Politics of the United States

Why the GOP Won't Change

Flickr/Rob Chandanais
Exactly one year ago, a committee of Republican party bigwigs issued the report of its "Growth and Opportunity Project," better known as the " autopsy ." The idea was to figure out what the party was doing wrong, and how on earth Barack Obama had managed to get re-elected when everybody knows what a big jerk he is. There were some recommendations on things like improving the party's use of technology and its fundraising, but the headline-grabbing message was that the party had to shed its image as a bunch of grumpy old white guys and become more welcoming to young people and racial minorities. It was always going to be a tricky thing to accomplish, both because the GOP is, in fact, made up in large part of grumpy old white guys, and because "outreach" can only go so far if you aren't willing to change the things you stand for. Mike Huckabee, that clever fellow, used to say, "I'm a conservative, but I'm not angry about it." Which is all well and good, but if, for instance, you say to...

Thinking Small

Flickr/Kevin Gebhardt
There's a discussion starting to bubble up in some corners, one that will grow in intensity as we approach 2016, asking where the left should go as Barack Obama heads for the exits a couple of years hence. In the latest issue of Harper's , Adolph Reed offers a critique from the left of not just Obama but the liberals who support him. Our own Harold Meyerson offered a typically thoughtful criticism , to which Reed responded , but I'll just add briefly that one of the many things I didn't like about Reed's piece was the way he poses a dichotomy for liberals between investing too much in winning presidential elections even if the Democrat is imperfect (not a complete waste of time, but close) and building a movement (much better), but doesn't say what, specifically, this movement-building should consist of. That's a common problem. Movements are great, but creating and sustaining them is hard work, work most of us would rather not do. It also takes skill, timing, and bit of luck. Most of...

What Is Left?

A response to Harold Meyerson

I was not surprised by the substance of Harold Meyerson’s criticisms of my recent Harper’s essay (“ Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals ,” March 2014). I have known for some time that he and I disagree fundamentally on the reasonable scope of a political left in the United States and, correspondingly, whether one actually exists and/or how to go about building one as an effective social and political force. I was somewhat disappointed, however, at the tired hook to which he tethered his criticism. He characterizes me as viewing the political scene “from space” or a “stratospheric height" which leads me to miss crucial details on the ground. That’s just dismissiveness masquerading as evaluation. I could characterize him as limited by the myopic perspective of the inside-the-Beltway crowd, which renders him incapable of seeing the patterns that those details form and reflect. No doubt, each of us would be to some extent correct about the other, but that doesn’t...

Daily Meme: Of Ferns and Bellwethers

Pity the poor political pundit. We're eight months away from a mid-term election that will likely change nothing in the partisan political balance, the Conservative Political Action Conference and its clown car of presidential contenders has closed up shop, the do-nothing Congress persists in doing nothing—but even so, clickable content must be concocted. And so, today, we have much (much, much) ado about ... ferns and bellwethers. In case you've been in a blissful media-free zone all day, the headline news of the day is that President Obama went on Zack Galifianakis's faux talk show, "Between the Ferns." The commander-in-chief did a respectable job of deadpanning and "droning" on about healthcare.gov. If you are so inclined, you can read virtually identical reviews and analyses of the six-minute spot at several million outlets including The New York Times , TPM , US News , Politico , HuffPo , CNN , and, just to arbitrarily stop the list right here, The American Prospect . Cliff's...

This Year’s Moderates

Given the GOP's base, even the party's middle-of-the-road conservatives are pretty extreme.

Flickr/Newshour
Flickr/Newshour New Jersey governor Chris Christie at the Republican National Convention in 2012 F or those anxiously awaiting the emergence of a less-extreme Republican Party, 2014 got off to a depressing start. The Bridgegate scandal in New Jersey changed Governor Chris Christie’s image from lovable, gruff straight-talker to retributive, partisan bully. In Virginia, the once-rising star of former Governor Bob McDonnell—who came into office with strong Christian-right credentials but left after granting voting rights to ex-felons and spearheading a bipartisan effort to improve transportation infrastructure—crashed to earth when he was charged on 14 federal corruption counts of taking loans and gifts from a nutrition-supplement mogul and doing favors in return. He’ll be lucky to escape prison time. It’s not quite so bad for Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Many have posited him as a “moderate” possibility for 2016—moderate in that he limits his extremism to demolishing unions and...

