Friday, November 28, 2014
It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented. - Antonin Scalia, 1992
One of the most conservative jurists, possibly in the world, in a Supreme Court case argued more than twenty years ago, defined perfectly what went tragically wrong in the Ferguson case. District Attorney Robert McCulloch eschewed the traditional role of prosecutor and turned the grand jury into a trial jury. Indeed, he sounded more like a defense attorney at his press conference. Look at the charge that was given to the grand jury:
"And you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not act in lawful self-defense and you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not use lawful force in making an arrest. If you find those things, which is kind of like finding a negative, you cannot return an indictment on anything or true bill unless you find both of those things. Because both are complete defenses to any offense and they both have been raised in his, in the evidence."
If you're confused, imagine what the grand jury must've been thinking. Basically, McCulloch tied two distinct charges together and instructed the grand jury that if both were not true they had no choice but to no bill. As someone who has sat on a criminal case as a juror, I find this incredible. I cannot conceive of any prosecutor being so stupid as to hamstring himself like that in front of a jury. Putting all one's eggs in a basket like that borders on prosecutorial negligence.
There's only one legitimate reason why any District Attorney would do such a thing. He simply didn't want an indictment. This is the fifth case that this prosecutor has taken against a police officer and the fifth time he has failed to get / seek an indictment. It is a well-established fact that if a prosecutor wants to indict someone, that person is indicted. Period! You've heard of the saying "You can indict a ham sandwich if you want?" Well, apparently, ham was not on the menu in Ferguson.
Once more the wheels of justice have driven over the African American community. In Sanford, Florida, an inept prosecuting team allowed George Zimmerman to get away with murder in an actual trial. This time, the prosecution didn't want to take a chance with a jury, so they soft-soaped what should've been a rigorous and thorough cross examination. Robert McCulloch did everything except kiss Darren Wilson on the lips during his testimony. Then, to make sure there were no loose ends that could gum up the works, he deliberately gave the grand jury an impossible task; one that only a trial jury would and should get.
I honestly do not know whether Darren Wilson is guilty of murder or whether he was a cop who simply panicked under pressure. Neither does anyone else. And that is the problem with what happened here. By no-billing, the grand jury didn't pronounce Wilson guilty or innocent. Instead there is this huge void that is left. The family of Michael Brown will never know true justice and the family of Darren Wilson will never know true vindication, in spite of what his supporters keep saying.
But, more importantly, a country that is bitterly divided just became more so. And here is perhaps the saddest thing of all: this issue isn't going away any time soon. By ignoring his duty as a prosecutor, Robert McCulloch not only did a disservice to the legal community, but the message such conduct sends will have profound repercussions throughout law enforcement as a whole.
Just the other day in Cleveland, a rookie cop shot a 12-year old black kid dead for brandishing a toy gun. The officer's report said he ordered the boy to put his hands in the air. A video taken of the incident, however, showed the cop car pulling up, the cop opening the door and immediately firing on the boy who then instantly fell to the ground. The boy, Tamir Rice, was pronounced dead at Metro Health Medical Center.
Based on the progression of events that are unfolding in this country, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the cop ends up getting a ticket for speeding.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
You know that old saying, be careful what you wish for? Well, over the next 24 months - and beyond - an awful lot of Republicans are going to get a crash course in it.
It's tempting for a good many Republicans - and , it goes without saying, the vast majority of the lame-stream media - to interpret the 2014 midterms as a mandate. The public hath spoken and all ye should pay heed to thy warning, lest thee suffer thy wrath.
Well, no so fast. According to a GOP strategist, the Republican wave is actually "very bad news." In a piece in the Daily Kos, Chris Ladd lays out the GOP's problem in a nutshell. While they continue to do a very effective job at the Congressional level, mainly due to gerrymandering, on a national level, they still can't break what Ladd calls "the blue wall." This is a group of states that Democrats have ostensibly locked up. At present, they constitute 257 out of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. It's damn near impossible to win a national election when your margin for error is reduced to just 13 electoral votes.
In essence, by winning big in the midterms, all Republicans did was pile on where they are already strongest without laying the foundation for building a coalition in other less-reinforced geographic areas that they will desperately need in 2016. Long story, short: "Republican support grew deeper in 2014, not broader."
Of all the points Ladd makes, the three most salient for me were: 1. The Democratic ballot initiatives which were successful in every state, even Red ones, signal a shift in the electorate not to the right but to the left; 2. Republicans will have to defend 24 Senate seats in 2016, while Democrats will only have to defend 10. It shouldn't be that difficult for Democrats to net at least five seats, regaining the majority; and 3. Rather than come up with viable solutions for an ever-changing global economy, Republicans will pander to their worst elements by focusing on "climate denial, theocracy, thinly veiled racism, paranoia, and Benghazi hearings."
But the most damning indictment Ladd makes is this statement:
It is almost too late for Republicans to participate in shaping the next wave of our economic and political transformation. The opportunities we inherited coming out of the Reagan Era are blinking out of existence one by one while we chase so-called “issues” so stupid, so blindingly disconnected from our emerging needs that our grandchildren will look back on our performance in much the same way that we see the failures of the generation that fought desegregation. Something, some force, some gathering of sane, rational, authentically concerned human beings generally at peace with reality must emerge in the next four to six years from the right, or our opportunity will be lost for a long generation. Needless to say, Greg Abbott and Joni Ernst are not that force. ‘Winning’ this election did not help that force emerge.
To a certain extent both political parties have been guilty of misreading their electoral successes as mandates. As a result, they've tended to overreach. The Democrats were guilty of doing that in 2006 and '08. The Republican gains in both 2010 and 2014 have been likewise misread by their base. The difference between the two, however, is that the Republicans, unlike the Democrats, are swimming upstream nationally. Going into 2016, the GOP is facing the prospect of losing six out of the last seven popular votes for the presidency. That is a damning indictment and one which Ladd and many other Republican analysts are deeply concerned about.
