The Politics Of 2005 – Part VI: The Big Ideology

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses


·         The Democratic Party has always been the Party claiming to support the ordinary American.  In the early days, this meant opposition to government expansion.  Since the beginning of the 20th century, that meant supporting government expansion.


·         Nowadays, few if any Democrats would talk in straight-forward language about expanding the federal government.


·         The Democratic Party needs to find its central ideology (CI) – a one- or two-sentence statement that sums up its view on how government should operate.  It has to be a general statement about the federal government from which all stances on issues follow.  And it can’t be something that the Republicans would co-opt or claim.


·         The CI can’t be just “the Democrats are for ordinary people”.  That’s not enough because the Republicans will say they’re for ordinary people too.  There needs to be something else – an actual statement on the federal government itself.


·         Here’s the CI that I believe in and, I think, most Democrats would believe in: The Democratic Party believes in a strong federal government that actively works for the general welfare of the United States of America and all of its people, particularly those with the greatest need, while respecting individual rights at home and international law and diplomacy abroad.


·         Republicans would be against this because they believe that in order for the USA to be great, the federal government has to be weak, inactive, and get out of people’s way.


·         The federal government can serve the nation not only by being a source of funds but also by gathering and providing knowledge/information, advice, and assistance on all kinds of areas of interests to anyone and everyone.


·         A relative few moderate Democrats comprising the DLC wing of the Party who wield a disproportionate amount of power within the Party would most likely object to my CI, saying that Democrats have to move to the center.  This is bullshit because there is no consistent center.  The center shifts along with movements on the rest of the spectrum, and because Republicans have been moving right and Democrats have been following them in pursuit of the “center” the center has moved right, and DLC Democrats are now holding positions once held by moderate Republicans.


·         Democrats have to solidify behind some CI (hopefully the one I wrote) and then actually say it to anyone and everyone who will listen.  People have to know what our CI is.


·         People hold a deep-rooted cynicism about the federal government’s ability to do good, but that’s because the federal government has been unable to do much (visible) good since the end of the Great Society.  It’s time for Democrats to stand up and not only say but show how the federal government can actively work to make a difference in people’s lives.


·         Above all, Democrats have to be unafraid to explicitly call for more federal government, and challenge the conservative mantra that government is bad.


 


“Specifically, the Federal Government should aid state and local governments in planning their own public works programs, in undertaking projects related to Federal programs of regional development, and in constructing such public works as are necessary to carry out the various policies of the Federal Government.”


 


          President Harry S. Truman, 1946 State of the Union address


 


Let me ask you something.  How many modern-day Democrats do you think would have the guts to say something like what President Truman said in the quote above?  Not many, I would think.


 


Part VI is the part of the series I’ve been looking most forward to writing because 1.) It’s the last one!  So you can all rejoice! 2.) It’s what I’ve been most interested, most passionate about in politics lately: helping the Democratic Party find its ideology and a voice to speak it again.  It’s something I’ve complained about over the past year or so to anyone who would listen, and something I’ll complain about every year until the Democrats finally do get their act together.


 


Recall that the Democratic Party was always a party that claimed to stand up for the little guy, the average working American, rather than the big merchants, the big commercialists, the big industrials, the big corporatists.  In the beginning of this country’s history, that meant the Party stood for a smaller, weaker federal government because of the widely-believed perception that the federal government was automatically an enemy of the average American. 


 


Democrats didn’t realize that the federal government could be put to use to help ordinary Americans until it got a little kick in the butt from the Populist Party and a former Democratic Representative from Nebraska named William Jennings Bryan, who through three unsuccessful Presidential runs and being the Party’s de facto leader shaped the Party into a liberal one that argued for greater federal power and role in looking after the interests of the country and all the people, including ordinary Americans – a position the Party has largely held ever since.  Democratic Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt helped turn the Party’s new line into reality.  They were succeeded by Democratic Presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson – but there the proud liberal tradition of freely espousing greater federal action and power ended.  The next – and so far, last – two Democratic Presidents, James E. Carter, Jr. and William J. Clinton, didn’t do all that much for liberalism or to expand the government’s ability to help the ordinary American, though Clinton tried.


 


Clinton was concerned about his own electability and returning his Party to power in the White House, and rightly so.  Unfortunately, that meant sacrificing ideological ground as Clinton co-opted conservative Republican rhetoric about ending “big government” and shifted to the right by adopting certain stances on social welfare and government bureaucracy.  While he did this in large part to cloak his truly liberal intentions, the bad side effect was that in doing so he legitimized the Republicans’ long-standing campaign to demonize the federal government and its role in people’s lives.  And by doing so, the Democrats sacrificed their ideological standing.  Henceforth Republicans could accuse Democrats of being wishy-washy opportunists with no central ideology to bind them together and guide them in leading the country (an especially potent charge in the wake of September 11 2001), and they did.


 


Well, where do Democrats stand?  I’m not going to give a litany of policy positions because that’s not what I’m asking for.  What I’m looking for is a central Democratic Party theme or, to use a better word because themes can be transitory, ideology – a central guiding principle of government that unites all Democrats from the most liberal enclaves on the coasts to the most conservative ones in the Deep South.  A platform of stances on issues doesn’t count, because issues come and go.  The central ideology is a statement on how the Party views government – specifically the federal government – itself.  It has to be just one or two sentences that acts as a central guideline for defining the federal government, from which stances on all issues follow.  And it has to be uniquely distinct from anything the Republicans can say or claim.


 


What is that ideology?  A common one thrown out a lot is “big government.”  But this one’s been debunked.  It’s not necessarily size per se that counts, if by size of government we mean how many agencies it has and how many people it employs.  It’s about what government does.  As proud liberal Democrat Robert B. Reich puts it in Reason (an excellent book that I’ll reference often in this column) on page 15 (paperback): “The government’s size or reach isn’t the issue.  It’s what government does and whose interests it represents… Being a liberal isn’t at all the same as being in favor of big government, despite what Radcons [radical conservatives] claim.  Most liberals would prefer a small government that supported and protected the little guy over a big government that did the bidding of the rich and powerful.”


 


So can we say that the Democratic Party wants to use the federal government to help the little guy, the ordinary American?  Well, it seems tempting, as the populist theme is a defining one for the Democratic Party.  But it doesn’t work for two reasons: 1.) There can be many different ways to help the ordinary American. 2.) The Republicans will say they’re for ordinary Americans too.  In fact, there’s such a thing as conservative populism.  Bill O’Reilly exemplifies it.  He’s always talking about how he’s “looking out for you” (unless you’re from San Francisco, it seems).  But O’Reilly aside, I do believe that, misguided or not, the vast majority of Republicans sincerely believe that they’re working for the interests of ordinary Americans.  So while working for ordinary Americans is part of a consistent Democratic ideology, it can’t be all that Democrats have in their central ideology.  There needs to be a statement on the federal government itself.


 


Democrats by and large still believe in the same role and power needed in the federal government that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson believed in.  Over the course of my political columns I’ve thrown out the word “active” a lot when describing how I think the federal government should be.  So what I stand for is an active federal government – or “big”, if you will, but not big as in terms of size, but rather big as in terms of role.  What we Democrats need and support is an active federal government, but not active in terms of say, clamping down on sex or spying on citizens or doling out billions to already profitable and near-monopolistic corporations.  We need an active federal government in the sense of regulating big business and working to improve the country while respecting the private lives of people – a direct contrast to the Republicans’ oft-stated vision of a federal government that does nothing except run the military (and use it aggressively) and enforces religious moral scruples. 


 


Here’s the formal definition of what I believe to be the Democratic Party’s Central Ideology (CI):


 


The Democratic Party believes in a strong federal government that actively works for the general welfare of the United States of America and all of its people, particularly those with the greatest need, while respecting individual rights at home and international law and diplomacy abroad.


 


Not bad huh?  I’ve had a bit of practice.  I especially like the “general welfare” part – it harkens back to the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  The “strong” adjective attached to the federal government alludes to the powers we (by “we” I mean Democrats) think it should have, while the “actively works…” part tells of what we think the federal government should do with that power.  And the rest should be self-explanatory.  Republicans would never get on board with the CI because they believe in smaller, weaker government that gets out of people’s way, rather than an active government that backs people up. 


 


And I imagine diverse ways in which federal government can get involved.  Most of the time the federal government is treated as a mere slush fund from which different interests and causes and states can get money.  But I see it as much more than that.  For example, Truman wanted to “give cities techincal help in urban planning and renewal”.  I like that vision of the federal government as not only a source of funds but a repository of knowledge – all kinds of knowledge.  I see the federal government as a one-stop source providing not just money but also knowledge, advice, and technical/strategic assistance, in all areas of interest, to anyone and everyone.


 


So how do we put the CI concisely, as it’s awfully long for a quickie description of what Democrats stand for?  I’m all for using the misused term “big government” as a shorthand reference to all that.  “Active government” works too, though people might get confused as to what exactly “active” means.  How about “active/big government in public, small government in private”?  That accounts for the distinction Reich makes between public and private morality.


 


The problem is that not all Democrats would get on board with this.  Most would, which is why I believe that this ideology is not always only what Democrats should stand for but also what Democrats have already been standing for in the past 100+ years.  But there are still some old conservative holdovers that, for one goddamn reason or another, haven’t switched parties yet.  And there are annoying moderates like Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) that would recoil from the CI.  Well, he’s a dumbass and here’s hoping that the real liberal Lowell Weicker gives him the boot in 2006.


 


Guys like Lieberman and the entire Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) would object to the CI because of their belief in centrism, which is either an ideology that says “let’s have a little more government than the Republicans want, but not by much”, or the complete absence of any ideology.  The latter is also associated with the Third Way that originated with Clinton and has found a place in the heart of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his New Labour Party.  Basically, the idea is that rather than engage in a seemingly endless and futile debate between Left and Right, we ought to make decisions in a rational, pragmatic manner.


 


There are many problems with this approach.  First, like I said earlier, it opens up a line of attack that we stand for nothing.  Second, it makes decision-making harder, because some issues can be incredibly complex and the “pragmatic” solution is not always apparent.  Third, it says nothing of values and what the Party believes in, and where it wants to take the country.  The most pragmatic solution is not always the most desirable one.  As E.J. Dionne, Jr. points out in his excellent book Stand Up Fight Back, even if child labor was found to be the most efficient way to boost the economy, it may not be most desirable.


 


Still, the DLC wing of the Party clings to centrism, saying it’s not only the right way but, as an added bonus, what will win elections.  BULLSHIT.  I’ll leave the explaining to Reich, who does a very nice job on pages 197-198 of the paperback edition of Reason:


 


Many Democrats claim they have to move to the “center” to be elected, and that polls show that Americans have become cynical about government.  Well, yes, Americans have grown cynical.  But the cynicism is largely because government has been so ineffective in responding to the crisis faced by a large portion of working Americans.  And that cynicism is fed by a steadily growing cacophony of radical conservative pundits and talk-show hosts.


 


It takes no conviction and less courage to move to the political “center,” as defined by prevailing polls of likely voters.  If you want to be a malleable politician, you campaign from the center.  But if you want to be a leader, you define the center.  You don’t rely on polls to tell you where to go.  At best, polls tell you where people are, and it’s pointless to lead people to where they already are.  The essence of political leadership is focusing the public’s attention on the hard issues that most would rather avoid or dismiss.  We know the problems that need fixing.


 


Centrism is bogus.  There’s no well-defined, consistent political center in America.  The rush by many Democrats in recent years to the so-called center is a pathetic substitute for clear thinking and candid talking about what the nation needs to do, and why.  And then, once in office, doing it.  Meanwhile, the “center” keeps shifting further right because Radcons stay put while Democrats keep meeting them halfway.


 


This is what I’ve been talking about for a long time now (or so it feels like it).  I absolutely hate it when people talk about how Democrats have to “move to the center” because THERE IS NO FUCKING CENTER.  The “center” is just the average of the greatest concentrations of positions on the Left and Right (in this case, the Democrats and Republicans) so it’s always subject to motion if either or both sides shift.  Republicans have been shifting right for a long time now.  If Democrats want to move to the “center”, they’re not going to any fixed location on the political spectrum, they’re moving right to keep up with the Republicans.  The end result is that the DLC, which was created to get Democrats back in the game by occupying the pragmatic common-sense center or whatever, is now holding positions once held by their (supposed) enemies, the Republicans.  And it’s making the DLC a tired old group that’s increasingly being shunned by the liberal Democratic base.  Since 2004 there’s a sign that they’re starting to see the error of their ways; back in spring I even endorsed and posted a column written by the DLC attacking the GOP’s proposed repeal of the estate tax.  But let there be no mistake: there’s no such thing as a fixed center, so “moving to the center” for Democrats means nothing more than chasing Republicans as they move to the right.  And so it very much means that centrist Democrats are “Republican Lite”.  Is that what the DLC wants?  Is that what ordinary Democrats want?  I think not.


