Monday, November 8, 2010

Here Come the 'Boss Hogg' Republicans

I think we can reasonably expect that Boss Hogg himself will receive a committee chairmanship in the new Republican-led House of Representatives.
Think about it. Jefferson Davis (J.D.) "Boss" Hogg merged political, corporate, and judicial power in a way that even today's Republicans would have to admire. He was the perpetual commissioner of Hazzard County and the owner of virtually all property and business in the county. But because no amount of money and power was enough, he continually engaged in criminal schemes to rob and defraud the public.

The GOP's "Boss Hogg" Committee Chairs

Now consider a few likely Republican committee chairs in the new House of Representatives, whose political operations and policy positions are indistinguishable from the PR operations of the industries they will oversee.

Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), "the quintessential oil congressman," will probably chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton infamously apologized to the CEO of BP during the Gulf oil spill crisis, calling the compensation account BP was setting up for the economic victims of the spill the result of "a shakedown" by the government. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Barton has been the top House recipient of campaign cash from the oil industry, including $22,800 from poor old BP.
--Please let me know if Barton does a single thing while chairman that does not absolutely delight oil companies.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (California), will probably chair the House Armed Services Committee. It's no coincidence that the cash flowing his way from military contractors skyrocketed to $400,000 over the last election cycle (compared to $86,000 for the previous cycle). It's not that his re-election campaign was a nail biter. It's just that Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and others want more funding for weapons programs America doesn't need. They've made a big bet that "Buck" is their man. Although, "bet" would imply that the outcome is in some doubt, so "solid investment" or "bribe" would probably be more accurate.
--Please let me know if McKeon does a single thing while chairman that does not give weapons manufacturers a warm fuzzy.

Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings (Washington), will probably chair the House Natural Resources Committee. Hastings' committee will oversee mining safety, national forests, endangered species, and fisheries, among other things. It should be no surprise that his top PAC contributor was a timber company. While BP's oil well was pumping into the Gulf, Hastings was busy opposing stricter safety standards for off-shore drilling operations. And--what do you know?--he collected $70,000 from the oil and gas industry for the recent election cycle (compared to $10,000 for the last cycle).
--Please let me know if Hastings does a single thing while chairman that does not make extraction industry CEOs want to dance a little jig.

Boss Hogg For President 2012!

As I was writing this, I came across Jonathan Chait's posts at The New Republic about Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's potential run for president in 2012. Chait, in what he concedes is "a fairly juvenile shtick," has been referring to Barbour as "Boss Hogg" in his articles for some time now.

Haley Barbour really is like a fictional character come to life. He's the governor of what was once the most anti-civil rights state in the country (which we won't hold against him personally, but he has been involved in conservative politics since the '60s, and I'm just sayin'). He's the chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, where he oversees a large campaign war chest and can make contacts in crucial Republican primary states. He's the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former tobacco industry lobbyist, which I'm sure has nothing to do with why he vetoed a broadly supported cigarette tax in Mississippi, where the cigarette taxes are the third lowest in the country and grocery taxes are the highest.

But it's the personal touches that put Haley Barbour over the top. According to a Newsweek profile:
"The Republican governor of Mississippi keeps a large portrait of the University Greys, the Confederate rifle company that suffered 100 percent casualties at Gettysburg, on a wall not far from a Stars and Bars Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis. Then there's the man himself. Rather than walking across the street from his office to the state capitol, he rides a hundred or so yards in the back seat of a large SUV, air conditioning on full blast."
Wow. We'll see how far glorifying the slavocracy gets his presidential campaign.

You couldn't make this stuff up. The "Boss Hogg" Republicans everyone: corporate power and government power become one unified force, and we're supposed to feel nostalgic for the Confederacy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Democrats Lost, And What It Means

After this election, the predictable knee-jerk reaction from the media is going to be that President Obama and the Democrats "overreached" and they now need to scale back their agenda and "compromise" with Republicans. In fact, we're already hearing that. Obama himself used the word "overreach" in his post-election press conference, bowing to the conventional wisdom of the Beltway pundit class.

This is like a bad movie you've seen 10 times, and it's completely wrong. "Move to the center," what Democrats are being told by the GOP and the media, is a recipe for more of what lost in 2010. So let's talk about what really led to the loss before we decide how Democrats should react.