Of course, it doesn't help matters either that the GOP has been hijacked by an element - the Tea Party - that is as looney as it is extremist. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, in-coming majority leader Mitch McConnell is going to have his hands full keeping his caucus in line. Buckle up, kids. These next two years should be hysterical.
Friday, November 21, 2014
With one stroke of a pen, Obama not only made his bones with a vital demographic group his party will desperately need in 2016, he ostensibly boxed in the GOP, who will now spend the next several weeks, if not months, trying all kinds of stupid maneuvers to undo what many of them already know cannot be undone. Two birds with one signature. All in all, a pretty successful day for a president who was supposed to be settling in for what everyone expected was going to be a very lame duck final two years. So much for lame duck.
To be clear, this executive order is not a cure for all that ails our broken immigration system. Indeed, it is barely a band aid. Politically, though, the move is brilliant in that it will force whoever the Republican nominee is in 2016 to either grudgingly admit Obama was right - not likely - or run on rescinding the order - much more likely. For a party struggling to prove it isn't a whites-only party, that's a nightmarish scenario.
But the move is not without some risks. Some independent voters may not like the fact that Obama took executive action and they could take out their frustration on whoever the Democratic nominee is in two years. But, on the whole, it's a risk Obama had to take.
Anyone who paid close attention to the exit polls in the last presidential election knows full well that, without the support of the Latino community, Obama would likely have lost to Mitt Romney. Another way of putting it would be that if Romney had gotten the same percentage of the Hispanic vote that George Bush got in '04, he would've gotten an extra three million votes and Obama three million less. If you're counting, that's a six million vote swing. Bye, bye Florida (29 electoral votes), Virginia (13), Ohio (18) and Colorado (9). That's 69 less electoral votes Obama would've gotten, giving him a total of 263, seven shy of winning reelection. Know this much: they can add in the White House.
They can also add in the Clinton household. Both Bill and Hillary wasted no time throwing their full support behind Obama's executive action. She may not like Obama, but Hillary knows full well that no Democrat can win the White House without the Hispanic vote. Indeed, the party's fortunes are tied to getting the lion's share of the minority vote. Without it, the electoral map looks a lot like the last two midterms.
Of course, all the Republicans would have to do is "pass a bill," as the President challenged them to do, and his executive order would basically be rescinded. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. I've said it once and I'll say it again: Republican leadership will never permit a comprehensive immigration bill to see the light of day. Not because they don't think it's a good idea, but because they know the minute they do, they'll be tarred and feathered by their base.
Obama knows this all too well. Give him credit for finally having the spine to do the right thing. Look for him to be more assertive in other areas, like the Keystone Pipeline. He looks like he's got his mojo back and that's bad news for a Republican Party that was hoping to set the tempo for the next two years.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Okay, let's get this over with.
Democratic candidates who lost on election day. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, everyone of these candidates employed a failed strategy. And that strategy was to run as far as they could away from President Obama. Fearful of his sinking pole numbers, they not only distanced themselves from him, they practically disowned him.
So why was this a tactical blunder? Because it ostensibly told the base that they didn't have their back; and that base repaid their repudiation by staying home. Whether it was Alison Lundergan Grimes refusing to say whether she voted for Obama or Mark Udall bashing Obama in public, it was as though they had never even heard of the man. Obama's not on the ballot, they kept insisting.
There was only one problem with that stance. It wasn't true. Obama WAS on the ballot. 2014, like it or not, was a referendum on Obama's policies and it was foolish for Democrats to think otherwise. What they should've done was to defend the good things that had been accomplished over the last six years. Maybe Obamacare wasn't perfect but it ended pre-existing conditions and allowed parents to keep their kids on their healthcare plans an additional two years. While the economy isn't growing as fast as some would like, the country is better off now than it was six years ago. Remember when your 401k was a 201k? Well not anymore.
But rather than defend their voting records, these candidates hemmed and hawed and tried to deflect them. And that played straight into the waiting arms of their opponents who really had nothing to run on except voter frustration with the president. When you look across the map, the Democratic candidates who won were able to differentiate themselves from their opponents and make the case for why they should be reelected. The ones who didn't, lost.
The lesson here couldn't be plainer. Denying who you are is a losing strategy in politics. It discourages voters who might vote for you without attracting a single voter who otherwise wouldn't.
The Democratic base who stayed home. And now we come to the crux of matter; the real reason for this year's nightmarish results. On several occasions I have ripped progressives in this blog. In my mind, they are almost as bad as Tea Partiers. When they don't get their way, they stay home and pout. Or, even worse, they don't think voting in a midterm election is a big deal. Presidential elections, no problem. But ask them to turn out for a midterm and you might as well ask a cat not to chase a mouse. You want me to vote? And miss NCIS or New Girl?
So you didn't get the candidates you wanted; so they were lame. So what! This is the same drivel I heard over Al Gore. So what happened? You voted for Ralph Nader or just stayed home and we got eight years of George W. Bush, that's what fucking happened! Really, some of you are worse than four-year old's on Christmas Day who didn't get all the toys they wanted.
Elections have consequences. And not voting has even greater consequences. So Bruce Braley, Mark Udall, Kay Hagen and Charlie Crist didn't do much for you. To be honest, they didn't do much for me either. But answer me this: what do Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis and Rick Scott do for you? Because your decision to sit this election out was the principle reason those Republicans beat those Democrats. It wasn't an overly enthusiastic Republican base who voted that put them over the top, it was a lackadaisical Democratic base who didn't.
I checked and I checked Democratic strongholds in various states and what I found was staggering. With the exception of the Denver suburbs, every area that went heavily for Obama in 2012, had similar margins for the Democrat in each race. The difference wasn't the percentage of the vote, but the number of votes cast. In Broward county alone, there was a drop off of about 200,000 votes from the 2012 election. 200,000! That's more than some Republican counties had in total.
We don't always get the candidate we want. Sometimes the candidate we end up with is flawed. And sometimes the candidate we want can't win a general election. Progressives need to understand this and come to terms with it, especially with a presidential election in two years. Already there is static in the air that if the Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton, some of you might not vote for her in the general. Such thinking is suicidal and can have tragic consequences.
