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STATE OF DISUNION: OBAMA, REPUBLICANS, DEMOCRATS

STATE  OF  DISUNION:  OBAMA,  REPUBLICANS,  DEMOCRATS

130216

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DIMENSIONS  OF  POLITICS                    DIMENSIONS  OF  POSTS

Sector: None                                              Importance: ***

Level: National.                                          Scope: USA only

Period: Shortrun.                                       Process: Elite power struggle

MAIN TOPIC: Presidency                           Treatment: Current commentary

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OVERVIEW

OBAMA’S  ADDRESS   1

Overview 1.1

Politics   1.2

Policies   1.3

REPUBLICAN  DIVISIONS    2

Overview  1.1

Mainstream  national establishment    2.2

Radical populist insurgents   2.3

DEMOCRATIC  DIVISIONS    3

Overview   1.1

Progressive national establishment    3.2

Vulnerable local exceptions   3.3

CONCLUSION 

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OVERVIEW

This Post reports the STATE OF DISUNION surrounding Obama’s 12 February 2013 State of the Union Address. During Obama’s first term, the USA went through large and accelerating societal and political change. The USA can expect more and faster change during Obama’s second term. These changes are extending to many policy domains: military and political, economic and ecological, demographic and social, technological and cultural. These changes have been transforming American politics – certainly the parties that represent the American people and possibly also the political system within which parties and people operate. Obama’s State of the Union address illuminates that shifting landscape and how he hopes to travel across it during his second term. Accordingly, this Post does three things.

First we provide more detail on the president’s Address and its partisan reception: in the first instance, a matter of REPUBLICANS versus  DEMOCRATS. In his Address, on the surface, Obama was quite polite to Republicans. Nevertheless, beneath the surface, his Address contained many strong challenges to them, as they well understood. Obama challenged Republicans not only on specific policy issues, but also in his overall framing of the identities of the two parties: Progressive versus Obstructionist. By that framing, Obama is trying to create as much leverage as possible – both inside congress and among the public – for passing his legislative agenda. By that framing, Obama is trying to corner Republicans so that, if they block his political agenda, they will pay a huge political price in future elections. (Carrie Budoff Brown 130213 “Aggressive speech, even more aggressive message” at politico.com.)

Second  we sketch rivalries that are intensifying within the Republican party. Republicans are more homogenous than Democrats – ideologically, ethnically, and regionally. About four-fifths regard themselves as “conservative.” Nevertheless, politically, Republicans are becoming increasingly divided between a mainstream national conservative ESTABLISHMENT and radical-conservative local INSURGENTS, who are strongest in the South. These same ideological and regional lines divide Republicans in almost the same way on almost all issues, intensifying the polarization between the two sides. Moreover, these divisions are becoming more salient as populist insurgents threaten to challenge mainstream incumbents in Republican primaries preceding the 2014 general elections. In response, the national establishment is taking measures to prevent insurgents from nominating candidates in the Republican primary who are too radical to defeat Democrats in the general election. These struggles may drive the Republican party still further to the right.

Third we sketch the milder divisions within Democrats. The Democratic party is composed of disparate minorities and only about half of Democrats consider themselves ideologically liberal-progressive. The party mainstream is a PROGRESSIVE ESTABLISHMENT, but the party includes some VULNERABLE EXCEPTIONS elected from distinctive localities. These are places that supported Mitt Romney, are conservative on moral issues, want to keep their guns, have carbon-intensive industries, or whatever. Different lines divide Democrats differently on different issues. On some issues, Obama cannot expect all Democratic members of congress to support his policy proposals. Doing so would jeopardize the reelection of some and the control of congress by all. Meanwhile, Obama is promoting a definition of the Democratic party that can unify the diverse constituencies out of which he assembled his own winning coalition (particularly youth, minorities, and educated women). Those growing constituencies will soon constitute a demographic majority within the United States. Nevertheless, translating that demographic majority into an electoral majority (people who vote) and translating that electoral majority that into a partisan majority (people who vote Democratic) will require good strategy and hard work.          

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“[The President] shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

(American Constitution, Article II, Section 3)

The State of the Union address is an annual speech to congress and the public in which the president presents his assessment of the country’s condition and his agenda for how to improve it. In itself, the Address is not a decisive political event like a major election or a showdown over major legislation. Nevertheless, in addition to reflecting its environment, the Address can help shape that environment – at least in specific policies, and potentially in overall politics as well.

