Today’s Election

The Election: Today is the mid-term election for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives with elections for Governors and other state officials all over the country as well as local elections for mayors, sheriffs, county officials, city councils, judges, and a deluge of special voting districts on the local level. In my state of KY, there’s an election for county Judge-Executive, Mayor, County Attorney, Commonwealth’s Attorney and Sheriff. There are no elections for state office, but there are two constitutional amendments on the ballots, one Senate seat (held by Rand Paul) and the member of the House of Representatives from our Congressional District (KY-05). That office is currently held by the worst public speaker I’ve ever heard and one of the most obscure members of the House, long-time Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers.

National Overview: The big question in American politics is whether President Biden and the Democratic Party maintain their very slim advantage in Congress where the tie-breaking vote of VP Kamala Harris gives the Democrats a slight edge in the Senate where seats are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. In the 435 member House of Representatives, Democrats only have to lose five seats to lose their majority.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, there is a deeply ingrained historical pattern of the president’s party losing seats in mid-term elections and the Democrats are predicted by most observers to lose anywhere from 10 to 43 seats in the House in today’s election. Therefore, the Republicans are expected to have a majority in the House of Representatives and California Republican Kevin McCarthy is expected to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

The Senate is perceived to be more up in the air but the Republicans are widely seen as favored to take control of the Senate as well. The reputable FiveThirtyEight site views the Republicans as “slight favorites” to take control of the Senate with a one vote margin based on their view that Herschel Walker will defeat Rev. Rafael Warner in Georgia. The Cook Political Report also sees the Republicans as gaining one seat and regaining control over the Senate. So does long-time University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato. Republican observers see the Republicans as having big enough wins that the election looks like a Republican or “red wave.” The right-leaning web site RealClearPolitics predicts that the Republicans will gain three seats and views Democratic Senate candidates in states like Ohio reached the limits of Democratic support but were unable to push through in largely Republican states. Former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich is even more optimistic about a “red wave” and predicts that Republicans will gain five seats in the Senate.

But there has been pushback from Democratic consultants and observer. Christopher Bouzy who is known mostly for his “Bot Sentinel” web site believes that it is the Democrats who “will gain at least two seats in the Senate and hold the House with 2 – 6 seats.” Christopher Bouzy justifies his prediction by citing registration and early voting data which focuses on young voters (18-29), women, and minorities. The idea is that early voting among Democrats is outpacing the high early voting rates in the “blue wave” election which say big Democratic gains in 2018. From Bouzy’s point of view, the increase in early voting means that numbers among Democratic voters compared to Republican voters and the polls thus are underestimating the Democratic vote.

The other argument made by Democratic optimists focuses on the thesis that the polls are over-estimating the Republican vote. Democratic consultant Simon Rosenberg is arguing that GOP polling firms have been “flooding the zone” with polls that are biased toward Republicans and that this has influenced poll aggregators like FiveThirtyEight.com and analysts like Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato to over-estimate support for Republican candidates. A couple days ago, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com admitted that the rush of GOP polls had affected his site’s poll average in favor of Republicans although he saw that more as correcting for the anti-GOP bias that had surfaced in 2016 and 2020 presidential polling. It makes a significant difference as can be seen in a Rosenberg tweet on the Senate race in George where the Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock is trying to hold onto his seat vs former NFL star and Republican Herschel Walker

That’s a 7 point difference that’s not balanced out by “Democratic-leaning polls.” Rosenberg thinks the data supports Democrats but does not venture the same of prediction as Bouzy. Seeing this kind of discrepancy and observing the high rates of early voting among Democratic voters Savvy political observers like Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo and Never Trumper Republican and former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele largely accept both that the rush of GOP polls has biased the poll average and that there’s been a late surge toward the Democrats. As a result, Marshall sees a fairly wide range of possibilities for the Senate elections with the Democrats possibly gaining 2 seats and holding the majority the Republicans possibly gaining 4 seats and thus gaining the majority. For his part, Michael Steele foresees a tight election that has a great deal of variability and think there will be a lot of surprises some of which will be favorable to the Democrats and some to the Republicans.

My own sense is somewhat the same as Steele’s. My suspicions is that this won’t be either a Republican “red wave” or a Democratic “blue wave” election and that there will be a number of surprises going both ways. In relation to national politics, I see three possibilities.