How tragic? Consider this: because of your indifference, for the next two years the country will have to contend with the likes of James Inhofe - who not only thinks global warming is a hoax but believes nothing bad could happen to the Earth because God wouldn't permit it - running the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Think things couldn't get any worse? Try imagining a President Ted Cruz running the country.
Wake up, assholes!
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Allowing for the obvious politics involved - all except Warner will face tough reelections in 2018 - the threat presents a real test for Reid and his caucus. Assuming Mary Landrieu loses her runoff next month - a forgone conclusion, in my opinion - the GOP will hold 54 seats next year. If all six of these Blue Dogs abandon ship and vote lock step with the new majority, Republicans will reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome a filibuster. To make matters worse, Angus King, the independent from Maine, has hinted he may not caucus with the Democrats in the nest Congress. Even if he doesn't officially bolt, he won't hesitate to vote Red if it suits his interests.
Knowing what's at stake, Reid tossed a bone to his Blue Dogs by appointing one of them, Tester, to chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He's even allowing an up and down vote on the Keystone Pipeline in a futile attempt to save Landrieu's seat. The measure should pass and will likely be vetoed by President Obama.
But while Reid will have his hands full keeping Republicans from jamming their agenda through, it's not like McConnell will have a cake walk. For one thing, it's not a given that he will be able to keep his own caucus in line. Ted Cruz and his band of merry men and woman (Joni Ernst) promise to make life a living hell for him. The Tea Party hates compromise and nothing turns their stomachs more than striking deals with the enemy. Secondly, even if everything goes McConnell's way and he gets the 60 votes to pass his bills, he doesn't have the votes to overcome Obama's veto pen. So, either way, he could be screwed.
Ironic, isn't it? Now that McConnell has finally achieved his life-long dream of being Senate majority leader, he'll likely find out what his counter part has known for the last eight years: that it's a whole lot easier wanting to be leader than being one. As for Reid, if he can thread this needle till 2016, when the Dems will have a much better electoral map, it'll be his greatest accomplishment yet.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
Let's cut to the chase, sir. I get it, you're not a progressive. You never were. I figured that out within a few months of your first inauguration. And you're sure as hell no socialist, despite what the wingnuts on the Right say. Bruce Bartlett nailed you perfectly. You're what we used to call a liberal Republican. That's not an oxymoron. As strange as it might seem, we used to have liberal Republicans in this country. Now we just call them Blue Dog Democrats.
For most of your six years in office, you've tried to be the adult in the room, pursuing your better angels, as your hero Abraham Lincoln was fond of saying. But your reasonable approach, while laudable, not only didn't get you the results you expected, it allowed your opponents to define you in their image. More importantly, it squandered the political capital you had when you entered office. As a salesman, I have learned the hard way that negotiating from the middle is a recipe for disaster.
Nobody could blame you for focusing on policy early on. There was a lot on your plate. We were weeks, perhaps days, away from a second Great Depression. But while you may have done a credible job of dotting the i's and crossing the t's, you neglected the all-too important issue of perception. Maybe you knew where you were going, but the public was completely out of the loop. This left many of us bewildered and some of us frustrated.
Maybe, in hindsight, the best healthcare reform we could get was the Affordable Care Act. Maybe the concept of a single-payer delivery system was never more than a pipe dream. But maybe if you had fought for it earlier, some of us would've felt a whole lot better when the law finally passed. The lack of narrative building - letting people know where you're going and why - has been, by far, your biggest liability.
The 2010 lame-duck deal you struck with Republicans pissed off many Democrats and many progressives who felt you should've been far tougher. I was not as hard as many of them were; at the time I thought it was a fair deal and probably the best you could've struck, given the midterm results. But, again, your reasonableness was met eight months later by an intransigent House that threatened a debt-ceiling default if you didn't give in to their demands. The ransom they extracted from you brought us the Sequester. You badly underestimated the resolve of your opponents and the whole country paid dearly for it. We're still paying to this day.
You won reelection over Mitt Romney by five million votes. It was a major ass whooping for the GOP. But when I look at that election closely, two things keep resonating for me: 1. The Republicans on a national level are simply way too out of the mainstream for the electorate; and 2. The Democratic base came out in droves. To be honest, if either of those two paradigms were even remotely different, the election results would've been far different. Face it, sir, you owe a good deal of your success to a political party that has been falling on its sword for six years. You beat General Custer and Thurston Howell III. It doesn't get any easier than that.
And now here we are again. A major win for the GOP in the 2014 midterms and a seemingly reeling Democratic Party on its heels. It's déjà vu all over again. You're being told by the Republican Party to be reasonable. Give us a chance to govern, they insist. If you sign an executive order on immigration it will "poison the well" and thwart any future deals between you and them. They seem SO sincere and, as is typical, they have all the political wonks' sympathy.
Don't believe it!
You've threatened you will move forward with an executive order if Congress doesn't act. Do it. Go for it. In fact, go for it big time. No middle of the road, reasonable order nonsense, but a full-tilt boogie order that makes Republican heads explode.
If they'd wanted immigration reform, they'd have passed it by now. John Boehner could've put the Senate bill to an up and down vote in the House. But he didn't and he won't. He can't. The moment he does, he's finished as Speaker. And he knows it. So do you.
Oh, and Mitch McConnell? Old turtle face will have his hands full with Ted Cruz and the looney far right. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for him getting a new immigration bill out of his caucus. Like Boehner, he talks big, but he knows where his bread is buttered.
And tax reform? Entitlement reform? Please, sir, don't make me laugh. I have a better chance of riding shotgun with Matthew McConaughey through a worm hole than this Congress has achieving anything more significant than a few omnibus spending bills. Think about it, in four years the House hasn't passed a single jobs' program. It took them less than an hour to pass the XL Keystone pipeline. This is what you'll be dealing with the next two years. I'd keep that veto pen handy, if I were you; you're going to be using it a lot.
