Monday, February 29, 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 polling of Hispanics: fourth grade. His record as an employer? Third grade. Through it all, his vocabulary would have suited Dr. Seuss: “They will go out. They will come back. Some will come back...The wall just got 10 feet taller...We’re going to make many cuts...We’re going to get rid of so many different things.”
And he ended where he began — in third grade. “I will get it done,” he said. “Politicians will never, ever get it done. And we will make America great again. Thank you.”
Win, Donald, win. Grab, Donald, grab. See Donald make America great again.
But never fear...Marco Rubio is finding a way to lurch into the gutter to join Trump. Of course, his efforts look more like a 3rd grade school yard bully contest. Not only did he suggest that perhaps Trump wet his pants on the debate stage, recently he said this about his opponent:
In response to the property mogul calling him "little Rubio," Rubio conceded that Trump was taller than him. However, the Florida senator suggested Trump had small hands for his height.
"And you know what they say about guys with small hands," Rubio said with a smile, prompting stunned laughter from the crowd.
After a brief pause he added: "You can't trust 'em!"
Apparently this is not a matter of the Florida senator being ground down by a bruising primary. It is an actual strategy.
Senator Marco Rubio, seeing his path to the Republican nomination grow narrower with each contest, has determined that the only way to beat Donald J. Trump is to fight like him: rough, dirty and mean.
The acidity coming from Mr. Rubio these days, and the gleefully savage way Mr. Trump has responded, have sent an already surreal presidential campaign lurching into the gutter with taunts over perspiration, urination and self-tanner...
“We came to the conclusion that if being a part of the circus is the price you have to pay in order for us to ultimately be able to talk about substantive policy, then that’s what we’re going to do,” said Todd Harris, a senior Rubio adviser.
That, my friends, is the state of play in the Republican Party right now. I don't see how anyone can come to a conclusion other than that it is time for their Mamas to tell them to go to their rooms until they can act more appropriately.

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 nomination and election of Barack Obama was greeted with both hope and terror in the hearts of many African Americans. The hope was the culmination of something most thought they wouldn't see in their lifetimes. Beyond that, the way this President and his family have handled themselves in office has been a great source of pride, while his accomplishments will give him a place of honor in our history. Therefore, in many Black homes he has been adopted as part of the family.

But the terror indicated that those who felt it were very aware of the fact that we had not reached a post-racial America. Almost immediately during the 2008 election Obama was accused by those on the right of "paling around with terrorists," saw vicious attacks on his pastor and had his citizenship in this country questioned. Once he was elected, we witnessed unprecedented obstruction and disrespect of - not just his policies - but his very personhood. This country's first African American president consistently faced an opposition that challenged his legitimacy in office.

Meanwhile, the courts and Republican legislators all over the country have been attempting to roll back the voting rights that so many African Americans fought and died for, and they are watching their sons and daughters be killed at the hands of police officers and vigilantes.

We are now witnessing a Republican presidential primary where the candidates are racing to outdo each other in their contempt for people of color. The field is being led by someone who has been embraced by white supremacists and just yesterday refused to disavow the support he is receiving from KKK groups - claiming he needs to do research to understand who they are.

With all of that, is it any surprise that African Americans would assume that this country is facing the threat of a confederate insurgency?

Into that mix comes the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, whose campaign is based on the idea that we are living in an oligarchy where both Parties have been captured by the forces of Wall Street. That defines the threat very differently than what many African Americans see and feel right now.

In addition, Sanders has a history of calling President Obama naive and suggesting that he should be primaried in 2012. One of his most prominent surrogates in the African American community once said that the President had a "fear of free black men" and just recently suggested that civil rights heroes like Rep. John Lewis and Jim Clyburn have been bought off by Wall Street.

Compare that to Hillary Clinton, who has embraced President Obama and promised to build on his legacy. Not only that...she recognizes the challenges we face in breaking down the barriers that divide us and keep people marginalized.

Clinton and Sanders have assessed the threats we face very differently. Voters are faced with a choice of which candidate has most accurately defined those threats and offered a way forward. It should come as no surprise to anyone why African Americans are vigorously aligned with Clinton's vision.

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 this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.
Since then, a few of those others have started to speak out. For example, former Governor Christie Todd Whitman:
First, she says she's planning to vote for Hillary Clinton if Trump gets the nod. She's keeping her options open, in case we find out something new and horrible about Hillary. But that's her plan now.
"You'll see a lot of Republicans do that," Whitman told me. "We don't want to. But I know I won't vote for Trump."
That statement was prompted by Gov. Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump, as was this one from Meg Whitman:
"Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump is an astonishing display of political opportunism. Donald Trump is unfit to be president", said the statement from Whitman, who is chief executive and president of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and chairman of HP Inc.
Obviously, Whitman didn't say that she would vote for Clinton if Trump were the nominee. But like Sen. Ben Sasse, her choice might be to do so or sit this one out.
I’m as frustrated and saddened as you are about what’s happening to our country. But I cannot support Donald Trump.
Please understand: I’m not an establishment Republican, and I will never support Hillary Clinton. I’m a movement conservative who was elected over the objections of the GOP establishment. My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them. I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option.
I am not suggesting that these people are speaking for a majority of the Republican Party right now. But there is a contingent that agrees - I know because I have talked to some of them. That is why Hewitt had to take the unprecedented step of defending the guy who is likely to be the Republican nominee...to Republicans.

