Ex Orienti Lux

Democrats

The Real Significance of The CBS AIG Poll

Originally posted at The Moderate Voice.

A CBS News poll fielded over the weekend shows a surprising finding: while a majority of Americans disapprove of AIG handing out bonuses, believe that the government should do more to recover them and specifically give Obama low marks for handling this issue, there is no appreciable change in his overall job performance and there is an increase in overall confidence in his ability to handle the economy. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, has slightly lower numbers.

[...]

Time For Mark Penn To Go

Originally posted to The Moderate Voice - I'll be guest writing there on polling and polls for a while.

I’m a little late to the fight between Democratic pollsters Stan Greenberg and Mark Penn, but I thought it important to finish reading Greenberg’s book before I offered an opinion.

To those of us who work in polling, data or analytics, the revelations in Greenberg’s book provide few new revelations but replete examples of how far out of the mainstream of best practices and ethics Mark Penn’s work really is. This is also a perfect illustration of the problematic culture of Democratic consultants and their deleterious effects on Democratic campaigns.

But first, a little context.

In politics, sometimes you have to point fingers.

Cross posted at Plural Politics

There are few phrases that I find more trite, meaningless and irritating than "The Nuclear Option". First of all, it's a stupid metaphor. There are truly very, very few things in politics that would be in any way close to the equivalent of launching a nuclear weapon, no matter how strongly we may feel about the issue. Secondly, it's so over-used that God only knows what it refers to. When I first saw this headline, I figured that the Clinton campaign has somehow found a tactical use for eliminating judicial filibusters in the Senate. But, alas, no. This ridiculous phrase has found its way to describing the next big thing that any political reporter would caption with "ZOMFG" if he were speaking in lolspeak.

(I seriously imagine to myself sometimes that political reporters live for situations where they can say, "I CAN HAS MANUFACTURED CRISIS? YAYES!", but that's a whole different post.)

Anyway, let's take a little trip down the Memory Hole and see what we can make of this whole Florida and Michigan situation, and figure out where we need to point fingers.

(There's more) [...]

Now, this is a complicated situation, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't point fingers. No matter how much politics is really about compromise, conciliation and slow change, sometimes you have to know where to point the fingers in order to diagnose the problem and make the change, and that's what this post is about. Sure, we're nominally talking about what to do with Florida and Michigan, but this is really more about the nomination process to date and how its hodge-podge nature has really screwed things up for the party at large.

Here's the first thing to understand about the political parties in the United States of America: they are not the government. They are not subject to the same rules, regulations and laws as governments. That they choose to follow them says a whole lot about political realities on the ground in America, but unless I’m dead wrong about this, right to vote in the decision making elections of a political party is not identical to the right to vote in a government election. They are private associations that frequently work in concert with local, state and national governments, and who work with government officials, but they are not the government nor are they formal extensions of government. As such, failure to comply with the above mentioned rules, regulations and laws can obtain moral censure in that we as a people passed those laws because we believe that they reflect the right thing to do, but it is incoherent to discuss the behaviour of political parties as being identical to that of governments.

Now, as private associations who do frequently interact with governments, and whose behaviour can have a strong impact on governments, political parties frequently work together with governments to conduct their operations, such as primaries. It's in the interest of the parties to have a seemingly objective third party conduct their elections and in the interest of the governments in question, who are formed by members of these parties, to have a role in conducting their elections. To this extent, governments have incredible leverage on the parties. They can tell the parties, "Hey, this is when we're conducting elections, and you should have your stuff ready to go by then." as, otherwise, parties would have to spend lots and lots of their own money to conduct these elections. Primaries are expensive. As a result, each different state has its own arrangements with its own parties to determine when and how to conduct primary elections and caucuses. Most of the time, the governments pay for them and figure out a schedule by negotiating with the state parties, who in turn negotiate with the national parties to determine their own constraints.

How do the national parties determine their schedules? In theory, by talking to leaders of state parties, prominent NGO leaders, looking at political realities on the ground, etc. The whole thing is supposed to be a dynamic process that produces the best results for the party and the people by taking in to account the realities on the ground.

And it never does. We pretend it does, but it never, never does.

People like to pretend as if our primary process, like our government and jurisprudence were laid out in the Constitution, Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates by our Founders. Absolute bollocks. For over the first century and a half of our existence, decisions as to who wre to be candidates were made by party leaders. The leaders of the parties, state, local, national all got together at conventions and made decisions in the oh-so-familiar smoke filled rooms. Moreover, due to the lack of national communications and travel infrastructure, this was the only way it could be - there was no way to conduct timely primary elections and have the votes counted and reported back to all relevant parties in time. Infrastructure considerations aside, though, this was seen as the normal way for elections to be fought. The dominant culture of the time found it legitimate for membership in a party to consist of following the dicta of party leadership. In many ways, these party leadership positions were open to access by the rank and file, but they were also largely undemocratic by modern standards. Anyway, it was not seen as irregular or unfair for people who belonged to parties. Political parties back then were very, very powerful, and able to exert a lot of control over candidates seeking their nomination - without party support, a candidate could rarely get sufficient votes or money to run for office. This is what makes people like Sam Houston so extraordinary - when they bucked the party, it was at a time when there were very, very real consequences to it.

