Friday, May 22, 2009

Polls for Senators and Dick Cheney

It’s Friday, May 22, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

Public Policy Polling has released approval ratings for several senators, most of whom have an election coming up in 2010. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) leads the pack with 62% approval and 25% disapproval. On the bottom is Roland Burris (D-IL) with 17% approval, 62% disapproval.

As America gets ready for the upcoming health care debate, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina is putting the finishing touches on a PR campaign against President Obama’s plan for a public plan. A detailed outline of their upcoming ads can be found here. Paul Krugman sounds off against them and encourages the administration to stay strong.

Everyone knows that former VP Dick Cheney has been in the news a lot lately, but what do Americans think about it? Actually, a new CNN poll finds that his favorability rating is on the rise: up from 29% to 37% since he left office. Granted, 55% still have an unfavorable view of him. The poll also tracks Bush’s new favorability rating.

But despite this growing support, Republican politicians are trying to distance themselves from Cheney.

Finally, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) has introduced the most blogged-about piece of legislation in the 111th Congress: a resolution to get 2010 declared the “Year of the Bible”.

Our favorite take on it comes from Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA): “Does that mean 2009 is not the year of the Bible? What is 2012 the year of? The Quran?”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Obama and Cheney: Dueling Speeches Today in Washington

We have full videos of the Obama and Cheney speeches today on the torture debate.

For a transcript of the President’s speech, click here.

For a transcript of the former Vice President’s speech, click here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Looking Forward to Redistricting

After the 2010 Census, State Legislatures across the country will begin remapping the U.S. Congressional districts for the next ten years. Under typical political practice, the party in power will draw the district lines so it is the most advantageous to them.

Currently the Democrats control 27 State Legislatures, while the Republicans control just 14. Nebraska has a non-partisan State Legislature and the other 8 are split between their two houses.

In 2008, New York, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Nevada went from split control to Democratic dominated while Oklahoma and Tennessee went from split control to Republican dominated. Ohio and Alaska both went from Republican controlled to split control - although it doesn’t matter in Alaska, where only one Representative is elected for a statewide seat.

It’s certainly a better picture for Democrats than it was in 2000, when Republicans controlled 18 State Legislatures to the Democrats’ 16.

How does it look for the two parties in 2010?

If the Democrats can hold their gains and even pick up a few more states (such as Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan) there is a good outlook for them.

However, population is growing quicker in western states such as Arizona and Utah, which will probably be allocated a few more seats after the Census. This will give the GOP a few more seats, though probably a relatively small number.

All in all, it looks a lot better for Democrats.

So what can the Democrats do to take advantage of the situation?

Tom Schaller, a new blogger at, points out that Democrats have been burdened by the creation of majority-minority districts.

“…Democrats have their core supporters over-packed into too few districts. In the final chapter of my book, Whistling Past Dixie, I demonstrated that the latter was a key factor, in part because race-minded redistricting produces certain districts with overwhelming Democratic majorities, inefficiently so for Democrats.”

The intent of these race-minded redistricting practices is to make Congress more racially representative of America - a admirable goal, but one that appears to set back the Democratic Party. In fact, State Legislatures have gone to great lengths to gerrymander districts to accomplish this goal.

Take the 4th Congressional District in Illinois, which follows the patterns of Hispanic residency around Chicago in order to send a Hispanic representative to Congress.

Schaller also points out a recent study that attributes growing partisan polarization to “the increasing sophistication of redistricting software”.

“‘The trend has also been fueled by a resurgence in straight-ticket voting as each party's electoral coalition has grown more ideologically homogeneous since the 1960s.’ (Translation: Republicans cleared out many moderate House Democrats from the South and Plains states while Democrats this decade finally got around to returning the favor, so to speak, by clearing out House Republicans in the Northeast and Midwest.)”

The Democratic State Legislatures could do themselves a big favor towards creating a super-majority in the House of Representatives if they remap district lines to create more politically-diverse districts that will still be easy to win for Democratic candidates.

UPDATE: Ed Kilgore at 538 has a good post that expands on this topic.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Can Michael Steele’s "New GOP" Really Succeed?

RNC Chairman Michael Steele addressed his committee today, in the wake of a vote to rebrand the Democrats as the “Socialist Democrat Party”.

The speech fell along the lines of an ideas piece he submitted for Politico today - creating a New GOP. He said there would be three important ways for the Republicans to turn the corner.

1) The GOP must be forward-looking

From his speech:

The Republican Party is again going to emerge as the party of new ideas. It will take some time, for sure, but it is beginning now. Our governors are emerging with fresh answers to old problems. Some of our brightest stars in Congress are emerging with new approaches. New groups and new entities are being formed. Republicans are rising once again with the energy, the focus, and the determination to turn our timeless principles into new solutions for the future. The introspection is now over. The corner has been turned.

Simple enough, but as his speech demonstrates later on, a lot of the new ideas sound like more of the same.

2) The GOP must not shy away from opposing Obama policies

The guy who campaigned in favor of bottom-up style of governing is presiding over the most massive top down expansion of government bureaucracy and spending our country has ever seen or even contemplated.