  1. GOP takes the House, Dems keep the Senate. House Republicans are a real threat to default on the national debt, will probably impeach President Biden, and will also keep a lot of Democrats off committees. But it’s likely that the government will remain functional.
  2. GOP takes House, GOP takes Senate. The situation would depend on the extent to which Establishment and MAGA Republicans can work together in the Senate. But the tendency of the national government toward chaos would increase with GOP control over both.
  3. Dems Take House, Keep Senate. This is the Christopher Bouzy scenario that’s still not taken very seriously. But if the Dems keep control over Congress despite mid-term trends, inflation, and higher crime rates, that would allow the Biden administration to keep functioning in its current way and create a great deal of consternation among Republicans. If they can’t win now, when will they ever win?

Democrats, Mike Pence, and the “Hang Mike Pence” Party

1. Mike and the Hang Mike Pence Party.

@Mike_Pence, Oct. 19 Freedom is under attack! Having served many years in Washington, leaders in this Nation’s capital have never been more out of touch, more intent on imposing their agenda or walking out on people who don’t have the same point of view.

Mike Pence, Today American Freedom is under attack. Big media, Big Government, Big tech and even Big business have locked arms to advance a pernicious woke ideology designed to control the American people and destroy the American Dream.

These tweets are excerpts from the beginning of former Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech to the right-wing Heritage Foundation on Oct. 19 in Washington, D.C. Mike Pence is one of the strangest figures to ever occupy high political office in the U.S. As straight an arrow as you can find in politics, Pence accepted a VP nomination from Donald Trump while knowing as much as I do that Trump is a pathological liar, con man, rapist, and flaming bigot. Once in office as the VP, Pence spent four years sucking up to Trump in the most demeaning way possible before having Trump approve of the mob trying to kill him for refusing to overturn the 2020 election. Even more weirdly, Pence travels around the country shaking hands, kissing babies, and giving speeches for all the world like he thinks he can win the 2024 nomination of a political party certain to renominate chief insurrectionist Donald Trump.

Why would Mike Pence want to be the head of the “Hang Mike Pence Party?”

2. Democrats in Touch with Public Opinion. I’m interested in the relation between the Democrats and the claims in Pence’s tweets. Of course, the truth is the opposite. Democratic leadership is more in touch with public opinion than any administration in recent history. After Pres. Biden proposed his far-reaching 3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” legislation in 2021, public support for all the various items in the bill was over 50% and in the 70’s for expanding Medicare. Indeed, what public opinion on Build Back Better revealed is that independents were almost as interested in large-scale legislation as Democratic voters. The people with whom Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi are “out of touch” are the 30% of conservative voters who hate government, science, and anything that would benefit poor and minority voters so much that they oppose legislation that would benefit themselves.

3. Democrats Imposing a Popular Agenda. To the contrary, Pence writes that “Leaders in this Nation’s capital have never been more out of touch, [or] more intent on imposing their agenda.” One of the things that’s characterized GOP leadership and voters is a sense that white conservatives have become a smaller part of the population and the Republican Party itself is losing touch with urban/suburban majorities. That’s reflected in opinion on a large range of culture war issues as well. Support for reinstating Roe v Wade for the country as a whole is at 60%, gay marriage 71%, stronger gun control 52%, women in the military 66%, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants 71%, and opposition to restrictions on transsexuals at 64%. Majority and super-majority opinion on all of these cultural issues reflects the extent to which civil rights values have become mainstream in the United States and the extent to which white conservative opponents are now a permanent minority. In 2021-2022, the Biden administration and Congressional Dems have found ways to pass over the Senate filibuster and united opposition from House Republicans to enact their agendas on the pandemic, climate, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, computer chips, and guns. In other words, the Democrats are in touch with popular opinion and “imposing their agenda” on behalf of majorities. The Democrats represent public opinion and have effectively translated public opinion into far-reaching legislation.

4. Civil Rights as Official Morality. In many ways, Civil Rights has been the official American morality on race, gender, LGBT issues, Native Americans, immigration, and disability since the 1950’s-1960’s black Civil Rights Movement and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There aren’t any well known histories of how so much came under the moral umbrella of Civil Rights but there has been a broad forward movement as more populations came under the umbrella of Civil Rights and various modes of white conservative resistance have weakened over time. To give a couple examples, the idea among white people in the 1960’s was that they would need to “tolerate” the presence of black people in “their” schools, stores, restaurants, neighborhoods, and the like. But the ethic of tolerance has given way to an ethic of “embracing” diversity and valuing all groups and cultures whether that’s racial and ethnic groups like black people and Hispanics, various religions like Islam, Hindu (Happy Diwali!), and Buddhism, and the varieties of sexual orientation and gender identity. Likewise, (heterosexual) whites are no longer considered THE reference point for a social ethics of multiculturalism as they used to be as late as the early 2000’s when our daughters were in elementary school. Black people, Hispanics, LGBT folks, and Native Americans, and other groups are routinely seen as defining reference points of their own. Given that the majority of white Americans identify with either conservatism or the extreme right, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see white people as a reference point for multiculturalism at all.