OBAMA’S  ADDRESS   1

We begin with an overview, continue on policies, and conclude with politics.

Overview 1.1

Commentators discussed the relationship of Obama’s 12 February 2013 State of the Union address to the earlier speech that Obama gave on 21 January 2013 inaugurating his second term. The White House claimed that they were a pair, the Inaugural Address stating a general vision and the Union Address specifying more practical details. Some commentators thought the two speeches were strikingly different. Some thought that the White House had been surprised that the Inaugural Address had been viewed as too partisan and confrontational, so the White House had adjusted the Union Address to be less so. Actually, overall, the two speeches were about equally confrontational – the Inaugural Address by insisting on advancing a liberal vision, the Union Address by insisting on passing it.

“Confrontational” may sound like a bad word, but one has to remember that during his first term Obama’s approach to Republicans was not confrontational, but accommodating. Instead of compromising, Republicans took advantage of Obama’s accommodations to demand still more accommodation. Besides, they were not really interested in actually passing anything he proposed, in any case. So in his second term, Obama is trying the opposite strategy: “no more Mr. Nice Guy.” Nevertheless, as a courtesy, Obama did begin his Union speech by stating a desire to cooperate with Republicans. (For a text of the speech, with annotations, see James Fallows 130214 on his blog at theatlantic.com. Fallows was a speechwriter for president Carter, so he points out the rhetorical features of the Address.) 

Commentators’ receptions of the Address varied widely. Some were impressed by the ambition of its policy proposals, including not only the politically possible but also the politically implausible. In contrast, a skeptical centrist commentator thought the policy content unremarkable. (Impressed: Ezra Klein 130212 “Obama’s incredibly ambitious second-term agenda” on Wonkblog at washingtonpost.com. Unimpressed: Ron Fournier 130212 “Nothing big or bold about Obama's State of the Union address” at nationaljournal.com.)

Commentators wondered what the practical effect of the Address might be. Obama had begun the Address by claiming that the country had moved beyond the “rubble” of the Great Recession. A smart commentator thought the main question was whether that was true or not: Could Obama’s legislative agenda now move forward, or would it remain weighed down by a weak economy? The Inaugural and Union addresses implied different answers. The more visionary Inaugural Address had raised major liberal objectives to be pursued in the future: climate change, marriage equality, and social insurance. The more practical State of the Union placed those visions in the context of constraints such as the need for deficit reduction and past policy battles. The main exceptions – policies not complicated by rubble – were energy policy, gun control, and the minimum wage. (Evan Soltas 130213 “Obama and the Rubble” at bloomberg.com.)

One very smart commentator noted that State of the Union addresses seldom much affect public opinion. Political science research shows that such speeches rarely raise public approval of the president. They sometimes raise public attention to the issues the president stresses, but only a little. At best they increase public awareness of the president’s positions – but only if the media discusses them. Besides, fewer and fewer people watch. No doubt all this is true, but that does not detract from the strategic importance of Obama’s speech, which certainly communicated to Republicans, and sets them up to look bad to the public in the future. (Brad Plumer 131212 “State of the Union addresses rarely have much impact” on Wonkblog at washingtonpost.com.)

Policies   1.2   

At a minimum, for POLICY purposes, the State of the Union Address is an opportunity for the president to announce his main legislative proposals and to state his case for them, to both congress and public. The president has to be fairly comprehensive, in order to satisfy both his own executive agencies and the general public. The president runs agencies that deal with the full range of policy problems facing the country. He can encourage those agencies to do good work by including objectives from as many agencies as possible. Also, the president owes many different publics some reward for supporting his (re)election. He can promote public support for elections and policies by rewarding as many publics as possible. Thus, almost inevitably, the Address includes a long list of proposals. The result can be inspiring or boring, depending on whether the speechwriting and speechgiving are good or bad.

For policy purposes, Obama’s 2013Address was better than many. He focused on issues in which the public is interested. He made quite centrist proposals that much of the public supports.

Nevertheless, Obama’s Address probably did NOT persuade many members of congress to switch from opposition to support of many of his proposals. Republicans have become even more adamantly opposed to virtually anything that Obama proposes, particularly the extreme Right, which currently dominates Republican members of congress. Skeptical political scientist Larry Sabato tweeted: “This isn’t just a laundry list. It’s a wish list. And most wishes won’t come true.” However, persuading Republicans about particular policies was not the purpose of the Address. The purpose was rather to define the progressive future direction of the Democratic party and to threaten Republicans with political punishment if they obstruct progress in that direction.