Update: Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa note the same phenomenon. Here is another example:
“For many Republicans, Trump is more than just a political choice,” said Kevin Madden, a veteran operative who advised 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. “It’s a litmus test for character.”
Madden, like some of his peers, said he could never vote for Trump. If he is the nominee, Madden said, “I’m prepared to write somebody in so that I have a clear conscience.”

Friday, February 26, 2016

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 that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at?
2. Bigotry
No, the majority of Republicans are not bigots. But they have certainly been enablers. Who began the attack on immigrants — legal and illegal — long before Trump arrived on the scene and made it his premier issue? Who was it who frightened Mitt Romney into selling his soul in 2012, talking of “self-deportation” to get himself right with the party’s anti-immigrant forces?
3. Obama hatred
Then there was the Obama hatred, a racially tinged derangement syndrome that made any charge plausible and any opposition justified...
Thus Obama is not only wrong but also anti-American, un-American, non-American, and his policies — though barely distinguishable from those of previous liberal Democrats such as Michael Dukakis or Mario Cuomo — are somehow representative of something subversive.
Kagan's conclusion to the prospect of Trump being the GOP nominee is something I've heard from a few other Republicans.
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 this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.
The other article I'd like to highlight comes from the other end of the political spectrum, so it might not be as surprising or monumental. But as President Obama's former speechwriter (including during the 2008 primary), Jon Favreau admits that he was not always a fan of Hillary Clinton. He writes about how his view changed while he worked with her in the White House.
The most famous woman in the world would walk through the White House with no entourage, casually chatting up junior staffers along the way. She was by far the most prepared, impressive person at every Cabinet meeting. She worked harder and logged more miles than anyone in the administration, including the president. And she’d spend large amounts of time and energy on things that offered no discernible benefit to her political future—saving elephants from ivory poachers, listening to the plight of female coffee farmers in Timor-Leste, defending LGBT rights in places like Uganda.
He then walks us through the different side of this candidate that was brought to us by Ruby Cramer in her article titled: Hillary Clinton wants to talk with you about love and kindness. Favreau's conclusion is that it is even more important to elect Hillary Clinton this year than it was to elect Barack Obama in 2008. That is a huge statement coming from someone like him. Here's the kicker:
Every election is a competition between two stories about America. And Trump already knows his by heart: he is a celebrity strongman who will single-handedly save the country from an establishment that is too weak, stupid, corrupt, and politically correct to let us blame the real source of our problems—Muslims and Mexicans and Black Lives Matter protestors; the media, business, and political elites from both parties.
Trump’s eventual opponent will need to tell a story about America that offers a powerful rebuke to the demagogue’s dark vision for the future. I like Bernie Sanders. I like a lot of what he has to say, I love his idealism, and I believe deeply in his emphasis on grassroots change. My problem is not that his message is unrealistic—it’s that a campaign which is largely about Main St. vs. Wall St. economics is too narrow and divisive for the story we need to tell right now.
In her campaign against Sanders, Hillary has begun to tell that broader, more inclusive story about the future.
What we see is Kagan looking for a way to "save American" from the Frankenstein monster created by the GOP and Favreau suggesting that, in order to combat the monstrous story of America being sold by Trump in this election, we need an alternative to that "demagogue’s dark vision for the future." Both of them see the answer to that in Hillary Clinton. It's a rare convergence of two sides that is worth paying attention to.

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 exchange.


When I wrote about the life of Virginia McLaurin, I talked about how many Black families made Barack Obama a part of their family. What Dre describes in this episode is one of the consequences of that - the terror that he would be assassinated, which arrives right along side the hope he embodied.

Every now and then, as I watch the reactions of African Americans to events in our country and/or their own lives, I get a stark reminder of the way our history colors our vision of the present very differently. That was the subject of much discussion when the verdict in the OJ Simpson case was released. But what Dre talked about in that clip up above was another one that not a lot of white people were exposed to. We all witnessed the joy and the hope on Inauguration Day in January 2009 - many of us shared those feelings. But the terror was there too.

I witnessed the same thing when Barack Obama won the Iowa primary in 2008. As many have noted, that's when a lot of African Americans took notice. But as we were all celebrating the glimmer of hope that represented, I was also exposed to the reaction of many Black people like the one described by someone with the screen name "Hubris Sonic" in a blog post titled: Pride and Palpitations. He does a wonderful job of capturing the moment when the outcome was announced and his family all gathered around the television to watch Barack Obama give his victory speech.
It took an eternity for Obama to get to the mic to speak, and in that eternity, I felt the muscles in my neck tense up. The stepson wrapped his hand about his legs and bored in to the screen. And once Obama started talking, after about fifteen seconds, my wife suddenly flipped over towards the wall, covering her head and saying through the muffled blankets...
“I can't watch!”
And in that moment, she verbalized exactly what was on my mind, and I dare say what was on the minds of a considerable majority of the African Americans watching him call down verbal thunder in those minutes.
We...were afraid.
I found myself not unconsciously scanning the roaring crowd, praying to not see a weapon pop above the throng and point at him. I couldn't stop myself. When the camera lingered on him too long during stretches of the speech, I averted my eyes for a few seconds, fearful that I might catch a tragic moment playing out in horrific real-time. I'd look back again a second or two later.
I found I couldn't really absorb or analyze the speech as I'd have liked. I was too busy checking out cameras in the crowd held aloft, and wondering about security. “Jesus, he gets so many people at his events! How the fuck is he gonna secure the venues? Ohhhhh man...”
Just as with that clip above from Blackish, that was a moment when this white woman got a tiny glimpse into what it means to be an African American in this country. I knew then that, in order to understand my fellow Americans, I had to have some awareness about how hope and terror so often arrive together. One particular Black woman - Michelle Obama - obviously felt it too.