 


What we need to do is to agree on a central ideology.  It would probably (at least I hope) be the CI that I wrote out above.  Here it is again, just in case you’ve forgotten.


 


The Democratic Party believes in a strong federal government that actively works for the general welfare of the United States of America and all of its people, particularly those with the greatest need, while respecting individual rights at home and international law and diplomacy abroad.


 


Then we have to actually start espousing it.  Talk about it.  SCREAM about it.  Let people know about it.  Actually say the word “government” in a positive way in our speeches.  One of the greatest tragedies in modern American politics is that few Democrats dare to explicitly stand up for the federal government the way Truman did half a century ago.  It’s time to capture the same pro-government essence that animated our Democratic forbears.  Yes, people don’t trust government as much anymore.  But as Reich said, that’s because the federal government, under Republican control, hasn’t done anything, not because the people are conservatives who think the federal government is evil.  It’s time for bold Democrats to stand up and demonstrate to the American people just how much good the federal government can do.  We had a chance to do that prior to and after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.  The reigning Republicans failed – probably intentionally.  After all, Katrina was decimating a major Democratic power base in Louisiana – why get in its way?  Furthermore, if Republicans actually used the federal government in a good way, the people would actually appreciate it, and god forbid the people actually like the government and not hate it. (Paul Krugman elucidated this anti-government governing philosophy in his December 3 2002 column “Hey, Lucky Duckies!”) They’ve mostly succeeded – FEMA’s reputation, for example, has probably never been worse.  Another missed opportunity is President Clinton’s failure to pass a comprehensive health care program in the early 1990’s.  Republicans, motivated by the influential William Kristol, set out to destroy Clinton’s plan because they knew that enacting such a program and actually taking care of a major problem in many Americans’ lives would restore public confidence in the federal government, and they couldn’t stand the thought of that.  So they derailed the plan, and every day 45 million Americans and counting are paying the price.


 


But I’m sure if we explain what we can and intend to do with federal government to help people’s lives, we’ll win.  We have to reverse a quarter century’s worth of anti-government Republican rhetoric and explain to the American people about what good the federal government has done in the past and how we’ll use it to do good in the future.  Above all, we Democrats HAVE to be willing and eager to flat-out say we believe in big, strong, active government.  We can’t run away from it like Senator John Kerry did in the 2004 Presidential debates because in doing so we run away from everything we believe in.  We can’t be mealy-mouthed and beat around the bush because that loses respect from voters.  As President Clinton said and President Bush has proven, it’s better to be strong and wrong than weak and right.  Let’s be strong and right and win.


 


 


January 13 2006 addendum: The sentence “I see the federal government as a one-stop source providing not just money but also knowledge, advice, and technical/strategic assistance, in all areas of interest, to anyone and everyone.” originally appeared as “I see the federal government as a one-stop source providing not just money but also knowledge, advice, and technical/strategic assistance, in all areas of interest, and anything else, to anyone and everyone.”  I took out the clause “and anything else” because I realized that it sounded too much like I wanted to give carte blanche powers to the federal government.  I don’t; what I meant by that sentence is that I wanted the federal government to act as a positive service for Americans rather than a stern parent telling Americans what they can and cannot do. (I fully support government regulation of businesses and the economy, however, because those are basically selfish powers whose power must be checked for the betterment of society.) I added the clause “and anything else” to cover any kinds of positive services that I could see the federal government having a legitimate claim to but just couldn’t think of at the moment.  So, for now I’ll leave it the sentence without the clause, but I reserve the right to support positive actions for the federal government that I haven’t thought of yet.

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The Politics Of 2005 – Part V: You Want Ideas? I’ll Give You Ideas!

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses


·         We Democrats need to lay forward our own ideas as well as criticize those of the Republicans.  We can’t be afraid of political opposition and criticism.


·         Ideas and proposals have to tie in with a central Democratic Party theme/ideology.


·         Democrats have laid forward ideas on Social Security, Medicare, the federal budget, jobs and the economy, homeland security, health care, education, energy, and Iraq.


 


“I think Democrats understand we have a great opportunity.  We’ve gotten much better at blocking some of the bad things the Republicans would do, but we know you can’t be a party of long-term majorities unless you put forward the things you would do.”


 


          DSCC Chair Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.)


 


Well, at least someone in our party gets it.


 


I more-or-less cringed often as I watched the Democrats’ political maneuvers this year.  Even while they held together a united and valiant opposition that hindered the advance of the Republican machine, they were violating a cardinal rule that I hold in my political rulebook.  The legendary Democratic political strategist James Carville put it as No. 7 on his “Rules for Progressives to Live By” on page 18 of his great book Had Enough? (hardcover edition) and termed it “Never Just Oppose, Always Propose.”  “Every election is a choice, and as progressives, our goal must be to ensure that the choice isn’t between bad and nothing; the choice needs to be between bad and good.  We progressives need to define our vision of America, not just react to the right wing’s vision of America.  We don’t like the America they want to build, we need to show Americans something better.”  So that means that Democrats should have been offering Democratic ideas in the same breath as they were denouncing Republican ones.  Yet when it came to Rule Number 7 – let’s call it Carville’s Seventh Rule – they totally ignored it.  Few if any Democratic counterproposals were articulated, and when they were they were lost under the din of a preoccupied press.


 


The explanation is that Democrats are deliberately holding back on offering alternatives so as to keep the attention on Republican failures and not give Republicans an opportunity to divert the spotlight by putting it on Democratic plans that they will promptly tear apart.  It does make a certain amount of sense and it seems to be working – and hey, I’m not the one getting paid by the Democratic Party for political advice.  The downside is, that Democrats were paying a political price for their restraint.  Republican ads made the Democrats’ lack of proposals an issue it itself.  Every Republican, from TV talking head to idiot blogger, harped at one point or another about how the Democrats “don’t have ideas”, have “run out of ideas”, “have no fresh ideas”.  No ideas, no ideas, no ideas.  All that repetition has got to sink into the brains of unwitting voters at some point, and it leads to the Republicans’ major anti-Democratic theme that they’ve been using since gaining power in 2001: Democrats are being obstructionists.  The “lack of ideas” motif supports the obstructionist charge by implicating that Democrats are blocking Republicans simply for the sake of blocking Republicans, not because they have anything better.


 


Well, the good news is that Democratic leaders are talking about unveiling their plans and agenda for the country… in early 2006.  Of course, it will be pilloried then as it would have been at any other time, but the idea (no pun intended) is that by that time the first punch of the one-two hit, the message of Republican failure, will have sufficiently sunk in with everybody.  Personally, I don’t think the lack of expressed ideas is the Party’s biggest problem right now (it’s the Party’s lack of expressed – and possibly unexpressed as well – central ideology… but that’s for the sixth and final part of this series.) but couldn’t the Party have kept silent on specific proposals, thereby keeping the focus off them, while doing more to generally articulate Democratic ideas (and/or, developing and repeating the Democratic ideology, if we even have one… again, that’s for Part VI…)?  It could have been phrased vaguely enough to prevent effective Republican assaults.  For example, I remember at one point during the whole Social Security debate (during which the Democrats refused to offer their own solutions) DCCC Chair Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said something about how Democrats have ideas about secure retirement accounts and savings accounts or something.  Something like that, where it’s vague but still leaves the impression that Democrats have something in mind?  Or when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a press statement how Democrats wanted to reform Social Security but do so in a way that prevents benefit cuts and deficit increases.  We should have done a lot more of that kind of thing – something that’s not totally specific but gives people an idea of what Democrats stand for within the debate. (And of course we Democrats should have agreed on and then publicly express a core Party ideology- dammit I’m getting ahead of myself again!)


 


That said, let it be known that Democrats DO have ideas, and we always HAVE HAD ideas to fix every problem and do every task in this country.  If you want a good compendium a good book to read is the aforementioned Had Enough? by James Carville.  It’s a one-stop refutation to the Republican charge that Democrats have no ideas, and it’s brilliantly laid out; each topic gets a chapter that begins with an introduction to the issue, followed by the Republican solution to the issue, followed by Carville’s explanation about why that Republican solution is a piece of crap, followed by the “Had Enough” solutions (i.e. Democratic solutions).  Another good book to read is Reason by Robert B. Reich.  A lot of it is analysis of the current Republican Party but there’s a lot of good ideas in there about economics and national security – ideas that Democrats would do well to heed and adopt.


 


So let’s walk through some key Democratic ideas on a gamut of issues.  We’ll start with the biggest domestic issue of the year.


 


Social Security: In response to Bush’s assault on a key redoubt in the Democrats’ ideological cathedral, Democrats offered the following:


 



  1. There is no problem with Social Security – or, at least, it’s not as bad as the President tells it. (You’ll still get 70 percent of your benefits in 2042!)
  2. No guaranteed benefits – or cuts to it – are bad.
  3. We’re not going to give any alternatives until the Republicans swear off private accounts.

 


I agree with the second part.  I am truly disappointed with the first and third.


 


First of all, Social Security is in trouble.  The wave of baby boomers retiring in the next decade will absolutely swamp the system.  Even worse, over the long-term, with more and more people living longer and longer lives, the ratio of workers to retirees is steadily decreasing (I forget the exact numbers; I think when the program began it was 4 to 1, now it’s 3 to 2.  Don’t quote me though.).  Having a plan isn’t necessarily better than nothing, but Democrats should have tried to avoid downplaying the problem.  It makes us look like do-nothingers.


 


Second of all, remember James Carville’s Seventh Rule.  Now, I realize the downsides of shifting attention from the Republican majority to us, so why couldn’t we have offered a, I don’t know, vague solution?  Or at the very least pound home how bad cuts are (which Democrats did) and how Democrats would never cut benefits (we hinted at it, sorta, but did we really press that point?).  Supposedly some ideas will be offered in 2006.  Good – just get them out there before the election.


 


House Democrats at least somewhat got their act together:


 


The AmeriSave plan, which was presented in Washington by House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other Congressional Democrats, would provide workers with a variety of savings options instead of relying strictly on Social Security benefits…


 


Under the plan, working and middle class individuals who participate in a retirement savings program such as a 401(k) or an IRA would have the first $1,000 contributed to their account matched by government funds.


 


Small businesses that do not currently offer retirement accounts for their workers would receive tax credits that would help cover the cost of administering a retirement plan.


 


Another major initiative of the AmeriSave plan would be the reformation of bankruptcy and pension laws that would make it more difficult for corporations to dissolve pension plans.


 


According to its sponsors, the plan would streamline the retirement savings process by encouraging employers to automatically enroll workers into a savings plan and starting the process of matching funds sooner.


 


Workers would also be able to directly deposit tax refunds into a retirement savings account.


 


“Our plan will expand and improve existing investment accounts, such as 401(k)s and IRAs, so that American families can benefit from compound interest while retaining Social Security’s guaranteed benefit, creating a comprehensive retirement strategy” said Pelosi.


 


It’s a good start.


 


The truth is, Democrats created Social Security, defended it from Republican assault – including this year’s “reform” plan – and have always been thinking and coming up with ways to make it better.  The administration of the last Democratic President, William J. Clinton, was very concerned about the future of Social Security and urged that the emerging surplus of the late 1990’s be used to “save Social Security first”.  Unfortunately, his successor’s administration did not heed that advice (and allies to that administration now claim Democrats have no ideas).  On page 554 of the paperback edition of The Clinton Wars by Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal, Blumenthal had described how National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling had come up with a Democratic version of individual accounts:


 


Working with the Treasury Department, Sperling had devised an ingenious plan for individual accounts that was the diametric opposite of the Republican one: in addition to Social Security, which would remain sacrosanct, every worker would be vested with a private pension, subsidized by tax credits and matching government funds on a highly progressive basis based on income; this plan obviously especially benefited the working poor.


 


Another adviser close to Clinton, James Carville, sets out a plan for saving Social Security in Had Enough?  The plan, on page 270-272 of the hardcover edition, basically calls for investing the Social Security trust like a pension plan for a higher rate of return, taxing a certain part of income above the currently $90 000 cap on Social Security taxes, and slightly reducing cost-of-living adjustments to benefits.  It’s not a proposal I can completely get behind (I disagree with reducing cost-of-living adjustments and I’d prefer to get rid of all caps and tax all income) but it’s a decent plan.