In advance of the Address, one commentator advised the president to signal that, in addition to setting broad visions, he will do what many members of congress – both Democratic and Republican – complain that he does not do, namely sit down with them to do the dirty work of hammering out practical details and political compromises (Chris Frates 130212 “Forget bipartisanship, it’s time to get dirty” on The Take at nationaljournal.com). In the event, Obama said about several proposals that “we can get this done.” However, what he promised was not so much to work directly with congress on particular proposals as waiting a while to give congress time to work out measures it could pass, then intervene with his own plan if they didn’t. Usually Obama is willing to work directly with congressional leaders only toward the end of a process, in order to help push one that is politically feasible through to passage.

Overall, perhaps Obama’s most controversial assertion was that his legislative program need not add “one dime” to national budget deficits. Critics immediately pointed out that, apparently to the contrary, most of the things Obama proposed would cost money. However, probably what Obama meant was that his legislative program, taken as a whole, would contain offsetting increases and decreases in spending.

As to specifics, Obama tabled proposals on budget, economy, immigration, energy, gun control, national security, health care, and technology. Here they are, rearranged by policy sector. (For a comprehensive review, see National Journal Staff 130212 “The most important policies in President Obama's 2013 State of the Union Address” at nationaljournal.com.)

SECURITY

On national defense, Obama pledged to withdraw all (combat) troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and to contain Iran and North Korea.

On technology, Obama made cybersecurity a top priority after increased attacks and increased warnings of still more and worse attacks.

On gun control, Obama hopes to embarrass Congress into acting, but he’ll have to convince not just some Republicans but also some Democrats.

ECONOMY

On budget, Obama proposed postponing big cuts, but he still insisted on a balanced approach combining spending cuts and revenue increases.

On the economy, Obama proposed ways to promote jobs. But the biggest impact on the economy will come from resolving budget issues (or not).

On energy, Obama treated climate change as a crisis that has already arrived, but implicitly conceded that congress probably won’t act, so he will have to act alone.

On health care, Obama continued to defend Medicaid (for the poor) from cuts while trying to achieve savings in Medicare (for the elderly).

IDENTITY

On immigration, Obama congratulated senate bipartisan efforts but indicated that he would not give senators unlimited time, as he did with health reform.

To conclude on policies, one commentator thought Obama’s long agenda provided a convenient way for commentators to score how well he does during his second term. Realistically, during their second terms, few presidents accomplish much of their agenda. (Jill Lawrence 130213 “Obama's long list gives us a handy scorecard for judging his success” and “What history tells us about the future of Obama’s agenda,” both at nationaljournal.com.)

Politics   1.3  

As already noted, at a maximum, for POLITICAL purposes, the State of the Union Address can define the rhetorical terms through which the president intends to operate for the next year or so. The president may hope that those terms will prove persuasive enough to help mobilize the support of politicians and publics behind his legislative proposals. Even more important, the president may succeed in defining national policy debate in terms that place his opponents at a political disadvantage – even if they succeed in blocking his proposals. As between  providing a positive vision for the future of the Democratic party and threatening Republicans with a dismal future if they obstruct that vision, Obama’s 21 January 2013  Inaugural Address was the more visionary and his 12 February 2013 State of the Union Address was the more threatening.

Even so, immediately after the Inaugural Address, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner already perceived the threat. Addressing the Ripon Society of young Republicans he said:

“... given what we heard yesterday about the President’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans. So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this Administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me just tell you, I do believe that is their goal — to just shove us into the dustbin of history.” (Katie Glueck 130124 “John Boehner: President Obama wants to 'annihilate' GOP” at politico.com).

What did Boehner expect, after the way Republicans treated Obama during his first term? Perhaps Boehner’s astute perception of threat was sharpened by his understanding that an all-out counter-attack was exactly what he should expect! For Obama’s legislative agenda, Boehner is a pivotal figure, because it is he who must decide whether to bring Obama proposals to a vote in the House or not. When he does bring them to a vote, they are likely to pass with the support of most Democratic votes and some Republican votes. However, Boehner can afford to do that on only a limited number of policies, because doing so weakens Republican discipline and embarrasses Republicans over their disunity. (Boehner sat through most of Obama’s State of the Union address looking quite unhappy.)