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.
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 effectively against Obama's Ambassador to China, John Huntsman in the 2012 Republican primary. And the President was always happy to point out that he patterned Obamacare after Romneycare in Massachusetts.

The whole notion of a death hug is built on the fact of Republican extremism. That is why even some of their candidates have been getting in on the act - like when Ted Cruz photoshopped a picture of Marco Rubio happily shaking hands with President Obama. The message is, "what could be worse than a Republican hobnobbing with the enemy?"

Yesterday, Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards gave the Republican establishment an assist in their efforts to take down Trump by giving him a death hug. In an interview on MSNBC, she said that she "appreciates Donald Trump's kind words about Planned Parenthood." That quote is now headline news at a conservative anti-abortion web site.

I doubt that will be enough to end Trump's presidential race. But thank-you cards for an assist should be sent to Ms. Richards from the GOP forthwith.

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, not a person" and the "story must be starved of oxygen."

To perhaps test that resolve, an anonymous source told the Washington Post yesterday that Republican Governor Brian Sandoval was being considered. A spokesman for McConnell reacted immediately.
And freshman Senator Deb Fischer demonstrated that she had gotten the memo.
Does anyone else think that all of this reeks of desperation? Josh Marshall sure does.
I think they protest way, way too much about the brittleness of their position and the potential electoral fallout. The emphaticness of the "three nos" isn't really necessary to convince anyone at this point. It's to make the point so ferociously, totally, almost maniacally that they can actually end the debate now. But I doubt they actually can.
When it comes to power, Senate Republicans maintain the ability to block any potential nominee President Obama puts forward. But their "three nos" strategy has telegraphed their weak point for all to see...the very real possibility of an extremely qualified nominee. That plays right into the hands of President Obama's most likely strategy - to pragmatically chose the most qualified person. As Marshall says, from there - the job of the Democrats is pretty easy.
So let's start with this. Republican senators won't meet with the nominee. We get it. But I'm pretty sure Democratic senators will meet with him or her and make quite a show of it. I'm also fairly sure the White House will keep trying to set up meetings with Republican Senators and make a show of the on-going refusals. Senate challengers will press it in their campaigns too. And I have little doubt the White House will be sure to arrange meetings with the couple Republican senators who've so far bucked the unified front.
The Republicans are placing all their bets on their ability to shut down media discussion of the nominee once their name is announced. Given the importance of this issue, that is a tall order - even for them. But because their base has communicated that nothing - not even control of the Senate - is as important as obstructing this nomination process, its probably the only play they have.

Recently Alec MacGillis wrote a brief profile of Mitch McConnell and why he has chosen this fight. In the end, it's clear that he didn't...the fight chose him. This description pretty much encapsulates what the Majority Leader is all about.
The best way to understand Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. has been to recognize that he is not a conservative ideologue, but rather the epitome of the permanent campaign of Washington: What matters most isn’t so much what you do in office, but if you can win again.
In other words, as Majority Leader, McConnell is in the position of having to draw a line in the sand about conservative influence on the Supreme Court. To do so, the only play he has is the one that puts winning the Senate again in jeopardy. As the President might say, "Please proceed, Majority Leader."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

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 AFDC (pre-reform), most recipients did not depend on it long term. The following is from testimony by the Urban League in 1996 prior to the passage of welfare reform:
The majority of families who leave the welfare system do so after a relatively short period of time -- about half leave within a year; 70 percent within two years and almost 90 percent within five years.
So before welfare officially became "temporary" (it is now named Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), most women turned to it as a transition due to job loss, divorce, domestic violence, or the death of their spouse. In that sense, the time limits of welfare reform (limiting recipients to 5 years) didn't affect their lives. But as Elaine Kamarck pointed out in an article at the Washington Monthly back in September 2011, other parts of the social safety net - like the Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Social Security Disability and SCHIP - are critical.

The women who depend on welfare for longer periods of time are those we sometimes describe as living in "deep poverty" that often combines economic struggles with those of generational poverty, mental health/drug addiction issues, lack of education and trauma. This is where some data from Kevin Drum is helpful.

The green line is the one to pay attention to if you want to know the comprehensive effect of all changes to the social welfare system over the past couple of decades. And what it shows is that the percentage of households with children in extreme [ie, deep] poverty increased from about 1 percent to 1.5 percent. That represents an increase of fewer than 500,000 households.
Understanding all of that, we can then talk about what an effective anti-poverty agenda should actually look like. Rather than assume that it means going back to the old AFDC model, it would include two things:

1. Protecting and expanding the current safety net programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.

2. Developing case management and other services designed to address the needs of women living in deep poverty.

On that latter point, my home state of Minnesota was one of the first to discover a program embedded in Medicaid that is invaluable in working with families living in deep poverty. It is called Child Welfare - Targeted Case Management.
Child Welfare Targeted Case Management (CW-TCM) activities coordinate social and other services designed to help the child under 21 and the child's family gain access to needed social services, mental health services, habilitative services, educational services, health services, vocational services, recreational services, and related services including, but not limited to, volunteer services, advocacy, transportation, and legal services.
Via this program, Medicaid picks up half the costs of the case managers and the local unit of government pays the other half. As an example, due to funding from CW-TCM, I witnessed an opium-addicted mother of several children get sober, re-enter the workforce, and watch her son be the first in his family to graduate from high school and go on to college...priceless.