A Whirlwind Recap of 2009

Obama came into office with sky high approval in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He immediately started working on a stimulus package that prevented the recession from being an actual repeat of the Great Depression and began the long, slow recovery. Republican obstructionism as well as the general do-nothing attitude in Washington when it comes to the plight of the middle class prevented more dramatic measures that could have spurred a much faster recovery from even being considered, such as direct job creation for the unemployed.

Fast forward to August 2009. The economy remains anemic. Democratic health care legislation that would guarantee health coverage for virtually every American while also reducing the deficit is bogged down while Democrats seek Republican support in Congress (which they didn't need). The health insurance industry and the Republican media machine stokes a number of "grassroots" anti-health care rallies. This culminates in a rash of disruptions at town hall meetings during the Congressional recess, where angry audience members shout down bewildered Democratic legislators. Also in August, conservative groups begin bringing assault rifles and other guns to anti-Obama protests, including to one rally outside a convention center where the president is speaking.

Ceding Anger To The GOP

All of this had the effect of redirecting populist economic anger away from the real source of middle class hardship--unregulated corporations and, by extension, Republicans--and toward the very institutions that could improve the picture for the middle class--a bold progressive agenda to rein in corporations for the public good. Republicans casts themselves as the party of the people's resistance against "the powers that be," which necessarily involved redefining those powers not as Wall Street banks and industry lobbyists but as the "socialist forces" taking over government.

This is just the latest iteration of what has been the conservative strategy since time immemorial. Each generation of super rich have to answer the questions at the heart of that strategy: How do you steal people's life chances and get them to thank you for it? How do you get the people to hand ever more power and privilege to the already powerful and privileged?

When this strategy is successful, as it was in these elections, it produces results that make you scratch your head. Consider this exit polling paradox. The economy was the top issue for voters. And when asked, "Who's to blame for the economy?" a plurality said bankers (34%), followed by Bush (29%), and Obama (24%). Of those who blamed bankers, Republicans held an 11 point advantage.

That may be the single best illustration of what went wrong for Democrats. It's not that people blamed Obama for much of anything; they just didn't think of Obama and Democrats as fighting anybody else who was to blame. Democrats were clobbered by default.

What The Electorate Looked Like

Even if you ignore the 'ceding anger' argument entirely, this second reason alone would be enough to explain the Republican tidal wave of 2010. I'm talking about who came out to vote and what the electorate looked like compared to 2008. Some of the most telling numbers:
"Voters under 30 dropped from 18 percent [in 2008] to 11 percent [in 2010]; African-Americans from 13 percent to 10 percent, and Hispanics from 9 percent to 8 percent. Meanwhile, voters over 65, the one age category carried by John McCain, increased from 16 percent of the electorate to 23 percent."
In short, the electorate was older, whiter, and more conservative this year. The electorate was less representative of what America actually looks like than it was in 2008. This is very normal for a midterm election. It's true that reporting, "This was all really normal!" doesn't sell newspapers or advertising time. But normal it was. Anyone telling you that this election represents a major shift in American political thinking is either ignorant or dishonest, or both.

Enter Republican Party, Stage Right.

A Repudiation? Not The Kind Boehner Thinks.

In his victory speech, Rep. John Boehner, the next Speaker of the House, called the elections results "a repudiation" and a message to President Obama to "change course." I think Boehner may be right, just not in the way he intends. If anything, this election should be seen as a repudiation of a Democratic strategy that seeks to move slowly and conciliate corporate power and the right wing. If anything, it's a repudiation of the Obama administration's instincts favoring political negotiation over political conflict. Those instincts lead to a bogged down legislative process and then legislation that is so compromised it's difficult to hold up (or explain) as a victory for ordinary Americans.

It's time for President Obama to pick a fight with the right. It's time to take off the gloves. Obama must reclaim his position as the representative of an American public fed up with a corporate elite that is selling the middle class down the river. He should hammer home that message every chance he gets. Then watch as progressive rallies and protests begin to overshadow the Tea Party gun rallies. And when the 2012 electorate comes out to vote, in record-breaking numbers and with diversity that mirrors America itself, it's going to be a Republican nightmare that dwarfs 2008.