Pence claims that “Big media, Big Government, Big tech and even Big business have locked arms to advance a pernicious woke ideology” with “woke” serving as a way for conservatives to insult civil rights ethics. In fact, the major institutions of American society do have “official” ethics of valuing racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and gender diversity, being interested in the history of black people and Native Americans in the United States, the various cultures of immigrants, and transnational cultural connections between cultures in the United States and abroad. “Big Media, Big Government, Big tech, and even Big Business” are also interested in veteran’s status, disability status and accessibility.

Pence isn’t kidding about big business. According to Delta Air: “Thoughtful action combined with a focus on championing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and within our personal lives will play a healing role to help us keep climbing.” Likewise Walmart has “a vision of a workplace culture at Walmart and Sam’s Club where everyone is included – one where associates with unique identities, styles, experiences, abilities and perspectives are understood, supported and championed by their leaders.”

Being the party of civil rights, the Democrats are also the party of the inclusive ideology that is becoming more and more characteristic of American corporations.

In other words, Democrats are on the right side of American social morality as well as public opinion.

Lindsey Graham on Abortion: Staying Relevant, Challenging McConnell

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Tsafrir Abayov/AP

Lindsey Graham (Trump R-SC) is the Rudy Giuliani of the Senate–someone who will do anything to stay relevant. When John McCain was riding high as “the maverick,” Graham basked in his role as McCain’s wingman and found his own stride especially in warmongering toward Iran. But McCain died from brain cancer in 2018 and wasn’t even in his grave yet when Graham began shifting alliances toward Trump and maneuvering for Ivanka to be invited to McCain’s funeral despite McCain’s antipathy for Trump himself. If anything, Graham had been more contemptuous of Trump than McCain himself, referring to Trump as a “kook,” “crazy” and “unfit for office” during the 2016 Republican primary campaign and famously warning that “If we nominate Trump we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.” But Graham went on to be one of Trump’s most stalwart Republican allies in the Senate, was almost as dedicated to Trump himself, and went back to placating Trump almost as fast as Kevin McCarthy after the Jan. 6 Insurrection. As Graham told Mark Leibovitch, “This is to try to be relevant.” 

Today, Lindsey Graham introduced a proposal for a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks. As is the case with most conservative abortion discourse, Graham is flamboyantly dishonest to refer to abortions after 15 weeks as “late term abortion.” But after Trump’s 30,000 lies in four years, lying has become more the norm for white conservatives than ever. Then, the question is how does Graham’s proposing such a measure keep him “relevant.” A national ban on abortion is not going to pass in either the Senate or the House. Given the unpopularity of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v Wade, Graham’s proposal is more likely to hurt than help GOP candidates the Senate, House, and Governor’s offices. If the abortion ban seems likely to backfire, how does this increase Graham’s relevance both in the short and long term? Of course, there’s a short-term benefit for Graham in getting him in front of the cameras. But a publicity hound like Graham has hundreds of ways to get in front of a camera. Why propose such an obvious dud?

One idea is Graham’s doing this to identify himself with the anti-abortion fanatics in the GOP base. Perhaps Graham’s trying to set himself up for a presidential run if Trump backs out of a 2024 campaign. What I find most interesting though is that Graham is introducing a culture war theme at a time when Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell wants Republican candidates to focus on inflation. Here’s two tweets from McConnell that went out at about the same time as Graham’s press conference.

twitter

And this is the way Lindsey Graham is trying to stay relevant–by challenging Mitch McConnell’s leadership and not particularly caring if he harms Republican candidates or hurts GOP chances of retaking the Senate. He’s not alone either. Last February, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee went off the reservation when he advocated what amounted to an end to social security, medicare, and medicaid. Like banning abortion, ending social security is a campaign loser for the GOP and Scott was rebuked by McConnell who was emphatic that ending social security was not part of HIS agenda and that he would not bring anti-social security bills to the floor if the Republicans become a Senate Majority once again.

“Let me tell you what will not be a part of our agenda: We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare after five years. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda,” McConnell said.