Another alternative is exemplified by an organization run by a friend of mine, which began in Minnesota and has now expanded to other states, the Jeremiah Program. Women are provided with housing, child care and social services while they are involved in educational programs to advance their job skills.

Presidential candidates and other politicians can chose whether to use welfare reform as an attempt to discredit their opponent, or as a way to advance this kind of conversation on how we address the issue of poverty in this country. I certainly hope that they chose the latter.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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 Hampshire as well as why he would do very well in Vermont - even if it wasn't his home state. All three of them top the charts with the number of both liberal and white Democratic voters.

The next phase for the Sanders campaign means moving in to states where he has less of an advantage  in one or both of those areas. It is clear that the campaign has placed their bets on doing better with less liberal voters than with less white voters. While they are spending a token amount of money in Texas, it clearly isn't a high priority state. Massachusetts is the next best state to IA, NH and VT, so Sanders has a chance to do reasonably well there - as he does in my home state of Minnesota. But beyond that, he seems to be focusing his efforts on states that are less liberal - but are still around 80% white.

Debenedetti points to the likely strategy:
His campaign needs to perform well in the first half of March to stay competitive against Clinton...

Since each state in the primary process allocates its delegates to the convention proportionally, the Sanders camp figures, he'll walk away from South Carolina with some delegates, no matter what. And, recognizing that the Vermont senator does better when he can spend serious time in states, aides think as long as he can claim enough delegates between March 1 and 15 from the ones he's now visiting, he can remain neck-and-neck with Clinton through the month.
But as David Wasserman says, neck-and-neck with Clinton is not good enough. Noting that Clinton currently leads Sanders with super delegates by a margin of 449 to 19, he says:
That's a huge head start for Clinton, and it means Sanders would need to win roughly 55 percent of the 4,295 remaining pledged delegates and uncommitted superdelegates to reach a bare majority, while Clinton would only need to win 45 percent. That's an extremely tall order, and so far Sanders hasn't kept pace.
The Sanders campaign and his supporters can complain all they want about super delegates, but those have been the rules of the game for a long time now and his dissing of the "establishment" has consequences.

But even more important than Wasserman's analysis, a Sanders strategy that tries to run up the score of delegates by focusing on states with more white Democratic voters avoids the question he eventually has to face: if his campaign can't win over voters of color, he can't win the nomination. On that score, his prospects look pretty grim right now.

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 automatically "get there." It is predicated on showing up, fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right.

And so today, while the Republicans continue to take unprecedented steps to delegitimize his presidency by refusing to even hold hearings on his Supreme Court nominee, President Obama isn't letting himself be controlled by getting caught up in reacting to the noise. Instead, this Constitutional scholar is doing things like writing a post for SCOTUSblog on what he'll be looking for in his choice for a Supreme Court Justice. Let's take a look at what he said.

The President laid out three qualities that he will focus on.

1. A sterling record
First and foremost, the person I appoint will be eminently qualified. He or she will have an independent mind, rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials, and a record of excellence and integrity. I’m looking for a mastery of the law, with an ability to hone in on the key issues before the Court, and provide clear answers to complex legal questions.
2. A deep respect for the judiciary's role
Second, the person I appoint will be someone who recognizes the limits of the judiciary’s role; who understands that a judge’s job is to interpret the law, not make the law. I seek judges who approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand.
3. An understanding of the way the world really works
But I’m also mindful that there will be cases that reach the Supreme Court in which the law is not clear. There will be cases in which a judge’s analysis necessarily will be shaped by his or her own perspective, ethics, and judgment. That’s why the third quality I seek in a judge is a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook. It’s the kind of life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom; experience that suggests he or she views the law not only as an intellectual exercise, but also grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times. That, I believe, is an essential element for arriving at just decisions and fair outcomes.
One of the things that is interesting to note is how consistent these principles have been for this President. Back when he was still a U.S. Senator, it was John Roberts failure on #3 that led him to vote against that nomination.
The problem I face -- a problem that has been voiced by some of my other colleagues, both those who are voting for Mr. Roberts and those who are voting against Mr. Roberts -- is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases -- what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.
In those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point. The language of the statute will not be perfectly clear. Legal process alone will not lead you to a rule of decision... - in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart.
The analogy John Roberts so often used for the role of a Supreme Court Justice as merely a baseball referee who calls strikes and balls was not an adequate response for then-Senator Obama.

Rather than base his selection on litmus tests or ideological calculations, what President Obama has described is his pragmatic approach to selecting a nominee. And rather than getting distracted by all the "chatter and noise," that is the North Star that will guide him. It also happens to be a pretty good strategy.

Unprecedented

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 in the minority. Nor does it include all the times that Republican politicians, candidates and officials have questioned his citizenship, love of country, and clearly professed religious beliefs.

As Josh Marshall says about the latest example of refusing to hold hearings on the President's Supreme Court nominee, it is "a culmination of Republican efforts not simply to block Obama's policies but to delegitimize, degrade and denigrate his presidency and the man himself." That was essentially my reaction when I first heard of their plans. The evidence flies in the face of Republicans and pundits who attempt to turn this whole approach on its head and claim that it is the President who is being divisive.

Even for those who deny the inherent racism involved in attempting to delegitimize this country's first African American president, it is obvious that - while there is nothing illegal in what Republicans are doing - it is dangerous to the very underpinnings of our democracy. When the people have spoken and elected someone to lead this country - but they are thwarted in carrying out their Constitutional duties to do so by attempts from the opposing Party to undermine them - it is not merely an affront to that leader. It is a challenge to all of us who participated in that electoral process. And it eats away at our confidence is doing so going forward. It is also a recipe for chaos.

