Sunday, August 26, 2012

Different focuses by Obama and Romney

In the broadest terms, Romney and the Republicans want this election to be about the economy, whereas Obama and the Democrats want this election to be about the Culture Wars.  Both attempts make sense.

It is hard for Obama to run on the economy, but he is appealing to women, minorities, and the liberal sense of decency by appealing to the issues of the Culture Wars, e.g.women's right to choose and control their reproductive health and lives, human rights for gays, opportunities for women, etc.  Their basic message is that if you feel oppressed by a rigid authoritarian and unfeeling white male society, Obama and the Democrats understand and will fight for you.  I think it has been a pretty effective campaign, and one that is made easier when things happen all the time during the campaign to demonstrate evangelical or libertarian rigidity.  

The most recent example of the rigidity of the evangelical wing of the Republican Party is the Missouri Senatorial candidate, Aiken, who actually thinks that if a woman is "forcibly raped" her body will shut down and prevent a pregnancy.  This of course is preposterous.  But, why does he think that?  Apparently, there is a theory created by those who avidly oppose abortion and see it as a hideous genocide of the most innocent and helpless human, fetuses. They oppose abortion in all cases, and to justify being against abortion in cases of rape they have developed a silly theory that a woman's body prevents impregnation if she is being assaulted.  Stupid, of course, but it shows the power of ideology: we all believe those things that support our deeper beliefs and passions.

The most telling example of the rigidity of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party is the Vice Presidential nominee apparent, Paul Ryan, himself.  He was part of the Simpson-Bowles commission that studied ways to reduce the deficit. Simpson Bowles got 11 of 18 votes but needed a super-majority of 14 of 18.  Four liberals and three conservatives voted no, including Ryan, but Simpson Bowles was published and passed by a majority. Unfortunately it was never pushed by the president and it died.

Romney would like to avoid the Culture Wars and focus on the economy, but his party has been taken over by avid Culture Warriors.  I think the economy and the budget are critically important this election cycle.  Something like forty cents of every dollar that our country spends is borrowed.  That is totally unsustainable and is leading us toward disaster.  

To best see what happens when Democrats are allowed to rule a government one needs go no further than my home state California.  Democrats run California, even when we had a Republican governor, Schwarzenegger, the Democrats ruled.  California is in serious financial trouble.  Democratic Governor, Jerry Brown has put an initiative on the ballot to raise taxes to be able to offset the deficit, and his reasons are persuasive:  parks are being closed, libraries are cutting back, the tuition for colleges is skyrocketing, K-12 education is on the brink of cutting back their school-years, the bond ratings of the state are falling, etc.  

But, what do the Democrats do?  they fund a liberal money gobbling fantasy - high speed rail, just about a month ago, for six billion dollars, the same six billion dollars that the schools need to stay open for the full school term.  Then, they approve a 14 billion dollar project to build two tunnels under the Sacramento-San Juaquin delta to ship water from northern California to Southern California.  

Democrats just can't seem to help themselves, if they see an idea that sounds good to them they just spend the money.  They are like shopaholics with a handful of credit cards, and they are spending us into bankruptcy.  Speaking of bankruptcy there are a number of California cities who are bankrupt with more to follow, I am sure.  

So, it is obvious why Romney wants to focus on the economy and the budget, and Obama wants to focus on the Culture Wars.  Each speaks to the other party's weaknesses.

By the way, I sure would like it if the Republicans actually were trying to reduce the deficit, but when they refuse to raise taxes they show that they are not serious about it.  Oh well.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Scaring the base to get voter turnout

The voter ID laws that have been passed in Republican states - and the Democratic opposition to them - are revealing a lot more than either the Democrats or Republicans think they are revealing, in my mind.

Pennsylvania is the cause of the day for the Democratic Party.  They are trying to overturn the Pennsylvania voter ID law.  Their main argument is that there have been only 10 prosecuted voter ID fraud cases in the last decade, so that proves that the purpose of the voter ID laws is to suppress the turnout of the black, young, and elderly.  They claim that about 750,000 Democrats in these categories would be disenfranchised votes in Pennsylvania.  Wow, that’s a lot of votes!  … er, potential votes.

But there are some interesting facts that undermine the Democratic Party voter-suppression narrative.  One is that voter ID laws were passed in Indiana and Georgia prior to the 2008 election.  Was Democratic turnout suppressed?  No. Liberal Lou Cannon writes:

“Democratic turnout surged in both states. Democrats say this reflected enthusiasm for Barack Obama, which is true but beside the point. The argument against strict photo-ID laws is that significant numbers of people who want to vote can’t obtain the required identification. If that were so, the Democratic vote should have increased less in Indiana and Georgia than in states without such laws. In fact, it was comparable.”