Obama’s 12 February 2013 State of the Union address was more explicitly confrontational and designed to make Republicans pay a high political cost if they defeat his proposals – particularly if they do so by refusing even to vote on them.  He presented policy issues in an order that led to an emotional climax at the end of the speech: a stirring appeal to congress to at least VOTE on his proposals, particularly gun control. That emotional appeal served the policy purpose of promoting gun control, but it also served the political purpose of using that emotional moment to stick the Republican opposition with the label “obstructionist.”  (See Obama biographer Jonathan Alter 130214 “’They deserve a vote’ can be more than rhetoric” at bloomberg.com.)

Meanwhile, on the positive side, Obama’s policy agenda addressed the State of the Union, but it also aimed to strengthen the Democratic party in the future. Thus several of his proposals – entitlement reform, climate change, and college costs – were aimed at young people (Ronald Brownstein 130214 “Courting the twenty-somethings” at nationaljournal.com.) Beyond youth, Obama’s proposals appealed also to minorities, immigrants, and suburban women. The fact that Obama’s policy priorities were highly political might be effective for consolidating his coalition. As such, however, those priorities give Republicans political as well as policy reasons for opposing them, making Obama’s proposals unlikely to pass (Joshua Green 130212 “Obama's ambitious, unlikely State of the Union speech” at businessweek.com).

REPUBLICAN DIVISIONS    2

On the intensifying political divisions within the Republican party, we begin with an overview, continue on the mainstream Republican establishment, and conclude with anti-mainstream Republican insurgents. Here the underlying issue is realistic electoral pragmatism versus conservative ideological principle. Republican politicians must be conservative, given that four-fifths of Republican voters consider themselves conservative. However, in the competition to demonstrate who is most conservative, some Republican politicians become more conservative even than most conservative voters, and certainly more conservative than the centrists who Republicans need in order to win majorities in national elections.

Overview   2.1  

Overall, within the USA, Republicans are a shrinking minority: increasingly  white, southern, and over fifty. One might think, then, that the party would rally together to save itself from extinction as a national political force. Instead animosity is growing between two warring factions. On the one hand is the national establishment that wants the party to break out of its increasing isolation by reaching out to other ethnicities, regions, and age groups. On the other hand are insurgent local politicians whose constituencies are likely to remain largely white, southern, and over fifty, and who therefore can continue to cater largely to them.

These social distinction are accompanied by fiscal issues: how quickly and how drastically to reduce annual national deficits in order to reduce the national debt. Beginning with Ronald Reagan, the national Republican establishment has talked about doing so, but realized that even its older white supporters – not to mention the rest of the electorate – would insist on the national government services to which they are accustomed. Since the arrival of Barach Obama, however, local insurgents are increasingly insisting on actually cutting national spending, regardless of the policy consequences.

These social and fiscal issues are related through constitutional philosophy. On the radical side, they both reflect an historical preference for less national government – for leaving states to do what they want, even allowing states to “nullify” national policies with which they disagree. Such attitudes go back to the founding of the USA and the struggle of white southerners to maintain slavery. It is no accident that such secessionist attitudes have flared up during the administration of the nation’s first black president. (See Sam Tanenhaus 130210 “Original sin: Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people” at newrepublic.com. The “original sin” was that of southern slavery and racism. The GOP is the Republican party.)

As Tanenhous explains, from the Civil War in the 1860s, Republicans were for black civil rights, Democrats were against them. That lasted until the 1960s, when southern Democrat Lyndon Johnson promoted black civil rights and western Republican Richard Nixon countered by courting the white South for the Republican party. Then the South looked like an ample source of votes to help Republicans to win national elections. So it was, from Nixon through the Bushes. Now, however, Republicans are stuck with white-southern preoccupations that do not play well in the rest of the country. Thus Tanenhaus’s analysis helps one understand Republican electoral arithmetic.

Tanenhous’s analysis also helps one understand some of the Republican argument over “conservatism.” What some radical conservatives mean by “real conservatism” is in part a return to the southern constitutional doctrine of  “nullification” – the doctrine that nineteenth century Republicans fought the Civil War to prevent. As just noted, nullification claims that states can do what they want, regardless of what laws national majorities pass in the national government.  Most of the country rejected nullification in the Civil War and still does. Nevertheless, some Republican states are still trying to adopt an analogous doctrine in order to avoid national policies they don’t like, such as health reform and education reform. Of course, many radical conservatives would deny any connection to nullification, claiming that they are just trying to make the national government balance its budget. Nevertheless, “starving” national government institutions for funds to implement policies that populists don’t like can be regarded a form of nullification.      