Check back later for, What Happens Next: Looking Ahead To 2012.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Midterm Results, Part 2: Silver Lining Edition

Let's start with a couple of good news items today:

First, the Denver Post has called the Colorado Senate race for Democrat Michael Bennet. When I went to bed last night, this one was still in doubt. But as more votes came in from Denver and Boulder, Bennet moved up. A recount would be required if he ends up ahead by less than .5%, but his current lead is .9%. And most of the votes still to be counted are in the Democratic stronghold of Boulder County, where Bennet is winning 67% of the vote. So the Denver Post thinks this was is in the bag, but other media outlets are waiting to call it. This one feels especially good because I happened to see Glenn Beck ranting about this race last night, predicting the Democrats' demise and saying Colorado was turning back to its red roots after voting for Obama in 2008. Also, establishing Democratic strongholds in the mountain west states extends the playing field for future Democratic presidential candidates beyond just the coasts and the upper Midwest--the combination that dealt Kerry a losing hand in 2004.

In the Washington Senate race, Democrat Patty Murray holds a 1 point lead (14,000 votes) with 62% of votes reported. There are a lot of votes all across the state still to be counted. But Seattle's King County, where Murray has run up an 88,000 vote margin so far, has only reported 55% of its votes. I think it's safe to feel pretty confident about this one, but no one is going to call the race at this point.

Likely New Senate Breakdown: 53 Democrats, 47 Republicans. These numbers are almost certainly good enough to prevent ConservaDems like Lieberman and Nelson from switching parties and tipping Senate control to the Republicans or at least threatening to do so in order to water down progressive legislation.

Some Election "Firsts" From 2010
It's interesting to me that three of these "firsts" are Republicans. Granted, Republicans in general are not very concerned with equality issues. But the country itself continues to shift, albeit with fits and starts, in the direction of civil rights and social equality. The fact that Republicans and conservatives are part of that shift demonstrates how powerful it is. As always, progressives and left activists lead the way, but the country as a whole eventually comes around.

Check back a little later for my postmortem: Why Democrats Lost and What Happens Next. (Spoiler alert: It's not as bad as you think, and there's stuff to look forward to.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Midterm Election Results - Live Updates

I plan to post thoughts periodically through the night as the election results roll in. Here are some initial thoughts:

8:09pm: Are Republicans going to win the House? Almost certainly. The question is only how big the majority will be. Are Republicans going to win the Senate? Probably not, but there's a fair possibility. What does all this mean in the grand scheme of things? Not as much as you think. The president's party almost always loses seats in his first midterm. But in the last century, the three presidents who actually lost Congress in their first midterm--Truman, Eisenhower, and Clinton--went on to win re-election.

In the short term, the Republican wave in this election will mean that no significant progressive legislation will be passed in the remainder of Obama's first term. In the long run, it remains to be seen what this means for the political trajectory of America. I believe that Republicans winning this election means Obama is even more likely to be re-elected in 2012. But as always, the general media narrative that develops after this election will play a major role. And here's one issue that has been pretty much ignored in major media: The American public still likes Democrats more than Republicans. That's worth pondering.

The irony is that Republicans are still going to win big tonight. But it's important to understand why. First, the economy makes this an anti-incumbent year, not an anti-Democratic year. Second, the Tea Party, the flood of corporate money into right-wing attack ads, and the first African-American in the White House have mobilized Republican base voters into a turnout frenzy. Nothing even close can be said for Democratic base voters. It's hard to make the case to all those first-time 2008 Obama voters to come out again in what seems to them like an off year. Midterm turnout is always a problem for Democrats. But fast-forward to 2012 and the intense interest in a presidential election cycle, and I think the big, slow progressive majority will probably rise again.

Is all of that going to be part of the narrative after tonight? Probably not. "America Repudiates Democratic Agenda" will be a more exciting headline to go with. We'll see.

9:10pm: Some results worth noting:
- Christine "I'm not a witch" McDonnell is defeated in Delaware, as expected. Her implosion during the campaign made it a lot harder for Republicans to capture the Senate.
- Right-winger Rubio wins the Senate seat in Florida. As noted in comments, Crist or Meek should have dropped out some time back and endorsed the other.
- Democrat Joe Machin wins the Senate seat in West Virginia. This is one that Republicans needed to pick off if this wave were going to be a real tsunami. I'm not sure if it's impossible yet for the Repubs to take the Senate, but this makes it that much harder.

9:18pm: Democrat Alan Grayson is defeated in FL-08. Not unexpected, but it still sucks. Grayson was in a swing district, but in Congress he was bold and progressive. He spoke truth to power during the health care debate, and that embarrassed national Republicans. He became a prime target for the right wing, as I noted back in May when I overheard GOP congressmen talking on a plane. His only hope for victory became a big turnout, and that just wasn't going to happen tonight.