Our democracy is not based on all of us agreeing with each other. The founders gave us a process for voicing those disagreements and doing the hard work of taking care of the country's business in the midst of them. These unprecedented actions by the Republicans to undermine and delegitimize one of the three branches of our government place their side of the argument above those processes and thereby pose a threat to its very survival.

It is not up to President Obama to challenge this threat alone. As citizens, we need to recognize what is happening and use our voices to call it out...be that via words or ultimately in the voting booth.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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. As a commenter here wrote yesterday, her life so far covers 44% of this country's existence. When it comes to what it means to be a Black woman during all those years, here is what she had to say:
As a child growing up in the South, she said she didn’t imagine that there could ever be a world where white and black people were integrated. When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched in Washington, she didn’t know whether his dream would ever be realized.
“This was white and this was black. There were so many things we weren’t allowed to do, we were raised up like that,” she said. “I felt like it would always be that way.”
By the time Dr. King marched in Washington, Ms. McLaurin was already 54 years old. Half of her life had been lived prior to passage of things like the Civil Rights Act. So one can understand why she says, "I felt like it would always be that way."

And yet Ms. McLaurin not only lived to see the Civil Rights Movement, she also witnessed the election of this country's first African American president. It's clear that she is proud - not only of his family, but of the way he has handled himself in office. That is why she told Itkowitz that, "I can die smiling now."

Ms. McLaurin's story helps me understand why I've heard so many African Americans talk about how, in the homes of their mothers and grandmothers, a picture of the Obama family has been placed next to their family photos. His presidency represents the hopes they carried through their difficult journey in this country. In many ways, that makes him a part of the family.

If you've ever wondered about the visceral reaction from Black people to any disrespect shown to President Obama by politicians, candidates and their surrogates, it is the history that Ms. McLaurin has lived that explains it. The issue is not about whether one agrees with the President. It's about showing respect to a member of their family who realized a hope they dared not dream would actually happen in their lifetimes.

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 by my position, Mr. President, if the President [George H.W. Bush] consults and cooperates with the Senate or moderates his selections absent consultation, then his nominees may enjoy my support as did Justices Kennedy and Souter.” Watch it:

VP Biden released a statement about the speech that included this:
Some critics say that one excerpt of my speech is evidence that I oppose filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year. This is not an accurate description of my views on the subject. Indeed, as I conclude in the same statement critics are pointing to today, urged the Senate and White House to work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended. That remains my position today.
That conclusion from Biden is exactly what President Obama is doing right now.
President Obama has begun to consult with key senators from both parties on nominating a successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the White House said Friday.
In the past 24 hours, Obama phoned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), press secretary Josh Earnest said. Both senators have said replacing Scalia should be left to the next president...
“He is committed to talking to Congress,” the spokesman added. “He reiterated his firm belief that the Senate has a constitutional obligation here as well.”
I realize that in this era of soundbites and linkbait, it's not very likely that we'll get a lot of context about a 90 minute speech the Vice President gave almost a quarter of a century ago following one of the most contentious Supreme Court nominations in modern history. Providing that context is certainly not in the interest of Republicans, nor does it fulfill the media's desire to paint every issue with "both sides do it." But for the reality-based among us, it's a good idea to actually be informed.

Monday, February 22, 2016

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 this:
Gov. John Kasich has signed legislation to strip government money from Planned Parenthood in Ohio...
The bill targets roughly $1.3 million in funding that Planned Parenthood receives through Ohio's health department. The money, which is mostly federal, supports initiatives for HIV testing, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and prevention of violence against women.
All of that reminded me of something that happened just after Kasich was elected Governor of Ohio. He came under heavy fire in his home state for the fact that all of the appointments in his administration went to white people. For a Republican, that isn't terribly surprising. But it was his response that was jarring. Instead of working with communities of color to improve, he got defensive.
"We pick people on the basis of who's qualified. We don't pick them on the basis of quotas. I mean I think quotas are yesterday," Kasich said on Jan. 2.
Kasich said he's color blind when it comes to hiring.
"I mean let's get the best people for the job," said Kasich.
In other words, "the best people for the job" just happened to all be white. People of color need not apply. When Ohio's Legislative Black Caucus offered to help him out with that, Kasich said, "I don't need your people."

So the moderate in the Republican presidential race is the guy who believes that:

1. if we just give rich people more tax cuts our economy will boom for everyone,
2. women are still in the kitchen and don't deserve access to reproductive health care, and
3. the best person for any job in his administration just so happens to be white.

I'll grant you that compared to the other 4 candidates still in this race, Kasich is slightly less extreme. But then, I'm old enough to remember what happened the last time the country had a "compassionately conservative" president.