So, let's fast forward from nineteenth century elections on to the twentieth. We get railroads, roads, automobiles, Pony Express, telegraph service and all kinds of things. We also get the rise of the national newspapers and yellow journalism. Suddenly, more so than ever before, there are sufficient material conditions to afford a national political consciousness. Before that, politics were largely understood as consisting of regional - people identified with the South, the Southwest, the Northeast, etc. And while they were fighting for what the national government would do, they really still saw the priorities as regional. Another really important change was the passage of The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of each State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

This Amendment took one of the prized possessions of political bosses, control of the United States Senate, out of their hands and put it directly in the hands of the people of the states. The conditions were set for things to change, and they slowly did start to do so. Nevertheless, politics was still understood as regional and still decided by local party bosses. To cite another Democratic luminary, this is what made Harry Truman's fight against Teddy Pendergast so heroic. No matter that he was directly elected by the people of Missouri, if Pendergast decided to oppose Truman, he was going to face an incredibly uphill battle to keep his seat.

Through all this time, nominations were still being decided by the party leaders, and people pretty much reliably turned out to vote for whomever they were told to. Of course, it's important to realise that slowly and steadily, the amount of people who were allowed to vote was also increasing. In 1919, the United States of America decided to pay a long outstanding debt and recognise the right of women to vote. Prior to that, during the Reconstruction period of American history, the franchise was nominally extended to black people for the first time. The lived and experienced history that these previously dispossessed people brought into the political process began to change the mass political consciousness of the voting populace, planting the seeds for what happened later. Of course, at this time, due to media lockouts, lack of education, a lockout on the voices of the previously dispossessed in the histories and larger infrastructure of political discourse, what was recorded about what people thought of politics still seemed to be the unreflective narrative of America that runs through the work of people like Paul Johnson, but, as I said above, the seeds had been planted.

Fast forward through the FDR years and WWII. Now, we're with Truman and his heroic battles against his own Democratic Party's Southern Wing to pass civil rights legislation. At the time, bosses still controlled mostly everything. Today, it would have resulted in a primary challenge, but at the time, since the primaries were virtually meaningless, the best thing for Strom Thurmond to have done in protest was to form a new party, The Dixiecrats, and run against Truman. Somehow, facing a battle from the leaders of his own party and a re-invigorated Republican Party, Truman squeaked out a victory, but at great cost to the perceived legitimacy of the party bosses' power. For the first time, there was national sentiment that the party bosses had made bad decisions and were not representing the wishes of the membership of the party. People began to question the unreflective conception of political parties as being trustees of their collective will, and began to call for a model of parties more analogous to today's delegate model, in which we imagine that parties and officials are to be more responsive to the will of their voting base.

Fast forward through Ike and to Kennedy vs. Nixon. The party leadership were powerless to stop Jack Kennedy from refusing to accept their decision to go with a more experienced candidate who didn't have the baggage of being a Catholic, and, taking advantage of the conditions that had been brewing since the nineteenth century, he began to enter primary contests to demonstrate his viability to the country at large. His epic speech in Houston, TX, should be seen as astounding not just because of the triumph it represented against religious bigotry, but also because it represented a candidate going beyond the party and using the new media of his time to directly reach people and tell them his message. The convention became a mess, with Harry Truman actually going to the floor and fighting against the nomination of Kennedy (Although, to be fair, part of this was because HST didn't think that Kennedy was going to be strong enough on civil rights issues, and would cave to the Southern wing of the party to preserve the status quo.) The convention resulted in Kennedy winning the nomination, but only by putting The Master of The Senate, my political hero, Lyndon Baines Johnson, on the bottom of the ticket to mollify not only the Southern wing of the party, but the very party leadership and infrastructure whom Kennedy was trying to sidestep.

Continuing with my Billy Joel-esque rambling through history, we arrive at the troubled presidency of LBJ. Although he is quite possibly the most courageous figure in the history of American politics, doing what was right for civil rights, social justice and safety nets for people, he was tragically destroyed by Vietnam. The rise of the so-called New Left at the time also changed things. While the New Deal coalition had held itself together by talking only about economic empowerment and avoiding the questions of larger level discrimination against women, ethnic minorities and homosexuals, the willingness of a new generation to suppress these discussions was disappearing. A generation who saw on television and read in newspapers about the brutality of colonial regimes struggling for control, Communist revolutions and nationalist revolutions all over the world was unwilling and unable to tolerate what they saw as the same behaviours and conditions in their own home, particularly given the rise of the Cold War morality of people such as Niebuhr and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Not only were party leaders seen as holding back the kind of change necessary for justice to be achieved, but the very legitimacy of American democracy was questioned because of its willingness to ignore the suffering of black, Latino, Asian, homosexual and female populations...The great institutions of the American Republic were tarred with their complicity in perpetuating the institutional suffering of too many people to be trusted with the decisions of democracy, in their eyes.

Now, here's 1968. This is the year that changes everything. Johnson decided not to stand for reelection, leaving the path open for his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey. Or so the Hump thought. He was seen as the successor to Johnson's failed Vietnam policy, for better or for worse, and faced a challenge from Robert Kennedy for the nomination of the party. It is important to note that this was the first presidential election in American history in which the people who voted in the primaries felt that their vote should have decided the nomination. Kennedy's death turned into a race between the Hump and Gene McCarthy, who was running on a strongly anti-Vietnam platform. When the Convention convened and the nomination was given to Hump instead of McCarthy, there were riots on the streets of Chicago. I cannot stress enough the reversal of power that this was: in times past, the parties told the people what to do, and now, for the first time, the people were rioting because the party didn't do as they were told. This is as massive a shift in political consciousness as the presidencies of Lincoln and FDR were - American politics has been massively changed since.

Anyway, as we all know, Hump fought against Nixon and a fractured Democratic Party, and lost. Now, 1972. George McGovern had been put in charge of a commission to determine what the nomination process should look like, and proclaimed that the only fair and legitimate means for the nomination to be decided was by following and accepting the results of the primary elections. He then managed to beat out Muskie for the nomination, only to be defeated in the general election by the continued fracturing of the Democratic Party and a completely predictable backlash. The very bosses and leaders who had enjoyed a lifetime of being courted and feted for their approval threw a temper tantrum and refused to work for a candidate in whose selection they had no hand. A fun counter-factual game is to go back and think about what the 1972 election would have looked like had the labour unions, local bosses and state bosses forced George Wallace to play ball and not run on a segregationist platform, and had they banded the New Deal Coalition together once again to defeat the odious Nixon.