 


I could be totally wrong about this, but it seems like the short-term “problem” with Social Security (the impending retirement of the baby boomers) the solution is simple: place Social Security funds and surpluses in a “lockbox” (as former Vice President Al Gore (D) proposed) that would make it off-limits to paying for any other government function.  If the system is coming short on money, extra infusions can be made from the government’s general revenues.  Over the long-term, as there are less and less workers for each retiree, the loss in workers can be counterbalanced by finding ways to increase worker productivity – better education and safer workplaces, for example.  And each person can get their own government pension that they actually add money into (unlike Social Security and like the Sperling plan described above).


 


Medicare: Another key redoubt of the Democrats’ ideological cathedral, the defenses of Medicare have already been breached with the Medicare “reform” passed in 2003 that combined a “less than a quarter-assed” (as Carville put it) prescription drug benefit with the very seeds of the program’s destruction.  If Democrats ever regain control of the government, they ought to scrap that bullshit prescription drug benefit/“reform” and deliver a real benefit/modernization that covers prescription drug costs 80/20 just like the rest of Medicare.  Medicare is also expected to die even sooner than Social Security and we ought to infuse surplus money (if we ever have any again) to fill Medicare’s coffers.  And put Medicare’s funds in a lockbox like Social Security.


 


Budget/Appropriations: Whoo… my favorite subject – where do I begin?  Let’s face it, WE NEED MONEY.  I advocate repealing ALL of President Bush’s tax cuts except for the expansion of 10 percent bracket, the child tax credit, and ending the marriage penalty.  Let’s expand the EITC and fix the alternative minimum tax so it doesn’t tax the middle class.  The freed-up funds can be used to reduce deficit while preserving domestic spending at pre-2001 levels.  To further deficit reduction, we should reinstate pay-as-you-go rules on taxes and spending (as Democratic Senator Russell D. Feingold (Wis.) has constantly advocated) while applying the hunt for “waste, fraud, and abuse” equally to ALL areas of spending, including the military.  And hear me clearly, when I say “waste, fraud, and abuse”, I’m talking about real waste, like bridges to nowhere, $1 million bus stops, and welfare recipients using their government funds to sit around at home and do nothing rather than looking for a job.  I am NOT talking about cutting funding for bridges that people will actually drive on, a regular-priced bus stop, and welfare payments to people who are really actively looking for work.  Republicans and Democrats have been much maligned for “pork-barrel” spending, but the problem is not with the federal government providing funds for local projects.  I’m all for the federal government providing funds for local projects.  The real injustice is the unfair distribution of these funds.  Sure, let’s make sure every state and district gets at least something, but beyond that let’s distribute pork on basis of need. 


 


On the glorious day when we finally have a surplus again, let’s use it to “save Social Security first” and save Medicare.  Then use any leftover funds for increasing domestic and counterterrorism funding.  And can we please stop wasting money on useless military weapons?  New York Times columnist Paul Krugman complained about this in his February 5 2002 column “Bush’s Aggressive Accounting”, in which he quipped “the military buildup seems to have little to do with the actual threat, unless you think that Al Qaeda’s next move will be a frontal assault by several heavy armored divisions.”


 


Jobs and the Economy: In Reason, Robert B. Reich, former U.S. Labor Secretary and a strong liberal Democrat, introduces what he calls “bubble-up economics” and positions it as the alternative to the Republicans’ supply-side economics.  Rather than invest in people at the top of the income ladder, as supply-siders would have you do, invest in everyone else.  Invest in their education, their job training, their child care, and their health care.  And invest in the public infrastructure that an economy builds on: roads, the environment, transportation, and so on.  At that point, Americans will be seen as a productive workforce and the place to invest in.  It’s a different approach to attracting business.  Rather than trying to lure them with low taxes and weak regulations, lure them by making the people and place desirable.  Bubble-up economics is very much the Democratic approach to economics and we should be talking about it.


 


Homeland Security: For once, I disagree with a Democrat and agree with Republicans.  Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has proposed doing away with the guaranteed base amount of funding that’s given to every state for homeland security.  I disagree with that on the principle that every state, no matter how seemingly unlikely to be a target, should receive at least something to make themselves more secure.  This puts me on the same side as Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Me.) and also has me agreeing with a proposal by former House Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.): lower the base from 0.75 percent to 0.25 percent.  With that base aside, funding should be allocated on basis of need and funding should skyrocket for high-risk locations.  And it’s not just funding either.  We need to develop and implement the technology and strategies needed to secure borders and ports of entry as well as every city and community in case enemies do get in.  Democrats have been calling for beefing up homeland security; Republicans have systemically ignored it.


 


Health care: I support a federal single-payer health care program in the long-term, as I’m sure many Democrats do as well.  But no Democratic politician who wants to get elected will admit it after the 1994 defeat of the Clinton health care proposal (which wasn’t even single-payer) made any sort of mention of actually using federal power to provide health care some kind of political taboo.  As a result, Democrats have sadly been unable to publicly offer any long-term solution to the lack of health insurance in this country.  They do have short-term ideas though, like expanding CHIP, Medicaid, and other health care programs, providing tax credits for health insurance, and opening the federal health care program to everyone (some might even say this is the long-term solution).  I support measures of expanding existing programs but I view them as just short-term fixes that ultimately need to be supplanted by one comprehensive federal health care program.


 


Education: The No Child Left Behind Act was important in that it set standards for schools to look to in order to improve the education of students.  But the Act’s punitive measures combined with a lack of adequate funding have pretty much condemned public schools to failure, which might very well have been the Republicans’ goal all along.  Let’s scrap the punitive measures and actually FUND the damn thing and help schools reach the standards with financial and/or strategic and technical assistance.  We should also start channeling more help to schools that actually NEED it so they can meet these standards.


 


Energy/Gas Prices/Home Heating: Democrats have long called for investment in alternative/renewable/environmentally-friendly energy and raising fuel efficiency standards, and steadfastly opposing drilling/logging in environmentally sensitive areas.  We should keep that up.  Even though gasoline prices have gone down somewhat, Democrats have and should continue to pressure petroleum companies to keep a lid on those prices.  We also need to pass emergency subsidies for home heating for the winter.  Ultimately, we should be funding winter heating on a regular basis.


 


Iraq: Ah yes, Iraq.  Democrats have been charged with not providing any ideas on Iraq.  Democrats have coalesced behind timetables for troop withdrawal and, more recently, an increasing number of Democrats have stood for immediate withdrawal.  Then, having provided these ideas, Democrats are lambasted as cowards, traitors, and defeatists.  Leading this charge, of course, is a Democrat – Connecticut Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, who outrageously implied that Democrats should keep their mouth shut on criticizing President Bush on Iraq.  Bullshit.  That said, I do, for the time being, agree with Lieberman (and Bush) that we need to stay the course in Iraq and make sure the Iraqi military is trained before our own military pulls out.

The Politics Of 2005 – Part IV: Winning In Suburbia


What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses


·         Suburban areas are probably the most important areas politically.


·         Suburbs may be more moderate in political complexion compared to urban areas, but suburbanites have the same needs and concerns as every other American.


·         A message of active federal government working on “universal issues” that concerns suburbanites as well as everyone else may resonate in suburbs.  It’s certainly worth a try.


 


Suburban areas are one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, with new “rings” of suburbs being added on top of existing suburbs in many major metropolitan areas.  Suburbs are also for the most part coming up as “swing” in national and state elections, as those who settle in suburbia are usually somewhat well-off (i.e. at least middle class, if not upper middle class) and at least somewhat, though not entirely, socially liberal.  Most of the most closely contested House contests in 2006 will be in suburban districts.  This makes suburbs a regular political battlefield and definitely the one area we need to figure out how to win over.


 


What got me started thinking about suburban politics was a quote from Robert B. Reich’s excellent book, Reason.  On page 196 in the paperback edition, it says, “Some blame the Democrats’ steady eclipse on the party’s being out of step with an American electorate grown more conservative and suburban.  But this is more assertion than explanation.  It doesn’t say why voters have shifted their allegiances.  Suburban life may be quieter than city life, but it’s not intrinsically more Republican.”


 


So, if they’re not automatically conservative, how do suburbs think and vote?  I should have something of an answer to this, considering I grew up in a suburb myself.  But Cupertino, California, just west of San Jose, isn’t your typical suburb.  It votes overwhelmingly Democratic and is mostly split between Asians and Caucasians – and regardless of race most Cupertino residents are fairly affluent by national standards and enjoy good schools.  This seems to suggest that Cupertino residents don’t vote Democratic because they’re better on economic issues – the Democrats’ willingness to raise taxes might even cause them to vote against them on economics – but rather for their perceived cultural liberalism. 


 


But I wonder if the “economically conservative, socially liberal” stereotype cast on upper-middle-class suburbanites is too simple.  For one thing, previously-held political ideas and personal background maintain a lot of importance.  Not everyone who lives in a suburb was always affluent – my parents, for example.  Also, suburbs aren’t necessarily socially liberal.  In fact, given that suburbs are usually rather homogenous in terms of the race, class, income level, and education level of their people (not to mention the physical appearances of homes and buildings) it might be argued that suburbs are immersed in a whitewashed, insulating mental blanket that makes them far more socially conservative than, if nothing else, diverse urban neighborhoods.  Also, economics aren’t always so rosy even for suburbanites.  My parents, for example, had to deal with unemployment (even now, unfortunately) like everyone else.  And so did others in our city.


 


What I’m saying through all this is my perception – of course, based strictly off loose knowledge and limited personal experience – that suburbs are in a way a lot like everywhere else.  Yes, people are richer and live cushier lives, but that doesn’t mean they don’t worry about the economy any more than others.  They might not have the same backwards, I’ve-never-interacted-with-people-different-from-me kind of mentality that leads to cultural conservatism in rural areas, but the sheltering influence of suburbs might lead them to be less friendly to “radical” ideas like same-sex marriage.  Cupertino was renowned for its excellent public schools, and many of its residents came to the city in the first place because of the education, so they value education as an issue and education is an issue usually owned by liberals/Democrats.  And for some reason, suburbanites are always reliably pro-environmental protection.  Maybe it’s because suburbs always look more green and beautiful than cities and aren’t ripe for strip mining and drilling like rural areas, so its people are more friendly to the environment.


 


I know this is going to sound way too convenient a “solution”, given my personal beliefs about the role of government, but it seems that Democrats can win in suburbs on the same message of active federal government that I think they can win on everywhere else.  If we liberals truly believe that the federal government can do a lot of good and it can do a lot of good everywhere, then it stands to reason that the federal government can do a lot of good in suburbs too.  Suburbs want and need good education.  Suburbs – affluence aside – want and need health care (my suburban family is going through some health insurance issues right now).  Suburbs might not need as much social welfare and anti-poverty programs, but they still want economic security and growth, and the promise of a secure retirement.  Suburbs want good roads and hospitals and parks and trees and fountains and so on.  Suburbs want a good energy plan for the future, and investment in the sciences and arts and much more.  And I see no reason why suburbs wouldn’t support an active federal government to do all these things.


 


So can’t Democrats win with a message of active federal government in the suburbs as well as in the cities?  Senator Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.), a legendary liberal champion, seemed to be on the verge of doing so in his last political campaign in 2002.  Wellstone, in the midst of the fight of his political life, recognized the political importance of suburbs and seems to have discovered that the message of active government resonated in suburbs as it did elsewhere.  There’s a great article in The Nation called “Paul Wellstone, Fighter” that’s quite possibly the most inspirational political article I’ve ever read.  The article tells how Wellstone seemed to have found the way to bring the message of positive, active federal government to the suburbs (all emphasis is mine):


 


Wellstone says the strategy is to reach across lines of class and community to focus on issues that are universal — like education.  So what’s the populist twist on the education debate?  Wellstone’s first television ads explain that Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans will dry up money needed to educate urban, rural and suburban kids.  Scrap the cuts, Wellstone argues, and free up $121 billion for education programs over ten years.  While most Senate Democrats shy away from such talk, and while [Wellstone’s opponent Norm] Coleman claims the Senator is engaging in “class warfare”, Wellstone says, “This is a message that gets people excited because it rejects the Administration’s line that there isn’t enough money to educate our children, care for our seniors, clean up the environment and provide healthcare benefits to people who need them.”