Immigration reform isn't just good for the country, it's vital for your party's future. The Democratic Party is the party of diversity. It's the principle reason you won two elections. But the Hispanic community has grown disenchanted with you, to say the least. Your delay in taking executive action might not have cost Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu their seats - they were likely toast anyway - but it probably cost Kay Hagen and Mark Udall theirs. It most definitely impacted the Florida gubernatorial race. Charlie Crist lost by 66,000 votes. Guess who didn't come out to vote in Broward and Dade counties?
The Democratic base has had a history of not showing up for midterms, but this year's turnout was the lowest in 72 years. That wasn't an accident; it was a warning - a shot across the bow, if you will - to the Party and, with all due respect, you'd be wise to take heed. If that happens in 2016 and the GOP manages to nominate someone who isn't crazy, they may well end up winning the election, even with Hillary at the top of the ticket.
A simple look at the demographics is all you need, Mr. President. The GOP knows its goose is cooked with the minority vote. They're running out of time. Ask any Republican operative off the record and they will acknowledge what you and I both know: that the only hope they have of winning a national election is to get as many white voters as they can to the polls and discourage as many minority voters as they can from showing up. They've got the former nailed down. As to the latter, they can accomplish this by enacting strict voter suppression laws throughout the country, which they are sadly doing and getting away with. But they can also accomplish this by dragging this whole immigration reform thing on ad infinitum. Every day that goes by without them passing a reform bill appeases their base and angers yours. At some point it will not be enough for Democrats to simply point to the GOP and say that they're to blame. Hispanics are going to start holding you and the Democratic Party accountable, and sooner rather than later. Trust me, if there isn't some movement on this issue over the next few months, the ramifications could be devastating.
I'm guessing you know all this, which is why you've said you plan on going forward with executive action. That's good. Now follow through with your threat. The last time you drew a red line in the sand, you blinked. You paid a terrible price for that error in judgement. Now would be a good time to avoid another trot down memory lane.
I get it, elections have consequences. But they also provide valuable lessons for those who care to learn them. Your party ran away from its core values. Worse, the candidates who lost failed to articulate a vision for what they stood for and why the voters should vote for them. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been that shocking that the GOP cleaned our clocks. Frankly, based on what we now know, I'm surprised they didn't do better on election day.
And that is a good thing. It means that the voters didn't so much vote for the Republican Party as they voted against the Democratic Party. Anti incumbency was evident all throughout the election results. If the base can get re-energized in time for 2016 and the Democrats offer a clear distinction between them and the GOP, the losses sustained in November can easily be reversed. If not, we're toast.
Do not be alarmed at the blow back from the Sunday-morning talking heads. The day Wolff Blitzer and Chuck Todd start being relevant is the day I move to Canada. And ignore the push back from people like Joe Manchin and Clair McCaskill. There's talk they might jump ship and switch parties. Good luck with that move. The moment either or both of them do that, they will face primary challenges in the next election from the Tea Party who will rightly smell the move for what it is: political grandstanding. Ask Arlen Specter how switching parties worked out for him. He lost anyway.
Now is the time for boldness, sir. You've been the reasonable man for far too long. It's time to give Jackie Robinson a rest and bring out Hammerin' Hank. Sure, you will catch some flack. But most of that flack will come from people who didn't vote for you anyway. And, yes, it will mean that the next two years are ostensibly shot. But I think we both know that was going to be the case regardless of what you did or didn't do. You were a marked man the moment you took the oath of office. Face it, they don't like you and they have zero interest or incentive in working with you.
The real prize is 2016. That's the goal. The GOP knows it all too well. They're betting everything that your better angels will distract you long enough for them to prevail. You must deny them that victory at all costs. Signing an executive order will accomplish two things: 1. It will start the healing process between the Party and Hispanics, and 2. It will force the GOP into attempting to undo what you did, which will only further damage them with the very voters they need to win in the future. It's a win, win.
They will threaten to impeach you; they will threaten a government shutdown; they will throw all kinds of fits. Let them. It's their funeral. Only a fool would believe they weren't going to do that anyway. They can't help themselves. They're predicable as dirt. Resist the urge to save them. As James T. Kirk once said, "Let them die."
It's time to go Clint Eastwood on their ass, Mr. President. Time to call their bluff and say, "Go ahead, make my day!"
Sunday, November 9, 2014
One wonders what these supposedly "wise" people are smoking. Republicans have had four years to come up with their own immigration bill. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan immigration bill that John Boehner has refused to let come to the floor of the House. Were it not for the Tea Party, the country would have immigration reform by now. How long is Obama supposed to wait for a bill that will never materialize?
Rather than wait, Obama should be prepared to proceed on his own and for the following reasons:
1. The well is already poisoned and has been ever since Obama got elected in 2008. The GOP has made it clear that their number one priority is to obstruct him at every turn. And to that end they have been very successful. Since they took the House in the 2010 midterms, Obama has been unable to get anything through this Congress. What makes anyone think that 2015 will be any different?
2. Those who insist that Obama's use of executive orders in unpopular are not reading ALL of the electorate accurately. Yes, a majority of voters don't want Obama to proceed unilaterally, but most of those voters didn't vote for him in the first place and probably didn't vote Democrat in the last election. Among the Democratic base, there is a lot of support for his executive actions. Within the Hispanic community, an overwhelming majority feel the President has been, if anything, not forceful enough.
Dana Milbank in the Washington Post noted that Obama's decision to delay action in July to help Democratic candidates in Red states was a mistake. Not only did those candidates end up losing anyway, but candidates in purple states like Charlie Crist and Mark Udall were hurt by low turnout among Latinos.
3. The real prize here isn't the next two years, but the 2016 election. With Democrats continuing to make strides with a growing demographic and the GOP pandering to a demographic which is shrinking, the goal should be how to ensure that the former doesn't defect. Obama's executive action may initially inflame some voters, but it will put Republicans into the all-too familiar position of being anti immigration reform and anti immigrant. The long game is what counts here and if Obama plays his cards right, he and his party will prevail. Giving Republicans yet more time to do nothing but delay and obstruct will, in the long run, hurt Democrats far more than the GOP.