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 future, he suggests that we are missing what is happening right now.
Most of the attention paid to the country's changing demographics focuses on the trends showing that whites will one day be a minority of America's population. … According to the most recent census projections, that year is expected to be 2044. [But] the focus on 2044 overlooks the equation that's been hiding in plain sight, one that shows what happens when you add together the number of today's people of color (the vast majority of whom are progressive) and progressive whites. It's this calculation that reveals that America has a progressive, multiracial majority right now that has the power to elect presidents and reshape American politics, policies and priorities ... today.
In an interview with Janell Ross, Phillips suggested what Democrats should do going forward.
Now, there is what I call a “New American Majority” consisting of progressive people of color and progressive whites. That’s the coalition that elected Obama, and when it has been uninspired and ignored — as happened in 2010 and 2014 — voters of color have stayed home, and Democrats have lost badly. We need to run toward people of color instead of away from them in order to win. I want to drive that message home in [2016], the first election of the post-Obama era.
In other words, Phillips is saying: "Bring on the pandering," something that is only referred to that way when a candidate embraces the agenda of people of color. Remember how Barack Obama has been criticized for not reflecting back the fear and anger of the middle class? Were the pundits who engaged in that analysis not "pandering" as well?

After the Nevada caucuses, it looks pretty clear that if Bernie Sanders loses this nomination it will be because he failed to win the support of the majority of black and brown voters in the Democratic Party. If so, it will be up to Hillary Clinton to inspire the "New American Majority" to not just vote for her in the primary, but to replicate their turnout in the last two presidential elections. Let's reject the notion that to do so has anything to do with pandering. It's actually about putting together a winning coalition for a changing America. As David Simon said after the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012:
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.

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 States of America," that was going to be a challenge. But the one thing they had going for them was the "otherness" of his biography and ethnicity. And so they capitalized on how Sarah Palin had defined the "real [read: white] America" and the idea that Barack Hussein Obama had "palled around with terrorists." That led to everything from the birther movement to death panels to the whole of idea that this President was actually a Kenyan socialist. In other words, to rally their base behind the strategy of total obstruction, these Republican leaders fanned the flames of fear and anger.

Being the party of "no" meant becoming post-policy. As such, it was not necessary to deal with the policy failures of the past administration. It was also not necessary to develop policy alternatives to the ones proposed by Democrats. Republicans felt no need to offer a health care reform proposal of their own, or a plan to deal with the fact that - at the time - this country was losing 700,000 - 800,000 jobs each month. Their task was simply to say "no" to whatever the President proposed and convince their base that his plans were a threat to the country.

Now we see that the leader of the Republican presidential primary is tapping into that very same post-policy formula. Donald Trump isn't really offering any proposals for what he would do as president. He merely says that he'll come up with a great alternative to Obamacare, he'll create millions of jobs, he'll deport all those brown people and he'll make America great again. Trump has been so evasive with what he'd actually do that at one point he refused to answer specific questions and said that he wanted to be unpredictable. In other words, he is the ultimate post-policy candidate. Trump's supporters don't care. They're not really looking to him for answers. Their attraction to him is that he stokes their fear and anger.

This is also why Trump can get away with attacking the very foundation of conservative principles. Because Republicans simply swept their failures during the Bush years under the rug, Trump can exploit them against "the establishment" and call them out for lying us into the war in Iraq and failure to address the problems in our economy. Even Republican voters know that is true. And the establishment candidates who embrace those same policies make themselves vulnerable to the kinds of blistering attacks that Trump has been dishing out lately.

Unless and until Republicans grapple with the fact that their policies were a total failure and embrace things like science and evidence to update them for the 21st Century, the only thing they have to offer is emotional exploitation. And no one is better at that than demagogues like Donald Trump.

Friday, February 19, 2016

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 weight - no matter how unmoored they are from the evidence.

I'll leave it to the Supreme Court historians to prove just how wrong Noonan is when she insists on balance in all decisions. I'd simply ask her if Brown v. Board of Education - which was a 9-0 decision back in 1954 - required more "balance." It sounds like she would have embraced the idea of a Justice Scalia swimming against the tide of overturning Plessy v Ferguson.

Does anyone else find it interesting to hear a conservative talking about balance when it comes to constitution principles? I thought they were the ones committed to ultimate truths and foundational values. But what we have here is someone who knows, underneath it all, that things are changing. The days of white male patriarchy are numbered. And the best she can argue is that the dissenters to that change (in other words, those on the wrong side of history) deserve a voice.
The closeness of the vote suggests both sides got heard. The closeness contributes to an air of credibility. That credibility helps people accept the court’s rulings.
Much like what Hugh Hewitt wrote yesterday, the side that Noonan thinks needs to be heard in order for the court to have credibility is the one that is concerned about questions of "religious life, on abortion and marriage, on guns and immigration." In other words, the blows conservatives are feeling to the white male patriarchy.

Noonan then goes on to clutch her pearls about allowing the man we elected president to do his job. She says that Obama CAN nominate someone to replace Scalia - but he shouldn't.
What to do? The closest you can come to public peace in resolving the question of Scalia’s replacement is to take a step wholly unusual, even unprecedented, and let the American people make the decision themselves, this year, with their 2016 presidential vote.
As so many people pointed out when Sen. Mitch McConnell made the same argument, this totally ignores the fact that the American people made their decision in 2012 when they elected Barack Obama. Or perhaps this is what Noonan is suggesting:
The bottom line is that conservatives like Peggy Noonan know what is coming. They can't stop it. By "it," I mean the changes they've been fighting against for years, but are coming anyway. She ends this piece with a bit of a warning:
Progressives have no idea how fragile it all is. That’s why they feel free to be unappeasable. They don’t know what they’re grinding down.
They think America has endless give. But America is composed of humans, and they do not have endless give.
The "humans" she is referring to - of course - are "conservative humans." What is being ground down is their attachment to white male patriarchy. It is a battle this country has been fighting since its founding when the statement, "all men are created equal" literally meant "men" (not women) and those who weren't white were assumed to be savages and/or property. We've made a lot of progress since those days. But we're not done yet. Those who are seeking "balance" on the Supreme Court to stave off the next stage of perfecting our union are grasping at their last straws.

