Who says American politics is gridlocked? A tidal wave of politicians from both sides of the aisle who just a few years ago opposed same-sex marriage are now coming around to support it. Even if the Supreme Court were decide to do nothing about California’s Proposition 8 or DOMA, it would seem only matter of time before both were repealed. A significant number of elected officials who had been against allowing undocumented immigrants to become American citizens is now talking about “charting a path” for them; a bipartisan group of senators is expected to present a draft bill April 8. Even a few who were staunch gun advocates are now sounding more reasonable about background checks.
So far, Republican outreach efforts have focused on Latino voters and consist of a major push to pass immigration reform. The premise is straightforward, if debatable: To win national elections, Republicans will have to repair their relationship with Latinos, and move away from the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. And while comprehensive immigration reform isn't the preferred policy of the GOP, it seems to offer the shortest path to greater credibility with Latino voters.
When the financial crisis struck in 2008, nearly every state legislature was left contending with massive revenue shortfalls. Every state legislature, that is, except North Dakota’s. In 2009, while other states were slashing budgets, North Dakota enjoyed its largest surplus. All through the Great Recession, as credit dried up and middle-class Americans lost their homes, the conservative, rural state chugged along with a low foreclosure rate and abundant credit for entrepreneurs looking for loans.
When it comes to education policy, inconstancy is the only constant. During the past generation, self-styled reformers have pitched such nostrums as vouchers, charter schools, high-stakes accountability for teachers, and a near-total emphasis on reading and math. Nothing seems to be working, though: American students continue to lag on international tests and racial and ethnic achievement gaps stubbornly persist.
It's hard out there for a culture warrior. Every time an opponent of same-sex marriage does an interview these days, one of the first questions is, "Isn't your side on this issue doomed to failure?" They're even getting a cold shoulder from their own allies; after years of bashing hippies and wielding "God, guns, and gays" to great electoral effect, the leadership of the GOP would rather talk about anything else. And now it's Democrats who are happy to stoke the cultural fires, secure in the knowledge that the majority is on their side.
Let it not be said that the GOP doesn't know it has a problem. As Senator Lindsay Graham said last year, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term." And in the November election, that became vividly clear. Mitt Romney lost Latino voters by 44 points, Asian-American voters by 47 points, and voters under 30 by 23 points. So in the months since, the Republicans have been racking their brains to come up with ways to appeal to voters who do not happen to be older white men.
One of the main reasons so many members of Congress become lobbyists after they leave office is that there just aren't that many high-level opportunities available to them where they can use what they learned in office. After you've spent a bunch of time learning the ins and outs of Congress, and somebody's willing to pay you half a million dollars a year or more to put that knowledge to use, it seems to make a great deal of sense. But what if at the end of your political career, you've become, to most people, a laughingstock? And what if you're not a lawyer, so you can't practice law, and you're known for being erratic, so no one would hire you to run their interest group, and in truth you really have no marketable skills at all? Then you're in a quandary, which is where Sarah Palin found herself four years ago. And you have to hand it to her: she fashioned a post-campaign career that manages to continue on no matter what setbacks she encounters, from getting her reality shows cancelled to getting dropped by Fox News.
If there’s anything that’s always struck me about the GOP’s response to Barack Obama, it’s the extent to which conservatives have grossly underestimated Obama’s political prowess. It seems obvious to me that the first African American president would be a terribly effective politician, but it’s a lesson Republicans are only beginning to learn—four months after Obama won a second term in the White House.
Conservative writer John Podhoretz has a skewed view of Obama’s priorities—he calls the center-left Democrat a “statist” who holds an “anti-exceptionalist” view of America—but he understands the extent to which Barack Obama is a formidable opponent that Republicans underestimate to their peril:
If you want to produce change, make politicians as terrified as this sandwich. (Flickr/Sakurako Kitsa)
As the effort to enact new gun legislation hobbles along, liberals have noted over and over that in polls, 90 percent or so of the public favors universal background checks. In speaking about this yesterday, President Obama said, "Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change." Then Jonathan Bernstein explained that opinion doesn't get political results, what gets results is action. I'd take this one step farther: what gets results is not action per se, but action that produces fear. I'll explain in a moment, but here's part of Bernstein's argument:
Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins has a great examination of the Republican Party’s renewed attempt to reach out to minority voters. In short, it’s not just that the GOP needs to recruit nonwhite candidates—it also needs “to overcome is own overwhelming whiteness” as an organization. “There is not a single racial minority among the 20 most senior officials who run the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, and National Republican Senatorial Committee,” writes Coppins. And absent any connection to nonwhite communities, it’s difficult to make genuine inroads.
The very first people to be protected by the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which guaranteed 18-year-olds the right to vote, will be 62 by the next presidential election. It’s time to extend the franchise again. And Takoma Park, Maryland, may just be on the frontier of that expanded democracy. The Washington, D.C., suburb is apparently considering lowering the voting age to 16. That proposal would only apply to local elections, but there’s no constitutional prohibition stopping any state from lowering the voting age for state or federal elections as well (the Constitution prohibits raising the age, but not lowering it). A handful of similar efforts have been floated in recent years, although the only successes have been allowing 17-year-olds who will be 18 the next November to vote in primary elections occurring before their birthdays.
Outside of the Supreme Court this week—where the nine justices were hearing oral arguments about the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage—a young woman and an old woman were arguing.
"If you put all the gay people on an island," began the older woman, who looked to be in her fifties.
"See, this is why people think you guys are like the KKK!" interjected the young woman. "You're talking about rounding us all up—"
"Let me finish! If you put all the gay people on an island, in a generation there would be no gay people. They would die out."
"That's not a realistic scenario. We all live in this country together."
In the 1930s and '40s, George Murphy appeared in a number of movie musicals. He later became involved in politics, first as president of the Screen Actors Guild, then as chairman of the California Republican Party, and finally as a U.S. Senator. When Murphy took office, the idea of an entertainer serving in the Senate was outlandish enough that satirist Tom Lehrer wrote a song about it. "Oh gee it's great," Lehrer sang, "at last we've got a senator who can really sing and dance!" A year later, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, and suddenly it wasn't so funny anymore.
North Dakota. Can you smell the freedom? (Flickr/Gadi Golan)
The Mercatus Center, an independently funded free-market think tank housed at George Mason University, just released its annual "Freedom in the 50 States" rankings, and the results, showing whether you live in a Randian paradise or a soul-crushing statist hellhole, are getting a lot of ridicule on Twitter. Liberals may laugh that this kind of thing is pretty silly, but it's conservatives who ought to find the results deeply unsettling. Because if "freedom" as conservatives define it really does determine the quality of one's existence, then they all ought to be packing their bags to move to the most free of all the states. Which, according to the Mercatus Center, is North Dakota. You can see the problem here.