Candidate Obama was very moderate in his views, but President Obama could not possibly be further to the far left. Candidate Obama talked about fiscal responsibility, about government living within its means. But President Obama is saddling our unborn grandchildren with mountains of debt. Candidate Obama boasted about cutting taxes, but President Obama will have to raise taxes to pay for his massive top-down government explosion.

Steele has done his homework. Recent polls show that Americans are very concerned about the size of the deficit this year, and that concern can easily play into the hands of the “tax-and-spend liberal” message of the GOP with some clever maneuvering.

He went on to say that they should not wage personal attacks on Obama. From his piece in Politico:

Let me make one point clear – Republicans will not make our opposition to the president personal. Republicans will challenge policies of the president that we believe are wrong, but our opposition will be done in very sharp contrast to the classless way that the Democrats and the far left spoke of President Bush.

Not only is it admirable strategy, but should be an effective one. The reason is simple: Americans will see it as an admirable strategy.

But it may be easier said than done. The far-right (that is essentially the remains) of the Republican Party hate Obama and do not fear demeaning him in “classless” ways. Take some of the demonstrators from the Tea Party protests for example.

But let’s assume that Steele has more influence as RNC Chair than he actually does, and the GOP only uses constructive arguments against Obama’s policies. The GOP will still be short of improvement. The simple reason is that while messaging may be improving within Republican ranks, and economic ideas are brewing, they are still the “Party of No” on issues like health care, the environment, and labor reform.

In his speech, Steele could only address these issues as such:

President Obama now wants to cap and tax every single American into paying higher utility rates. President Obama and his allies in Congress have now put their taxing eyes on soft drinks. President Obama and Democrat leaders want a brand new tax on our health care benefits and are devising a plan to give federal government bureaucrats control of our health care system. President Obama is backing a plan to take away the basic right of every American worker to cast a private ballot.

No real solutions found there.

Yet in his tirade against Obama, Steele did bring up some things that will sound like a reasonable argument - at least in a way that would presumably lead up to the GOP telling America about solutions of their own.

President Obama has for the first time in our history politicized the US Census process by putting political appointees in his White House in charge of it and wanting a corrupt, fraudulent organization to run it. President Obama and his far left allies are flirting with an attempt to squelch the basic freedom of speech of our nation's airwaves. President Obama's Attorney General is trying to use Mexican drug gang wars as a reason to advocate a new gun ban in America.

President Obama's Administration has disparaged our war heroes and veterans by suggesting that they are a threat to our safety, when the truth is they are the cause of our safety. The president, who thinks that every student should be able to go to college, is cutting much needed funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The president, who pledged that he would create millions of jobs through federal public works projects, now requires project labor agreements on such projects which effectively denies small and minority owned businesses access to those jobs because they are not unionized.

And the one the galls me the most: While the president sends his kids to a private school, he is at the very same time taking away opportunity scholarships from poor Hispanic and African-American kids right here in our nation's capital. Those are the facts of the president's first 100 days.

Harsh? Maybe - but if the GOP adopts these points in a standard message it could prove effective.

3) The GOP must seize on the momentum already building up nationally from the grassroots

Is there really such momentum? It’s possible - Steele seems pretty confident that it’s there.

Too bad the chattering classes inside the Beltway are too busy fretting over phony disputes and intra-party intrigue to notice that a change has indeed come to America. But it's not the one the Obama Administration wants aired on the nightly news.

Those of you who live outside of Washington know what I'm talking about. Those of you who actually attend Lincoln Day dinners, and county party events, those of you who toil in the vineyards, spending time in communities, in diners, in barber shops, and in coffee shops where real, every day people can be found. You know it is real. You can see it and feel it.

This change comes in a tea bag!

Of course, this momentum has hardly been seen. Thousands of conservatives protested against Obama’s fiscal policies on Tax Day, but thousands of liberals protested against the Iraq War (on a pretty consistent basis) before the 2004 elections as well.

But as we mentioned last month, it may still be cause for concern if you’re a Democrat.

So will Steele’s “New GOP” succeed?

Steele is beginning to mount an effective message against the Democrats and he properly recognizes the value of conservative grassroots activists to the GOP.

But it is only the beginning of a winning strategy, and he has many kinks to work out.

For example, he complains that Obama is moving the country to the far-left. Yet, polls show that American opinion is largely shifting left. Flat(ter) tax philosophy and individual responsibility are ideas that don’t resonate with Americans as well as they used to. Americans are more concerned with health care and global warming than welfare or crime. The GOP has not been able to produce a cohesive vision on these fronts.

Take the issue of gay marriage. It’s becoming legal in more and more states and could be legalized nationally within the next ten years. Polls find that more and more Americans are supporting this non-traditional arrangement. The shift has left the GOP scrambling to redefine their opposition to it.

Recently, Steele tried to recast this issue as a business issue rather than a values issue.

