Sunday, January 07, 2018

The Eclipse of American Democracy, Part Two: Money Talks, Everyone Else Shut Up

In December, Republicans pushed through Congress a tax cut for corporations and the 1% that has support of only 32% of the public, making it the most unpopular legislation in decades. To be fair, most Republican voters support the cut. But the question remains: Why are Americans getting a law that less than one-third of them want?

Republicans, you see, don't believe in participatory democracy the way Democrats and other folks do. They believe in "freedom", which is not the same thing at all. Here's a hypothetical conversation I think illustrates the opposing philosophies:
Democrat: The local chemical company has been poisoning the ground water. We need to pass a law limiting the amount of chemical runoff. That way the water stays safe, and the chemical company has clear guidelines that allow it to protect its reputation. Everybody wins.
Republican: Government regulations impinge on freedom.

Let's dig into the philosophical backing of this particular brand of freedom. Probably the single biggest private influence on American elections and the crafting of legislation is the dark-money machine built by Charles and David Koch. From a 2015 New York Times article: "The political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaign, an unparalleled effort by coordinated outside groups to shape a presidential election that is already on track to be the most expensive in history."

The Koch brothers aren't just a couple of billionaires who want a public policy environment favorable to their interests as oil tycoons. They want to destroy government entirely, except as a vehicle to protect them from democracy. An article in the Guardian by George Monbiot explains how Charles Koch spent millions sponsoring the work of an economist named James McGill Buchanan:
"Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.

Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property (including your slaves) however you may wish; any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.

James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called public choice theory. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes were forms of "differential or discriminatory legislation" against the owners of capital.

Any clash between "freedom" (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that "despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe." Despotism in defence of freedom."

To summarize, the 2017 tax cut and other unpopular federal government actions were "despotism in defence of freedom" in action. First Republicans gain power through illicit means including extreme gerrymandering and a lot of other anti-democratic tactics (which I'll discuss in future posts in this series). Then they pass laws that people don't want, but most definitely protect the "freedom" of corporations and billionaires to pay little if any taxes, destroy the environment, allow the public infrastructure they depend on to crumble and keep the real generators of profit, America's highly-productive workforce, in poverty.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Eclipse of American Democracy, Part One: Bigotry as a Winning Strategy

Democracy is not dying in America. But that's not for lack of effort by leading Republicans and conservative billionaires. Those folks are attacking democratic institutions with everything they've got, because their interests and the interests of the American people are very much at odds. The driving force of American politics in the current decade has been conservative leadership attempting to cement their long-term goals as public policy before changing population demographics overwhelm them and their old, white hegemony at the ballot box. This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on how conservatives are attempting to transform America into an oligarchy where elections are held only to determine which Republican will have the job of making sure corporations and billionaires get everything they want.

Republicans expected to win the 2012 election. In the immediate aftermath of that loss, conservatives noted that the tide of changing population demographics and growing minority vote not only contributed to Romney's loss (given that few non-whites voted Republican) but also that these same trends would prove even bigger challenges in the future, given that American minority populations are growing faster than the white, Christian conservative base of the Republican party.

Here's what conservative pundit Sean Trende had to say:
"For Republicans, that despair now comes from an electorate that seems to have undergone a sea change. In the 2008 final exit polls (unavailable online), the electorate was 75 percent white, 12.2 percent African-American, 8.4 percent Latino, with 4.5 percent distributed to other ethnicities. We’ll have to wait for this year’s absolute final exit polls to come in to know the exact estimate of the composition this time, but right now it appears to be pegged at about 72 percent white, 13 percent black, 10 percent Latino and 5 percent “other.”

Obviously, this surge in the non-white vote is troubling to Republicans, who are increasingly almost as reliant upon the white vote to win as Democrats are on the non-white vote. With the white vote decreasing as a share of the electorate over time, it becomes harder and harder for Republicans to prevail.

This supposed surge in minority voting has sparked discussions about the GOP’s renewed need to draw in minority voters, especially Latinos, usually by agreeing to comprehensive immigration reform."

Republican party leadership was quick to pick up on the theme of expanding minority outreach. Here's a quote from the Republican National Committee "Growth and Opportunity Project", issued in 2013: "We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters."

That was the strategy the Republican establishment recommended, but it wasn't the one they got in 2016. Here are some quotes from Donald Trump:
March, 2016: "I think Islam hates us... And we can't allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States."
From Time magazine, August, 2016: "Donald Trump kicked off his presidential bid more than a year ago with harsh words for Mexico. "They are not our friend, believe me," he said, before disparaging Mexican immigrants: "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.""
November 2017: Regarding the suggestion from Greg Sargent of the Washington Post on Twitter that, "Trump regularly attacks high-profile African Americans to feed his supporters' belief that the system is rigged for minorities", Trump responded, "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"

As it turns out, there was another, completely opposite strategy to the more-inclusive campaign the Republican leadership had suggested: go full-on white supremacist. During the 2016 campaign, Sean Trende described the Trump strategy in terms of numbers: In 2012, the electorate that went to the polls had been 59% white, but, "If we do see Donald Trump push the white vote up into 63-64%, it suggests that as whites move towards minority status that they become more aware of their whiteness, and it plays into politics. It is a disheartening and dangerous trend, but it might be something we don't have any control over."