In any case, Republicans lost the 2006 and 2008 congressional elections and the 2008 and  2012 presidential election. In 2010 they captured the House of Representatives but lost some congressional seats they had hoped to win, as they did again in 2012. By early 2013, media commentators were debating exactly how bad Republican electoral prospects were for 2014 and 2016 and whether and how the party could improve those prospects.

Most commentators view those prospects as poor, stressing adverse demographic trends. However, some commentators pointed out that, despite the large amounts of money available to them, so far Republicans have failed to modernize their political organization and technology (Robert Draper 130214 “Can the Republicans be saved from obsolescence?” at nytimes.com). Nevertheless, at least one commentator thought Republicans could make a comeback (Matthew Cooper 130117 “7 Hopeful signs for Republicans” at nationaljournal.com.). The hopeful signs are:

1. Obama’s inability to strongly revive the economy will remain a main issue.

2. By the sixth year of a presidency, the incumbent party usually loses congressional seats.

3. There are ways for Republicans to attract Latino votes, at least in some states.

4. Republicans don’t have to support gay marriage, but they could oppose it less vehemently.

5. Republicans could stop being a protest party and instead look more like a governing party.

6. Having agreed to raise taxes on the rich, Republicans need not seem the party of the rich.

7. Republicans should remain ‘pro-life’ but should not appear to condone rape.

One famous conservative commentator recommended that Republicans stop trying to impose their preferred policies from the House of Representatives alone. Dramatically obstructing Democratic proposals is a game that House Republicans are likely to lose, to their own embarrassment and public blame. Instead Republicans should settle for resisting Democratic policies through a series of smaller victories. Republicans should make simple offers to cooperate with Democrats, offers that are designed to embarrass Democrats. That strategy would “(a) highlight the Democrats’ fiscal recklessness, (b) force Senate Democrats to make public their fiscal choices and (c) keep the debt ceiling alive as an ongoing pressure point for future incremental demands.” Establishment Republicans appear to be implementing that strategy, albeit amid continuing demands from insurgents for more dramatic confrontations. (Charles Krauthammer 130117 “A new strategy for the GOP” at washintonpost.com.)

Meanwhile, the splintering of the Republican party became visible in the fact that national Republicans delivered not one but two responses to Obama’s State of the Union Address. One came from rapidly rising Latino Republican star Mario Rubio, allegedly speaking for the mainstream establishment, allegedly making innovative policy proposals, but actually mostly just repeating the mainstream party line. The other Republican response, allegedly on behalf of radical conservatives, came from libertarian Rand Paul. In addition, even before Obama’s Address, the radical conservative House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, delivered a speech that claimed to sketch out yet another new profile for the party. None of these directly represented the most extreme local populists, who have entered into a fierce argument with the national establishment over who was at fault for recent electoral defeats and how to win in the future.

(See Andrew Rosenthal 130213 “The struggle for control of the Right” at nytimes.com. Also Beth Reinhard 130214 “Can Marco Rubio live up to the hype?” at national journal.com and Washing Post staff 130213 “Marco Rubio’s State of the Union response” at washingtonpost.com, with video. Also Politico staff 130212 “ Tea Party State of the Union 2013 rebuttal: Rand Paul response (full text, video)” at politico.com. Also Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen 130204 “Eric Cantor 4.0 seeks to rebrand House GOP” at politico.com.. For an insightful discussion, listen to the segment “Republican split between conservatives, really conservatives” on Warren Olney’s 130214 To the Point at the Santa Monica radio station kcrw.com.)

Mainstream  national establishment    2.2  

It is odd to have to speak of a “moderate” national Republican establishment, because only a few years ago that establishment was regarded as staunchly conservative, at least by comparison with Democrats. These establishment national leaders are the ones who engineered the election of George W. Bush and some periods of Republican dominance of congress in the early 2000s. This national establishment is still personified and led by Karl Rove, Bush’s main political strategist. In post-Bush elections, Rove has run American Crossroads, a “superPAC” –  that is, a Political Action Committee that solicits contributions and spends them for partisan purposes.