This is what he said on Saturday, in the shoes of a small-business owner:

Now all of a sudden I've got someone who wasn't a spouse before, that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as a spouse that I now have financial responsibility for…So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money.

The obvious flaw in the argument is that straight couples that get married would be bad for business too, and thus bad for America - a big contradiction to Republican ideology. As columnist Matt Bandyk said of the Steele statement, “if this is actually what he meant to argue, the party's leadership is in bigger trouble than has been thought.”

The point is that America is progressing and the Republican Party is finding it difficult to adapt. Despite his pleas for Republicans to stop looking back, Steele invoked the name of Ronald Reagan a countless number of times today.

But that’s just the thing - the GOP needs a new Reagan and they know it. He not only saved them after Watergate, but reinvented conservatism to make it popular. In the aftermath of the Bush Era, they need such a messianic figure again.

Otherwise, the New GOP that Steele envisions will have a lot of trouble in the months and years ahead.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Return of the Abortion Debate

In recent days, there has been a flurry of stories surrounding the issue of abortion.

Two recent polls find the United States to be moving in a “pro-life” direction and yesterday President Obama gave the commencement address to the new graduates of Notre Dame - a catholic university - which sparked criticism from the pro-life community.

The first poll - released April 30th by the Pew Research Center - found that support for abortion in most or all cases has dropped to 46% while opposition to abortion in most or all cases has gone up to 44% of Americans.

The poll found that support for abortion rights decreased significantly among Republicans - but this may be more attributable to moderates leaving the GOP than changes in their views on abortion. But support for abortion decreased even more so among independents.

In terms of religion, Evangelicals continue to be the most opposed to abortion (with only 23% of them supporting it) while a majority of mainline Protestants were in favor. Yet support for abortion decreased 15% among mainline Protestants since August last year.

A second poll - released on Friday by Gallup - found that for the first time in the history of the poll, a majority of Americans (51%) describe themselves as “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice”.

Furthermore, the Gallup poll confirms the Pew poll’s findings on the trend in terms of political ideology.

Is America really more Pro-Life?

Nate Silver and Ed Kilgore at were quick to point out that the findings of these polls might be dubious.

Silver combined the two questions (“legal or illegal?” and “pro-life or pro-choice?”) into one graph and found that the general trend in such surveys is that America is simply becoming more opinionated about abortion - not necessarily more opposed to it.

Kilgore, meanwhile, argued that the Gallup poll failed to accurately account for the fact that the GOP is growing smaller and produced an outlier survey - one that is terribly misleading about the actual circumstances of the national opinion.

He also pointed out that most pro-life Americans are not hardliners - they will make exceptions in certain circumstances, such as a risk to the mother’s health.

In particular, GSS shows an exceptionally durable 80%-plus level of support for a "health exception," which happens to be the actual flash-point separating pro-life activists from the rest of the population. In other words, lots of "pro-life" Americans consistently, and over decades, favor an exception that pro-life activists adamantly consider a complete repudiation of the pro-life point of view.

Of course, a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Ross Douthat also points out that many pro-choice Americans are not hardliners either - in fact, two out of three Americans support restrictions on second and third trimester abortions.

Douthat also points out another interesting bit from the Pew poll - “Americans under 35, while more sympathetic to gay marriage than their parents, also tend to be slightly more anti-abortion”.

And he’s right. With the exception of senior citizens, the Millennials are the least supportive generation of abortion, as the Pew table above indicates. As Silver wrote in his post, “There are evidently an increasing number of pro-life, pro-gay marriage Americans…a position it would have been very unusual to encounter just a few years ago.”

In fact, it certainly appears that the entire abortion debate is very different than just a few years ago based on the evidence we’ve seen. The specific views vary widely from individual to individual, often for very different reasons.

But what is the impact of this in Washington?

We’ll definitely see this issue come up again as Obama finds his nominee to replace Justice Souter for the Supreme Court - but there are already palpable changes taking place in the political (rather than policy) sphere.

Yesterday on Meet the Press, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine and RNC Chairman Michael Steele faced off on the controversy surrounding Obama’s visit to Notre Dame.

No surprises there. The Democratic leader toted the party line of keeping abortions rare, safe, and legal, while the Republican leader toted the party line of the sacredness of life.

Except the interesting thing is that Kaine is pro-life, while Steele (although he describes himself as “pro-life”) said earlier this year that abortion is a woman’s personal choice.

Thus the traditional political lines are being blurred.

And that’s where Obama’s speech at Notre Dame comes in. Speaking to a full auditorium, he said

…when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."

Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

And there in lies some of the President’s greatest attributes - inclusiveness and pragmatism. Since taking office Obama has lived by a creed to make the middle ground the higher ground.

In a complex debate with a diverse range of opinions on a sensitive issue - and arguably more complex, diverse, and sensitive than ever - Obama has touched on the essential principles of a common ground by which all Americans can agree and work together.

Perhaps it is because of a deep-founded conviction, or perhaps it is simply the shifting lines on the issue, but Obama has taken yet another controversy as an opportunity and hit a political home run.

You can watch the full commencement address here.