Tag Archives: Politico

What If…

What if the rational majority of Americans decided to reject the nation’s culture warriors and their grievances? What if they went to the polls and rejected the candidates who were appealing to their fears and biases?

What if the gratifying results of the country’s school board races that took place earlier this month in several states were “leading indicators” of that rejection?

The above link will take you to a Politico article headlined, “Why GOP Culture Warriors Lost Big in School Board Races this Month,” and it began with the following paragraphs:

Amid all the attention on this month’s elections in Wisconsin and Illinois, one outcome with major implications for 2024 flew under the national radar: School board candidates who ran culture-war campaigns flamed out.

Democrats and teachers’ unions boasted candidates they backed in Midwestern suburbs trounced their opponents in the once-sleepy races. The winning record, they said, was particularly noticeable in elections where conservative candidates emphasized agendas packed with race, gender identity and parental involvement in classrooms.

The article went on to suggest that the results ought to serve as a warning to the Republican presidential hopefuls who are emphasizing those culture-war themes.(Trump, DeSantis et al are unlikely to heed that warning. Culture war is all they have.)

Appeals to racial and religious grievance might play well in Republican primary elections, but a variety of indicators–including this one–raise the likelihood that General election voters will be less interested in crusades against critical race theory, transgender students and Black Lives Matter activists than they are in a working government, just as the recent school board elections brought out voters more interested in funding schools and ensuring that students are safe than empowering aggrieved parents to censor what goes on in the classroom.

“Where culture war issues were being waged by some school board candidates, those issues fell flat with voters,” said Kim Anderson, executive director of the National Education Association labor union. “The takeaway for us is that parents and community members and voters want candidates who are focused on strengthening our public schools, not abandoning them.”

A recent column by Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect considered a radical idea: What If we fixed the public schools rather than destroying them?

Watching the news, you might think that teachers are the most disrespected workers in America. Reading state budgets, you might think they’re the most underpaid.

That first assertion is true only if you limit your intake to the anti-teacher jihads that the right is currently waging. As poll after poll makes clear, however, the great majority of Americans actually think well of their teachers—and perhaps even more important, support their freedom to teach. If anything, the polling here is even more lopsided. As one recent CBS News/YouGov poll showed, when asked if books used in public schools should “ever be banned for criticizing U.S. history,” fully 83 percent of the public answered “no.”

Meyerson’s column began by listing numerous, thorny problems currently confronting American public education, and noted that those challenges had been addressed in a recent, major address by Randi Weingarten, the current President of the American Federation of Teachers.

The right’s current attacks on public education, she began, have to be viewed as an effort to destroy it. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s universal voucher program, which he signed into law on Monday, will reduce support for his state’s public schools by $4 billion—this in a state, she noted, that already ranks 44th in per-pupil spending and 48th in average teacher pay.

After listing a number of the AFT’s current programmatic efforts, Weingarten concluded her speech by saying that “Teachers should have the freedom to teach, and students should have the freedom to learn. A great nation does not fear people being educated.”

To which I would add: a great nation doesn’t fear an electoral system that facilitates, rather than impedes, citizens’ efforts to vote. A great nation accedes to the will of its electorate, and declares the winner of each election to be the candidate who garners the most votes. A great nation doesn’t fail to act decisively when faced with evidence of judicial corruption.

What if, in addition to fixing our public schools, America’s rational majority voted to fix the nation’s democratic institutions?



Christian Grievance

Sometimes, a news article will hit several of my hot buttons. This recent one managed to do so. (Not that it is particularly difficult to piss me off…the older I get, the crankier…)

Here’s the gist of the story: a poll taken by Politico discovered that

about 57 percent of Republicans, and 70 percent of Americans overall, believe the Constitution would not allow America to be declared a “Christian nation.” Respondents were then asked “Would You Favor or Oppose the United States Officially Declaring the United States to be a Christian Nation?”

Sixty-one percent of Republicans were in favor of just that, with 78 percent of Republicans who identify as an evangelical Christian backing the idea. Support was even higher among older Republicans.

Regular readers of this blog know of my preoccupation with America’s low levels of civic and constitutional literacy. These percentages reflect that only 57 percent of Republicans understand–or are prepared to acknowledge– the intended effect of the First Amendment, or the history of America’s constitutional debates.