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 trade and at the border, and they understand I am totally wise to them. The Pope only heard one side of the story - he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States. He doesn’t see how Mexican leadership is outsmarting President Obama and our leadership in every aspect of negotiation.
Yesterday, Martin summarized how the Republicans are building walls instead of bridges to almost every group of Americans you can name - except of course, white heterosexual males in Trump's age group.
And, consider, since 2012 they’ve definitely done damage with their prospects with Latino and Asian voters. They’ve further alienated the academic/scientific/technical/professional class with their anti-science lunacy. They’ve lot the youth vote over a variety of issues, including hostility to gay rights. They’re doing everything they can to maximize the black vote. Muslims will vote almost uniformly against them despite sharing some of their ‘family values.’ Women won’t be impressed if Cruz or Rubio are the nominees because they both oppose abortion including in cases of rape or incest. They’ll be unimpressed with Donald Trump because he’s a sexist, womanizing boor.
And now, if Trump is the Republican nominee, we can add Catholics to the growing list of people he has offended.

Other than white older males, the one group that hasn't been jettisoned so far are conservative evangelical protestants. Since the Reagan years, they had formed an uneasy alliance with conservative Catholics who supported Republicans primarily because of their position on abortion. But it has always been clear to me, as someone who grew up steeped in anti-Catholicism from the evangelical protestants in my family/community, that this was a fragile partnership. And so it doesn't surprise me at all to see Franklin Graham (son of evangelist Billy Graham) weighing in with support for Trump.
My advice to the Pontiff—reach out and build a bridge to Donald Trump. Who knows where he may be this time next year!
Republicans - with Donald Trump at the helm - are doing an excellent job of building walls and burning all their bridges behind them.

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 from crisis to recovery, and I’m so tired of hearing everybody talking down America’s prospects,” Biden said.
That sentiment came up again during an interview with Michael Grunwald later in the day. When asked whether or not he was surprised that it isn't just Republican candidates talking doom and gloom in this presidential race, here's how he responded.
I am surprised. Take a look at all the campaigns in the last cycle. The only Democrats who won close races were the ones that stuck with the administration, talked about the record…My generic point is, you get behind the curve. Even my own folks say, jeez, Joe, you got 60-70% of the American people think we’re going in the wrong direction. Don’t try to buck it. What do you mean, don’t try to buck it? If everybody doesn’t buck it, guess what, it’s gospel...

I think both Hillary and Bernie are basically on the same page, with different emphasis, on college, Wall Street, the 1%, civil rights, etcetera. What I don’t think they’re spending enough time doing is pushing back on the story line that what we did to get us to this point was a failure and a mistake.
I'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not he has fairly captured the approach of these candidates. But overall, I think he's right. This country has made tremendous progress economically over the last 7 years. Of course there is work yet to be done. But to the extent that the successes are not acknowledged and celebrated, they are dismissed and forgotten. That not only feeds the Republican narrative, it leads to cynicism and makes it difficult to build on what has already been accomplished.

Personally, I remember what Union Depot and that area of downtown St. Paul looked like before this renovation. I've also seen what it looks like now. The symbolism of that transformation pretty much captures why I think VP Biden is right.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

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 underrepresented—like Latinos and Asian-Americans—that represent a larger and larger portion of the population," the president told The New Yorker in 2014. "For them to be able to see folks in robes that look like them is going to be important."
That is precisely why the cartoon above is one of my very favorites.

When it comes to those lower courts, the graphs say it all.



That is tremendous change since the Reagan years. Additionally, as Ehrenfreund notes:
Clinton appointed the first openly gay federal judge. Obama has appointed 11 more.
Of course this is exactly the kind of change that terrifies the conservative insurgency. But for the rest of us, it is a victory to keep in mind as we tally the legacy of our 44th President and consider the wealth of talent he has to chose from in a Supreme Court nominee.

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 double whammy. They are likely to continue to control the House next year and have successfully halted anything much happening in the Senate via use of the filibuster. But now, not only is the presidency up for grabs again in November, but a Democratic appointment to the Supreme Court will swing that institution away from their agenda. That is why Martin is right when he says that they'll fight it with everything they've got.

Notice that Hewitt mentioned abortion, guns, marriage and immigration when talking about the activity of the Supreme Court. If you add it voting rights and affirmative action, you pretty much have a summary of the cultural changes that are a threat to the Confederate world view Doug Muder wrote about.
The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries…
The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.
That "divinely ordained way things are supposed to be" includes white supremacy, control of women's reproductive choices, marriage between one man and one woman, and the elevation of gun rights over every other constitutional right.

But America is changing. And all of those things are threatened. That is what has conservatives so terrified and angry...to the point that people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz now lead the fight for the next Republican presidential nomination.

Over the next 12 months we will witness that fear and anger played out over the presidency and the future of the Supreme Court. Democrats need to be very aware of the stakes - because they are enormously high.