 


See?  Universal issues” appeal to suburban voters too.  And they’re not just limited to just education, retirement, the environment, and health care.  The list of universal issues is long; what the Democrat has to do is to show voters how the issues and policies affect them and what the federal government can do to help – and how Democrats want the federal government to help while Republicans don’t.  And by all indications, Wellstone was winning, before his tragic death eleven days before Election Day left the project unfinished.


 


It’s up to today’s Democrats to pick up where Wellstone left off and use a strategy of active federal government on universal issues to win in suburbia and elsewhere.  And soon – the 2006 elections are less than a year away and they will be won or lost largely in suburbs.  But it doesn’t mean Democrats have to give up their principles to win.  Rather, by articulating their liberal principles and vision in a way that suburban voters can relate, they can make those voters feel like the government can be there for them by electing Democrats to office.  And of course, once Democrats are in office it’s imperative they deliver on their promise and make the federal government work for America again.


 


December 27 2005 addendum: Added the summary.

The Politics of 2005 – Part III: Looking Further Ahead


What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses


·         The presidential race begins the day after the last one.  It’s prudent to be talking about presidential runs right now, and candidates are smart to be laying the groundwork now since time is such a precious commodity in politics.


·         Condoleeza Rice isn’t running.  Neither is Barack Obama.  Hillary Rodham Clinton will probably run but she’s not doing anything about it right now.


·         That Clinton gets so much coverage and other presidential candidates who are actually doing shit don’t (not to mention Clinton’s safe Senate race hogging all the coverage away from actual contested races) is a terrible media injustice.


·         The candidates that have actually said and done stuff towards their runs are Democrats Joseph Biden, Wesley Clark, Evan Bayh, Mark Warner, and Bill Richardson, and Republicans Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, Chuck Hagel, Tom Tancredo, George Pataki, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich.


·         There’s a smattering of other “potential” candidates where talk of presidential runs is slightly-to-very premature.


·         It’s too early to say much about the 2008 House races.  As for the Senate, we have a number of advantages going into the race.  Vulnerable Republican seats we can take are in Colorado (Wayne Allard, likely open seat), Maine (Susan Collins, likely open seat), Virginia (John Warner, possible open seat), New Mexico (Pete Dominici, possible open seat), Minnesota (Norm Coleman), New Hampshire (John Sununu), Georgia (Saxby Chambliss), Oregon (Gordon Smith), and South Carolina (Lindsey Graham).  Vulnerable Democratic seats we have to defend are in New Jersey (Frank Lautenberg, possible open seat), Michigan (Carl Levin, possible open seat), Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), South Dakota (Tim Johnson), and Arkansas (Mark Pryor).


 


Every political junkie’s favorite thing to do is to talk about who’s going to be running in the next presidential election.  In this case, we junkies get a twofer, because it’s an open contest (i.e. no incumbent President or Vice President) on both sides for the first time since 1952.  Some people, like Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) who’s speculated to run for President in 2008, say that it’s too early to be talking about 2008 right now.  Bullshit.  They’re all dumb asses.  Except for Kerry, who knows it’s not too early but is just saying that to cover his ass.  Folks, the 2008 election season began on November 3 2004.  It’s that simple.  It’s never too early and if watching politics has taught me anything it’s that you want as much time as you can get.


 


But with some people, things go out of hand and they get all crazy speculating who will run for President.  Seems like they think that everyone who has a name and is in politics wants to run in 2008 – and sorry, but that’s just not true.


 


First of all, the idiot press really needs to learn the meaning of “no”.  For much of this past year, the press was badgering Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (R) with questions of whether she was going to run for President in 2008.  They asked her, and she said NO, they asked her again, and she said NO, and they asked her once more.  And she told them, “Read my lips.  No presidential run in 2008!”  Okay, that’s not what she said.  But on Meet The Press she said something (I don’t have the exact quote) along the lines of, I’m not running, I’m not running, I’m not running, and I don’t know how else to put it to you, I’m not running.  The subtext was, so leave me the fuck alone!


 


Same with Sen. Barack H. Obama (D-Ill.) who was talked about as a presidential candidate even before he was elected to the Senate… last year.  I know Robert F. Kennedy probably could’ve done it, but c’mon, who gets elected President after barely four years of service in the Senate?  This is not like a hundred years ago when Theodore Roosevelt got into the Vice Presidency after less than two years of being Governor of New York.  Leave Obama alone.  He’s said “definitively” that he’s not running for President in 2008, and I’m sure he wants to enjoy his career in the Senate.  So quit bothering him.


 


Ah yes, and of course there’s Sen. Hillary D. Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who’s everyone’s favorite 2008 subject, whether in a positive or negative way.  Republicans are seeing her Presidency as a kind of End of Days thing, and Democrats are looking to her as some kind of liberal messiah (sorry for the religious references).  Both seem to agree that she’s going to run in 2008.  The problem is, SHE HAS SAID NOTHING ABOUT A PRESIDENTIAL RUN IN 2008!!!!!!1!1!!!!1!  Yes, she has a PAC, tremendous name recognition, and the strong support of many Democrats, and she hasn’t ruled the run out, and she has a ton of extra money.  And yeah yeah, she said some good things about abstinence earlier this year. (I think it’s a sad commentary on the cynicism of the media and of people in general when they think a politician is saying something because s/he wants to run for President rather than because that’s what s/he really believes.  I mean, I know most politicians are slimeballs but at least you could give them a chance before you bust out the flamethrowers.)  Most people think she’s going to run, and she probably will.  But she hasn’t said anything about getting in, so how ‘bout we just hold the horses and pay attention to other people who are already doing things in preparation for a run?


 


And I must say, I really do think all the hype about her is a result of the media’s absolute fixation on Clinton.  Case in point: The media was all over the story of Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro (R) declaring her candidacy against Clinton.  Why?  Pirro – or any other Republican – has pretty much no chance of defeating Clinton, who’s as safe as safe can be.  Covering Pirro’s entry with such vigor makes about as much sense as covering Democrat Pete Ashdown’s candidacy against ensconced and unbeatable Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).  Yet the media was all over the story because Clinton was a celebrity.  Meanwhile, races that would actually be competitive, like the Minnesota Senate race, received pretty much NO coverage.  Even though the Minnesota seat being vacated by Sen. Mark Dayton (D) is talked among political junkies as the most likely Senate seat to change party hands next year, NO ONE is talking about it, NO ONE is conducting independent polls on the candidates, and the media has pretty much done NO COVERAGE on that race.  This is media injustice at it’s worst.  And it proves that there’s no liberal or conservative bias in the media, the bias is towards the overhyped, the celebrities, the subjects of personal interest, rather than what’s really important.  Yeah, why cover a race that could actually affect the balance of the Senate and in consequence all the political decisions that affect the daily lives of the 290 million American people when you can cover a race in which one celebrity candidate’s already slated to win in a cakewalk?  It’s truly outrageous.


 


Much in the same way, the media’s constant talk of Clinton’s candidacy when Clinton has been pretty much dead static on 2008 diverts time and energy away from covering candidates who are actually demonstrating that they’re going to run.  These are candidates who actually want the attention, who want to be pestered by the media and raise their name recognition, but all the cameras and pundits can do is chase Hillary.  I feel sorry for the actual candidates.  Even the Republican ones.


 


That said, how ‘bout I gave these candidates some much-needed coverage?  On the Democratic side, several candidates have already spoken about their intentions to run in 2008.  The first was Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (Del.), who on December 8 2004 told radio host Don Imus “I’m going to proceed as if I’m going to run.”  On June 19 2005, he told CBS News that he was going to run for President in 2008.  Biden ran for President in 1988 but had to withdraw amid allegations of plagiarism.  I wonder if he simply thinks everyone’s forgotten about it by now, because it might very well come up again if Biden starts to pull ahead of his rivals.  Biden is best known for his specialty in foreign policy and that’s probably what he’s going to run on, though his vote for the Iraq war resolution could become problematic.  He’s a relative moderate within the Democratic Party and he has an okay shot the general, though I don’t think he has much of a chance in the primary.


 


Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who hails from Little Rock, Arkansas and ran unsuccessfully for President in 2004, has been building a campaign organization in preparation for another run in 2008.  Clark is a relative moderate and may have an okay shot at winning the primary and general unless his lack of political experience becomes a hindrance.  The even more centrist Sen. Birch E. “Evan” Bayh III (Ind.) is similarly building a campaign organization, filling it with presidential campaign veterans, and going to New Hampshire.  Bayh represents the DLC wing of the Party and will probably fill the role played by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) in the 2004 Democratic primaries, the annoying voice on stage attacking “big government” solutions and talking about how we have to embrace Republican ideas to win the election.  Hopefully he’ll go down in the same kind of flaming defeat that befell the Lieberman campaign.  Yet another moderate, Gov. Mark R. Warner (Va.), is similarly putting together a campaign organization staffed by presidential campaign veterans.  Gov. William B. Richardson (N.M.) has apparently already told party leaders that he will run and is already touring New Hampshire.  Though he is positioning himself to avoid both moderate and liberal labels, he has a somewhat moderate record as New Mexico Governor, having passed both broad income tax cuts and investments such as life insurance for National Guardsmen and highway improvements.  He, too, has an okay shot at winning the primary and general. 


 


These five – Biden, Clark, Bayh, Warner, and Richardson – are the only Democrats who have shown actual commitment to running – and they’re ALL moderates!  Geez.  The common presumption is that all of them assume Clinton will be running, and they further assume that she’ll be running as a liberal, so they’re jockeying to be the “moderate alternative”.  Yeah, like that’ll get ‘em anywhere.  The trouble is 1.) We still don’t know for sure if Clinton will be in the race 2.) All indications show that Clinton will be running as a pragmatic moderate in the mold of her husband.  Even though she has a liberal voting record (as in, she voted with her party most of the time) that doesn’t indicate anything about how she’ll run or what she thinks; after all, Lieberman votes with the Party consistently but he’s not exactly a liberal.  Clinton has largely shied away from big, leftist ideas and has been running and talking largely on a small-step, incrementalist strategy that other Democratic candidates like former President Bill Clinton and former Gov. Howard Dean (Vt.) have favored in recent years.  So in the end we might get a bunch of moderates running to be the moderate alternative to a… slightly less moderate moderate.  And where does that leave the solidly liberal Democratic Party base that’ll decide the primary elections?  Well the base is already largely pro-Clinton so I’m not sure how the five moderates even think they have a chance in hell.  I’m especially pessimistic about Bayh’s chances of winning the nomination and the general election.  Warner might win the primary if people overlook his harsh cuts to public programs during his time in Virginia (if a liberal runs s/he will be quick to point them out though) but I doubt he’d win the general election given his lack of political experience (just four years as Virginia Governor).  As for Clinton, everyone seems to be saying she’d win the primary easily but wouldn’t win the general because she’s “too liberal” and no one “likes” her personally (though how anyone can “like” on a personal level a politician they don’t know personally, I don’t know).  I’m sure Clinton has at least some liberal credentials, but they’ll probably be downplayed throughout her campaign (if she runs), and she’s probably not as liberal as many think (plus, can we please stop treating “liberal” as a bad word?).  As for her personality… well, there’s not too much she can do about that. 


 


If she does end up running, I’d probably be willing to support Clinton in the general and maybe even in the primary, depending on how she campaigns, but at this point I’d be unwilling to support any of the five moderates in the primary and I’d be extremely reluctant, to say the least, to support Biden, Bayh, Richardson, or Warner in the general.  Of course, this is all subject to change, largely depending on how the candidates campaign and what kind of vision and policy they advocate for their time in the White House.


 


Two other Democrats are sort of waiting-in-the-wings candidates.  Sen. Russell D. Feingold (Wis.) has established a PAC and is funding “progressive” candidates in 2005 and 2006 and is going to use the results as a gauge of whether or not he’s going to run in 2008.  He’d definitely be the liberal (it’s not a dirty word, Russ) of the pack and probably the candidate most likely to earn my support unless Clinton (if she runs) runs to the left.  Though, he’s not as liberal as I would like; his much-played-up record of “cutting wasteful spending” is all good until the definition of “wasteful” is stretched one program too many, and though I like his support for a federal mandate of universal health care to the states I don’t like his idea of leaving the design and implementation of health care programs to the states.  The other guy is Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) who “unofficially conveyed his interest in running for the presidency in 2008” at a D.C. insiders’ party in November 2005.  Other than that, he hasn’t said much else, so I’d leave this one as a question mark.