To sum up, Democrats lost in the midterms because they ran away from who and what they were. The base felt as if it had been abandoned. The best way for Obama to make inroads and repair the damage that was done is to deliver on his promise to take action. And sooner rather later.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
At the time, Obama's moves seemed well reasoned and logical. Republicans were threatening a government shutdown and the deal, on the whole, wasn't as lopsided as the Democratic base was claiming. The reality was that Republicans, like it or not, had one half of the legislative branch and Obama wanted to prove to them he was willing to work with them. With a presidential election two years away, Obama's move was practically Clintonesque. Certainly the GOP would reward his largesse.
Well, as we saw all too clearly, Obama's olive branch was shoved back in his face. The following summer, the Tea Party-led Republican House threatened not only another government shutdown but a debt-ceiling default. The deal that emerged from that showdown brought us the Sequester. So much for being the adult in the room. So much for our better angels.
Fast forward four years and Obama is faced with an even bigger setback. The GOP not only padded their majority in the House, they took the Senate, as well. How would the President react to this reality. Would he go middle of the road, like he did in 2010, and extend his hand again, or would he try another approach? Based on what we heard Wednesday, I'm going with the latter.
Yes, he was gracious and, as usual, calm and collected. He congratulated Republicans on their victory and welcomed the opportunity to work with them when the new Congress is sworn in. And then he did something nobody expected. He threatened that if Republicans didn't pass immigration reform, he would do what he promised to do months ago: go executive order on their ass.
“Before the end of the year I will take whatever lawful action I can take. At the same time, I will be reaching out to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and other leaders to get a bill done in the lame duck or next year. What I’m not going to do is just wait. I think it’s fair to say I’ve shown a lot of patience.”
For those of you who are tennis fans, Obama served up the political equivalent of an ace. He presented the GOP with an ultimatum: do your job or I'll do mine. Suffice to say, the Speaker of the House and the soon to be Majority Leader of the Senate were less than thrilled. Boehner had some choice words for the President.
"I've made it clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally - on his own, outside of his authority - he will poison the well, and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress. It's as simple as that."
You hear that Obama? If you don't do what we say, you'll never see an immigration bill on your desk. If you sign an executive order, we won't cooperate with you on other issues. We've seen this movie before, haven't we? Concede to our demands and we won't default on the debt; let us gut your healthcare law and we'll reopen the government. It's the same thing over and over. We have a gun to your head, please don't force us to pull the trigger. It wasn't surprising that Boehner would play that tired, old hand again. What was surprising was how many political pundits fell for it, including Andrew Sullivan, who wrote:
The threat makes sense as a way to bring the GOP to the table, but not if he fully intends to follow through before the end of the year regardless. Instead of forcing the GOP to come up with a compromise bill – which if it can, great, and if it cannot, will split the GOP in two – he’d merely recast the debate around whether he is a “lawless dictator”, etc etc. rather than whether it is humane or rational to keep millions of people in illegal limbo indefinitely. It would strengthen those dead-ender factions in the House that are looking for an excuse to impeach. It would unify the GOP on an issue where it is, in fact, deeply divided. And it would not guarantee a real or durable solution to the clusterfuck.
As much as I admire Sullivan, he couldn't be more wrong. For one thing this idea that some cling to that the GOP would split into two factions is utter nonsense. It is predicated on the notion that somehow establishment Republicans and Tea Party Republicans are inherently different. So far as I can tell, the only discernible difference between the two is that one is more calculating and the other is just plain nuts. Make no mistake about it, Mitch McConnell has more in common with Ted Cruz than you think. For the last six years, the GOP has been completely unified and implacable. Their hatred for this president is unprecedented and nothing he does or says will change that.
Secondly, as to Sullivan's concern about how using his executive powers could recast the debate around Obama being a lawless dictator, I'm afraid that ship sailed quite some time ago. Frankly, I'm surprised at Sullivan's naïveté. Obama's opponents have always thought of him as a lawless dictator. Hell, some of them still think he's a Kenyan. The Tea Party doesn't need an excuse to impeach him. They've already sued him for delaying a provision in the same healthcare law they've tried more than 50 times to repeal.
Memo to Mr. Sullivan and all the other wonks out there. There was never going to be an immigration bill for Obama to sign, whether he obeyed the GOP or not. And there never will be. The Republican base will never permit one to pass the House. And even if it did by some miracle get through, Ted Cruz and Joni Ernst - the new rising star of the Tea Party - would block it. And the idea that if Obama played ball, the Republicans would be reasonable is laughable. If the last six years are any indication, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Boehner and McConnell to lift so much as a finger to achieve anything meaningful. In fact, I give it about a week or two into the new session before Ron Johnson starts issuing subpoenas on Benghazi, the I.R.S., Fast and Furious, the tidal currents, the Kennedy Assassination. Who's kidding who, here?
Let's face it, Obama's throw down had nothing to do with House and Senate Republicans. It had everything to do with letting the base know and, more importantly, those millions of Hispanic immigrants who sit in limbo and the millions more who are here legally who have borne the brunt of GOP derision but don't believe that the President respects them enough, that he means business. This wasn't about 2014, it was about 2016. Listen to his words:
"To everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you too."
Translation? My party and I disowned you and you punished us. I won't make that mistake again. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but hopefully Obama has learned a valuable lesson. In retrospect, it was a mistake for him to delay executive action on immigration. Not only didn't it help Democrats in the midterms, it gave a worried Republican leadership the time it needed to quell the loose cannons within their ranks who wanted to proceed with impeachment proceedings.
Only an incurable optimist believes anything substantive will happen in the next Congress. Already McConnell is hinting he will tie the next continuing resolution to certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The GOP strategy has changed. They know they can't repeal the law outright, so they'll just pick away at it until there's nothing left. A reasonable and pragmatic Obama will only legitimize their scam.
The simple fact is that while certain parts of the country are very conservative, most of it is far more moderate and, in some cases, left of center. The irony is that while Republicans cleaned up at the ballot box Tuesday, all throughout the country, liberal initiatives were making strides. Nebraska, one of the most conservative states in the country, voted to raise its minimum wage. Arkansas, another conservative state - and home to now former Democratic Senator Mark Pryor - did the same. The majority of the country is pro gay rights, pro gun regulation and favors immigration reform.