But Rick Scott has persevered in his challenge to McConnell on social security and he’s been followed in that course of action by MAGA minded GOP senators like Ron Johnson and Lindsey Graham. Rick Scott, et al., are not going to get rid of social security in the near future, but they can and are undermining the leadership of Mitch McConnell in the present. Mitch McConnell and his Senate Leadership Fund have been pursuing a strategy of nominating electable Republicans and focusing on attacking Biden rather than articulating a Senate Republican agenda. But the strategy has been falling apart most importantly because questionable Trump-endorsed GOP candidates like Blake Masters, the execrable J. D. Vance, and Mehmet Oz won Republican primaries but also because of ambitious GOP senators like Rick Scott who would rather go down to defeat than continue to follow Mitch McConnell’s leadership. McConnell has had an iron grip over the Senate GOP caucus since first becoming Senate Republican leader in 2007 and Senators like Rick Scott are willing to risk continuing as a Senate minority rather than follow McConnell’s strategies and continuing to embrace his leadership.

And this is what Lindsey Graham was doing today. By proposing a national ban on abortion, Graham was seeking to regain a sense of relevance by mounting his own version of a challenge to McConnell’s leadership. Although Graham still has some relevance as a Senate supporter of former president Trump and has been interviewed several times about his support for cutting or abandoning social security, he wanted to be “the guy” on at least issue and that issue is abortion. Unlike Mitch McConnell who lives or dies with the success of the Republican Party, Lindsey Graham is very willing for the Senate GOP to keep losing as long as he himself stays relevant.

That’s What Democrats Think

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

I’m originally from the Upstate NY village of Waverly in the Southern Tier region along the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers. Waverly has always been a Republican town and has become a Trumpy kind of place as Republicans have become a Trumpy kind of party. A liberal Rockefeller Republican growing up during the 1960’s and 70’s, I didn’t start voting Democratic until 1980 when I was living in Chapel Hill, NC and in my third year of grad school at Carolina.

Forty years later, I’m estranged from my Republican siblings, have no Republican friends, and have blocked pretty much all my GOP facebook friends, including three cousins in Texas, an aunt in South Carolina, folks from Waverly, and favorite former students. Like other Democrats I’ve stopped debating Republicans about issues like abortion, taxes, government regulation, and police murders. And I think that’s an extremely important thing. Liberal v conservative debates were one of the few things that lib/left whites and white conservatives shared over the last couple of decades and now that’s gone. Like other white Democrats, I’ve lost so much respect for white conservatives that I don’t view myself as sharing a common culture with them and view them as despicable for their support of a pathological liar, con man, rapist, flaming bigot, and traitor like Trump. Like President Biden, I view the MAGA/Trump movement as “semi-fascist” and think they’re moving to full scale fascism in a hurry.

That’s why New York governor Kathy Hochul’s statement that conservative and MAGA Republicans should just leave New York made so much sense to me even if Republicans are outraged.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., sparked intense outrage after lambasting New York Republican candidates during a speech last week, telling them to “get out of town” and “head to Florida” where they belong . . . We’re here to say that the era of Trump and Zeldin and Molinaro – just jump on a bus and head down to Florida where you belong. Get out of town,” she said.

It will be interesting to see what the mainstream media does with Hochul’s statement if anything. Mainstream media outlets rarely interview Democratic voters and are especially averse to interviewing Democratic voters on their opinions concerning Trump voters. IMHO, it’s because the media does not want to engage with the contempt in which everyday Democrats hold their Trump voting fellow citizens.

If the media did interview Democrats, they would find out that Hochul’s views are just what Democrats think.

Biden Speech on Guns Gets It Done

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

On Thursday evening, President Biden gave a nationally televised speech on gun policy in the wake of the mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa, and other places. President Biden has a reputation as a poor communicator stemming from his days as a shoot from the hip gaffe machine. j

But those days are long over.

Since the beginning of his 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden has disciplined himself to avoid egregious gaffes and has emerged both as a skilled and forceful presidential speaker and a master of making policy through spontaneous policy.

The speech on guns is a good example of President Biden’s speech chops. President Biden has a clipped manner of speaking that communicates his points in a forceful manner. Instead of being “eloquent” in the manner of Barack Obama (and his vision) or Bill Clinton (with his lists), President Biden is pointed and sharp and it’s a highly effective way of getting his message across. Some of the effect comes across in the text.

The day before, we visited Uvalde — Uvalde, Texas.  In front of Robb Elementary School, we stood before 21 crosses for 19 third and fourth graders and two teachers.  On each cross, a name.  And nearby, a photo of each victim that Jill and I reached out to touch.  Innocent victims, murdered in a classroom that had been turned into a killing field.

Short sentences, briefly expressed thoughts, combining quickly to generate rhetorical force culminating in the image of a killing field. It’s not “To Be Or Not To Be” and it’s not Obama’s Philadelphia speech, but it is effective oratory.