1976 was an odd year all around the board. The coalition was fraying and confidence in the government was at an all time low, but this was really the first election in which a fully cycle was conducted according to the rules of McGovern's '72 reforms. No one really knew how to play by these rules, but Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter (another man who is one of my political heroes) sw the strategic and tactical possibilities of no longer having to kowtow to leaders like Hoffa, and ran his presidential campaign based purely on the primaries and caucuses calendar. At this point, people still hadn't developed a full culture of primaries like we have today, so his unexpected second place finish in Iowa, the first nominating contest, and then his subsequent boost in New Hampshire, the second contest, made him a national figure and set the full precedent for IA and NH being so prominent in our primary culture. Please note that this significance is only two years older than the author of this post. (While NH had been decisive in previous primaries, it had only knocked out candidates before, and never launched one into national prominence as it did with Carter.) 1976 is the year in which the practice of campaigning in IA and NH, two states which anyone could theoretically win because of the cheap media costs and small populations, began.

And of course, people love nothing more than they love tradition. 1980 was the first time that a Democratic candidate for president had faced a primary challenge within his own party, and once again, McGovern's rules cursed the Democratic nominee. Because none of the leadership of the party had any emotional investment in the re-election of Carter, and wanted the nominee to be Edward Kennedy, instead, an even more fractured Democratic Party went into the elections and got whomped. This was around the time that media figures began talking about about the significance of Iowa and New Hampshire as decisive contests, and a goalpost that any candidate had to get past in order to be taken seriously. When the media produced a new metric, all the donors and activists began following it.

Of course, we weren't through with reforms to the primary system. The Republicans, with a much more homogeneous coalition than the Democrats, were able to handle a simple primary system in which the winner of one state took all the delegates and not have to worry about creating incentives for party leaders to get involved in the race. We Democrats, of course, needed more. So once again, we had a commission, this time by Jim Hunt of NC, and various luminaries and leaders were given an incentive to support the candidates by making them voting delegates to the nominating convention. And so it has been to date, with these new superdelegates being a so called final check to a seemingly unelectable candidate getting the nomination.

Of course, we haven't had a strongly contested nomination contest since then till now, and the whole myth of Iowa and New Hampshire going first for some transcendent reason has become a known fact in our political mythology. This is due to any number of things, such as the massive p.r. blitz that these states conduct on their own behalf, media enforcement of this pablum and the forced pandering that candidates have had to engage in to these states in order for their candidacies to be viable. I am no fan of Senator John McCain, but his 2000 refusal to take the ethanol pledge in Iowa was one of the boldest acts of a political candidate in years. The fact that these states, with populations and interests that are in no way statistically representative of the populations and needs of the rest of the country, go first has provided a massive distortion in the policy platforms of the parties and way in which the campaigns are conducted.

In his 2007 book, Terry McAuliffe recounts that in 2000, Michigan, a state in desperate need of some kind of national attention, attempted to shift their primary calendar to get more prominence and attention. Mac took every step in his power to prevent that from happening, as the super-duper entitled people of New Hampshire and Iowa threatened to move their all important primaries up and cause electoral chaos, because the media would still focus on the all important IA Caucus and NH primary, and their whole gameplan would go up in smoke.

There are many, many ways in which Iowa and New Hampshire going first are bad for America and bad for the parties. The first is that they create a long term incentive for any politician with more ambition to pander to the interests of these two states, e.g., ethanol, to the detriment of the rest of the country, and even the world. Secondly, and more importantly, because they always go first and virtually decide the nomination, there are any number of people in this country who have absolutely no say in who the nominee of their party will be. If we accept as a postulate of political philosophy the reversal of 1968, and that the party should do what the people tell them, we are acting hypocritically when we prevent millions of Americans from having a say in these contests. Finally, and most importantly, we are decreasing the perceived legitimacy of the nomination, the party and the government in the eyes of all Americans when they know that a wildly unrepresentative sample of the U.S. population, who somewhat coincidentally resemble the most privileged and pandered to people in this country, are the ones who are still making all the decisions for the rest of us, who have to play ball. As I wrote in one of my earliest posts on the site, perceived legitimacy is the ballgame. The more people vote, the better off we are.

This is actually one of the great things about this primary. States in which the Democratic parties have been anaemic for decades are getting a massive influx of activism, trained staffers cash and enthusiasm because these voters, for the first time, are getting a chance to speak and be heard. As The Prospect reports:

Despite a deepening despair among Democrats that the never-ending primary season is severely damaging the eventual nominee, Dan Parker, chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, is almost gleeful about what is happening in his state in advance of next week's presidential primary. "Anybody who tells you different doesn't know anything about politics," he said, "This is a good thing for the Indiana Democratic Party."

Parker, a Hillary Clinton supporter, is doing everything he can to help her win on Tuesday. But whether she pulls it off or not, Parker and his party are already reaping big rewards in a state that is closely divided between the two parties below the presidential level. No one is predicting that the Democratic nominee will beat John McCain in Indiana in November, but down the ballot, where the races will be much closer, the infusion of Democratic money, energy, and organizing infrastructure could pay great dividends this fall and beyond.

"Close to a million people are going to be voting on Tuesday, that's a good thing" says Parker.