 


On the other side, we see Republicans with a lot of ambition but not enough substance to match.  The most ambitious and out-there Republican candidate right now is Sen. Samuel D. Brownback (Kan.) and for good reason – no one knows who the hell this guy is.  Brownback hails from the conservative wing of the Party and is especially popular among religious conservatives who appreciate his empty preaching of moral platitudes (along the lines of his ideological companion, President Bush).  I believe he has the best shot out of anyone currently in the running at winning the primaries, but I can’t say much about his chances in the general.  Comparatively, Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.) has been much more quiet but has been telling friends that he will be running for President, and he’s been going to New Hampshire.  I don’t know much about Huckabee, but at first glance he appears to be an intelligent politician and he might prove to be a strong contender in both primary and general elections.


 


The roster of Republican fools thinking they’re something they’re not continues with Sen. Charles T. Hagel (Neb.).  Though he’s mostly conservative, he’s kind of a maverick knock-off of another, more charismatic potential contender who would most likely beat him in the primaries (we’ll get to him later).  He’s been forthright in criticizing the President on the Iraq war – though he voted for it – and has gone so far as to propose withdrawing from Iraq.  With that kind of rhetoric, his chances of winning the Republican primaries are about as great as an ice cube’s chance of lasting five minutes in an open fire – but we’ll see how far his delusions take him.  Maybe he’ll run for President as an independent.  An equally unlikely-to-win candidate is Rep. Thomas G. Tancredo (Colo.) who’s essentially a one-issue candidate, that issue being immigration (though he claims to be against only illegal immigration, he actually supports an indefinite moratorium on ALL immigration).  That might just win him some primary contests but such a xenophobic ideology will likely lose him the general.  Plus he probably won’t get anywhere unless he starts broadening his platform.


 


Two Northeastern Republican Governors foolishly think they have a chance at the Republican nomination.  Both of them avoided certain defeat when they were up for reelection in 2006 by announcing their retirements in advance of running for President.  In New York, having utterly destroyed the integrity and unity of the state’s Republican Party, Gov. George E. Pataki is moving on towards his surely-to-end-in-defeat bid for the Presidency with frequent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.  He might have a small shot at winning the general, but in a primary process that punishes pro-choice candidates (of which Pataki is one) with swift wrath he will surely go down in defeat.  Plus, his constant hampering of his fellow New York Republicans probably won’t play too well with Republican voters nationwide either.  In Massachusetts, an imbecilic buffoon of a politician named Gov. W. Mitt Romney has decided to forgo what would’ve been a losing run for reelection and is going to attempt to win the Presidency as a one-term Governor of the most despised-by-Republicans state in the Union.  Romney’s career has been an interesting one to watch.  Some years after failing to unseat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Romney went to Salt Lake City and apparently saved the 2002 Winter Olympics from disaster.  He then returned to Massachusetts and won the 2002 gubernatorial election. (Despite Massachusetts’s legendary reputation for liberalism and supporting Democrats, there hasn’t been a Democratic Massachusetts Governor since Michael S. Dukakis left office in 1991.) Almost immediately after, he began running for President.  He traveled to early voting states like South Carolina and has taken the liberty of bashing his own state in front of Republican audiences – all while still in office.  Romney’s apparent lack of concern for Massachusetts and his treatment of the state as a dirty stepping stone to the Presidency caused a severe dislike for the Governor among the state’s voters and Romney was shown in the polls with a plummeting approval rating and being on the losing end of match-ups with a number of Democratic candidates running for his seat in 2006 – hence, his semi-graceful departure by not running for reelection.  But he has more problems than that.  His transparent presidential ambitions and equally transparent desire to use his office as a resume-builder for his presidential ambitions have caused the State Legislature (as well as the rest of the state, of course) to view him as nothing more than a slimy opportunist.  And when the State Legislature is overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats, that’s a problem, because Romney’s attempt to pass health care legislation that would bolster his credentials on the presidential campaign trail has been blocked by Democrats unwilling to help him in his presidential quest.  In fact, it’s likely that just about any initiative he makes will be blocked at this point.  Romney *officially* opposes certain contraceptives and same-sex civil unions (though he used to support them… maybe Republicans will forgive flip-flopping if a fellow Republican’s doing it?) and I believe he’s also reversed his position on abortion so that, unlike Pataki, he’s now pro-life.  That ought to give him a better chance than Pataki to win the nomination.  Still, his Bay State roots alone should sink his chances to win in a Party that hates Massachusetts, and if not that his lack of political experience and flip-flopping on social issues should come back to defeat him in either the primary or the general.


 


Probably the most ridiculous contender of all is former Speaker of the House Newton L. Gingrich (Ga.).  After leaving office in disgrace in 1998 amidst book scandals, marriage problems and a failure to pick up seats in the 1998 midterm elections, Gingrich apparently went into hiding for six years before coming out of nowhere with a new book about a new “Contract With America”. (Because the old one went so well, didn’t it Newt?  You got your government shutdown that cost you your political popularity, your budget cuts that eventually gave way to an orgy of pork barrel spending (while further cutting actual domestic programs), and your self-imposed three-term limit that eventually everyone broke, while coming up with tortured-logic excuses to justify it.  And you got your ass handed to you by Bill Clinton.  Just couldn’t get enough, couldn’t you?) At first the media went into a hoopla about how Gingrich might want to run for President in 2008 and I was like, oh brother, why does the media get into such a frenzy just because some guy who hasn’t had enough attention in the past few years wrote a book?  Then as I saw him tour Iowa and New Hampshire and giving speeches and so on, it started looking like this guy actually wanted to run.  Then one day in Iowa he said, “[I want to] help shape the discussion … I don’t know of any better place to do it than in Iowa … [I’d] like to be a participant in the dialogue on these major issues. If that means I’m a candidate, then I’m a candidate.”  Okay…. I guess he really is running for President.  What scares me the most is that this guy is delusional enough to think he can actually win.  He is way past his prime.  Him running for President in 2008 is like fucking Bob Dole running for President in 2008.  The country’s moved on!  But apparently he can’t get enough attention and the idiot media is willing to give it to him in spades.  Whatever.  He has a decent shot at winning the primary but I see a real fight needed for him to win the general.


 


These five Democrats – Biden, Clark, Bayh, Warner, and Richardson – and seven Republicans – Brownback, Huckabee, Hagel, Tancredo, Pataki, Romney, and Gingrich – are the ones who are actually working on their candidacies.  Clinton hasn’t explicitly said she’s considering, but in the face of massive speculation she hasn’t ruled out a presidential run, so in a sense she is.  But there are others who say they are considering but not actually doing anything at the moment.  Chief among them, besides Feingold and Dodd, are Sen. John S. McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Republican New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (who, by the way, has got to be the most overrated politician ever), both of whom have said to be considering running but won’t decide until after the 2006 elections.  Sens. E. Benjamin Nelson (D-Neb.) and former Gov. Thomas G. Thompson (R-Wis.) have also said to be considering runs.  Sen. George F. Allen (R-Va.) hasn’t said much but has gone to New Hampshire for “his reelection campaign” (the same kind of bullshit Richardson was trying to pull).  Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist (R-Tenn.) is talked about a lot and has visited several early voting states but aside from that hasn’t done much.  Former Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) has reactivated a PAC and is speaking at some prestigious Democratic dinner in Iowa but we haven’t seen much else out of him.  And the Democratic ticket from 2004, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and former Sen. John R. Edwards (N.C.), are talked about a lot but have done relatively little to indicate a desire to run.


 


I do think that McCain and Allen, if they jump in, would be serious threats.  Giuliani might begin as a serious threat but once people know more about him his popularity will probably wane.  I don’t know enough about Thompson to estimate his abilities.  I see weak candidates in Nelson, Frist, Daschle, and Kerry; Nelson, in particular, is an enigma because he’s so conservative he has no shot in the Democratic primaries but as a Democrat would have no chance in the Republican primaries (unless he switches parties) so he may very well run as an independent.  Edwards might have something of a chance but the whole “lack of experience” thing will plague him in the general for sure.


 


So, the good news is that the Republicans are currently running mostly a bunch of losers.  The bad news is that the Democrats are doing likewise.  If some other Republicans and Democrats jump in, the race will become much more interesting… and, potentially, much harder to win.


 


December 23 2005 addendum: I forgot to talk about the Congressional races in 2008.  Make no mistake, Congressional elections are as important as the Presidential one.  Electing a Democrat to the White House is not going to do a whole lot if Congress remains in the hands of intractable Republicans.


 


I can’t really say too much about House races, since it largely depends on who’s still around after the 2006 races.  Safe to say, if candidates in 2006 win narrowly and their defeated opponents return in the 2008 races, those close 2006 races will be close 2008 races.


 


As for the Senate, it’s looking very likely that Republican Sens. A. Wayne Allard (Colo.) and Susan M. Collins (Me.) are retiring in 2008, based on previous promises.  Rep. Mark E. Udall (D-CO-2) is already running for the Allard seat.  We should be able to pick up both.  There’s also talk of retirements of Republican Sens. John W. Warner (Va.) and Peter V. Dominici (N.M.) that would open up opportunities in those states. 


 


As for vulnerable Republican incumbents, Number One on my list is Sen. Norman B. Coleman, Jr. (Minn.).  His slimy ass has been polluting the seat once occupied by Paul Wellstone for far too long.  Liberal comedian Al Franken (D) is looking like he’s planning on running for that seat, though no official declarations have been made.  Sen. John E. Sununu (N.H.) won a close race last time and should face a strong challenge in what these days is very-much a swing state.  Sen. C. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) may also see a strong challenge, particularly by Democrats seeking revenge for his extremely negative campaign against Sen. Max Cleland (D) in 2002.  I’m hoping that Sen. Gordon H. Smith (Ore.) will also be vulnerable because he’s in increasingly Democratic Oregon, but that mean turn out to be a fantasy as Smith is a relative moderate and seems to be secure for now.  Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) is already seeing a primary challenge from developer Thomas Ravenel for his participation in averting the nuclear option for judicial filibusters, and if Graham survives he might be weakened enough to be defeated in this blood-red state, but it’s not something I’d bet a lot of money on.


 


On our (Democratic) side, there’s talk of retirements (though, of course, nothing’s official or even close to it) on the part of Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (N.J.) and Carl M. Levin (Mich.).  Even though New Jersey and Michigan have been voting Democratic in national contests, Republicans in those states have shown that they can still put up spirited fights.  Even more worrying, we will have to defend a few vulnerable Democrats from what could be formidable challenges.  Number one target for Republicans will most assuredly be Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (La.), who narrowly won reelection in 2002 and who’s already vulnerable as a result of massive population losses (particularly among Democratic voters) from Hurricane Katrina.  Republicans are also sharpening the knives for Sen. Timothy P. Johnson (S.D.), and they may try a shot at Sen. Mark L. Pryor (Ark.) though he looks to be in decent shape to win reelection.


 


Still, the Senate terrain of 2008 looks much better for Democrats than Republicans, for sure, and we have more potential opportunities than they.  Time will tell though, as the 2008 Senate cycle will (unfortunately) not really take off until 2007.


 


December 28 2005 addendum: Added the summary.

The Politics Of 2005 – Part II: The Political Battlefields

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses


·         Democrats have an intangible benefit going through with souring public opinion on President Bush and Congressional Republicans, but in order to take back both houses of Congress they’ll have to deal with the not-so-helpful realities of the actual races at stake.


·         All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election but only a relative few are competitive.  There are currently 231 Republicans, 202 Democrats, 1 Democratic-allied independent, and 1 vacant seat formerly occupied by a Republican.  Democrats will need to take 15 seats to take control of the House (assuming the independent seat is considered a Democratic seat and the vacant seat is considered a Republican one).


·         Though I’ve identified twenty four House Republican targets, I see only nine of them as likely Democratic pickups: IA-1 (retiring Jim Nussle), CO-7 (retiring Bob Beauprez), NM-1 (Heather Wilson), WA-8 (Dave Reichert), PA-6 (Jim Gerlach), IN-9 (Mike Sodrel), TX-22 (Tom DeLay), CT-2 (Rob Simmons), and CT-4 (Christopher Shays).  Four vulnerable Democratic seats give me worry: IL-8 (Melissa Bean), TX-17 (Chet Edwards), CO-3 (John Salazar), and LA-3 (Charles Melancon).


·         33 seats in the Senate are up for reelection; again, only a relative few are competitive.  There are currently 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 1 Democratic-allied independent.  If the independent is considered a Democrat, Democrats will need to pick up 6 seats to take control of the Senate.