Another virtue of the speech is that Biden did not kowtow to GOP Senators. No mention of “hardening schools,” video games, pornography, abortion, or other Republican bullshit distracting attention from the role of firearms availability in mass shooting. Likewise, the only mention Biden made of mental illness was in the context of helping people deal with the trauma of surviving so much loss. Biden’s proposals to ban assault weapons, pass red flag laws, repeal gunmaker immunity, and the like were designed to address the problem rather than cater to the right. And he proposes them directly:

We need to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.  And if we can’t ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21.  Strengthen background checks.  Enact safe storage laws and red-flag laws.  Repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability.  Address the mental health crisis deepening the trauma of gun violence and as a consequence of that violence.

A small group of Senate Democrats is negotiating with Republican colleagues like Susan Collins. But Biden was emphatic about the irresponsibility of Senate Republicans.

I support the bipartisan efforts that include a small group of Democrats and Republican senators trying to find a way.  But my God, the fact that the majority of the Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote, I find unconscionable. We can’t fail the American people again.

He finds the majority of Republican senators to be unconscionable. With my small twitter account, I’m one of the people who persistently urges President Biden to be more aggressive and partisan with Republicans and more persistent about that partisan aggression as well. But President Biden has made a fundamental break with Republicans and conservatives. He no longer cares what they think and no longer cares about their sensitive, snowflake feelings. That’s a big step for Joe Biden and even a bigger step for the Democratic Party.

And President Biden deserves credit for that.

Biden further helped his cause by summarizing his list of seven gun reform proposals before explaining them in more detail. That bit of speech writing strategy kept the president’s gun policy agenda from getting lost in details and contributed to the clarity of the speech.

As a result, the substance of the speech had a clarity and urgency that matched President Biden’s mode of delivery.

Another striking element in President Biden’s speech was the way he generated outrage for mass murderers from his empathy for the suffering in Buffalo and Uvalde. Having talking about the crosses at the school, faces of the children, and the grief almost everywhere, Biden conveyed a growing sense of outrage over the failure to control mass murders that culminated as he kept intoning “enough.” Much of that happened after the policy proposals and gave further moral and civic weight to Biden’s policy ideas.

Altogether, President Biden’s speech got the job done. Now the President and his people need to be just as effective with their follow-up.

Biden, Normalcy, Competence

Ford F-150: Why is Joe Biden driving a battery-powered Ford F-150? - ​Avid  car enthusiast Joe Biden | The Economic Times
economictimes.indiatimes.com

President Joe Biden is going through tough times and its showing up in public opinion polls. The surge in the Delta variant, withdrawal from Afghanistan, Haitian refugee situation, and problems in passing an infrastructure bill have all had a negative impact on public opinion with Biden approval sinking from 52.4% two months ago to 45.4 in the latest FiveThirtyEight.com poll index.

According to Amy Walter, who has taken over as the head of the Cooke Political Report, Biden’s problems come down to questions of “normality” and “competence.” According to Walter:

When Biden was running for president, his message was pretty straightforward: I’m the guy who will bring normal back to Washington. Where President Trump was unorthodox and chaotic, Biden would be conventional and organized. Trump ran the White House like a reality show, Biden stocked his cabinet and high-level staff with Washington insiders with establishment credentials. He was going to usher in an era of boring, but predictable

Biden was able to create an appearance of normality by rolling out COVID vaccines quickly and effectively. But that was all a mirage. “Normality” went out the window with the Jan. 6 Insurrection, the continued promotion of the Big Lie by the right-wing media, and then vaccine refusal among white conservatives. A majority of Republicans believe Trump is the “true U.S. president while the same survey found that 2/3rds of Republicans believe Biden won the election through fraud. Likewise, a “majority (56 percent) of Republicans support the use of force as a way to arrest the decline of the traditional American way of life.” Vaccine rejection has gone down from 32% to 16%, but that 16% is still almost 35 million people and they’ve maintained their hard core stance in the face of the current Covid surge associated with the Delta variant.

In the United States, “normality” is no longer a settled thing and hasn’t really been settled since Obama’s election as the first black president in 2008. What will sooner or later become the “normal” for a Democratic administration is pursuing a radical reformist combination of a civil rights agenda, infrastructure spending, climate legislation, and lowering the wealth gap while also managing the on-going Republican refusal to engage with policy issues, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, and the right-wing refusal to cooperate and violent resistance to the operations of federal and state government. That’s not to mention militia and paramilitary violence.

Being able to deal with both sides of the “new normal” will also be the measure for Biden administration competence. Needless to say, the short and medium term future in the United States is civil and political unrest at best and fascist takeover at worse. If Biden and the Democrats want to be seen as competent, they’ll have to deal with this situation in at least a somewhat satisfactory way.