Trende was exactly right: the "forgotten" white voter who ignored Mitt Romney found a home in Donald Trump's whites-only Republican party, helping Trump carry rust-belt states that nearly everyone thought were safely in the Democratic column. Trende, to his credit, noted after the election that, "my observation was expressly limited to the idea that missing whites could help the GOP win. People interpreted this as advocating for a "whites-only" GOP, which I expressly disclaimed."

Final point: I said this is a series about how Republicans are attacking democracy. Successful appeals to white-supremacy are repugnant, but it takes more than an assault on inclusiveness and on America as the great melting pot to destroy democratic institutions. Next time, I'll take about how Republicans have translated their attacks on minorities into policies that keep minority voices from being heard.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Predictions: 2018 Gubernatorial elections

In 2018, thirty-six states will hold an election for chief executive. Only nine of these offices are held by Democratic incumbents, as the blue team got clobbered in 2014. The Democrats would especially like to grab the top office in swing states like Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin that are currently dominated by Republicans. Why? Because winning in 2018 means having more say in the decennial redistricting of congressional and state legislative seats in 2021. You see the only reason that Republicans control the US House is because they were able to gerrymander so many states in the last congressional redistricting in 2011. Michigan, for example, elected 9 Republicans and only 5 Democrats to the House in 2012 despite the fact that President Obama beat Mitt Romney there by almost 10%.

The races are categorized as (1.) those that are competitive or at risk of being won by the party out of power (this includes all open-seat races), and (2.) those unlikely to become competitive. This post will be updated continuously until election day.

Competitive/at-risk races:

Rating: Toss up
Independent: Bill Walker (incumbent)
Republican: Former state Speaker of the House Mike Chenault or former state Senator President Charlie Huggins?
Overview: In 2014's weirdest election, Republican Bill Walker declared an independent candidacy, formed a "unity" ticket with Democrat Byron Mallot, and narrowly defeated the Republican nominee (with some help from the Constitution and Libertarian candidates, who ate some of the Republicans' lunch). The Walker/Mallot ticket is running again in 2018, but it faces an uphill battle as Walker is unpopular.

Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Doug Ducey (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Incumbent Doug Ducey is not popular, but top-tier Democrats have so far shown more interest in Arizona's open Senate race.

Rating: Guaranteed Democratic hold
Democrat: Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (incumbent Jerry Brown term-limited)
Republican: ?
Overview: This contest is listed as competitive only because it's an open-seat race. The Brown administration has been very successful and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom comes into this election with a lot of wind at his back. Barring a political earthquake, he'll win.

Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: ? (incumbent John Hickenlooper term-limited)
Republican: ?
Overview: Everybody wants to be Governor of Colorado: The Democratic primary already has six announced candidates, and the Republicans have seven. Given that the Democrats managed to win this office in the nightmare year of 2014, they have the inside track in 2018 no matter who the candidates are.

Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Middletown Mayor Dan Drew? (incumbent Dan Malloy term-limited)
Republican: ?
Overview: Dan Malloy has the distinction of being America's least-popular Governor. In a different year, that might be enough to flip this office to Republicans, but the Connecticut GOP has been on life support for a long time.

Rating: Toss up
Republican: State Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam? (incumbent Rick Scott term-limited)
Democrat: Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham?
Overview: The last two gubernatorial elections in Florida were very close, and I expect this one to be no different.

Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Lt. Governor Casey Cagle (likely) (incumbent Nathan Deal term-limited)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Republican Casey Cagle is a known quantity, and as no prominent Democrats appear to be looking at this open-seat race, this one is probably over before it begins.

Rating: Likely Democratic pickup
Republican: Bruce Rauner (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Unlike several other Republican Governors who managed to win election in blue states in 2014, Bruce Rauner has made no effort to create compromise or govern from the center. His term in office has been a total disaster, and polls show him losing to "generic Democrat" by as much as 15 points. Good riddance.

Rating: Likely Republican hold
Republican: Lt. Governor Jeff Coyler? (incumbent Sam Brownback may resign)
Democrat: ?
Overview: It would be difficult to overstate just what a complete wreck Governor Sam Brownback has made of Kansas. Now Brownback is apparently resigning for some phony-baloney job in the Trump administration, meaning Lt. Governor Jeff Coyler will run as an incumbent in 2018. And since it's apparently impossible for the Republicans to lose in Kansas, there you go.