On the issues that matter most to Americans, Democrats were simply missing in action and the electorate made them pay dearly for it. If they continue playing Republican Light, they run the risk of losing the Executive branch in 2016. The Party needs to define a message that will stir the millions on the Left who sat out this election without alienating the all-essential Center. Yes, I realize that by default more Democratic voters will turnout in two years. That's usually what happens in presidential elections. But it would be the height of arrogance to presume that ALL of them will turnout or that they will all vote along party lines.
In about two months or so, Hillary Clinton will announce she is running for president. In all likelihood, she will be joined shortly thereafter by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as Vice President Joe Biden. It wouldn't surprise me if someone like a Julian Castro threw his hat in the ring, too. Together, they will stand in stark contrast to the litany of clowns the GOP will put on display. But only if they differentiate themselves from them.
I think Obama finally understands what's at stake. The politics of playing it safe don't work with this mob. They view it as weakness. That's why I think he's going to spend the next two years pissing off as many Republicans as he possibly can, while at same time giving his base the biggest woody it can possibly imagine. He's not giving up, he's preparing the baton. If the House and Senate threaten to impeach him for using his executive power, Obama should just borrow a line from Clint Eastwood: "Go ahead, make my day." In typical fashion, their overreach will come back to haunt them. It always has.
Think about it. For the first two years of his presidency, Obama's biggest accomplishment was preventing the Republican Party from utterly destroying the country. His last two years will likely be spent making sure they don't get another crack at it.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
No, it was a FUCKING wave!
There, that's better. The first step on the road to recovery is acknowledging you've been beaten. And, make no mistake about it, the Democrats got beaten, but good. In fact, they got bludgeoned.
This was worse than 2010. Everyone saw the wave coming that year. Well, at least the 90 percent of us who weren't on hallucinogens. This year, few, if any, expected this. It wasn't just the Senate results, which were bad enough, but the gubernatorial and House ones, as well. In a word, it was devastating.
Let's break it down: A seven seat swing in the Senate (nine when Alaska comes in and Louisiana holds its runoff next month); a net gain of 14 House seats, increasing an already impressive majority (now the biggest since the days of Harry Truman); and all but one GOP governor surviving their reelections, resulting in a net gain of three statehouses. By any appreciable metric you care to employ, Tuesday night was a helluva night for the GOP.
So, what happened? How did we get here? It comes down to three main causes.
It was obvious from the first batch of returns that this had the makings of a brutal night for Democrats. The first sign of trouble was the easy way in which Mitch McConnell dispensed with Alison Lundergan Grimes. Most polls predicted he would win - including yours truly - but few could have predicted such a lopsided election. The race was called about 30 minutes after the polls closed.
Next up was Virginia. It was not a surprise that Ed Gillespie jumped out to an early lead here. Those who follow the state are well aware of how bifurcated it is between rural areas and the more suburban ones. What was so surprising - and shocking - was how long Gillespie held onto the lead. It wasn't until the last votes were being counted in predominantly Democratic precincts that Mark Warner - the heavy favorite going in - took the lead. Even at this point, it isn't clear who will win. A recount is almost certain to take place. No one, and I mean no one, had this race on their radar.
Next up was North Carolina. Kay Hagen had led in most of the polling going into election day. Most had her winning a close election. And for most of the night, it looked like she would survive. Then, as the night wore on, an early five point lead gradually turned into a two point deficit. A deficit Hagen never recovered from. The votes from the Democratic precincts that she was counting on, simply weren't there.
Next we travel south to Georgia. I picked this race to go to a runoff, believing that neither candidate would hit the necessary 50 percent threshold. As it turned out, David Perdue won it going away. Michelle Nunn was never really competitive in this race, even with Fulton and DeKalb Counties.
Continuing down the I-95 corridor, we come to Florida. I had Charlie Crist over Rick Scott by a comfortable margin, believing that the southern part of the state would carry him over the finish line. Well Crist had the percentages with him, but not the numbers. In Broward County, one of the most reliably Democratic counties in Florida, a total of 456, 282 people voted Tuesday. Crist got 68 percent of that vote. In the 2012 election, 751,162 people voted. Barack Obama got 67 percent of that vote. If the same number of people who voted in Broward County in 2012 had done so this election, Crist would've netted an additional 111,000 votes, or 44,000 more than Rick Scott won the whole state by. Imagine how much larger Crist's margin of victory would've been had Dade and Palm Counties followed suit.
It was that way everywhere on the map. Democratic turnout in Iowa, Kansas, Colorado and even Illinois was way down from what it was only two years ago. There's no other way around it, the Democratic base, by and large, took the day off, while the Republican base took care of business.
While Democratic turnout was a primary culprit, equally damaging was the President's popularity, or lack thereof. I have beaten this horse to death, but it bares repeating again: Obama's inability to articulate his positions clearly has been his own worst enemy. It has permitted his opponents to define him. From the disastrous rollout of the healthcare law to his handling of ISIS, the public's perception of him, fair or otherwise, was that he was not an effective leader. Even allowing for the blatant racism in the deep South, the fact remains that he was an albatross around his party's neck.
Given his list of accomplishments, that is astounding. But in politics, perception rules over policy every time. When you consider where the country was in 2009 and where it is now, it is incomprehensible that Obama's poll numbers could be so low and yet it was those numbers that gave Republicans the ammunition they needed to go after incumbent Democrats.
The strategy proved brilliant. Like the dog in the movie "UP," who kept saying "squirrel" every time he saw one, Republicans would just drop the name Obama every chance they got and that was all they needed to get out the vote. No platform, no plan, no vision, just Obama, over and over and over again in every competitive race in the country. Even Republican incumbents that many thought were vulnerable successfully employed the strategy. Witness Scott Walker's thrashing of Mary Burke in Wisconsin as a prime example.