After their 2012 defeat, some of the national Republican establishment insisted that there was nothing wrong with the party’s ideology or organization, it just needed more effective “packaging” of its message by better candidates (James Hohmann 130126 “GOP leaders insist no overhaul needed” at politico.com.). Canny operators like Rove knew better, however. At the beginning of February, American Crossroads announced the formation of a new superPAC, the Conservative Victory Project, to intervene not in the general election but in Republican primaries, to support the selection of qualified nominees and oppose the selection of unqualified ones. (The formation of CVP was announced in the New York Times by Jeff Zeleny 130202 “Top donors to Republicans seek more say in senate races” at nytimes.com.)

Most media commentators portray Rove and his associates as concerned mostly that in Republican primaries local insurgents tend to select candidates who are too radically conservative to win general elections. This is in fact a longstanding conservative Republican concern. The founder of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley, argued that conservatives should nominate the most conservative candidate who could win the general election.

Nevertheless, the Conservative Victory Project notes that, over the past several elections, both establishment and insurgent candidates have lost. So its concern, the CVP insists, is not the ideologies of candidates but their overall “quality.” One aspect of quality is that Republican nominees should not have any embarrassing episodes in their past that Democrats could use to defeat them. An example that CVP likes to cite is the fact that the 2010 insurgent nominee for Republican senator from Delaware turned out to have dabbled in witchcraft. Presumably CVP likes to cite this because her problem was witchcraft, not conservative ideology. Quality candidates should also have the ability to run an effective campaign. CVP cites the example of an establishment nominee who did not: Connie Mack IV in Florida in 2012.

Other mainstream Republicans launched other initiatives to rebuild the party, such as NewRepublican.org, allegedly a cross between a super PAC and a think tank. It takes successful Republicans such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as role models – those who reach out to or are themselves minorities. (Beth Reinhard 130213 “Another day, another GOP attempt to rebrand the party” at nationaljournal.com.)

Radical populist insurgents   2.3  

Mainstream national Republican efforts to strengthen their control of local Republican nominations provoked a firestorm of opposition from radical conservatives. One declared the outbreak of intraparty war. (See Alexandra Jaffe 130205 “Conservatives wary of Rove super-PAC” at thehill.com. Also Jeff Zeleny 130206 “New Rove effort has G.O.P. aflame” at nytimes.com. Also David Bossie 130206 “The civil war has begun” at breitbart.com. Bossie is the head of the ultraconservative Republican propaganda organization Citizens United.)

Radical insurgents insist that the last several election cycles demonstrate precisely that the national establishment is NOT able to select effective candidates and anyway has no business imposing their preferences on local Republican voters. Accordingly, for the first time, the Tea Party movement has established a PAC to support candidates in elections (teapartypatriots citizensfund.com) The Citizens Fund abjures the label “conservative” and instead concentrates on the issues that concern them: Fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets. The head of the Conservative News Service even declared that “Karl Rove is not a conservative”! (Terence Jeffrey 1301206 at creators.com.).

One reporter usefully described how the Far Right’s new “anti-establishment establishment.” is becoming just as nationally organized as its mainstream target. The earliest entrant (1988) was Citizens United, a nonprofit organization funding ultraconservative causes whose partisan propaganda  activities were famously upheld by the Supreme Court in 2010. Another early initiative (1999) was the Club for Growth, an ultraconservative tax-cutting PAC that in the early 2000s innovated the practice of intervening in Republican primaries, usually when the seat had become open, but sometimes against Republican incumbents. Two currently important players are two public relations firms founded by veterans of past radical insurgencies within the Republican party: CRC Public Relations and Shirley & Banister Public Affairs in Alexandria Virginia (Alexander Burns 130214 “The anti-establishment establishment” at politico.com.) 

DEMOCRATIC DIVISIONS    3

We begin with an overview of divisions within Democrats, continue on the Democratic  mainstream progressive national establishment, and conclude by noting some vulnerable local exceptions. Here again the underlying issue is ideology versus pragmatism, in this case progressivism versus pragmatism. Only about half of Democrats regard themselves as liberal-progressives. That may help prevent Democratic politicians from having to compete to demonstrate who can be the most progressive. Also, as we noted earlier, Democrats are divided differently on different issues. That poses challenges to unity, but also prevents intra-party polarization, since Democratic politicians who oppose each other on one issue can work together on other issues. Overall, divisions between Democrats are much less intense than between Republicans: mostly just practical problems to be quietly managed, not ultimate issues to be fought to the end.