Together, the Clinton and Obama campaigns have opened 50 field offices across the state, trained thousands of volunteers, and spent millions of dollars. And while Parker admits that the presidential primary is currently overshadowing the races for governor, Congress, and the state legislature, he emphatically declares the primary "a net plus."

Minority state parties -- red state Democrats and blue state Republicans -- are fond of complaining that they would be more successful if the national parties and the national candidates devoted more time, attention and money to them. This primary is certainly delivering all three in vast amounts.

Of course, the stakes increase with every passing contest, and partisans of each candidate become more and more polarised, but on the whole, it's a good thing that we've gone this long.

Now, that we've taken this long excursus into the history of primaries in America, let's get back to what started this whole thing, which is Florida and Michigan.

Back in 2007, a whole bunch of states had had enough of being left out, for all the reasons that I've mentioned above, decided that they were sick and tired of being displaced by a bunch of flannel shirt wearing rednecks and exurban Red Sox fans, and moved their primary calendars up. Both states knew exactly what they were doing, and what the consequences would be. Thinking that they could fight Governor Dean with ease, since he was a Washington outsider with tenuous relations with party bigwigs, they thought that this would be a good time to flex their muscles and force some kind of primary reform.

Unfortunately for them, the urgent issue of primary reform got lost in the structural mechanics of who runs the party. Iowa and New Hampshire threw their now famous temper tantrums and threatened to move to 2007 - they would go first no matter what. Dean had to reassert leadership and control of the party, no matter that he most likely agreed with the FL and MI delegations that the privileging of IA and NH is unfair, and so the compromise involved Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina going first. The inclusion of the latter two states was meant to offer some consolation to advocates of reform while still preserving the privilege of Iowa and New Hampshire, at least for this time. In Florida and Michigan, the governors, state legislators, both political parties and Congressional delegations saw what the rules were and chose to break them, knowing full well what the consequences would be.

I would have been more sympathetic to the states in question had it been the case that the party in control of the legislature and the governor's mansion ramrodded it through the legislatures in order to screw the other party, but as I said earlier, this was done in both states with the full consent of all concerned parties. If you want to figure out who's responsible for disenfranchising the people of these states, look no further than the state capitals of both Florida and Michigan, where Crist and Granholm both thought that they could force the hands of the Democratic National Committee. Personally, I am glad that the Democratic Party is standing firm on this, and refusing to cave.

Frankly, it's not in the hands of Dean, anyway. At this point, it's up to the Credentials Committee at the Convention to try and decide what to do with these delegations.

What makes the Clinton insistence on their seating so unfair is the sum of the fact that they broke the rules, and because the breaking of these rules, all the candidates agreed not to campaign in Florida or Michigan. In Michigan, Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot. So it's not just that the candidates should stand in support of the party chairman in enforcing the rules, it's that the very contests themselves were skewed. At this point, to give them full voting rights at the convention would not be an act of enfranchising the peoples of Florida and Michigan, it would be to disenfranchise and punish the peoples of the states who chose to play by the rules.

I don't doubt that the Clinton campaign is genuinely worried about the Democratic Party being responsible for not counting the votes of African-Americans, Latinos, Jews, etc. from two genuinely swing states, but the proper expression of that concern would have been for them to use their considerable political muscle, which, as the frontrunner at the time, they had plenty of, to lean on Florida and Michigan to follow the rules with the promise that they would force a new primary calendar for the next time. Given that a victorious campaign always gets to nominate the new DNC chairman, this is a promise that they could have easily made. Similarly, they could have leaned on Iowa and New Hampshire to give up their incredibly undeserved privilege. What they are doing now, rather than being an act of enfranchisement of dispossessed peoples, is nothing more than an attempt to make an end run around the very rules to which they agreed early on because they are losing. This is really the only shot that they have left in their arsenal.

Frankly, I can see how it's compelling. In some ways, the ads write themselves. Facing massive defection amongst the black communities if they're seen as robbing a black man of the nomination, they could easily spin this as the Democratic Party of 2008 fighting for the rights of black people who'd lost it in 2000 to vote. And it's a great narrative, and a cooperative Obama could really seal the deal for them.

Nonetheless, even if that genuinely is their intention, it still just doesn't pass the smell test. As I mentioned earlier, so far as I know, there is no Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote in a primary and have that vote counted. The DNC is not robbing people of their votes the way that Southerners did with literacy tests - this is straight up a case of a private association deciding to enforce its rules on dissidents.

-dx

Into the Liar's Den

Cross-posted at Plural Politics

So it wouldn't be a Dheeraj post if it weren't full off piss, vinegar, bravado and bluster. Let's just get that out of the way. Here's what I have to say about Senator Clinton's appearance on Fox: desperation is the least attractive quality in a candidate. There's more [...]

My good buddy Kevin Sullivan thinks it was a great idea. I could not disagree any more. Arguing against a straw man Netroots activist, Kevin says,

I think Hillary Clinton’s performance on The O’Reilly Factor last night should put to rest the whining and crying we’ve heard from a few marginal Leftists. These critics seem to believe that a Democrat’s face on Fox is tantamount to treason. But in truth, these appearances allow them to hone their message, hit their positions and reach out to the kind of voters that the Democratic nominee will need in places such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. It doesn’t appeal to the sensibilities of the Netroots, but the Netroots is indeed tiny, divided and often irrelevant. The loudest person in the room isn’t necessarily the wisest, and Senator Cinton did herself well with last night’s appearance.

He also then compares O'Reilly to Tim Russert.

I’ve defended Russert in the past, and I’ll continue to defend him for what he is. Leftists who complain that he relies too heavily on “gotcha” politics don’t understand the purpose of the Sunday morning shows; and they confuse these forums for outlets of high-minded journalism. Tim Russert isn’t trying to expand your mind, man! He isn’t trying to elevate the public discourse. Let the public elevate their own damn discourse.

