Friday, May 1, 2009

Souter, Specter, and College Football

It’s Friday, May 01, 2009. Here's what we're looking at:

Justice David Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court will retire, according to numerous government officials (including President Obama). Who will the new president pick to replace Souter? Probably another minority or female legal expert. The New York Times provides a slew of possibilities as to who it might be.

No matter who Obama picks to replace Souter, he or she will still have to be confirmed by the Senate. The process will start in the Senate Judiciary Committee - where, because of Sen. Arlen Specter’s recent party switch, confirming a liberal Justice may be more difficult now.

Specter’s decision has been supported by most Democrats in Washington DC, but the Democratic activists in Pennsylvania are not so sure. One group is demanding that the moderate Senator go through a primary.

Finally, the BCS System vs. Playoffs issue is heating up in Congress. One of the most passionate House members on this issue is Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) who says that the BCS System is “like communism, you can't fix it."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

How the Millennials Are Shifting the American Opinion

It is well known that Americans under 30 are far more supportive of gay marriage, protecting the environment, and other liberal concerns than older Americans. But a new ABC News - Washington Post poll finds that such support has bigger implications than ever before.

The best example: For the first time in the history of this poll (and probably in most respected surveys) a plurality of Americans support gay marriage.

With Americans under 30 supporting it by a 2-to-1 margin, 49% of all respondents said they supported gay marriage, while only 46% said they were opposed. 48% of respondents between the ages of 30 and 64 supported expanding marriage, and just 28% of respondents older than 65 agreed.

But it’s not just the marriage issue in which the Millennials are making a difference.

Americans under 30 were one of the most supportive demographics of stricter regulations on greenhouse emissions. 80% of these young adults supported such tougher environmental policies, compared to 64% of seniors. As a result, 75% of all respondents supported regulating emissions.

Meanwhile, support for the decriminalization of marijuana is at an all time high. This is something that has been known for months, but now there is evidence that the shift towards legalizing pot is due (in part) to the Millennial generation.

According to the pollsters:

"Support for legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use is nearly twice as high among young adults (57 percent of those under 30) as seniors (30 percent), with middle-aged Americans split about evenly."

Finally, opinions on illegal immigration are rapidly changing, due (again in part) to the rise of the Millennials.

"In another difference by age, 85 percent of senior citizens say the U.S. isn’t doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from coming into the country; that eases to a still-substantial 65 percent of under 30s. And support for a path to citizenship for illegals is 31 points higher among under 30s than it is among seniors, 73 percent vs. 42 percent."

But how will it affect elections or policy?

Younger voters are notoriously bad about voting. Each election cycle pundits talk about the youth vote, only to see it improve mildly (if at all). As a result, such views as seen above are not as reflective of the voting population - and that makes an enormous difference.

But last year more than 23 million Americans under 30 cast their ballot in the Presidential contest. What was truly remarkable wasn’t that there was a 4% increase in youth turnout, but that this generation was so overwhelmingly supportive of Barack Obama.

As college student and DNC member Jason Rae told us in early January:

"Had the margin been smaller, like previous elections, many of the states that were decided by only the narrowest of margins would have gone the other way. Take for example places like Indiana or North Carolina. Drop the support of young voters from 66% to say, perhaps, only 60% and you would likely see an entirely different person taking the oath of office on January 20."
Therefore it is critical for campaigns to recognize the importance of young voters and the impact that the Millennial generation can make on the political scene. Convincing them to vote is difficult, but it can make a huge difference when they do.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Barack Obama’s 100th Day

Today is President Barack Obama’s 100th day in office. Since his inauguration on January 20th he has made several key accomplishments while maintaining a high approval rating.

Gallup Poll results this week find the nation’s first black president has about 65% approval for job performance, and (except for political ideology) he has broad support across the different demographics.

Although everybody seems to know it’s a "Hallmark holiday" (because it doesn’t mean anything, but everyone observes it) the 100th day of the Obama Administration has served the purpose of letting his supporters tout the days leading up to this milestone as a "Foundation for Change". has more on his accomplishments so far.

Just after his inauguration, we did a post on what the first 100 Days would look like.

What did we all get right?

This stimulus bill passed like we said it would - being the most pressing issue at the time, the President was giving it almost full priority.

SCHIP expanded to provide health care coverage to 4 million uninsured children, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed - giving women a fair chance to make sure they receive equal pay for equal work.

What did we all get wrong?

Well, we said the stimulus bill would be signed in early February - it did not even pass through Congress until February 15th, and was not signed until two days later.

We also said that the Employee Free Choice Act could be expected to pass without much difficulty soon, if not within the first 100 days. Since then it has become more and more evident that the card check bill will not have the necessary support in the Senate - at least not during the recession.

But as we said in that post, "In the end, the number of actions taken in the first 100 days does not typically define a Presidency - and it would not be prudent to judge Obama by his first 100 days at this point in history."

In fact, NBC Political Director Chuck Todd made an even more important observation in an article today. "Ultimately, the public judges a first term president, not in the first 100 days, but in the last 300 (in this case, January to November 2012)."

So despite the frenzy over these first hundred days, it really won’t mean anything when we look back on it in the near future.

But Happy Day 100 anyway.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why Did Specter Become a Democrat?

The biggest news story today in the political scene is the party-switch by Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. As one of the last moderate Republicans in the Senate, Specter was facing a tough primary from former GOP Congressman Pat Toomey.