And last, but hardly least, we come to the scab that ended up being the most infected. For the last two election cycles, Democrats had been the benefactors of Republican candidates fumbling the ball at the one-yard line. Let's see, there were Todd Akin and Richard Mourdoch's rape comments; there was Sharon Angle's second amendment remedy; and who can forget Christine O'Donnell's "I'm not a witch" ad? By all accounts, the GOP should've rested control of the Senate two years ago, but for these buffoons and others like them.
Well this time around it wasn't the GOP that fumbled the ball at the one-yard line. It was the Democrats. Indeed, given their history, it was impressive that this time around there were no major gaffs by Republican candidates. Not that they weren't extreme in their views; only that they didn't stick their foot in their mouth. But the Dems, on the other hand, had some, shall we say, colorful moments.
Like Bruce Braley's comments about Chuck Grassley being "an Iowa farmer who never went to law school." Here's a really good way to dig your own grave. Denigrate roughly two thirds of your state's population and do it while mentioning a profession (the law) people hate almost as much as politics. If you were watching the election night results, Braley didn't win a single precinct west of Des Moines. Watching this state's returns was like watching an avalanche. Way to go, Brucie!
And then there was Alison Lundergan Grimes' deer in a headlight moment during her debate with Mitch McConnell. That was the one when she wouldn't answer a simple question like who she voted for in 2012. Her response was one for the ages. "It's a matter of principle," she said. No, Alison, it's a matter of owing up. Any answer other than "Yes, I voted for Obama," makes it seem like you've got something to be ashamed of and no one votes for a candidate like that.
That, in a nutshell, was the issue for so many Democratic candidates across the country. One after another, they did their best to distance themselves from Obama; and the more they did this, the more foolish they looked to the electorate.
Granted, it was a Catch 22 for some of them. In the South there was nothing that Obama could've done that would've altered the outcomes. Hell, Bill Clinton practically moved back into Arkansas and yet it didn't help Mark Pryor one bit. Within seconds of the polls closing in that state, the networks called the race.
But in states like Colorado, Iowa, Florida and North Carolina, Obama's presence might've stirred up a listless base and gotten a few of them off their asses. Imagine what he could've done in Miami, Denver or Raleigh-Durham. Instead, Democrats in those states treated him like he was an Ebola patient coughing up blood. They wanted nothing to do with him and couldn't resist throwing him under the bus every chance they got. In essence, they boxed themselves into a corner, much to the delight of the GOP.
Basically the 2014 midterms could be summed up thusly: Republicans, "Obama!" Democrats, "Obama, who?"
The lesson here could not be clearer. Running away from the leader of your party and his accomplishments never works. In fact it backfires. To quote Benjamin Franklin, "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." An awful lot of Democrats hung themselves this year.
So now what? What happens in January? Policy wise, not a whole lot, I'm afraid. Prior to this election it took 60 votes to clear a filibuster in the Senate. Next year it will still take 60 votes. Even if Mitch McConnell does away with the filibuster altogether, Republicans will not have the votes to override a veto by Obama. In other words, they'll be in the same boat that Democrats are currently in.
The real question will be whether McConnell can control the loose cannons in his caucus like Ted Cruz. I'm betting he can't. Despite his grandiose words after his reelection, he will be in the same predicament that John Boehner is in in the House.
Already the Republican base is sounding the war drums. If you thought Darrell Issa was bad, wait until you get a load of Ron Johnson in his new position as Chairman of the Senate Oversight Committee on Government Affairs. Johnson will have the authority to call hearings and subpoena administration officials at his leisure. Can you say, "Benghazi?"
Think that's frightening? Try James Inhofe - Mr. global warming denier, himself - chairing the Committee on the Environment and Public Works; or Ted Cruz in charge of the Judiciary Committee. The late-night comics are going to have tons of material for the next two years.
And you can forget about Obama getting any of his cabinet picks or judicial nominations confirmed. And, while we're at it, let's just assume they'll be at least one more government shutdown and another near debt-ceiling default. What would Washington be without a little Russian Roulette?
This is what happens when people don't vote. You get the clown car riding into town.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
I'll leave the best part - the Senate - for last. A little delayed gratification is always good for the soul.
The House races: It's difficult to get a bead on the individual races for two reasons: 1. There are too many of them and 2. The polling has been all over the map. But from what little I've seen, I expect the GOP to net somewhere between 7 to 10 seats.
Why so few pickups? The answer lies in the wave election of 2010. Republican gains that year in state houses and legislatures allowed them to redraw many Congressional districts. This allowed them to gerrymander their gains and survive what would've been a disastrous 2012 election in which Democrats received one million more votes.
But it also had the unintended consequence of eliminating many otherwise swing districts. The fact is there aren't that many districts that are flippable anymore. That could change in 2016 when Democrats could potentially retake the lower chamber. For now, the fact that Republicans stand to net as many as 10 seats, far from puny, is actually quite significant.
Of course, the problem for John Boehner is that those additional GOP seats are likely to be quite conservative and beholden to the Tea Party, exacerbating an already toxic situation and making the House even more polarized.
The proudest moment for Democrats will be when Charlie Crist - the former Republican - beats Rick (Fan Man) Scott in the sunshine state. I actually don't think this will be as close as some of the polls are suggesting. A recent Tampa Bay poll has the race tied. When a poll in the I-4 corridor has the Republican tied, that's bad news for the Republican. I fully expect Crist to get huge margins in the southern part of the state.
But the night will not be without some disappointment for Democrats. I am predicting they will lose Massachusetts and by a surprisingly large margin. Martha Coakley will prove she is just as lousy a gubernatorial candidate as she was a Senate candidate, when she lost to Scott Brown in the '09 special election. But the Dems will hold Colorado, Connecticut and Illinois by the skin of their teeth.
The Senate races: And now we come to the main course. Who will control the upper chamber for the next two years? After careful consideration, I'm going to stick with my initial gut prediction of a 50 - 50 Senate, with VP Joe Biden casting all tie-breaker votes, assuming we get to see any over the next two years. Here's how it will breakdown.