What Russert does do is allow candidates a message box–he hits them with the same things you’d likely see in a direct mail piece in a close race. He allows them to test their blurbs and their canned responses, preparing them for the next 1,000 times they’re likely to hear those questions. It’s a symbiotic relationship–Russert gets to “gotcha” important people, and those important people get to inoculate themselves from those “gotchas.”

O’Reilly tried it on Hillary, and she responded masterfully.

Now, Kevin is a good buddy of mine, as I mentioned earlier, but there are some very glaring problems with his analysis here.

1. Going on Fox costs Hillary more voters than it gains her.

Let's assume for a minute that Fox is the preferred journalistic outlet for the white blue collar workers who delivered Reagan and the Republicans victory after victory. By this point, those voters have built into their political identity the behaviour of pulling a Republican ballot. Those who are going to vote Democratic by and large already do. She's not liable to pick up very many of these people by going on Fox to reach them in general, but given the crazy means by which Fox conducts their interviews, there's no guarantee that she and the Democratic platform are fairly represented to these people. (More on that later.) Moreover, because of the stance that the Democratic base has taken on Fox, it's going to cost her voters from an outraged base. They may not be that many people on their own, but they are the ones who stuff the letters, make the calls, knock on the doors and donate the money. They are the ones who exhort their colleagues to vote. THey are the ones at work whom their colleagues turn to in order to find out what's going on with that whole election craziness. For these people, it will be further proof that Hillary is not trying to grow the party or protect it in its current state, but is in fact trying to carve out a whole new coalition for herself.

This is going to bleed her dry from all but the most committed activists, especially considering that she went on O'Reilly, who is the symbol of all that's wrong with Fox.

2. Fox is not a legitimate journalistic outlet

My problems with Fox have very little to do with their editorial biases. Hey, even the crazies are entitled to their own media, like WingNut Daily. But let's not for a minute pretend that they're journalistic entities as we understand them. In most journalistic entities, there is a very firm division between news and editorial. Just look at The Wall St. Journal. If it weren't for the neanderthals they found to write their opinion section, one would have absolutely no idea that they actively promote Republicanism. Had Hillary sat with an interview with WSJ's DC Bureau Chief, no one would have a problem. The problem is because of what Fox is.

If you're ever so inclined, I advise that you watch Fox non-stop for one business day. You will find virtually no news reporting. All the content on that channel is personality driven or editorial. More than that, they're so sensationalist and biased that they make William Randolph Hearst look like a professor of political science. It's not as if she's walking into an environment in which they'll ask questions like, "Senator Clinton, what is your position on the Democratic base's view that we need more federal funding for public health options for African-Americans in rural areas?". She's walking into an environment in which the question is more likely going to be, "With all due respect, Senator CLinton, why are you running for the nomination of a far left, soft on terror, anti-white party who thinks that it's okay to take money out of the hard working taxpayer and use it to provide condoms to irresponsible welfare queens? When will the Democrats learn that it's not okay to rob Peter to pay Likwidesha?" There no possibility for her to unpack and refute all the nasty assumptions latent in that question on the show, and everyone knows it. Moreover, whatever answers she does give will be so ridiculously edited and manipulated that you'd swear that Fox had some resurrected DJ Screw to come back and do production for them.

It is important to understand that Fox does not engage in journalism as we understand it. They are not committed to truth-seeking nor are they committed to writing the first drafts of history. What they do is masquerade as journalists in order to spread their political message. Instead of thinking of them as an opinion magazine, think of them as one gigantic infomercial for the GOP.

So, now, the Russert comparison....Paul Waldman and I agree that Tim Russert is an embarrassment, but he's still a mostly objective journalist. He hits everyone with his brand of "gotchas" equally. More importantly, Russert is one journalist on one network, albeit, an important one, and not an integrated part of a communications strategy intended to suppress the Democratic vote. To compare Russert and O'Reilly in any meaningful sense is to make a category error. You cannot imagine that a sloppy journalist is the same thing as a paid spinmeister.

With any luck, Kevin will have something to say about this. Flame on.

-dx

Wherein I watch in fascination as Stoller throws a tantrum

cross posted at eteraz.org

Disclosure: I am on social terms with a lot of people who work at the DNC, and particularly the technology, political and internet divisions. I also do not know Matt Stoller personally, although we've been in the same rooms together several times. All opinions in this piece are my own, freely offered with no encouragement or prodding, and in no way reflect those of my friends, acquaintances and employers.

One of the great things that I love about the internet is that over a sufficiently long discussion, the relative maturity of everyone participating approaches BRAT. Moreover, the kinds of people who get involved in political discussions on the internet tend to be the kind who are given to grandiose and prolix pronouncements, and the amount of temper tantrums that they throw online is pretty amazing. In all of my years of using a computer to communicate, starting back with the days of the 2400 baud modem, I have never seen a group of people more likely to throw temper tantrums than either the various people in #stormfront on efnet or the various bl0gg3rz..

So the other day, while doing my morning blog reading, I came across one of the best examples of a Democratic blogger temper tantrum I've ever seen in my life. And, to no one's surprise, the by-line read "Matt Stoller". Read on. [..]

I suppose that I should have expected such things from The Grand Panjandrum of Teh OMFG Netr00tz. There's way too much out there about how ridiculous the political expectations of the nutroots actually are, so there's no point in linking it here, but let's clear away the snot and tears and see what Stoller's actually weeping about: Governor Howard Dean.

He offers up four criticisms, and to my surprise, "The governor gave me the smallest goody-bag at the birthday party!" was not one of them.

