare reform. [She] strongly supported it and worked hard to round up votes for its passage." This could be an important discussion for Democrats to have. But that will only be possible if we are prepared to take an honest look at the issue rather than simply assume that we can cast the two candidates into a good/bad position based on what happened 20 years ago. The first thing we need to do is dump the Republican talking points about welfare. Here are the facts: even under A

The Prospects for Sanders are Starting to Look Pretty Grim

When it comes to where Bernie Sanders is going to be spending his time, Gabriel Debenedetti suggests that he seems to have given up on his prospects in South Carolina. That's probably not a bad move given that the RCP polling average has him losing there by 24 points with only 3 days to go. Instead, he'll be focusing his efforts on states who will be voting between March 1st and 15th. That includes going to places like Massachusetts, Missouri, Oklahoma and Ohio. Where the Sanders campaign is spending money these day is also instructive: "Colorado ($1.2 million), Massachusetts ($650,000) Minnesota ($680,000), Oklahoma ($690,000) and Texas ($32,000)." That gives us 7 states that, when using the chart below, tell us quite a bit about the Sanders campaign strategy. Now that the primaries/caucuses are coming more quickly, they are having to prioritize. While not all of the 7 states are included, it becomes clear why Sanders performed so well in Iowa and New Hampsh

What a Constitutional Scholar Looks for in a Supreme Court Nominee

One of the things I have always admired about President Obama is his ability to focus on his "North Star," regardless of the shenanigans going on around him. Here is how Michelle Obama described that a few years ago: Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward. And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight. If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there. We always have. Notice that she didn't say that we automat


Here is a list of the things I can remember: * Shouting "You lie !" in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress, * Refusing to accept the date for a speech about job creation to a Joint Session of Congress. * Negotiating a speech to Congress from a foreign head of state behind the President's back. * Seeking to undermine U.S. negotiations with a foreign country by writing a letter to their head of state. * Refusing to hold a hearing on the President's proposed budget. * Tossing the President's proposal to shut down Guantanamo Bay Prison in the trash (and videotaping the process). * Refusing to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee before the President has even named one. That is a list of the way Republicans in Congress have taken unprecedented actions against President Obama. Of course it doesn't include the unprecedented use of the filibuster by Senate Republicans to block his nominations, appointments and legislative agenda when they were

The Life of Virginia McLaurin

Yesterday I posted the video of Virginia McLaurin dancing as she met President and Michelle Obama at the White House. While it was an inspiring moment, it certainly doesn't qualify as "breaking news." But the story Colby Itkowitz tells about the life of Ms. McLaurin captures a bit of Americana that gives us a glimpse into how far we've come as a country during this woman's 106 years on the planet so far. It also provides us with some important context about our politics today. Ms. McLaurin was born in South Carolina in 1909 - just 44 years after the end of the Civil War. She picked cotton and shucked corn as a child and married at the age of 13 - moving to New Jersey with her husband. When he died she moved to Maryland and did domestic work to support herself and her two children. She now has too many grandkids to count - but as Itkowitz writes, "Her grandkids’ grandchild has a kid." It is hard to imagine all the history Ms. McLaurin has witnessed.

Joe Biden in 1992: Context Matters

By now you've probably seen the headlines: Joe Biden in 1992: No nominations to the Supreme Court in an election year. And, of course, Republicans are pouncing on that one to justify their plan to not consider President Obama's nomination to fill the current vacancy. But this is one of those situations where context matters. First of all, when Biden gave the speech there were no openings on the Supreme Court. As Chair of the Senate's Judiciary Committee at the time, his 90 minute speech was focused on the politicization of the nomination process that has been marred by the Clarence Thomas hearings and George HW Bush's refusal to consult with the Senate in selecting a nominee. Igor Volsky pulled a different clip from the speech in which Biden says the following: “I believe that so long as the public continues to split its confidence between the branches, compromise is the responsible course both for the White House and for the Senate,” he said. “Therefore I stand

John Kasich - Only Moderately Extreme

If you've watched John Kasich at any of the Republican presidential debates so far, two things stand out about him: (1) he wants to be the "Republican with a heart," and (2) he completely embraces trickle-down economics. That's pretty much the kind of thing we heard from George W. Bush in the 2000 election when he called himself a "compassionate conservative." Compared to the rest of the field this time around, that has a lot of pundits calling Kasich the moderate of the group. The problem is that we all got a pretty good lesson on the failure of trickle-down economics during the Bush/Cheney years. And right now, Kasich is demonstrating just how un-moderate he is on some important issues. For example, here's what happened at a town hall event in Virginia today. Notice that even one of his supporters called him out for saying that "women came out of their kitchens" to work on his campaign. That little gem comes the day after Kasich did th

Building a Winning Coalition is Not Pandering

The message of that ad is not subtle. What you have is Morgan Freeman narrating a story about how Clinton stands with the mothers of the victims whose death inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, the people of Flint, and the legacy of President Obama. In other words, it is a Democratic presidential candidate " pandering " to the African American community in order to win their votes. But let's be clear... both Democratic candidates have done that. They have also both done their best to win the support of Hispanic voters. And that's a good thing. It has become crystal clear in this primary that people of color will play a big role in selecting the Democratic nominee. Let's not let that reality pass without noticing the huge shift that means in electoral politics. Steve Phillips has written a book that is very instructive about that change titled: Brown is the New White . While others are talking about how demographics will change the electorate in the fu