·         I’ve identified six Senate Republican targets, the first three of which we have a strong chance of winning: Pennsylvania (Rick Santorum), Ohio (Mike DeWine), and Missouri (Jim Talent).  The next two will be considerably tougher and the Republican is favored at this point but we still have a good chance of winning: Rhode Island (Lincoln Chafee) and Montana (Conrad Burns).  The last seat, Tennessee (retiring Bill Frist), is a long-shot, but depending on how Democrats campaign we have at least a chance at winning the seat.  Potentially vulnerable Democratic seats are Washington (Maria Cantwell), Florida (Bill Nelson), Nebraska (Ben Nelson), New Jersey (Bob Menendez), and Maryland (Paul Sarbanes).  The truly vulnerable Democratic seat is in Minnesota (retiring Mark Dayton).


·         I’m not voting for the Democratic incumbent in California, Dianne Feinstein, in 2006, and I urge all true Californian liberals to do the same because of her votes for the 2001 Bush tax cut, the 2002 Iraqi war resolution, and the 2003 Medicare reform bill.  I’m also hoping that another bad Democratic apple, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, will be challenged and defeated by former Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker next year.


·         36 gubernatorial seats are up for reelection.  There looks to be real toss-up fights in the open seats in Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas, and Florida.  Democrats have a good chance of winning Republican-held seats in Maryland (Bob Ehrlich), Minnesota (Tim Pawlenty), Ohio (retiring Bob Taft), New York (retiring George Pataki), Massachusetts (retiring Mitt Romney), and California (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and don’t seem to have any seriously embattled incumbents at this point.


·         The New York Republican Party is messed up.  Seriously.


 


In 2006, 36 states will be holding elections for their respective Governor’s offices.  In addition to that, 33 U.S. Senators will be up for reelection, as well as all 435 U.S. Representatives.  If one does not look at any of the actual races, by default Democrats have the advantage due to a bad year for the Republicans and the fading coattails of President George W. Bush (R), though Democrats will certainly have to articulate an alternate vision/ideology to see any actual gains.  However, analyzing the actual races show that translating intangible benefits to actual election victories will be much easier said than done.


 


In the U.S. House, there are currently 231 Republicans, 202 Democrats, 1 Democratic-allied independent (Bernard Sanders of Vermont), and 1 vacant seat (formerly occupied by Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California’s 50th District).  If the independent seat is lumped together with the Democrats, that means that Democrats would need to pick up fifteen seats in order to reach the majority number of 218 (that includes that vacant seat).  As it is, I’ve identified twenty-four targets for us Democrats to focus on winning.  Another good way to look at it is that there are eighteen districts that were won by both 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and a Republican Representative.  Most, but not all, of these districts are potential targets; some districts just happen to like their Representatives.  For example, Rep. James Walsh (R-NY-25) was unopposed by any Democrats and won with 91 percent of the vote.  Maybe he’s beatable if we find a good candidate next year; maybe not.  At any rate, I’m rather handicapped in analyzing House races because I can’t judge the partisan/ideological complexion of a district because I don’t have the 2004 election results by Congressional district.  To get that, I need some kind of politics almanac or whatever, and I don’t have that.  Whatever I know about a given Congressional district is based on educated guesswork and what I’ve heard on blogs (especially from people who actually have that damn almanac).  But I have identified twenty-four districts that we could probably do well in, if not win, that are currently occupied by Republicans.  If nothing else, we could always go after the eighteen Kerry/GOP Rep. districts.


 


The seats I believe we definitely can pick up are the Democratic-leaning Iowa’s 1st, where Rep. Jim Nussle (R) is leaving to run for Iowa Governor, and the Democratic-leaning Colorado’s 7th, where Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) is leaving to run for Colorado Governor.  Seats that we’ll have to fight a little harder for are swingy New Mexico’s 1st, where Rep. Heather Wilson (R) has cannily survived multiple challenges but may face her toughest challenge yet from N.M. Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D), Democratic-leaning Washington’s 8th, occupied by Rep. Dave Reichert (R), swingy Pennsylvania’s 6th, where Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) beat Democrat Lois Murphy by a hair (2 percent) and will have to face her again in 2006, even swingier Indiana’s 9th, where Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) beat then-Rep. Baron Hill (D) by 0.5 percent and has to face him again in 2006, solidly Republican Texas’s 22nd, which would otherwise be safe Republican if it weren’t for the man who occupies the seat: the one and only Rep. Thomas D. DeLay (R), and two Democratic-leaning Connecticut districts where Republicans have turned being a moderate into an art form.  In Connecticut’s 2nd, Rep. Rob Simmons (R) has survived multiple strong challenges from Democrats, winning reelection in 2004 by just eight percent.  In Connecticut’s 4th, Rep. Christopher Shays (R) is even more infamous as a Republican in a blue state, having denounced scandal-scarred DeLay and keeping as far away from his fellow national Republicans as possible.  The key to defeating these moderates – and all Republicans in 2006, really – is to tie them as much as possible to President Bush and the Congressional Republican leadership, and all the bad policy thereof.  There are other targets too, which will be harder to take and whose status as targets may be based more on my hopeful optimism than actual reality.  For example, there are open seats in Wisconsin’s 8th (Rep. Mark Green (R)) and Minnesota’s 6th (Rep. Mark Kennedy (R)) but in both those districts Kerry lost by more than a few points.  I think we might have a shot at the vacant seat in California’s 50th (which is actually right next to where I go to school; it includes part of San Diego as well as several of its northern suburbs) but it’ll be some work, that’s for sure.


 


Additionally, Democrats are carrying the burden of quite a few potentially vulnerable seats.  They include Republican-leaning Illinois’s 8th, where moderate Rep. Melissa Bean (D) narrowly toppled entrenched then-Rep. Phil Crane (R) by four percent in 2004, Republican-leaning Texas’s 17th, where moderate Rep. Chet Edwards (D) hung on in 2004 by 3 percent while four of his fellow Texas Democratic Representatives went down in a heap, Colorado’s 3rd, where moderate Rep. John Salazar (D) won by just 3 percent in 2004, and Louisiana’s 3rd, where Rep. Charles Melancon (D) squeaked into office with 0.5 percent in 2004.


 


Because Senate races are much more high-profile and better-covered, I feel I can speak with more authority on them.  That said, there are currently 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and – you guessed it – 1 Democratic-allied independent from – again, you guessed it – Vermont. (Do I sense a trend here?) In order to take back the Senate, the Democrats must pick up six seats, assuming the independent seat remains in Democratic or Democratic-allied hands (which it will, more on that in a bit).  Conveniently, I’ve identified six targets that we have a reasonable shot at.


 


First, about that Vermont seat.  It’s currently held by Sen. James M. Jeffords, a former Republican who, being ostracized by his party, became an independent and caucused with the Democrats in June 2001.  Jeffords is retiring and the overwhelming favorite to replace him is Democratic-allied Rep. Bernard Sanders (I), who enjoys the backing of independents, Progressives, and Democrats, not to mention the majority of Vermonters.  In a hilarious November 2005 Research 2000 poll, Sanders is seen crushing his Republican opponent Richard Tarrant 64-16.  The seat will go to Sanders, who will almost assuredly ally with the Democrats in the Senate as he did in the House.  So that seat will remain the same.


 


Okay, so about those six targets.  The most likely win will be in Pennsylvania, where Sen. Richard J. Santorum (R) is finally paying the price of years of serving as Congress’s right-wing asshole.  It’s a wonder such a right-wing Neanderthal (no offense to the Neanderthals) like Santorum would even get elected in a state that has voted Democratic four presidential elections in a row (albeit by narrow margins).  A member of the Class of 1994 and the Gingrich Revolution, Santorum has supported conservative agendas and President Bush down the line, and he’ll pay dearly for that come November 2006, when he’ll most likely be defeated by his Democratic opponent State Treasurer Robert P. Casey, Jr.  Polls consistently show Casey defeating Santorum by at least fifteen points, often upwards of twenty.  Republicans still cling to the hope that Santorum can pull through by a miracle of the God that he constantly abuses in his pandering speeches, but it’s unlikely – he’s a goner.


 


From there, things kind of go downhill.  The next most likely Republican incumbent to be defeated is Sen. R. Michael DeWine (Ohio) who, like all Ohio Republicans, is suffering from guilt by association – in this case, party association with Republican Ohio Governor Robert Taft.  DeWine has been a constant supporter of Bush’s agenda for the most part, with deviations over minimum wage and stem cell research.  It is perhaps this support for Bush that is dragging DeWine down with Bush.  He also faces ire from his right for being one of the “Gang of 14” moderates that killed a push for the nuclear option for judicial filibusters.  In polls, DeWine is suffering from approval ratings in the low 40’s and losing by narrow margins to both of the Democrats running, Iraq war veteran and attorney Paul Hackett and Rep. Sherrod Brown (OH-13).  Speaking of which, Brown wasn’t even supposed to be running – he, like every other potential candidate, took himself out of the running and shepherded Hackett into the race.  For reasons probably known only to himself, Brown then jumped into the race after Hackett did – needlessly creating the possibility of a divisive primary.  It continues to boggle and worry me.


 


Another Bush lackey, Sen. James M. Talent (R-Mo.) is in trouble for backing Bush and is facing a strong Democratic opponent, State Auditor Claire McCaskill.  A November 2005 Rasmussen poll shows McCaskill leading Talent 47-45; needless to say, this one will be very close.


 


The other three Senate targets are currently winning the horse race.  Democrats originally thought they had a good chance of beating ultra-moderate Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) with either Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI-1) or Rep. James R. Langevin (D-RI-2) who was shown in polls creaming Chafee 44-27.  Then both Representatives went and took themselves out of the race!  Now we’re left with two second-tier candidates, former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse and Secretary of State Matt Brown.  Of those two, Whitehouse looks to be stronger in both the primary and against Chafee, but Chafee would beat Whitehouse by 12 points and Brown by nearly twice as much, according to a September 2005 Brown University poll.  Chafee’s bid for reelection is complicated somewhat by the entry of primary challenger Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, who is running to Chafee’s right, but the same Brown poll shows Chafee easily defeating Laffey too.  Chafee has also inoculated himself for reelection with a barrage of liberal/Democratic votes on many key issues, and he even has NARAL’s support.  Like other moderates, we’ll have to pin him to Bush/national Republicans as much as possible, but Chafee might be so moderate that it’d be very hard to do that.


 


Montana Democrats exhilarated with gubernatorial and state legislative victories in 2004 were eyeing the seat of Sen. Conrad R. Burns (R).  He has anemic approval ratings, won reelection narrowly in 2000, and is mired in a web of ethics violations/bribery allegations that’s tied up with the whole Tom DeLay/Michael Scanlon/Jack Abramoff mess (in case you don’t know what that is, basically there’s a lot of bribery and favors involved.  I don’t know the exact details.).  On his side, his two Democratic opponents, State Auditor John Morrison and State Senate President John Tester, have to face each other in what will likely be a divisive primary.  Even worse, currently Burns would beat both – Morrison by 12 points and Tester by 13 in a September 2005 Rasmussen poll.  The good news, though, is that the gap used to be over 20 points, which means the candidates are improving, and there’s still lots of room to improve since both candidates have name recognition below 50 percent.


 


The last Senatorial target is the seat of retiring Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist (R-Tenn.).  The good news is that the primary is pretty much clear for Rep. Harold E. Ford, Jr., who faces only token opposition from Democratic State Rep. Rosalind Kurita.  The bad news is that he’ll most likely lose to any of the three Republicans running for the nomination: former Rep. Ed Bryant, former Rep. Van Hilleary, and moderate Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker.  While Ford would probably do better than almost any other Tennessee Democrat, the state may be already too conservative to ever again elect anything but the most moderate of Democrats (Ford’s a moderate but he might not be moderate enough; he’d have to be like Tennessee’s Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen.) Plus it’s uncertain if he’ll win the key region of middle Tennessee (Nashville, etc.).  This seat is definitely the hardest target to win.