CPAC’s Second-Class Gays

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
*/ AP Photo/Susan Walsh Texas governor Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee's annual conference in National Harbor, Maryland this morning. W atching gay conservatives try to make their way in the GOP is like having a friend in an emotionally abusive relationship. Despite the victim's best attempts to placate the abuser, tensions mount until there's a big blowup. Your friend denounces the guy, packs their bags, and resolves to leave. But next you hear, suddenly everything's fine; the abuser has apologized—he's been under a lot of stress lately—and getting out was a bad idea anyway. At this week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), gays and the GOP are in another one of their reconciliation phases. After raising hell for being knocked off the list of sponsors in 2011, the leadership of gay Republican group GOProud is back to keeping up appearances. "The relationship between GOProud and the American Conservative Union has been frayed in the past...

Why Does the National Media Get Texas So Wrong?

AP Images/Eric Gay
T uesday, as Texas primary voters headed to the polls, Politico published an article titled, “ The Texas tea party’s best days may be behind it.” Below the headline were photographs of Governor Rick Perry, the state’s junior U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Steve Stockman, who had decided to wage a last-minute, barely visible campaign again Texas’s senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn. The article focused on the Cornyn-Stockman race, and it mentioned a congressional primary in which incumbent Pete Sessions faced a Tea Party challenge from Katrina Pierson. To anyone familiar with Texas politics, the article was baffling. It made no mention of the state’s most-watched (and most important) GOP primary, the race for the lieutenant governor nomination, and it made only a passing reference to the attorney general race, even though both contests featured bloody fights between so-called “establishment” and Tea Party candidates. The state’s hardest-right election force, the Empower Texans...

The Citizens United of the Culture Wars

Flickr/Mark FIscher
Flickr/Mark FIscher E ven a broken clock is right twice a day. Heeding calls from gay-rights supporters, business groups, and Republicans like John McCain and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on Wednesday Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed a "religious liberty" bill that would have allowed for-profit businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians so long as they were motivated by "sincerely held religious belief.” A nearly identical law failed to advance in Kansas last week. Now, in light of the blowback, anti-gay discrimination bills in conservative legislatures—including Mississippi, Georgia, and Oklahoma— have stalled , and even lawmakers who voted for such measures are stepping back their support. The failure of these anti-gay discrimination bills amounts to a stern rebuke to the religious right, which sees defeat on the horizon in the gay-marriage fight. Just in the past two months, judges have overturned bans on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, and...

The Revolt of the Elites

Arizona governor Jan Brewer. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
For the longest time, Democrats were the party of infighting and disunity, whose squabbling never failed to find its way into the news. It's a grim inside joke among liberals that the most common headline in the political media is "Democrats in Disarray." But it hasn't been that way for a while. In fact, perhaps the most important political dynamic of the current era is the conflict within the previously monolithic Republican party. Not that there wasn't always tension between the Republican establishment, whose primary concern was laissez-faire economics, and the conservative foot soldiers spread across the country, who cared much more about social issues. But open warfare between the two was rare. Not these days, though. And after a couple of years of the establishment running scared, today they can celebrate (if that's the right word) a momentary victory. Yesterday, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill passed by the legislature there that would have made it legal to deny...

Who Cares About Clarence Thomas's Silence?

AP Images/Michael Dwyer
8 years ago this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case called Holmes v. South Carolina . Justice Clarence Thomas began to question one of the litigators—"Counsel, before you change subjects..."—and pursued his line of inquiry with a lengthy follow-up. This otherwise ordinary event is now famous, because it represents the last time Justice Thomas has asked a question at oral argument. To many liberals already disinclined to take a charitable view towards a reactionary jurist, this is a major dereliction of duty at best. The latest to make this argument is Jeffrey Toobin, the invaluable legal analyst at the New Yorker . Thomas's behavior, claims Toobin, "has gone from curious to bizarre to downright embarrassing," and "[b]y refusing to acknowledge the advocates or his fellow-Justices, Thomas treats them all with disrespect." Toobin's argument is more narrowly focused and plausible than many similar critique's of Thomas's ongoing silence. But I remain unconvinced that...