Post-Policy Republicans Gave Us Donald Trump

By now we all know the story about how a group of Republican leaders met the day of Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009 to plan their next move. Their task was epic. The Bush/Cheney years had resulted in the largest terror attack on American soil, the country becoming mired in two seemingly endless wars in the Middle East, and the Great Recession. As a consequence, not only did the country elect a Democratic president, the party had control of the House and would eventually (for a few months) have a super-majority in the Senate. Republicans had to come up with a strategy to keep their Party alive. Of course the strategy they decided on that night was total obstruction of anything Democrats tried to do. There were risks associated with that plan. In order to pull it off, they had to convince their base that the newly elected President was a threat. Given that he had been elected based primarily on the idea that "there is not a blue America and a red America, but a United Stat

Balance Does Not Necessarily Lead to Truth and/or Morality

Peggy Noonan's pearl-clutching is legendary. So of course she is terribly concerned about the welfare of everyone in the country over this Supreme Court vacancy when she writes: The Court, Like the Country, Needs Balance . Or maybe not. Noonan starts off by paying homage to Antonin Scalia and how terribly brave he was to swim "each day against the tide." Given her penchant for "balance," you might wonder what that tide was all about, but we'll leave that for another day. She goes on to suggest that all of those 5-4 decisions on the Court contributed to an "air of credibility" and that when they tip one way, "it invites people to see injustice and bully politics." If that sounds familiar, it is exactly the reasoning conservatives have used to convince our media to frame every issue as a he said/she said. In that world, the consensus of science, factual evidence and morality are not the final arbiters. Each side must be given equal wei

Walls and Bridges

Yesterday, Pope Francis said this after visiting the U.S./Mexican border: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian." When asked whether American Catholics should vote for someone with Trump's views, here is how he responded: "I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt." In other words, the Pope refused to weigh in on a political question and restricted himself to matters of his faith. But of course, whenever The Donald is challenged, he has to throw a punch. Which he did - making the bizarre claim that Pope Francis is merely a pawn of the Mexican government. The Mexican government and its leadership has made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope, because they want to continue to rip off the United States, both on tra

VP Biden Reminds Us that We've Gone From Crisis to Recovery

Yesterday Vice President Biden was in my neck of the woods on his travels around the country to highlight success stories on the 7th anniversary of the signing of the American Recovery Act. His stop here was to showcase the renovation of the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, MN. Here's just a bit of background : The neoclassical depot was built in the 1920s and remained St. Paul’s entry point for passenger trains until 1971, when it fell into disuse. It came back to life in 2012 after a $124.3 million injection of federal transit and stimulus money, with about $105 million from the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority. The state chipped in $13.7 million. The Vice President had a message to send. “I’m here in Union Depot to show what private-public partnerships are all about, how they can stimulate investment,” Biden said... Biden told the crowd of 250 people that the Obama administration made “a lot of tough decisions” during the financial crisis... “We’ve gone f

President Obama's Deep Bench

As I look at the lists that many people have compiled on President Obama's likely choices for a Supreme Court nominee, I am struck by the deep bench he has to chose from - especially when it comes to women and people of color. The first thing to note is that affirmative action policies deserve a lot of the credit. One need only look at the journey Sonia Sotomayor took from the Puerto Rican projects of the Bronx to the Supreme Court for a perfect example of that. But in addition, one of this President's most important legacies is the extent to which he has stacked the deck (so to speak) in the lower courts, which many people consider to be the feeder system for Supreme Court nominations. That is the subject of an article by Max Ehrenfreund that is rather devilishly titled: The number of white dudes becoming federal judges has plummeted under Obama . As he notes, that is not an accident. "I think there are some particular groups that historically have been underrepr

The Last Stand of the Insurgency

Conservative groups are lining up to get behind Majority Leader McConnell's stand to obstruct ANY nominee President Obama puts forward to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Hugh Hewitt echoes the sentiment in a column titled: No hearings. No votes . The Supreme Court has inserted itself into every manner of controversy over the past 30 years, from abortion to guns to marriage and now immigration. It has assumed power never intended it by the Framers, but it is what it is and there is no going back. Thus who controls the court controls the meaning of the Constitution. If there is anything worth fighting for it is the future of the Constitution, and thus Senate Republicans have no choice here. Those that disagree may as well stop campaigning, and they will certainly stop getting campaign support from me. Their Democratic opponents will trounce them if even a small fraction of the GOP base is betrayed on this huge issue. Conservatives really are facing the prospect of a doub

Our Divisions Have Gone Beyond Policy to Tribalism

Greg Jaffe has taken an interesting look at how Democrats and Republicans respond very differently to anything President Obama says. To make his point, he zeros in on the President's most recent State of the Union speech - specifically the part where he talked about our political polarization and called for "a better politics." In response, a Democratic school teacher from Michigan tweeted this: Let’s get over the party lines and work together! Meanwhile, a retired Republican lawyer from Maryland - responding to the same words - tweeted this: Hearing him complain about political rancor is frankly nauseating. Here is how the experts describe what is going on: Americans don’t necessarily disagree more on policy. What has changed is the level of mistrust, and even vitriol, Americans have for politicians and their fellow citizens on the other side of the political divide. It is a suspicion that makes people question their neighbors’ motives, their sincerity and their

Some Much-Needed Context About the 1994 Crime Bill

Yes, that is a picture of me welcoming then-Attorney General Janet Reno - along with Congressman Bruce Vento and Police Chief William Finney - to a visit at the nonprofit where I worked. Just a couple of years prior to this event, I had gotten a job as the executive director of the agency whose mission was focused on juvenile crime prevention. That put me on the front lines of what was going on at the community level with an issue that was demanding a lot of attention in the early 1990's. I'm sure that every urban center has its own stories that capture the zeitgeist of those years. The one I remember is about a Cambodian gang that entered a convenience store and brutally murdered everyone on the premises. One veteran police officer told me that in all his years as a cop he'd never seen anything as gruesome as that crime scene. It was in that context that AG Reno visited us as part of her travels around the country to highlight local community-policing projects. Our P