Rating: Leans Democratic pickup
Republican: ? (incumbent Paul LePage)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Republican Paul LePage is a walking garbage can of racist craziness. The only reason why he was twice able to win election was due to two ill-advised independent candidacies by attorney Eliot Cutler that split the Democratic vote. While this will probably be a close race, the eventual Democratic nominee will have the inside track.

Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Larry Hogan (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: One month before the 2014 Maryland gubernatorial election, Democratic nominee Anthony Brown lead Republican Larry Hogan by 17 points in the CBS/NY Times poll. Hogan won any way. Hogan's approval ratings are sky-high. He's one of several Republican Governors in eastern blue states who are curiously popular, and he's a good bet for reelection.

Rating: Likely Republican hold
Republican: Businessman Charlie Baker (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Massachusetts has a long tradition of electing moderate Republican Governors to create a balance of power with the Democrats who control everything else. Baker is very popular, and should cruise to reelection.

Rating: Toss up
Republican: Attorney General Bill Schuette (likely) (incumbent Rick Snyder term-limited)
Democrat: Former state Senator Gretchen Witmer (likely)
Overview: The Republicans have a top-tier recruit in Attorney General Bill Schuette, but Schuette comes with the baggage of being part of the scandal-plagued and deeply unpopular Snider administration. Democrats desperately want to win this one, and I like their chances.

Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: ? incumbent (Mark Dayton retiring)
Republican: ?
Overview: Republicans captured the Minnesota House and Senate in 2016, and Trump narrowly missed pulling off a shock victory there as well. Democrats wants to reverse the situation before the state goes red like Iowa and Wisconsin. Several top-tier Democrats have announced for this race, whereas the Republican candidates are more second-tier. There's a good chance the blue team can win this race and recapture both houses of the legislature.

Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Attorney General Adam Laxalt (incumbent Brian Sandoval term-limited)
Democrat: Country Commissioner Steve Sisolak
Overview: Laxalt is a great recruit for the GOP, and I think this race will be his to lose. Trump is not popular in Nevada, but he isn't showing the kind of unpopularity there that would suggest a huge wave for Democrats.

New Hampshire
Rating: Toss up
Republican: Chris Sununu (incumbent)
Democrat: Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand (likely)
Overview: There's no polling for this race, but it will likely turn on the size of the Democratic wave: a small wave means Sununu gets another term, a big one sweeps him out.

New Mexico
Rating: Leans Democratic pickup
Republican: Congressman Steve Pearce (likely) (incumbent Susana Martinez term-limited)
Democrat: Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (likely)
Overview: Outgoing Governor Martinez is deeply unpopular, and although both parties should have top-tier nominees, the prevailing winds favor a Democratic pickup in New Mexico.

Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: State Attorney General Mike DeWine (likely) (incumbent John Kasich term-limited)
Democrat: Former Congresswoman Betty Sutton
Overview: Mike DeWine is a political heavyweight. There's nothing wrong with a candidate like Former Congresswoman Betty Sutton as the Democratic nominee, but I suspect nothing less than a Democratic tidal wave can keep the Republicans from winning this race.

Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Kate Brown (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Democrat Kate Brown's polling numbers could be better, but so far no big-name Republican has declared for this race, and as this is deep-blue Oregon I expect Brown to be reelected.

Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Tom Wolf (incumbent)
Republican: State Senator Scott Wagner
Overview: One of the only bright spots on election night 2014 was Tom Wolf's narrow pickup of Pennsylvania for the blue team. PA is one of the most gerrymandered states at both the federal and state level, and Democrats very much want to be holding on to this office the next time legislative districts are drawn in 2021. Wolf's approval ratings aren't great, but his chances for reelection are solid.

Rating: Toss up
Republican: Scott Walker (incumbent)
Democrat: ?

Overview: It's chilling to think of Republican Scott Walker actually being elected to a third term in what's expected to be a big year for Democrats, yet the big-name pundits are currently calling this race "lean" or "likely" Republican. Walker currently trails a generic Democratic in polls, and given that his two terms in office have been a total disaster for Wisconsin's economy, its workers, its environment for civil rights and pretty much everything else, you'd think he wouldn't have a prayer of winning another election. Yet when I look at the group of second-tier names seeking the Democratic nomination, I can see Walker winning another term. 

Races unlikely to become competitive:
AlabamaArkansasIdaho, Iowa, Nebraska, OklahomaSouth CarolinaSouth Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming have incumbent Republican Governors who are likely to win reelection in 2018.

Hawai'i, New York, and Rhode Island have incumbent Democratic Governors who are likely to win reelection in 2018.