One, Dean simply did not operationalize his tenure. Much, though not all, of the technology work the DNC did will probably be ripped out by Catalist when the next Chair comes in, and the 50 state strategy was until recently simply a slogan rather than a coherent strategy. That's changing slightly with new political and research directors, but the initial staffing decisions in the research, internet, and political hindered any long-term stake driving. The DNC could have been transformed into a data-driven progressive force through its very relationships with party officials, but that's not what happened.

1. Yes, a lot of the technology infrastructure that the DNC built will be gutted and ripped to pieces if the nominee is a certain former First lady with ties to Catalist. Stoller is making two mistakes here. The first is that he's assuming that in 2004, when he was planning the run for DNC chair, and from 2005, when he assumed the chairmanship, Dean should have known that when he began to create an actually operational national voter file programme, a former Clinton aide would come to the rescue of his ousted comrades and form a privately held company. This company would then supplant the DNC's tech operations and badmouth them all over the press. All the money that Dean would have invested would be for naught. The second is that he's blaming the wrong people. If the nominee chooses to eviscerate the DNC's tech profile, how is that the fault of the Chairman, and not the nominee? Oh, wait, computing, computing, thinking, thinking, it's not. What would Stoller have wanted instead? Let me guess. He would have wanted Dean to spend all that money on buying every MyDD, OpenLeft and DailyKos user a new laptop and digital camera, as citizen journalism and citizen punditry are so important to the Democratic Party, and obviously more so than having a national voter file.

2. With respect to the 50 State Strategy, I see that all the initial detractors, who were busy giving quotes to the press and writing concern troll diaries about spending in Idaho and Alaska have now shut their fat mouths because we built up the state parties there to pick up the ball when the GOP dropped it. Oh, Larry Craig? Ted Stevens? Where are the detractors now? Something like this obviously takes time to set up and implement. And, you know, it's been two and a half years. Our teams are being placed wherever we need them. The fifty state strategy doesn't say that we actively compete in every state equally. It says that we should be ready to bring our A Game when necessary at the drop of a hat in all fifty states, and that when we go dark, it's because we choose to, and not because we have to.

3. Pardon me if I'm incorrect, but the DNC is the data driven force changing politics all over the country. Dean's DNC has a higher degree of cooperation with state parties than ever before, and the hard working men and women in the DNC's basement who put together VoteBuilder are pretty much the unsung heroes of 2006. Perhaps when Matt Stoller sits and cuts universes for campaigns for hours on end instead of typing up prolix criticisms of the actual efforts of others, I'll be more sympathetic.

Two, Dean has failed to fundraise. Some of that energy has moved to the DCCC and DSCC, but there's a large and inexcusably conspicuous gap in Dean's money take. I criticized Emily's List for losing in 2006 when everyone else was winning, so it's not fair to let Dean off the hook for being destroyed in fundraising by the RNC when everyone else is doing quite well, and the RNC is melting down. I can't remember the last compelling online ask I got from the DNC, which is weird, considering it's Howard Dean's institution. Objectively speaking, he's done a very bad job raising money and this has made the DNC nearly irrelevant, or maybe was a symbol of its irrelevance in the first place.

1. Stoller and I must be reading reports from two different FEC's. Mine is The Federal Election Commission and his must be FREAKIN' ENTIRELY CRAZY. In a post BCRA environment, Dean has not only raised money in similar amounts to Mac, but also surpassed him. Moreover, Dean doesn't have the luxury of going after massive soft money donations. There will be no massive room at the DNC named for Lew Wasserman under Dean's tenure. Instead, we'll get money in states like Alabama and Wyoming that haven't been sympathetic to Democrats since Southern Democrats talked like secessionist bigots. So, we're raising massive money under worse circumstances and from more donors. Real failure.

Three, Dean has failed to control the primary calendar. This was a complicated task, but Dean allowed Donald Fowler Sr. to sabotage and undermine the process from within, which he should have dealt with up front. The Chair must deal with the primary calendar, a bit with the convention, and fundraising. He's fallen down on two of those three tasks.

1. He most certainly hasn't fallen down on fundraising. Strike that.

2. To my knowledge, he hasn't failed on the convention. Oh, maybe Stoller's not happy because there wasn't enough swag in his Privileged Blogger Who Is A Journalist When He Wants To Be And An Activist When He Wants To Be And Don't You Dare Get Them ConfusedTM bag. We'll see.

3. The primary calendar: there was a revolt a long time coming. Iowa and New Hampshire are just unfairly privileged in the nominating process, and people have been threatening revolt on this for years. The fact that this crisis came to a head during a period of time when Dean happened to be chairman was entirely contingent, and had nothing to do with him. Moreover, he's handling it in the best way possible: hard negotiation. I'd imagine that Stoller would prefer it if Chairman Dean were to pull Senator Nelson over his knee and give him a good spanking, saying, "No, Iowa gets to be line leader."

My real criticism, though, is that Dean's tenure at the DNC has been marked mostly by irrelevance. There are many things that you can do as the central hub of the party; think about Actblue as simply one of many possibilities, or Run Against Bush as another. These are party activities that the DNC should have 'bought' and scaled. It didn't. Think about all the Bush pioneers we could have worked to frustrate, sites like criminalgopdonors.com that would have been fun to launch on a regular basis. Instead, the DNC continued to fly Dean around the country to make speeches and encourage people to buy Democracy Bonds, a program that didn't work. The DNC chose to invest in 'party builder', an irrelevant social networking site, instead of going out and using social networking platforms people liked and used. Finally, the DNC has done very little with blogs, despite tremendous hunger to hit back against the media or GOP funding sources. Howard Dean, despite his original mandate, hasn't even posted on a Dailykos diary.