 


On a better note, pretty much all of our incumbents look reasonably safe, not least because they’ve been largely spared from having to run against good candidates, as many prominent Republicans have taken a pass on running in 2006 (probably because they know Republicans will be swamped).  I’ve classified three incumbents – Sens. Maria E. Cantwell (D-Wash.), C. William Nelson (D-Fla.), and E. Benjamin Nelson (D-Neb.) – one soon-to-be incumbent – Senator-select Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) – and one open seat, that of Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) as “potentially vulnerable”, meaning they’re somewhat in safe ground now but things could easily change for the worse.  I think the Nebraskan Nelson is in the best shape out of these five, leading his Republican rivals by upwards of twenty points in the polls.  The Floridian Nelson is facing Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL-13) and is beating her by wide margins in the polls but I would not underestimate Harris.  Still, Nelson is the favorite here.  Cantwell is facing a second-tier candidate (like many incumbents from both major parties this year, she has been spared by top-tier challengers) in Mike McGavick and is beating him in the polls, but with a primary challenger and a shallow campaign chest I wouldn’t say she’s safe.  The Sarbanes seat is potentially vulnerable based on the strength of the Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, but the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (MD-3) consistently beats Steele by narrow margins in the polls and I’d say he’s the favorite, though this will be somewhat of a nail-biter.  As for the New Jersey seat, it’s still a little early because Menendez hasn’t even taken office yet, but the Republicans’ coronated candidate State Sen. Thomas Kean, Jr. looks to be a strong candidate and is losing by just a few points in the early polls, so I would definitely keep an eye on this one.


 


The only race I have down as actually vulnerable is the open seat of retiring Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.).  Unfortunately, several Democrats are running and we may see a divisive primary between frontrunners Hennepin County attorney Amy Klobuchar and child safety advocate Patty Wetterling.  Republicans crow that their coronated candidate, Rep. Mark Kennedy (MN-6) is a sure bet to win the election.  But, as usual, they’re talking out of their ass, because, surprisingly enough, there’s been a paucity of polls – or any coverage, for that matter – on the actual Senate race.  How the horse race is going right now is a mystery, but the Republicans’ energy, confidence, and infrastructure in the state worries me enough to think this race will be a close one.


 


My state’s U.S. Senate race can’t be any more boring.  Sen. Dianne G.B. Feinstein (D-Calif.) has already lost my vote due to her votes for the 2001 tax cut, the 2002 Iraq war resolution, and the 2003 Medicare law (how’s that – one transgression for each year!).  To her credit, she has said that she wouldn’t vote for the Iraq war resolution knowing what she knows today, though I’d imagine quite a few Republicans would say the same.  I wouldn’t vote for a generic Republican even if there was one, but with once-prospective candidate Bill Mundell’s (R) withdrawal, it looks like there won’t be one, meaning Feinstein will probably win with at least 70 percent of the vote.  The only other candidates are Don Grundmann (AIP) and Marsha Feinland (PFP).  I’ll probably end up voting for Feinland.


 


One last Senate comment.  I’ve held a long-standing dislike for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who is up for reelection in 2006, for his support of the Iraq war and his annoying lectures on how bad big government and video games – both of which I like a lot – are.  Lieberman looks like a safe bet for reelection in 2006 but he’s been drawing increasing ire from his own party lately for criticizing Bush’s critics and shilling for Bush on the war.  Though I actually happen to agree with Lieberman on staying the course in Iraq, I don’t appreciate him attacking other Democrats and telling them to shut up.  Well, it looks like liberal former Republican Sen. and independent Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., who was defeated by Lieberman for his Senate seat in 1988 when Lieberman ran to Weicker’s right, might want a rematch due to Weicker’s opposition to the Iraq war.  Weicker’s still considering it but I really hope he runs and rids the Senate Democratic caucus of the pest that is Lieberman.


 


I haven’t been following gubernatorial races as closely as Congressional ones, but I know some offhand things about most of them.  The closely contested ones I see are the open seats in Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas and Florida, the Maryland one with Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) facing a strong challenge from Democratic Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, and the Minnesota one with embattled Gov. Timothy Pawlenty (R) facing a slew of Democratic opponents, the frontrunner being Attorney General Mike Hatch.  I’m predicting that if O’Malley and Hatch are the nominees – which they’re likely to be – we’ll pick up both seats.  Democratic Govs. Jennifer M. Granholm (Mich.) and Edward G. Rendell (Pa.) look strong despite rocky first terms and Republican hopes of ousting them.  The electoral strength of Democratic Govs. Rod Blagojevich (Ill.) and Jim Doyle (Wis.) is questionable but both look like they’re going to win reelection.   The open seat in Ohio being vacated by Gov. Robert Taft (R) will be hotly contested but will most likely go Democratic because of the strong candidate we have in Rep. Ted Strickland (D-OH-6) and because of the cloud of ethics scandals and convictions surrounding Taft and the Ohio Republicans in general.  Republicans look hard-pressed to hang on to open seats in Massachusetts and New York as Republican Govs. W. Mitt Romney and George E. Pataki, respectively, have both forgone reelection in preparation for likely presidential runs (I predict both will end in failure, but that’s for another column.).  In Massachusetts, the Republicans are likely to end up the big losers as Democratic frontrunner Thomas Reilly leads all of his Republican opponents by big margins at the polls. 


 


But in New York, the situation is even more hilarious.  The New York Republican Party is seriously the most disorganized, fractious piece-of-shit party I have ever seen.  This party literally epitomizes the word “loser”.  After failing to deliver gains in the N.Y. State Legislature in 2004, dumbass Republican Governor Pataki, filled with delusions of being elected President in 2008, ignored his own party’s demands that he make his intentions on running for reelection in 2006 clear early on, so as to give New York Republicans time to make the run in case he decided not to run for another term.  Pataki, ever so willfully blind, continued on the “I will state my intentions soon!” line while watching ever so carefully the state’s ambitious Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer (D), who had already announced his intentions to run for Governor with Pataki in the race or not.  Eventually, Pataki’s dilly-dallying began to frustrate his fellow Republicans.  As the June 27 2005 Politics1.com entry put it: “Governor George Pataki (R) has a change of plans for his announced timetable. Originally, Pataki said he would make a decision on seeking a fourth term when the state legislature adjourns. Now, he says he’s in no rush to make any decision — crippling his party’s planning for the ’06 elections. ‘I’ll make it when I’m ready,’ says Pataki now. Some Republicans are upset: ‘If the Governor intends to run, he has to say it now … Actually he should have done it a while ago,’ complained Congressman John Sweeney (R).”  HAHAHAHA!  The only thing I love to watch more than Republican stupidity is Republican infighting – and trust me, there was more to come from the N.Y. GOP. 


 


After seeing numerous polls showing him losing to Spitzer by margins of twenty points or more, Pataki finally announced his retirement from the office in September 2005, but a scramble of Republicans ready and willing to replace him, there was not.  Apparently, many a potential Republican challenger refused to enter the race after seeing polls in which all of them would be utterly demolished by the seemingly unstoppable Spitzer, who frequently led candidates by margins of 30 points or more – sometimes much more.  The N.Y. GOP was so desperate that they ended up importing a candidate from another state.  In this case, it was former Gov. William Weld (R-Mass.) who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in a high-profile Senate election in 1996 before leaving his Governor’s seat in 1997 to pursue – of all things – an ambassadorship to Mexico that he ultimately failed to receive because his nomination was derailed by a fellow Republican, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jesse Helms (N.C.), apparently because Helms didn’t like Weld’s pro-choice views.  Never mind that abortion has little to do with a Mexican ambassadorship, and that any politician is virtually required to be pro-choice to be elected in a state like Massachusetts.  Anyway, so it’s this guy who the New York Republicans picked to be their gubernatorial candidate.  Yes, he’s been living in New York City since 2000 and yes, New York has a habit of electing outsiders but c’mon, is this really the best they could do? (Regardless, polls showed Spitzer chewing up Weld just like the other Republicans.) But it only gets better, as the November 15 2005 Politics1.com entry puts it:


 


“According to the New York Times, the NY Republican Party is bitterly split on the upcoming gubernatorial contest to succeed retiring Governor George Pataki (R). According to the newspaper, ‘ideological divisions, personal rivalries and individual agendas that are undermining any semblance of party unity as the 2006 elections approach.’ An example: The Pataki wing of the state party is quietly threatening to help liberal Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) win the seat if billionaire businessman Tom Golisano (R) — a three-time former Pataki opponent and frequent Pataki critic — is the GOP nominee. The Pataki group is backing former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld (R) as Pataki’s sucessor. Also noted: Conservative attorney Ed Cox abrutly quit the US Senate race when Pataki endorsed his pro-choice rival Jeanine Pirro, only to have prominent Republicans like Congressmen Vito Fossela, Peter King and John Sweeney refuse to subsequently throw their support behind Pirro. The Chair of the NY Conservative Party — a frequent GOP “fusion” ally in statewide races — said his group is leaning towards nominating former Yonker Mayor John Spencer (R) as its candidate against Pirro.”


 


Pataki Republicans helping a Democrat?!  This Golisano must really be a Republican albatross if Republicans are willing to help a liberal Democrat like Spitzer beat him.  Never would I imagine a state Republican Party being this stupid, incompetent and fratricidal, but it was so.  Not to mention the utter disunity in the Senate race, as Spencer and Pirro jockey for the honor of being the sacrificial lamb to be demolished by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).  The N.Y. GOP was truly proving itself to be pathetic – and I was enjoying every minute of watching this delightfully destructive kabuki drama.


 


Closer to home – well, at home, really – Gov. Arnold A. Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) is in a world of hurt as he enters the year of his likely ousting.  The actor-turned-governor elected in 2003 on a wave of anti-Sacramento sentiment is turning out to be almost as odious as his predecessor.  Schwarzenegger has taken a beating in the press for his proposals to cut state spending and privatize the state’s pension plan (gee, I wonder who else suffered for wanting to privatize a retirement program?).  Teachers, firefighters, nurses, and just about every other profession have come out to campaign against Schwarzenegger and a quartet of “reforms” he put up for a special election – the first election in which I voted, as a matter of fact.  I voted against all four, and so did a majority of my fellow Californians as Schwarzenegger’s “reform agenda” was buried in a humiliating defeat.  I don’t know about everyone else, but his constant attempts to cut an already over-cut budget really bother me, as does his refusal to raise taxes to balance a state budget that’s apparently still in deficit.  His approval ratings have eroded to the low-to-mid thirties, and early polls already show him losing (albeit by slight margins) to either of the two Democratic candidates, State Treasurer Phil Angelides (whom I support) and Comptroller Steve Westly.  The bad news it that Angelides and Westly will have to duke it out in a primary before taking on Schwarzenegger.  Still, I have a fair amount of confidence that Schwarzenegger will be out of office by January 2007.


 


All in all, the political battlefields of 2006 look to be in the Democrats’ favor.


 


December 28 2005 addendum: Added the summary.

The Politics Of 2005 – Part I: The Legislation Of 2005


What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses


·         Democrats started the year off somewhat weak, as they capitulated en masse to allow passage of a harsh Republican bankruptcy reform bill.  No Democrat’s performance was more shameful than that of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.).


·         Later during the spring, Congressional Republicans continued a four-year trend of tax-cutting, domestic spending-cutting, defense spending-increasing, and deficit-increasing budgets by drafting a budget that had more of everything – and ANWR drilling and Medicaid cuts to boot.  Democrats found their voice and joined with moderate Republicans to reverse the cuts to Medicaid and a few other areas, but the budget still passed.


·         Republicans’ attempt to use Terry Schiavo as a political tool backfired, as did their attempts to bring the nomination of John Bolton to the U.S. Ambassadorship to a vote (he had to get in by recess appointment) and, most notably, to partially privatize Social Security and allow workers to invest in stocks and bonds in exchange for benefit cuts.


·         The combination of Hurricane Katrina and blame for poor performance in its aftermath, the death of the Social Security initiative, the never-ending casualties in Iraq, the CIA leak investigation that indicted Scooter Libby, and the ethics investigation that indicted Tom DeLay finally broke the back of Republican unity, as a relatively small group of rebellious Republican moderates broke ranks and joined with Democrats to block Republican initiatives.        


·         Republicans split spectacularly on the budget issues, as moderates joined with Democrats in opposing further domestic spending cuts and ANWR drilling.  The latter had to be jettisoned and the former pared back slightly in order to get the moderate Republicans’ grudging consent.  Republicans also split on President Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court, with conservative Republicans being the one to derail the Republican nomination.


·         The Republican coalition is falling apart and is being rendered increasingly incapable of doing much of anything.  This makes it a good time for Democrats to strike.


 


Okay, I know I was promising this mega-political series since, aside from my historic first votes in November and Bill O’Reilly’s ever-increasing insanity, I hadn’t written about politics in seemingly forever.  And I know that I was supposed to put this out in September, then it moved to October, then to December after finals week, and even then it wasn’t done.  I was gonna do it after finals, but in that narrow four day window of opportunity I was distracted by Half-Life, traffic school, and my RA.  In that order.  Plus I had to do research and catch up on political news in preparation of writing this.  As of now, I’m writing this in Hayward, California, on my parents’ laptop in my parents’ house (from which I’m trying to liberate myself) and there’s NO INTERNET here, so if this even makes it to my Xanga by January 1 2006 it’s some miracle of- well, I don’t believe in God, so it’d be someone’s miracle.  Well, no matter.