Republicans cry foul.  The issue to them is not who has been caught, but how many scores of thousands of votes get cast with no way of catching them, especially in the Democrat controlled cities. 

They claim that systemic fraud by the big city Democratic machines has inflated Democratic Party turnout and vote count for decades.  And they cite “walking around money” to pay people on Election Day who otherwise wouldn’t vote if they hadn’t been accosted by party machine get-out-the-vote operatives and taken to the polls.  They point to voter registration records that are bloated with deceased and otherwise non-eligible names.  Republicans claim they are righting a wrong that has been going on as long as one party controlled the voting mechanisms of the big cities, all of which today are very heavily registered and voted as Democrats.  Decades ago, the city machines were Republican, now they are Democrat, and both parties did the same things when they were in control.

OK, but what about the notion that the elderly, blacks, and the young can’t afford to pay the money to get the free voter ID cards.  (The cards are free, but Dems say that you may have to have to pay to get a birth certificate to get the free card).  Well, that really doesn't seem to hold up all that well either.  Pennsylvania seems to me to be very accommodating in making it easy for voters without voter IDs to have their votes counted.  Conservative John Fund writes:

“As Judge Simpson noted, anyone who cannot obtain a photo ID is allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots will be counted if the voter can provide officials with a copy of acceptable ID within six days by mail, fax, or e-mail. If a voter is indigent and cannot afford the fee for a copy of his birth certificate, he simply needs to affirm this and his provisional ballot will be counted. “I am not convinced any qualified elector need be disfranchised” by the voter-ID law, Judge Simpson concluded. He also found no problem with the law’s provision that absentee voters must provide the last four digits of their Social Security number or driver’s license, a useful protection against fraud”. 

But, Democrats say that the real proof of Republican voter suppression is Jim Greer, former Republican Party Chair who confessed that Republicans were suppressing votes:

“Greer mentioned a December 2009 meeting with party officials. “I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting,” he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. He also said party officials discussed how “minority outreach programs were not fit for the Republican Party,”

Looks pretty bad. 

What do Republicans have to say?  Well, they point out that a Democratic Party operative claimed that Democrats were inflating votes:

Artur Davis, the former Democratic congressman from Alabama who nominated Barack Obama for president at the 2008 Democratic convention, agrees. “A big thing that drove me to leave the Democratic party and support photo ID was the realization that the real victims of voter fraud are minority and poor people who live in places where machines block reform efforts by stealing votes,” he told me. He wrote in an op-ed in the Montgomery Advertiser last year that “voting in the names of the dead, and the nonexistent, and the too-mentally impaired to function cancels out the votes of citizens who are exercising their rights — that’s suppression by any light. If you doubt it exists, I don’t; I’ve heard the peddlers of those ballots brag about it, I’ve been asked to provide the funds for it, and I am confident it has changed at least a few close local election results.”

So, one way to interpret this is that neither party is really interested in democracy, especially not interested in fair elections.  They are really only interested in winning, and cheating is all part of the corrupt, disgusting game. 

Another way of interpreting this is that none of this really amounts to a hill of beans.  The huge voter inflation by Democrats suspected by Republicans is refuted by finding only 10 cases of fraud, and the fear of voter suppression by voter ID laws is refuted by the lack of evidence of lower Democrat voter turnout in the only two states that actually have voter ID laws – Georgia and Indiana.

I go for answer number two.  I think this is a tempest in a teapot.  I think that party activists get paid a lot of money to tilt the playing field for their party, and they take a lot of credit for doing so, and don’t really accomplish much at all. 

I think the real reason for the brouhaha is to get the party faithful riled up and out to the polls.  The people that MSNBC and are trying to get to the polls are the dedicated party faithful in their audience, not the indigent blacks or elderly that don’t really know what is going on.  And the people that the National Review and Fox News want to get to the polls are the dedicated party faithful as well.  Inflame, demonize, scream with indignation, appeal to your tribe to go out and destroy the other tribe, who are presented as inhuman monsters out to Destroy America As We Know It.

In other words, my hope is that we all calm down, and don't let the ideologues play us like a drum just to make sure we go out and vote out of fear.  Vote our convictions, you bet, be partisan, you bet, but resist the demonization and fear mongering of the ideologues.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Romney's pick of Ryan for VP reveals that he knows he is losing

Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential choice.  This means, to me, that Obama has already scored a major victory in this presidential contest.