1. The DNC is more relevant in the lives of Democratic voters than ever. We have a chairman who communicates with us regularly, and not just for money. We have a chairman who puts people in our states to help. We have a chairman who built a technology department and shared data with the state parties, and took on the job of actually telling them how to administer data.

2. Stoller's complaint about not buying and scaling applications sounds suspiciously to me like, "Wah, teh guvnor dint buy yout my buddeeez! it rnt k'rupshin if u has bl0gz. lollercoaster." Why on earth would the DNC need to acquire and integrate things that already exist and flourish in the status quo? I'll bet fifty that if they had done that, and Stoller's buddies had made some cash of the DNC, he'd writing his little blog about how the governor is threatened by the decentralised political apparati of the internet, and that the DNC shouldn't have to own everything.

3. PartyBuilder is kind of stupid, but it seems to be working.

4. Flying around the country to sell Democracy Bonds sounds suspiciously to me like a Chairman going and seeing people, urging them in person to support the party, rather than calling connected donation bundlers from the comfort of his Ivy St. office. Is that what you want instead, Stoller?

5. Complaining that the governor doesn't post on Daily Kos is pretty much the equivalent of saying "wah y do we has to play kikkball on ur street cum to my haus i has nintendo!!" Grow the hell up.

Okay, I think that the larger point here was not to eviscerate a moron like Stoller, although that was a lot of fun, but to both point out how amazing Governor Dean's tenure at the DNC has been. It'll only get better, I'd imagine. Also, I'm sick to death of these bloggers with a political consciousness that began no earlier than 1998 and the patience of a drunken fratboy waiting to piss at a bar.

I realise that all discussions -> brat over a sufficiently long period of time, but is it too much to ask that they begin somewhere closer to "reasonable"?

Dheeraj

Dude, counteractuals are teh best!

It's not too late to hope for President Gore.

-dx

Give 'em hell, Harry!

Think Progress caught the highlights.

Harry Reid is awesome. Nancy Pelosi is awesome. Chuck Schumer is awesome. Patrick Murphy is awesome. Okay, look, basically, all Democrats are awesome.

-dx

Go, Go, Go, Rahmbo!

So earlier, I wrote about Rahm just stepping up and punching back at our beloved Veep, and I'm still amused by it. I found video, however, of Republicans scurrying around and trying to cover up Darth Cheney's imbroglio.

1. So here's Rahm discussing his amendment:

2. Here's Minority Whip Roy Blunt trying to rebut:

Here are the problems with Blunt's rebuttal.

a. While everyone in the Congress, the country and the rest of the world may know which branch of government hosts Darth Cheney, he, apparently, does not. It was Cheney who claimed that he's a special snowflake, at large branch of government without portfolio. (Think Fuzors!) So having Blunt stand up there and say that everyone knows that Cheney's in the Executive Branch is meaningless. It's also non-responsive.

b. There's a certain irony in Republicans claiming that an ironic amendment or piece of legislation is unfair. IOKIYAR.

Apparently, there's a part three. Blunt just cannot get enough of saying stupid things on the House floor.

a. Rahm is amazing. "I'll try not to be Talmudic."

b. Blunt is just being an idiot here. Of course the legislative branch ponders intent and meaning while passing the laws.

c. Rahm's dead right, as usual.

Now, the really funny thing about this is that the boys at RedState think that Rahm got schooled. Go figure. I guess Republicans figure that just making noises with your mouth is enough to answer a question.

-dx

Let's Get Real About EFCA

Initially embargoed pending negotiation of publication. More details later.

Let’s Get Real About EFCA

The United States Senate is poised to vote on S. 1041 “The Employee Free Choice Act” sometime in the next few days. Proving its bipartisan popularity, the bill cleared the House of Representatives with a large margin. Minority Whip Roy Blunt, in a pen and pad session with political reporters, warned that it would not be a free vote, and that there would be consequences for any Republican who broke ranks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip are now making similar threats, but the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The Republican opposition to this bill is ostensibly about preserving the integrity of elections, but in reality, it’s about continuing to represent the interests of their corporate donors.

To review, the most controversial part of the bill re-introduces a “card-check” procedure. What this would do is make it easier for employees seeking to form a union to get straight to the certification process. If an employee signs a document indicating that he is in favor of a union being formed, it’s counted as a vote for the union. If a majority of the employees sign, then the vote is considered to have occurred, and the union proceeds straight to the National Labor Relations Board for certification. Other provisions of the bill provide for increased penalties for employers who violate labor negotiation laws and for making mediation and arbitration easier to reach for first time contracts.

The Republicans in the House and the Senate have few problems with the latter two provisions, but the first is the one that has them rallying the troops. Card-checks make union organizing much easier. Currently, the law makes it all but impossible for employees to form a union. Employers are able to harass and punish union organizers, prohibit them from any on-site organizing activity, subject workers to incredible amounts of compulsory anti-union propaganda during work hours and fire any employee who seems to remotely think that belonging to a union might possibly be something he’d consider considering. In addition to on-site employer harassment, employees are further disadvantaged by the fact that the only times that they can meet to talk about organizing are after work and off-site. Apparently, a group of people who’ve just worked a twelve hour shift in a slaughterhouse are expected to get together for chai lattes at the local Starbucks and talk about their options and 401(k)’s.

Republicans claim that they prefer the status quo in that it preserves a secret ballot process. After all, one of the hallmarks of a democracy is that no one knows how you voted. This doesn’t quite work, though, for two primary reasons. First of all, a place of work is not identical to a society or government. Short of being tried for treason and expelled, there is no real way for the government to punish someone for politicking. It’s a lot harder to legally find someone a traitor than it is to fire him because you don’t like his thoughts. Secondly, management already works by a card-check system, and Republicans consider that to be a hallmark of corporate efficiency and a strength of the American economic system. The difference is that in the corporate world, they’re called “proxies.” Shareholders are constantly signing over their voting authority to other shareholders to create large coalitions and get things done. What’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander?