 


By the way, just a disclaimer: I have no reliable access to Internet for the time being.  Fuck, I can’t even mooch off the neighbor’s wireless anymore.  Whatever access to Internet I have will be limited to what I can scrounge out of the Hayward Public Library, which is already overflowing with other poor souls who don’t have Internet in their own homes.  Also, I have not been following politics closely since December 12 2005, and I couldn’t bring all my political resources back to Hayward with me.  In other words, I’m writing under a knowledge handicap, so if I make any errors or leave anything important out, feel free to leave comments and I’ll make the appropriate edits it when I get the chance.


 


So, 2005 has been a remarkable year in politics, to say the least.  Remember the day after Election 2004?  How President-reelect George W. Bush (R), stood in front of the nation and told it that he had “earned political capital, and now I intend to spend it”.  Well spend it he did (though it wasn’t the only thing he spent).  And what did it get him?  Little.


 


In the first few months of the 109th Congress that opened at the beginning of this year, Republicans got their way with remarkable efficiency, what with a 55-45 majority in the Senate and a 232-203 majority in the House.  Bush and the Congressional Republicans passed two business-friendly laws branded as “reform”: one that would move more class-action lawsuits from state to federal courts (this law I actually agree with) and one that would make it harder for people to file for bankruptcy by requiring them to file under a different chapter in the bankruptcy laws (I vehemently opposed this one).  Both passed with healthy Democratic support.  Why?  It appears the Democrats, overawed by the Republicans’ massive gains in 2004, decided to capitulate and become the yes-men rather than stand up and fight for what was right.  As usual, Democrats became paralyzed by their seemingly chronic mentality disease of “let’s not oppose the President until others do it first, then we’ll come out and shoot the wounded”.  The failure of Democrats to oppose the bankruptcy “reform”, in particular, was egregious.  There was no reason why reasonable Democrats could have kept the filibuster going and say, “This legislation would punish ordinary Americans caught in the misfortunes of circumstance and who need a leg up to stand on their own two feet, while rewarding no one but the wealthy in the insurance and credit card companies.”  Sadly, no such defiant statement was made – at least none that could pierce the Republicans’ chant of the need for bankruptcy “reform”.


 


I feel the need to single out one U.S. Senator in particular for his most shameful shenanigans regarding the bankruptcy law.  That Senator is Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.).  Already having garnered a reputation for being something of a Republican Lite Democrat, Lieberman decided that he would vote for cloture on the filibuster of the bankruptcy bill (in other words, he would kill debate and let the damn thing pass) but when it came to the actual vote on the bill he voted against it.  His first vote supported the bill, and his second opposed it.  No other Senator tried to have it both ways.  Paul Krugman wrote a brilliant piece criticizing Lieberman for his contortion, saying his vote against the bill was an empty gesture in light of his vote that ended debate and allowed the bill to pass.  It’s just one more mark against Lieberman and a harbinger of further transgressions to come.


 


It was April when Democrats finally found their voice and become an actual opposition party again.  But they didn’t do so until someone else cleared the way on an issue near and dear to their hearts.  In that case, that someone was a moderate Republican, and that issue was the FY2006 federal budget.  Republicans that year introduced a budget that was essentially more of the same.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), ever since the Republicans took control of the federal government (and Bush took office) in 2001, they’ve been creating and passing budgets that either kept flat, just slightly increased, or actually cut non-homeland security domestic spending.  Contrary to some conservatives that claim an orgy of spending under Republican government, the FY2002 budget created in 2001 increased domestic discretionary spending by just 4.5 percent – and that’s before you account for inflation and population growth (doing so puts the increase at 0.8 percent).  It’s only gotten worse since then, with budgets cutting more and more each year.  At the same time, Republicans have been contributing to fiscal irresponsibility by passing massive tax cuts and massive defense spending increases that have pushed the nation’s budget much further into deficit than it otherwise would’ve been.  Democratic alternative budgets that would preserve or increase domestic spending and include much more modest and targeted tax cuts and defense spending increases have been rejected.  2005 was no different, with a bolstered Republican majority audaciously pushing forward on their fiscally treacherous path by submitting a budget that would include MORE domestic spending cuts, MORE defense spending increases, MORE tax cuts for the rich, and MORE deficits. (President’s proposal, House’s, Senate’s)  Even worse, this budget, in its Senate version, would have included drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and both versions would have assaulted the Democrats’ treasured health care program Medicaid – the House version would cut it by up to $20 billion, the Senate version by up to $15 billion.


 


It was the Medicaid cuts that proved to be the budget’s Achilles’ heel.  Even moderate Republicans couldn’t stand the stench of “compassionate conservatism” and, led by that one guy I referred to earlier – Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-Ore.) – the moderates revolted and stripped the cuts out of the budget.  They also added a few other goodies like restoring some of the education funding slated to be cut.  Even so, the ultimate budget that was passed still featured $212 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary programs over five years, $35 billion in cuts to entitlement programs over five years, $186 billion in increased defense spending, and $106 billion in tax cuts over five years – most of which would benefit the rich, of course.  What was remarkable was the fact that not only did moderate Republicans revolt and vote against the budget in greater numbers than in the past, the House and Senate Democratic caucuses showed remarkable unity.  Not one Democrat in Congress voted for the budget.  Perhaps this was a result of the losses the Democrats have suffered over the past few years that motivated them to pull together, but finally the Democrats found their balls again.  Sadly, it wasn’t enough to stop the Republicans from passing their odious budget.


 


Democrats put on a similarly brave face and united front to denounce the Republican stunt of passing “emergency legislation” to allow a Florida court to rule on the case of vegetative Floridian Terry Schiavo, to force Bush to make the unpalatable John Bolton the U.N. Ambassador by a recess appointment, and to stop Bush’s drive to partially privatize Social Security by allowing workers to invest in stocks and bonds in exchange for a decrease in promised benefits.  That last initiative, considered to be Bush’s key domestic initiative in this year if not this term, and viewed by myself as another assault on the Democratic cathedral of public programs following the successful one in 2003 on Medicare, was dead by June.  It was killed by reluctance if not outright opposition from moderate Republicans as well as months of Democratic denial of the problems Bush claimed Social Security was facing and by continued denouncement of privatization in general and benefit cuts in particular.  The Democrats offered no alternative of their own, which I think was at least partially a mistake.


 


Fast forward to September.  That month was inaugurated by the horrific spectacle of a Category 4 – some say 5 – hurricane named Katrina slamming into New Orleans, Louisiana.  Thanks to federal neglect due in large part to the reigning Republicans’ harmful distaste for government action, the levees that were intended to protect New Orleans from storm surges failed and the city, long predicted to be vulnerable to flooding, was flooded.  As I wrote in the Xanga entry linked above, I find it sadly ironic how when Hurricane Ivan narrowly missed New Orleans last year, everyone was wringing their hands in worry until Ivan passed, at which point everyone went back to doing nothing. 


 


At the same time, public opinion was steadily turning against the war in Iraq, as casualties mounted with no apparent end in sight.  And the Social Security offensive had, as a prominent Republican said in a different context, withered on the vine.  A barrage of bad press about possibilities that the White House was behind the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, combined with all the crap I listed above, began to drag the President’s poll numbers down until they dipped below 45 percent approval.  In November, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis I. “Scooter” Libby was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in relation to the Plame case and Bush’s deputy chief of staff – and, I believe, secret master – Karl Rove was placed under ongoing investigation.  House Majority Leader Thomas D. DeLay (R-Tex.) and Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist (R-Tenn.) both came under investigation for financial ethics violations, with DeLay finally being indicted and forced to resign on September 28. 


 


It was this last indictment that broke the Republican elephant’s back.  While Democrats were more united than ever despite the possible fissure that could have developed as a result of last year’s election failure, the solid Republican unity that had helped the party succeed since 2000 was falling apart.  The removal of DeLay was in effect cutting off the head of the snake, for his successor, Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was nowhere near as, well, intimidating as DeLay.  More importantly, moderate Republicans began to realize that the coattails of Bush/DeLay/Frist were virtually nil and began to reveal that they still had a mind of their own.  This came up vividly when the budget passed in April was revisited in October for the annual appropriation bills.  With Katrina victims in mind, moderate Republicans began to realize that they could no longer get away with the anywhere from disappointing to devastating cuts to low-income programs they had been passing for the last four – or more – years.


 


The tension came to a head on October 20.  The original $35 billion in entitlement cuts directed at the poor was to be raised to $50 billion in an effort spearheaded by the conservative House Republican faction Republican Study Committee (RSC) and its chairman, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.).  Pence further launched “Operation Offset”, a mission to pay for hurricane relief by cutting other programs, in addition to an across-the-board spending cut to be passed for either the FY2006 or FY2007 budgets.  Moderate Republicans couldn’t stand it, even when a provision providing for ANWR drilling was ejected, and refused to vote in favor of the bill, forcing the Republican leadership to cancel the vote.  Though the moderates in the GOP were far outnumbered by conservatives, with the Democrats united as they were, there were just enough of them to hold the balance of power in Congress.  Finally, in mid-November the Republican leadership was able to trim the cuts just enough that moderate Republicans grumblingly voted in support of the budget (the reduction in cuts was actually quite small, less than 5 percent of the original cuts if I recall correctly).  Meanwhile, conservative Republicans were outraged by the scrapping of ANWR drilling and were pushing for even more cuts, before they woke up and realized that that would never happen.


 


Budgetary matters weren’t the only thing dividing Republicans.  In the key arena of judicial appointments, conservatives like Frist were seeking to crush all possibilities of Democratic opposition by ridding the Senate of the judicial filibuster in what was known as the “nuclear option” (later renamed the “constitutional option”).  Because of the still close enough margin of power in the Senate, 14 moderates, 7 from each major party, were able to foil this plan with a compromise to reserve the filibuster for “extreme circumstances” while allowing three extreme Republican nominees to have an up-or-down vote.  Later, it was the conservatives in the Party that won.  While Bush’s nominee for the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge John G. Roberts, Jr., was well-liked by everyone, his second nominee, White House counsel Harriet Miers, had to withdraw her name from consideration after weeks of volatile opposition from conservatives (as well as everyone else, but everyone else questioned her ability, whereas conservatives questioned her beliefs).


 


As President Bush and the Republican Party enters a new year, they find that they have to contend not only with a united opposition party in the form of the Democratic Party, but with major dissent in their own ranks.  The unifying glue that has held the GOP together for so long is no more.  The chief unifiers of the Party in the White House and Congress – Bush, DeLay, and Frist – are no longer in good standing.  The Republicans’ major victories after March were all eked through by narrow margins following tiresome lobbying by leaders with diminishing influence.  The deft coalition between moderates and conservative Republicans, once easily papered over because of the party’s unity on reelecting Bush, is spinning apart, with the moderates losing in numbers but still strong in influence.  So long as the Republicans remain divided, any chances of passing an agenda – or even developing a coherent agenda – are slim.  Many voters of all parties increasingly view Republicans as an ineffectual governing party.  Long-time Republican warriors like Karl Rove and Tom DeLay, among others, are finally paying the price for their unscrupulous political tactics.  All this is setting the Republican Party up for significant losses in the November 2006 Congressional and gubernatorial elections.


 


December 28 2005 addendum: Added the summary.

PANS

In light of the recent flurry of all-nighters I’ve had to pull, I’ve coined a new term – PANS (Post-All Nighter Syndrome) – to describe the effects of an all-nighter on my body.  The major symptoms are:


1. fatigue (obviously)


2. nausea


3. decreased sensitivity


4. decreased awareness of hunger, thirst, light, pain, or any sensation other than sleepiness


5. massive flatulence


6. itchiness on the buttocks as a result of repeated flatulation


7. increased frequency of excrement, both solid and liquid


8. increased sweating and body odor


9. general discomfort and desire for sleep/death


 


Because the effects of PANS following an all-nighter on December 7 2005, in which I did not consume any coffee or energy drinks or anything at all, were greatly toned down relative to other incidences of PANS, I have reason to believe that at least some of the effects of PANS – especially the increased excrement – are the result of consumption of coffee and other energy-boosting foodstuffs.  I did experience much more fatigue than usual, however.


 


At the suggestion of my friend Chris, I am considering writing a Wikipedia article on PANS.


December 9 2005 addendum: I added one more symptom, the excrement one, and the extra two paragraphs following the symptoms.