At present, the Democrats hold a 55 - 45 majority, which include two Independents who caucus with them. Straight up, they will lose three seats in West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana. That leaves them with 52 seats. I know Democrats had some hope for South Dakota, but the Republican Mike Rounds has a commanding lead.
Let's start with the two easiest holds for both parties. Jeanne Shaheen will easily defeat Scott Brown in New Hampshire. And while it pains me to say it, Mitch McConnell will defeat Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. The only silver lining here for Dems is that old Turtle face had to outspend his opponent by more than 2 to 1 to win an election in a state Barack Obama lost by 23 points in 2012. A better campaign or a better candidate could've won here.
Now for the remaining tossups. I'm predicting that Kay Hagen will hold her seat in North Carolina. Though it will be close, and a lot depends on the black vote, Hagen should survive in the end. I'm also going out on a limb here and predicting that Mark Udall will survive an extremely close election and hold onto his seat in Colorado, as well. The deciding factor here will be the mail-in ballots, which historically tend to favor Democrats.
But Democrats will not be so lucky in Iowa and Alaska. Joni Ernst will narrowly defeat Bruce Braley in the former, while Dan Sullivan will survive what many are saying is a vastly superior ground game by Democratic incumbent Mark Begich in the latter. A note of caution here; there are two polls - one by a Republican pollster - that show Begich out in front. I would not be at all surprised if Begich ends up prevailing, but, as of now, it would be hard to bet against Sullivan in a state as conservative as Alaska.
As expected, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Mark Pryor in Arkansas will lose; though Landrieu will do so in the December 6th runoff election. The great shame of this midterm will be the blatant racism in the deep South which will prove to be an impossible obstacle for Democrats to overcome.
In case you were adding, that would give Republicans 52 seats, right? Wrong. That's because I'm predicting Greg Orman will beat Pat Roberts in Kansas and Michelle Nunn will defeat David Perdue in the Georgia runoff election, which unfortunately won't be held until January, AFTER the new Congress is sworn in. As strange as it might seem, that would give the GOP temporary control of the Senate, if only for a few days. Everything of course hinges on Orman caucusing with the Democrats, which I'm predicting he will. That will mean that the Democratic Party will have the proud distinction of having three independents in their ranks.
So, overall, a very disappointing night for the GOP. Yes, they will pad their lead in the House, but for the third straight election cycle, they will be denied a majority in the Senate and they will also suffer critical gubernatorial losses in crucial swing states, which will undoubtedly hurt them in 2016. When you consider that Republicans will have to defend 23 Senate seats to only 9 for the Democrats that year, we could well be witnessing the last gasp for the GOP for quite some time. And with Pennsylvania and Florida joining the ranks of Virginia, Democrats can look ahead to one day redrawing the districts that were gerrymandered back in 2010.
Saturday, November 1, 2014
But while her demise might seem to be axiomatic, her comments in an interview concerning the racism that clearly exists in the South qualify as the D'oh! moment of the 2014 campaign. Asked about President Obama's low approval numbers in Louisiana, Landrieu started off by pointing out that Obama's energy policies have negatively impacted many people in her state. Fair enough. Putting a moratorium on off-shore drilling after the BP spill, while environmentally the right thing to do, definitely hurt the Gulf-state economies. But then Landrieu added the following,
"I'll be very very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African Americans. It's been a difficult time for the President to present himself in a very positive light as a leader."
Of course, it didn't take long for the Right to freak out. They accused Landrieu of the typical race-baiting drivel that we've come to expect from them.
But, rhetoric aside, Landrieu simply said what every pollster who has been following these midterms closely has already discovered. That while Obama's numbers are low, they are considerably lower in red states, by a average of 5 to 10 points, and that is the principle reason Landrieu and Mark Pryor of Arkansas are trailing by 5 or more points, instead of being slightly ahead, as Kay Hagen is in North Carolina; or within the margin of error as Mark Udall and Bruce Braley are in Colorado and Iowa respectively.
And lest you fall for the nonsense that this is just about the fact that, well, red states have more Republicans than Democrats - that's why they're referred to as "RED" states - answer me these three questions: 1. How is it that Landrieu and Pryor got elected in the first place? 2. Why is it that Bill Clinton, the most successful Democrat since FDR - and white, I may add - is polling almost 10 points higher in both those states? In fact, Clinton is more popular than either of the two Republican candidates who are now days away from winning their respective races. 3. How come so many incumbent Republican governors are facing defeat this year, one of them in one of the most conservative states in the country?
Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, red vs. blue, are all just window dressing for a far Right that has stoked every racial tension imaginable and a lame excuse for a main-stream media too lazy to do its job. Yes, policy issues are important factors, as are the numerous unforced errors that this administration has committed, which I've addressed on many occasions.
But there's no denying the fact that race is playing the far greater role here in these states and to ignore it by sweeping it under the rug or by going after Landrieu for having a temporary moment of candor - something politicians are not wont to do in the first place - would be to do the nation a huge disservice and would only further the ridiculous charade that our two-plus century old struggle for racial equality is now over. The truth is, in many places in the South, the Civil War is still raging. The rising number of secessionist movements throughout the whole region are evidence of this. When you factor in the plethora of voter-suppression laws that are now threatening to disenfranchise potentially millions of African American and Hispanic voters, the intent could not be clearer.
Racism is America's original sin and we are still dealing with the consequences of it. While it may be comforting to some to point out that lynch mobs and church burnings are a thing of the past, I would also point out that not all forms of racism need be that overt to be harmful. And when whites insist that they are now the victims of reverse racism, I would counter that a few by-passed promotions do not compare to the systemic racism that still exists. 50 years after Jim Crow, blacks represent a far greater percentage of the prison population in this country than do whites. And even as the economy continues to improve, the sad fact is that for many minorities, unemployment remains considerably higher than the national average.
Far from being ostracized, Mary Landrieu should be congratulated for stating the obvious. In the end, it may not change her political fortunes, but perhaps her words will touch some and allow for the possibility of a real conversation on race; one which the country has desperately needed since its birth and without which we will never truly heal. Like the old saying goes, the truth may set you free, but first it will piss the hell out of you.