Because they are critical to Obama’s possibilities for passing legislation in 2013-2014, we note which Democratic senators face reelection in 2014. We also note their prospects for reelection. However, it is too early for reliable analysis of those contests, and evidently some of the stronger analysts have not yet seriously tried (e.g., FiveThirtyEight at the New York Times).   

Overview 3.1  

Oversimplifying, before Bill Clinton, Democrats remained highly progressive economically (Old Democrats) while much of the country became more conservative culturally. Clinton repositioned the party toward the center, both economically and culturally (New Democrats). Obama is now moving the party back toward the left, at least on cultural issues (Obama Democrats?). The question is, how much economic progressivism can Obama afford economically, given economic constraints? Politically, how quickly can Democrats afford to adjust their coalition from white workers toward multicultural minorities? It may become strategic to preserve some centrism, in order to attract centrists who may flee radical-conservative Republicanism.

For decades, Republicans used cultural issues as “wedges” to split Democrats over race, gender, and lifestyle. Now, however, Democrats largely agree on most current cultural issues such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and immigration reform. The new Democratic divisions are over government budgets and economic class. Will Democrats return to Clintonian economic centrism? “An immediate answer may come in the entitlement debate and whether Obama and congressional Democrats will agree to any Social Security or Medicare benefit cuts to achieve deficit reduction, said a wide-ranging group of Democratic elected officials and strategists.” (Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman 130118 “Up next for Obama: A looming Democratic divide” at politico.com. This article also sketches the parallel dilemmas faced in New York by Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo, who has proclaimed himself “progressive but broke.” )

Progressive national establishment    3.2  

Recently Democrats met to discuss future strategy. Noteworthy was Bill Clinton’s warning that, although Democrats are likely to benefit from favorable demographic trends, the benefits will not come automatically – Democrats will have to work hard to realize them. Noteworthy also was Obama’s promise to support Democratic candidates by raising funds and lending them his own organization for mobilizing votes. (Note the separation between presidential and congressional party organizations.) Later a prominent political analyst warned Democrats that fewer than one fourth of House districts are competitive, narrowing opportunities for the party to retake the House. Nevertheless, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee remains optimistic about Democratic prospects in 2014 House elections. 

(See Alexander Bolton 130205 “Reid tries to unite Senate Dem caucus” at thehill.com. Also Russell Berman 130208 “Clinton brings warning to House Democrats about 2014 campaign” at thehill.com. Also Russell Berman and Bernie Becker 130209 “Democrats leave retreat confident Obama will help them retake House in 2014" at thehill.com..Also Charlie Cook 130215 “Death of the swing seat” at The Cook Report on nationaljournal.com. Also Alexandra Jaffe 130215 “Democrats believe they're stronger in 2014 than previous election cycles” at thehill.com.)

Democrats are most concerned about retaining their majority in the Senate. This too may prove difficult. In 2014, of their 53 senate seats, Democrats have to defend 21, of which about 12 are “in play” – potentially losable because half are in swing states and half in Republican states. Meanwhile, of their 45 seats, Republicans have to defend only 13, of which only two are “in play.” In addition, several prominent older Democrats are retiring from safe seats, making it harder for Democrats to retain those seats than if the incumbents had run again (Iowa, West Virginia, New Jersey). Iowa and West Virginia immediately became “toss ups” that Republicans might win. Democratic leaders urged incumbents who might retire to announce that decision as soon as possible, in order to give the party time to find replacements. (130208 “Senate Democrats urge early decision for those bailing in 2014" at newsmax.com.)

Of the 20 Democratic senate seats up for reelection in 2014, about seven are considered safe seats or likely wins. Most analysts agree that the following seats are “safely” Democratic: Delaware, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. The Cook Political Report considers that Democrats are “safe” also in Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Oregon. Cook considers Democrats “likely” to win in Colorado, Hawaii (a special election), New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Virginia. (Wikipedia provides a convenient overview under “United States Senate elections, 2014.” So far, the most thorough survey of the 2014 senate races is the four part series “2014 Senate a year out” at redstate.com, by region: West 130203, Midwest 130205, East 130206, South 130209. Red State is a Tea Party site.)