The Scourge of the Businessman Politician

This highly successful businessman did not, in fact, become president.
Attentive readers will recall that among my many pet peeves (and being able to complain to a wide circle of people about your pet peeves is one of blogging's greatest fringe benefits) is the candidate who proclaims that you should vote for him because he's "a businessman, not a politician." As though the fact that there are a lot of shady car mechanics out there means that when you need a new timing belt, the best person for the job would be a florist or an astronomer, because they're not tainted by the car repair racket. I've written at some length about why exactly success in business doesn't prepare you to be a good senator or governor, but the short version is that the two realms are extremely different. So it isn't too surprising that when businesspeople decide to run for office, most of the time they fail. They come in with a lot of money, flush it down the toilet on an overly expensive campaign, and quickly discover that there is a whole set of skills necessary for success that...

Roberts Was Wrong on Voter Rights

AP Images/Rex Features
Writing about the Supreme Court's outrageous decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder at Talking Points Memo , Amel Amhed of University of Massachusetts Amherst writes that "the court’s decision was correct about one thing: Section 4 — and frankly, Section 5 as well — was obsolete, and it had been rendered inadequate by changing facts on the ground." To be clear, Amhed's intention in making the claim that "Roberts was right" is not that Congress shouldn't protect voting rights—indeed, she advocates going further than the 1965 Act, and I agree with many of her proposals. The problem is that under Shelby County it's not clear what Congress can do to protect voting rights, and liberals shouldn't let the Roberts Court off the hook. And while like most pieces of legislation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was "obsolete," saying so plays into the hands of conservatives who would prefer that Congress do nothing to protect voting rights. I've outlined the problems with...

Sauce For the Gander

Liberal hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. (Stuart Isett/Fortune Live Media/Flickr)
Today's New York Times has a story about Tom Steyer, a retired hedge fund billionaire who is planning to spend $100 million ($50 million of his own, and $50 million of other people's) in the 2014 election to support action on climate change, which in practice means electing Democrats. That would put Steyer in the big leagues, though not at the top—the network of donors established by Charles and David Koch spent at least $400 million in 2012—and it raises the question of how liberals should feel about this kind of thing. If you believe that Citizens United has been a disaster for democracy, and spectacularly wealthy people shouldn't be able to swoop in to a House or Senate race with zillions of dollars and change the outcome from what it otherwise would be, then should you be bothered? Some conservatives will naturally charge liberals with hypocrisy for being pleased about Steyer's efforts, like this: Fair enough. But in practical terms, Citizens United is the law of the land, and...

Gird Thy Loins; War Is Nigh

Turning the other cheek is for wimps.
Tonight at the Ronald Reagan presidential library—America's greatest library—Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will deliver a speech that will be seen (probably correctly) as an early component of the Jindal for President '16 campaign. Its subject is an old favorite, the religious war currently being waged in America. It's partly Barack Obama's war on Christianity, but since Obama will be leaving office in a few years, it's important to construe the war as something larger and more eternal. The point, as it is with so many symbolic wars, isn't the victory but the fight. Here's how Politico describes the speech, which they got an early copy of: "The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war," Jindal will say at the Simi Valley, Calif., event. "It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance." "This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power," he adds, according...

Marriage Equality Opponents Left With Nothing But Tradition

Now there's a traditional marriage. I believe that's Tasha Yar presiding. (Flickr/TrekRadio)
2013 was not a good year for opponents of marriage equality. Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Minnesota were added to the list of states allowing same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court. And if anything, 2014 is shaping up to move even faster. Earlier this week, a judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must honor same-sex marriages performed in other states. And last night, a federal judge in Virginia struck down the ban on same-sex marriage the state passed in 2006. The judge stayed her decision until a higher court can rule on the inevitable appeal. But with these cases piling up, it seems obvious that the Supreme Court is going to rule sooner rather than later on the legality of same-sex marriage bans, something they've been trying to avoid until now. And with the continued evolution of American culture and public opinion in favor of equality, the chance that those bans will be...

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