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 intelligence.
“What’s changed is people’s perception of other ordinary citizens,” said Doug Ahler, who studied polarization at the University of California at Berkeley. “We’ve become so entrenched in our partisan identities...It's like a really intense sports rivalry. It’s not about policy but an emotional distrust of the other side.”
When I read that I was immediately reminded of what Marilynne Robinson told President Obama about why she had recently written an essay on fear.
But fear was very much—is on my mind, because I think that the basis of democracy is the willingness to assume well about other people.
You have to assume that basically people want to do the right thing. I think that you can look around society and see that basically people do the right thing. But when people begin to make these conspiracy theories and so on, that make it seem as if what is apparently good is in fact sinister, they never accept the argument that is made for a position that they don’t agree with—you know?…because [of] the idea of the “sinister other.” And I mean, that’s bad under all circumstances. But when it’s brought home, when it becomes part of our own political conversation about ourselves, I think that that really is about as dangerous a development as there could be in terms of whether we continue to be a democracy.
Yesterday I quoted something Obama wrote back in 2005.
Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will.
With that, I believe that he summed up how our founders envisioned a democratic republic should work. But how does one do that when people like the retired Republican lawyer in Maryland view those attempts through this lens?
Deep into Obama’s second term, Pettit could feel the country’s mood shifting and turning darker. His dentist insisted to him that Obama was a closeted Muslim — a conviction that Pettit said was absurd.
“It really offends me to hear people talking about a politician’s religion as a problem,” he said, even as he suggested that his dentist’s critique was probably grounded in Obama’s foreign-policy failings.
“I think it’s shorthand for saying Obama is more sympathetic to radical Muslim extremists than he should be,” Pettit said.
I have often suggested that since 2009, the Republican Party has become post-policy. That is because, after their domestic and foreign policies were demonstrated to be utter failures during the Bush presidency, they had a choice to either re-examine them through a pragmatic lens or ignore all the failure and simply drill down with the same-old, same-old. They more or less chose the latter option. But to avoid the kinds of difficult questions we're seeing now in the presidential race as Donald Trump points to those foreign policy failures, they swept them under the rug and instead fanned the flames of anger and fear about our new President in order to bolster their plan of total obstruction. Thus was the tea party born.

What we are witnessing now is that Democrats are having a robust and often difficult argument in the presidential race over policy differences, while the Republicans seem to be looking for the biggest bully who can take on their object of fear and anger...the two-headed monster of Obama/Clinton. In other words, it is no longer about policy - it's all a matter of tribalism.

The trouble is that no one really knows how this particular drama ends. I don't think that it can go on forever. But I also don't know what it will take to change things. There are some possible outcomes that could be disastrous for all of us. What I DO know is that this is something that is going to be a major focus for President Obama - not just during his remaining year in office, but afterwards as well. Here's what he told the Illinois General Assembly last week:
The reason this is important to me is, next year I’ll still hold the most important title of all, and that's the title of citizen. And as an American citizen, I understand that our progress is not inevitable -- our progress has never been inevitable. It must be fought for, and won by all of us, with the kind of patriotism that our fellow Illinoisan, Adlai Stevenson, once described not as a “short, frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” It requires citizenship and a sense that we are one.
And today that kind of citizenship is threatened by a poisonous political climate that pushes people away from participating in our public life...
This is what will be a focus of mine over the course of this year and beyond: What can we do, all of us, together, to try to make our politics better?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

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 Police Chief was at the forefront of those efforts and the agency I worked for had just entered into a unique collaboration with the department to partner with police officers on their domestic calls for service (the largest category of police response) to provide mental health and social services. Our contention was that this partnership modeled what community-policing could mean in those situations.

The visit came just before passage of the 1994 Crime Bill that is under so much scrutiny right now. While my experience was local and pretty personal, Mark Klaiman has provided the bigger picture in an article titled: The Current Crime Debate Isn't Doing Hillary Justice. Here's his summary of what was going on at the time:
1994 was the fifth consecutive year in which the FBI counted more than 23,000 murders: an all-time high. Then, as now, about half of the victims were African-American. As it turned out, that was the peak. Today’s murder rate (and total violent-crime rate) is just about half of its 1994 level...

No one knew then that we’d seen the worst. All we knew is that the number of murders had more than doubled, that the total number of violent crimes had increased six-fold in the previous thirty years, that no reversal of trend seemed to be in sight, and that the street-level arms race financed by the crack trade had expanded the age range of killers and their victims down into adolescence. If you weren’t seriously worried about crime in 1994, you just weren’t paying attention.
As Klaiman says, "From our perspective now, making crime a primary political issue looks a little bit nuts." But I can tell you from personal experience that there was not a politician around back then who wasn't making this issue a priority - Republican or Democrat. Some of the loudest voices demanding action were those of African American leaders. The question was, "what do we do about it?"

In his article, Klaiman does an excellent job of covering the good, the bad and the ugly of the actual federal legislation that grew out of that scenario - including the fact that the Violence Against Women's Act and the assault weapons ban were part of the package. He notes that the 100,000 new police officers came with a catch (something the Bush administration later ignored):
The thing the President and his advisers really seemed to believe in was carrying out his campaign pledge to put “100,000 new cops on the beat” by providing federal money to hire local police officers. But given the apparent uselessness of just adding more resources to a system that didn’t know what it was doing, the Administration added a twist: to get the money, departments had to commit - at least on paper - to implement “community policing” to move departments away from the demonstrated futility of the random-preventive-patrol-plus-rapid-response-to-calls-for-service model that had dominated the “reform” style of policing since the 1920s.
From my own experience, that is the provision that had the most impact on our city - and was the reason for AG Reno's visit.

There is more I could say about this excellent article. But in order to be informed, you really should go read the whole thing. When it comes to the "bad" or "ugly" portions of the bill, I will simply note that former President Bill Clinton has openly addressed the mistakes he made. We have not, as yet, heard anything from Bernie Sanders about his decision to vote for the bill.