Looking at the race from the widest strategic view, I have always thought that if the race were to be a referendum on Obama's first term, whoever the Republican candidate was would likely win, because Obama's performance on the economy has not been successful, at least it is not something that he can campaign on other than say it wasn't his fault and that he has made it less terrible than it could have been. All the Republican candidate would have to do would be to pound home how terrible the economy was and how Obama was incapable of improving it.

Obama has always needed to change the subject from having the race be about Obama to having the race be about a choice between Obama and the Republican candidate.  Had Gingrich or Rand Paul or Santorum been the Republican candidate that would have automatically happened.  Those men are lightning rods in and of themselves, and who they were and what they represented would have been center stage as much as the first term Obama performance.  It would have been a choice rather than a referendum.

Romney was always running as the "Other Guy", the "Not-Obama Guy", the "Generic Republican."  Romney was always trying to keep the focus on the Obama economy.  He failed.  Obama won.  Obama shifted the focus to Romney - the "Plutocrat", the "Heartless Hedge-fund Profiteer", the "Cold Moneymaking Automaton."

If Romney had known that he was in the lead, he would have gone with one of the boring white guy Generic Republicans - Portman or Pawlenty.  If his own polling showed that he was losing, he was going to make a Bold Choice, i.e. forget about appealing to the middle and go for exciting the base with a Tea Party conservative, or a Social Conservative, or a Libertarian Deficit Hawk conservative.  He chose the Libertarian Deficit Hawk - Ryan.  It is a Hail Mary pass.  

The good thing about this, in my mind, is that it puts the Paul Ryan budget - cut, cut, cut the deficit - at center stage.  Obama and the Democrats were always going to run against the Ryan budget anyhow, and at least this puts the most articulate defender and visionary of the deficit cutting approach in center stage, Ryan himself.

Now, we could well have a real campaign, one centered on the heart of the differences between the governing philosophies of the Democrats and the Republicans - is government a hindrance to the growth of business and innovation and therefore an obstacle to the welfare of the people? or is government a necessary support and civilizing energy needed to harness and allow the growth of business and innovation and therefore a needed fundamental for the welfare of the people?

This election could well end up becoming the turning point election that I have been awaiting since Reagan's victory in 1980 - one where the country understands and chooses between two competing governing philosophies.  Up to now it has been an incredibly boring series of poll tested attack ads and insulting labels designed to destroy the opponent.  

Enough, enough, enough already.  It is time for ideas to take center stage rather than poll-tested and focus grouped subterranean appeals to the warring tribes in America.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Romney has a big problem

Mitt Romney has a very big problem ahead of him, it seems to me.  That problem is the Republican Convention. 

He campaigned as neither fish nor fowl.  That is, he spoke like a hard core right winger during the primaries, but no one believed that he actually was one.  He gathered more votes than the real hard core candidates, and I believe that the basis of his victory was probably the fact that the primary voters wanted a more moderate candidate than the other more extremists on the primaries tickets.

But almost all of his words pandered to the hard right wing.  And the convention will likely be filled with true believers who will exert a strong pull to the right.  So, how does Romney do what he needs to do to become president?  That is, how does he use the big stage of the Republican convention to address the nation, most especially the undecided voters and moderates, while standing in a giant hall filled with Tea Party and Evangelical and Libertarian faithfuls?

This Republican convention could have the same problem that the Democratic convention of 1984 in San Francisco did.  The convention delegates themselves could overwhelm the candidate’s message. 

After the ’84 convention, the Republicans mocked Mondale and the “San Francisco Democrats” because of the presentation of the San Francisco convention itself showed intensely dedicated hard left wing activists exuberantly pushing for hard core left wing policies.  Who Mondale actually was got swallowed up by the message of the convention itself.  Romney could well get swallowed up by the same dynamic in Tampa this year as the delegates on the floor become the message rather than the backdrop for the candidate.

If Romney just speaks to the delegates and tells them all the Tea Party and Social Conservative and Libertarian things that get them excited and aroused, it is possible that he will alienate those he needs in the center to win in November.  If he speaks more to the center, the reaction on the floor and among the Limbaugh/Beck/extremist commentariat could kill him amongst the base. 

I don’t know that this man has the political skills to speak to both the extremes and the center at the same time, and if he chooses one over the other, it could be the end for him.  He hasn’t shown much in the way of political dexterity so far, and I can’t say I expect it at the end of the month in Tampa.