Since they began in April, weekly “Moral Monday” protests at the North Carolina General Assembly have swelled into a movement gaining national attention. Led by the state’s charismatic NAACP president, the Reverend Doctor William Barber, progressives from across the state have come to denounce a flood of regressive legislation emanating from the Republican legislature—and in some cases, to perform acts of civil disobedience. Last Monday, in the largest Moral Monday yet, 1,400 protested and more than 80 were arrested inside the Legislative Building. In all, more than 400 have been arrested so far. Barber himself has been arrested twice at the General Assembly.
One of the oddest political turnarounds in recent days has been the emergence of Arizona governor Jan Brewer as an Obamacare hero. Up until now, Brewer was known primarily for her forceful advocacy of the notorious anti-immigrant measure S.B. 1070, for supposedly wagging her finger at the President of the United States on an airport tarmac, for claiming weirdly that headless bodies were showing up in the Arizona desert, and for perhaps the most epic brain freeze in the history of televised debates. Yet despite being a fervent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, Brewer not only decided to accept the expansion of Medicaid that is being rejected by many of her fellow GOP governors, she actually campaigned aggressively for it over the objection of many Arizona Republicans, and yesterday won the battle when the expansion passed the Arizona legislature.
So will other Republican governors follow her lead? Perhaps, but it's going to depend a lot on their own personal political calendars.
As Sen. Rand Paul delivered his keynote speech on immigration reform at yesterday's gathering of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, anxieties about the GOP’s identity crisis rippled through the room. The likely 2016 presidential hopeful spoke briefly in Spanish before discussing his Christian faith and opposition to abortion. He assured his audience he got them: “Man’s humanity to man is how we will be judged,” he said.
Although one can argue that the American culture war dates all the way back to the days before we were even our own country, these days we can trace most of our hot-button issues to the 1960s, when the hippies and the squares faced off. Eventually, most of the particular issues about which people argued were resolved, and in the liberals' favor. The occasional dissenter not withstanding, there's a broad agreement that the South was wrong about civil rights, the Vietnam War was a bad idea, and women deserve the same rights as men.
By the summer of 1864, Confederate armies were hitting the limits of their strength: short on men, short on supplies, and losing ground in key theaters of the war. A reinvigorated Army of the Potomac, led by Ulysses S. Grant, had inflicted heavy casualties throughout the spring, pushing closer to the Confederate capital of Richmond. To regain the initiative, Robert E. Lee directed Lieutenant General Jubal Early to assault the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia, clear it of Union troops, then move on to Maryland and force Grant to defend Washington, D.C. The plan worked, but the fundamentals of the war hadn’t changed. The Confederacy was still weak, and Grant still had more men, more supplies, and a talented corps of experienced generals. At most, Lee had managed to delay the inevitable.
For some time, everyone in Washington assumed that if any major piece of legislation had the chance to pass this year, it was going to be immigration reform, because at last Republican and Democratic interests had come into alignment. Democrats have wanted reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, for a long time. Republicans have finally realized that telling Latino voters "We don't like your kind" every couple of years is very bad politics. So with bipartisan "gangs" in both houses of Congress working on reform packages, it appeared that things were moving toward passage.
Until the last couple of days, that is, when things began looking bleak.
Yesterday, the Texas Republican Party chair Steve Munisteri announced plans to open five new field offices and hire nearly two dozen full-time outreach workers, who will target nonwhite voters and young people. The national party will help support the effort, investing a currently undisclosed amount. Since the GOP already dominates the state, you might expect the news would only further depress beleaguered Democrats—a well-funded effort to build inroads among voters who don’t typically vote Republican.
Instead, some Democrats were celebrating. Battleground Texas, the group headed by former Obama staffers that promises to turn Texas blue largely through an emphasis on door-to-door canvassing, registration drives, and the like, sent out an email blast highlighting the news, with a subject line: “This is amazing.” The email proclaimed: “There is no clearer sign that Texas matters and will become a battleground state than the national Republican Party investing money in Texas in 2013.” Battleground Texas founder Jeremy Bird, who served as Obama’s national field director in 2012, tweeted out the news with the hashtag “#GameOn,” the group’s favorite slogan.
Bill Cook may be a relative newcomer to North Carolina politics—he won his 2012 state senate race by 21 votes, after two recounts—but he has big plans for the state. By this spring’s filing deadline, Cook, a power--company retiree from the coastal town of Beaufort, had sponsored no fewer than seven measures aimed at rewriting the state’s election rules—largely in ways that would benefit Republicans. Over the past decade, North Carolina has become a national model for clean elections and expanded turnout, thanks to reforms like early voting, same-day registration, and public financing of some races. New voters—mostly people of color and college students—helped Democrats turn the state into a presidential battleground, which Barack Obama won by a hair in 2008 and lost narrowly in 2012.
Fortunes can change fast—just ask Susan Rice. Nine months ago, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was perfectly situated and considered next in line for secretary of State. Then, after attacks in Benghazi left four dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Rice found herself persona non grata.
The final rally of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign took place on symbolically charged ground: the rolling fields of Manassas, site of the first major battle of the Civil War. It was the last stop on an election eve spent entirely in the South: Jacksonville, Charlotte, and finally Northern Virginia. In the autumn chill, an estimated 90,000 people spread out across the county fairgrounds and waited for hours to cheer a new president—and a new South.
On the domestic front, the first six months of President Obama’s second term have been dominated by two issues: Immigration reform and the budget. On the former, a consensus has emerged between Democrats and more pragmatic members of the Republican Party, with Congress poised to vote on a bill that combines a path to citizenship with more border security and tougher enforcement mechanisms. The two parties are sharply divided on how to approach the budget, but—again—there’s room for Democrats to work with more pragmatic members of the opposition.
Over the past few years, liberals like me have pointed out countless times that the Republican party was being (or would be soon, as the case might have been) terribly damaged by the ideological extremism and general nuttiness of the faction that took over the party between 2009 and 2010. But we have to be honest and acknowledge that it didn't always work out that way. They were able to win a number of tangible victories despite the fact that the public doesn't look favorably on the things they wanted to do. In many cases, an extremist Republican ousted a perfectly conservative Republican in a primary, and now the extremist Republican is in possession of a safe seat. And of course, they won a huge victory in the 2010 elections. For all the fun we've had at the expense of people like Michele Bachmann, the damage they did to the GOP wasn't always as serious as we thought it would be.
But I think we're seeing the limits that the House Republicans' extremism imposes on their ability to accomplish a practical political task. The task in question is taking full advantage of an administration scandal or two in order to do maximum damage to the President. And they can't seem to manage it.
When a party suffers electoral losses, it often engages in a particular kind of internal debate. On one side are those who say, "We have to come up with some new policies to appeal to the voters who are rejecting us." On the other side are those who say, "The policies aren't the problem—we need to communicate better." Maybe it's the substance, or maybe it's the packaging. But what if it's both? What if voters dislike you not only because of what you're advocating, but of how you talk to them and who you are to boot?