From his statement today:

Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

But it goes on…

When I supported the stimulus package, I knew that it would not be popular with the Republican Party. But, I saw the stimulus as necessary to lessen the risk of a far more serious recession than we are now experiencing.

Since then, I have traveled the State, talked to Republican leaders and office-holders and my supporters and I have carefully examined public opinion. It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.

(The emphasis is our own)

Was Specter afraid of losing his primary? Prominent Republican leaders seem to think so.

From a statement by Chairman of the NRSC, Sen. John Cornyn:

"Senator Specter’s decision today represents the height of political self-preservation. While this presents a short-term disappointment, voters next year will have a clear choice to cast their ballots for a potentially unbridled Democrat super-majority versus the system of checks-and-balances that Americans deserve."

And RNC Chairman Michael Steele seemed to agree:

Let’s be honest-Senator Specter didn’t leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.

Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don’t do it first.

Was this really why Specter changed parties?

Until today, Specter had consistently said it was important for him to remain a Republican. In March, he was quoted by The Hill as saying "I think each of the 41 Republican senators, in a sense — and I don’t want to overstate this — is a national asset because if one was gone, you’d only have 40, the Democrats would have 60, and they would control all of the mechanisms of government."

He was also quoted in Pennsylvania Avenue as saying "And because if we lose my seat they have 60 Democrats, they will pass card check, you will have the Obama tax increases, they will carry out his big spending plans. So the 41st Republican, whose name is Arlen Specter is vital to stopping tax increases, passage of card check, and the Obama big spending plans."

So today’s decision certainly seems peculiar.

A Rasmussen poll from Friday showed Toomey to be leading with a majority of voters.

From Rasmussen’s website:

Incumbent Senator Arlen Specter trails former Congressman Pat Toomey by 21 points in an early look at Pennsylvania’s 2010 Republican Primary. Fifty-one percent (51%) of Republican voters statewide say they’d vote for Toomey while just 30% would support Specter.

Specter is viewed favorably by 42% of Pennsylvania Republicans and unfavorably by 55%, according to a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of voters in the state. Those are stunningly poor numbers for a long-term incumbent senator. Specter was first elected to the Senate in 1980.

Toomey, who served in the House from 1999 to 2005, earns positive reviews from 66% and negative comments from just 19%.

Specter had already released an ad against Toomey in anticipation for their primary battle, and the two had been telling voters for a while that the other was unelectable.

Recently we commented on how the GOP was purging their more moderate members. A story from Politico on Sunday seems to confirm this phenomenon.

Specter is a moderate Senator who probably was more in line with the Democrats than the Republicans. But it would probably be naïve to say this move was not because of the Toomey challenge.

As a party, the GOP is moving further to the right. This means that some centrist Republicans are leaving the party. In fact, as few as 21% of Americans still consider themselves Republicans according to recent polls. Nate Silver describes this as a Republican Death Spiral.

Specter was on shaky ground with Republicans in Pennsylvania, but he will be a voice for moderate (former) Republicans, Democrats, and independents now that he has switched parties. Now he has a better chance of returning to Washington in 2011.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Where Should Obama Stand on the “Torture Debate”?

Over the past week the Obama Administration has become engulfed in the debate over prosecuting Bush-era officials for approving torture-like tactics in the War on Terror.

It all started when the Obama Administration released legal memos of Bush’s Office of Legal Council justifying aggressive interrogation techniques to be used by the CIA. After former Vice-President Dick Cheney slammed the current President for this move, the White House seemingly moved back and forth on whether or not these officials should be prosecuted.

Even Obama’s main man for message, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, had trouble explaining the President’s position to David Gregory on Sunday.

It is always important in politics to keep your message clear and consistent - so far the White House has failed to do so with the torture debate. This is truly the first real political blunder of the Obama Administration. The White House needs to come up with a clear and firm position.

So what should Obama’s position be?

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that Americans are deeply divided over the torture debate. 51% of respondents said the Obama Administration should investigate Bush-era officials, 47% of respondents said they should not.

The poll also found that 7 out of 10 Democrats support that course of action, while 7 out of 10 Republicans oppose it. Independents were split about 50-50.

From an ethical or policy-driven standpoint, many complicated factors would go in to determining the President’s stance. But speaking in purely political terms, the best position would be to support Justice Department investigations and ultimately prosecuting Bush Administration officials.

It is true that this would upset many Republicans, particularly those in Congress. In our last post we mentioned that Rep. Peter King called for the GOP to halt all Congressional activities should Obama pursue investigations. The President’s former opponent, Sen. John McCain, said it would be a “witch hunt”.

To slightly adjust a famous quote of Abraham Lincoln’s, you can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time.

But thus far President Obama has straddled the fence on the issue and pleased almost no one. If anyone should be getting pleased, it’s the base.

The grassroots liberals and Democratic activists in this country have been horrified over how the President has decided to “look forward”. Obama might not be seeking retribution, but the liberal base simply is. They insist that the rule of law be enforced and that those who authorized torture practices in the past must be held accountable now.

If President Obama will want to hold seats for Democrats in 2010 - or win his own re-election in 2012 - he will have to recognize the importance of these activists. Without them the Democrats will not have the donors or volunteers to wage a successful campaign.

It all comes down to a fundamental - though seldom recognized - rule in American politics. Simply put, you can’t win-over the people unless you first win-over the base.