10:10pm: Big-picture update: The GOP will absolutely take the House, as is now being reported by various networks. However, Joe Manchin's win in West Virginia makes it virtually impossible for the GOP to take the Senate. We should now be pulling for a big enough Democratic margin in the Senate that we don't have to worry about ConservaDems crossing over to caucus with the Senate GOP and flipping the majority.

10:23pm: Place to hold out hope: In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Democrat Joe Sestak is up 52% to 48% with 79% of the vote reporting. Good news. And looking at the county-by-county results, there lots of votes still to be counted in the Philadelphia area, which is more good news. It will feel really good if we can keep this seat Blue. (I should point out that Sestak has been an underdog in recent polling.)

10:50pm: I keep hitting refresh on those results from the Pennsylvania Senate race. With 89% of precincts reporting, Republican Pat Toomey leads by about 1,000 votes. But in Philadelphia County, where Democrat Joe Sestak currently leads, 340,168 to 65,861 votes, there are still 5% of precincts that have not reported. So many, many more votes will come for Sestake from Philly, but will they be enough to overtake the rural counties which are still trickling in more votes for Toomey? Right now, I feel optimistic. Refresh, refresh, refresh.

11:04pm: Polls just closed on the west coast. No major results in yet.

11:18pm: In California, looks like Democrats win Governor (Jerry Brown) and Senate (Barbara Boxer) pretty easily. Here's to hoping Prop 19--which would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana--pulls through. This could be the beginning of the end of the "war on drugs," which is used to as a pretext to criminalize a large portion of the working class and militarize a large portion of Latin America.

11:37pm: Not looking good in the Pennsylvania and Illinois Senate races. The Dem candidates (Sestak and Giannoulias) are down by hefty margins and there aren't a lot of votes left in their strongholds (Philadelphia and Chicago). Both of these Dems were underdogs, but the early returns looked like possible upsets in the works.

12:05am: News outlets beginning to report that Democrats will keep control of the Senate.

12:36am: Some of the races I said looked bad earlier are now being officially called for Republicans, including Pennsylvania Senate, Illinois Senate. In governor's races, Republicans will have Ohio, Pennsylvania, and probably Florida--three big swing states.

-- Remaining potential Senate wins for Dems include Nevada (Reid) and Colorado (Bennet)--both of which are too close to call right now. Also, Patty Murray leads a close one in Washington right now with 60% of precincts reporting. No results from Alaska yet, where' it's conceivable that Democrat Scott McAdams could pull an upset in that three-way race.

12:41am: Nevada is called as a victory for Harry Reid! Democrats keep another Senate seat. At least on the Senate side, things are not nearly as bad as they might have been. Remember not long ago, even Barbara Boxer in California looked like she was in danger. Fingers crossed for Colorado and Washington...and Alaska just because I'm greedy.

1:15am: Well, Prop 19 went down in California. Let the pointless arrests continue!

1:59am: MSNBC just reported that there may have been a vote counting error in Colorado, where Republican Ken Buck leads Democrat Michael Bennet with about 60% of precincts in. Apparently, votes from a heavily Democratic county may have been filed under the wrong names--Buck getting Bennet's vote and Bennet getting Buck's votes. I'm looking at the county results on, and it looks to me like most of the votes still out are in heavily Democratic areas around Denver.

Calling it a night. I'll be back tomorrow with more to say. But for now, I think we have most of the big answers we were looking for, although the Senate races in Colorado and Washington are still question marks. The big picture is that we're going to have a heavily Republican House and a lightly Democratic Senate working with (or against) the Obama administration. I think major legislation--whether conservative or progressive--is unlikely to come out of Congress in this situation. House GOP leadership will feel pressure to compromise with Obama to show that they're not just obstructionists, but the Tea Partiers among them will oppose any compromise or negotiation with Obama. More thoughts tomorrow.

Things to feel bad about: obviously the size of the Republican gains in the House (60-something seats?); the loss of progressive champion Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin; Republican governor victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and probably Florida.

Things to feel good about: Democratic Senate wins in West Virginia and Nevada that assured the Senate stays Blue; down-to-the-wire Senate races in Colorado and Washington; a few governors wins that had been in some doubt, including California and probably Illinois; victory for House Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Grijalva in Arizona.