Vulnerable local exceptions   3.3  

The simplest way to identify vulnerable Democratic members of congress is to ask which won in states or districts that a Republican presidential nominee has recently carried. The existence of such seats is largely a product of the Democratic party’s own strategy. In the 2000s, in order to recapture the House and Senate, Democratic campaign strategists deliberately expanded the chessboard on which they were competing, finding “moderate” Democrats to run in what would not normally be considered Democratic states. In 2008 that strategy was quite successful, perhaps bolstered by Obama’s popularity. However, those are the Democratic senators who are now up for reelection in 2014, a year without a presidential election. Aside from the absence of Obama “coat-tails,” voter turnout is likely to be lower, whiter, and older in an “off-year” election – favoring Republicans over Democrats.

In 2014, Democrats will defend senate seats in seven states that Obama lost in 2012: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. These are the seats whose incumbents the Democratic leadership must allow some leeway on whether to support particular Democratic policies or not. One of the responsibilities of the Senate Democratic majority leader Harry Reid is to try to arrange the processing of difficult issues so as to avoid forcing vulnerable Democratic senators to cast a conspicuous vote on them.

The Cook Political Report Cook considers the following states to be only “leaning” Democratic in 2014: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, and North Carolina. As noted above, Cook considers Iowa and West Virginia to be “tossups.” The more skeptical Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia considers Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa and North Carolina to be “orange alerts” (Democratic incumbent potentially threatened), Louisiana, South Dakota and West Virginia to be “red alerts” (Democratic incumbent at best only slightly likely to win).

(See Aaron Blake 121109 “Senate Democrats face a very tough 2014 map” on The Fix at washingtonpost.com. Also By Dan Merica 121114 “Moderate Senate Democrats eye midterms warily” at cnn.com. Also Adam Carlson and Colin Doms 121129 “2014 Senate races likely to keep Democrats on the defensive” at huffingtonpost.com. Also Abby Borovitz 130202 “GOP’s chances to control Congress: 2014 Senate races to watch” at tv.msnbc.com. Also Seth McLaughlin 130214 “The Crystal Ball: Senate Democrats on high alert in seven 2014 races” at washingtontimes.com. The Crystal Ball is a centrist forecasting effort under Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia.)

CONCLUSION

We conclude by documenting the theme with which we began, that these days the USA is experiencing drastic societal transformation that may lead to significant political transformation.

(For a superb overview of this theme, see Democratic consultant Doug Sosnik 130212 “The State of the Union” at politico.com. Also the much shorter Ron Fournier 130214 “Republican leaders worry their party could divide in two. .... Democrats should worry too.” at nationaljournal.com. Also Ron Fournier 130114 “Talkin' about revolution: 6 reasons why the two-party system may become obsolete” at national journal.com. Also Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton 120426 “In Nothing We Trust” at nationaljournal.com. Fournier and Sosnik collaborated on a book about social and political transformation at the beginning of the twenty-first century: Ron Fournier, Douglas B. Sosnik, and Matthew J. Dowd 2006.Applebee's America: How successful political, business, and religious leaders connect with the new American community. New York NY: Simon & Schuster, 260 pages. Applebee’s is a surburban restaurant chain frequented by the increasingly influential suburban middle class.)

Fournier’s short 130114 piece reports “a growing school of thought in Washington that social change and a disillusioned electorate threaten the entire two-party system.” He lists the following reasons:

1. Americans are disconnected and frustrated with politics unlike virtually any time in the history of polling.

2. The country is in the midst of a wrenching economic shift from the industrial era to an info-tech economy. The transition coincides with unsettling social change. The nation's institutions, especially government, are not adapting.

3. History suggests that periods of socioeconomic change in the U.S. lead to political upheaval, including transformation of existing parties and the rise of new ones.

4. Technology gives consumers enormous purchasing power, which has been used to democratize commerce and other institutions. One example: In a few short years, Americans gained the ability to ignore an artist's album and buy only a favorite one or two songs. The music business was radically changed by we, the people. So why would Americans be expected to settle for the status quo in politics?

5. The parties are weakened. For a variety of reasons, the Democratic and Republican structures no longer have a monopoly on the ability to raise money, broadcast messages, and organize activists.

6. The nation faces existential problems including climate change, debt, income inequality and the decline in social mobility.

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THE SCHEME OF THIS BLOG

DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Importance of Post: ***** Big development. **** Small development. *** Continuing trend.

Scope of  Post:  USA only. USA-PRC. USA-other.

Type of Process:  Elite power struggle. Elite policy politics. Mass participation.

Type of Treatment:  Current commentary. Comprehensive background. Academic analysis.

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Policy  Sectors:  Security. Economy. Identity

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