Assuming that we grant their argument is in good faith, however, there are other objections that come into play. Not all votes are best left in the dark and protected by secrecy. Perhaps the legislators in question would prefer it this way, but would anyone be happy if the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate were able to conduct their votes anonymously? Would any shareholder in any corporation feel comfortable with letting board members vote anonymously? When it comes to dictating policy for the country and for the company, we demand accountability and transparency from the voters. Why shouldn’t workers be able to demand the same accountability?

In closing, it’s worth investigating a thought experiment. Let us imagine that in the 2004 election, the Democratic party were able to take all the undecided voters in the country and get to them at their place of work. Let us further imagine that all of them were forced to listen to Democratic negative ads on the Muzak and be subjected to daily viewings of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Furthermore, the Democratic Party hired public relations firms and strategic consultants to figure out how to bully those undecideds who hadn’t been brainwashed into voting Democratic. The Republicans would only be able to approach these voters at home, after hours and on their own efforts. Any attempt to talk to them at work would result in firing and excessive hounding. Would any Republican find this fair? It’s time to put the pretense behind us and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Senator From Punjab

Notate bene this was initially embargoed pending negotiation for publication. More on the details later.

The Senator From Punjab

Apparently, the transformational politics of Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) bid for President of The United States of America is changing more than who can make a viable run for the office. Of course, all changes bring other changes, and the most recent one that Obama brought is changing who the evil, all controlling bugaboo minority in American politics is. Thanks to Obama, millions of Jews in America can sleep peacefully, knowing that the new bogeymen are Indians. According to an unsigned document that Obama’s campaign released on Friday, Hillary Clinton is not the senior Democratic Senator from New York. She is, apparently, the sole Democratic Senator from Punjab.

Punjab is a state in northwest India, not a state in the northeast of the United States. The headline on the document reads, “Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)'s Personal Financial and Political Ties.” It then goes on to list several things pulled from public documents, such as newspaper accounts and financial disclosure forms, each of which shows Bill or Hillary Clinton representing their Indian constituents, accepting campaign contributions from companies that do business in India or investing in Indian companies. The language used to describe these activities, however, would make a tabloid journalist blush. In accepting $60,000 in campaign contributions from Cisco Systems, Clinton is not taking money from a pioneering software firm that has created hundreds of thousands of jobs, created millions, if not billions, of dollars of wealth and has created the software that enables e-commerce. Instead, Senator Clinton is cozying up with a group of robber barons who “laid off American workers to hire Indian techies.”

The rest of the document reads similarly, and takes the next step into conspiracy theory paranoia by creating a nefarious cast of characters, including respected hotelier and Democratic activist Sant Singh Satwal. Satwal is an immigrant who has built an empire of hotels, a living example of the American dream. He is also from Punjab.

Let us review the number of economic and political fallacies in this document. Initially, New York City has the greatest number of Indian immigrant families in the country. Senator Clinton is doing her job by advocating for her constituency. Moreover, trade with India helps bring a valuable ally in the global war on terror closer to the United States. We have been dealing with Islamist terrorists for perhaps twenty years. India has been dealing with them since before a group of Puritans set out on the Mayflower. On the economic level, trade with India helps reduce costs of business, making products cheaper and more available to more people. More Americans are able to consume products that were once playthings of the rich, and more Americans are able to use cheaper costs as a springboard to starting and expanding their own businesses. Global free trade has been the single most empowering force for Americans and their trading partners alike. Economies are not zero-sum: we all do better when we all do better.

However, this has never been about good governance nor has it been about economics. Over the last ten years, as the economy has become more globally integrated and Jews have become more accepted in society, the new bogeyman has become the Indian. Whether it’s people grumbling about telemarketing centers, manufactured goods, skilled artisans and executives coming to America, the Indian is the latest person to occupy the role of “foreigner who threatens American workers and has no loyalty to America.” One could very well expect that the next document will mention the “Hindu Occupied Government” or accusations that Indian-Americans are more loyal to India than they are to America.

The sad thing is that to date, Obama truly has run a transformational campaign. He has reached out to traditional Democratic constituencies, but has done so in a manner not seen since, well, Bill Clinton. He has offered up idea after idea, and has spoken inconvenient truths to both Democratic and Republican groups. Instead of continuing in his twenty-first century campaign, however, Obama has chosen to go back to nineteenth century Know Nothing politics. And just as the Know Nothings were happy to accept the cheap labor of Irish immigrants, so too is Barack Obama happy to accept the money and support of the incredible South Asians for the Obama movement.

Following the public outcry and disgust for his tactic, Senator Obama made what political observers call a “non-apology apology.” He said, “I thought it was stupid and caustic and not only didn't reflect my view of the complicated issue of outsourcing.” Senator Obama would be well advised to go back and read the document that his campaign is issuing on his behalf. It’s not about trade and economic dynamism. The document stops just short of constructing a hulking, decadent “Beast From The East” coming to The West to steal and corrupt. (Imagine the Persians from 300, only answering telephones and writing computer code.) If it were just about economics, the document wouldn’t have had the desired salacious effect. After all, who gets worked up about policy details and numbers? For someone who’s seemingly running on the politics of unity and hope, Senator Obama’s latest jab against the thousands of Indian-Americans is nothing more than the same, tired old politics of division and fear.

Dheeraj Chand is a political analyst in Washington, D.C. He maintains a website and blog at http://www.dheerajchand.com . He has family ties to Punjab, a state in northwest India.