Then, of course, there’s the little matter of America’s still-pervasive racism. Evidently, there are still a lot of White folks who are dogged believers that the pre-Civil War South should rise again, whether or not it actually will…

Per Politico

Our polling found that white grievance is highly correlated with support for a Christian nation. White respondents who say that members of their race have faced more discrimination than others are most likely to embrace a Christian America. Roughly 59 percent of all Americans who say white people have been discriminated against a lot more in the past five years favor declaring the U.S. a Christian nation, compared to 38 percent of all Americans. White Republicans who said white people have been more discriminated against also favored a Christian nation (65 percent) by a slightly larger percentage than all Republicans (63 percent).

Regular readers are also well aware of my language prejudices; I have this old English-teacher belief that words have meanings, and that communication requires that the people using those words broadly agree upon those meanings.

In any sane world, the assertion that White Americans suffer discrimination would be met with incomprehension. I know that political strategists dislike the contemporary use of the term “privilege”–its users sound elitist, and when one thinks of “privilege,” what comes to mind is unfair advantage. (Actually, White skin does confer advantage, just not the kind of material advantage that this particular word brings to mind.)

The fact remains that, in the good old U.S. of A., what is perceived of as discrimination against White people is a very overdue erosion of the considerably privileged status that skin color has historically  afforded them.

When I express my frequent criticisms of Christian Nationalism (which is, in reality, White Christian Nationalism), I try to be very clear that I am not criticizing Christianity. (To appropriate a phrase, some of my best friends are Christian..) I am happy to report that real Christians agree with me, as the following excerpts from a statement from Christians Against Christian Nationalism makes clear.

Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

The statement affirms basic constitutional principles: That “one’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community,” and that
“government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.” And it affirms others:

Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

We must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad.

Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.

So Republicans who want to label America as a “Christian Nation” manage to hit several of my hot buttons: concerns about civic literacy and the normalization of racism, annoyance at the misuse of language, and deep, deep fear of the rise of Christian Nationalism.

Politico did it all with one statistic…


Feeding The Wrong Wolf

The title of this post refers to a story usually attributed to the Cherokees (although evidently its origins are murky). Commenters to previous posts have occasionally referenced it.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Like many of you, I’ve loved this parable; it reminds us that we have moral/ethical choices (no matter what psychological researchers tell us…).  What brought it to mind, rather forcefully, was an article from Politico, analyzing the business model employed by cable news channels. Apparently, their practices aren’t all that different from those employed by Facebook. And it isn’t only Fox. All of the cable networks–CNN, MSNBC, etc.– “behave more like political players — emphasizing one side while disparaging the “enemy” — than they do independent news organizations.”

By flattering the perceived political prejudices of their audiences and avoiding a story when the news becomes inconvenient to their agenda, the networks behave like vendors of political entertainment.

There’s nothing immoral or unprofessional, of course, in pursuing a partisan news agenda. There’s a long tradition of partisan, activist journalism in America, starting with the colonial era and extending to today. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, labor organizers like John Swinton, naturalists like John Muir and anti-corporatists like Ida Tarbell and Ralph Nader, just to name a few names from the past, reported the news through ideological lenses, and magazines like Mother Jones, Reason, and the National Review continue that practice. But these activist journalists made it apparent where their reporting was coming from. The cable networks, on the other hand, pretend, to use the old Fox slogan, to be “fair and balanced.” By attempting to have it both ways — tilting while at the same time posing as straight news — cable news tarnishes journalism’s good name and needlessly increases viewer tribalism.

I would quibble with the Politico story’s portrayal in degree–“They all do it” elides the rather obvious evidence that Fox “does it” to a far greater degree than CNN or MSNBC. (Confusing fair coverage with false equivalence really isn’t analytic rigor.) But that said, the article raises an issue that has no identifiable solution.

The problem is that, unlike the out-and-out propagandists and liars I posted about yesterday, news anchors–even on Fox– aren’t lying. (The pundits–the Tucker Carlsons and similar “personalities”– are a different matter, and it’s troubling that most viewers don’t recognize the difference between actual news and the wildly distorted commentary they are being fed.) Like all of us, news anchors and reporters can only view the world through their own eyes. Their individual lives and backgrounds inevitably form the context of what they see and report.

Yesterday, I cheered on the growing number of lawsuits against the most egregious propagandists–the individuals and websites trafficking in (sorry for the expletive) obvious bullshit.

The dilemma presented by the “slant” of the cable networks, falls into a different category. For one thing, omitting coverage of events that may be considered unpalatable or inconvenient or simply un-newsworthy isn’t technically lying, although in many cases it certainly is intellectually dishonest. For another, “spin,” intentional or unintentional, is ubiquitous–again, because we all see and filter events through our own world-views.

Saying that we all inevitably see the world through our own eyes isn’t simply another way of saying that we bring our own biases and prejudices to our news consumption. It also involves bringing such knowledge as we may have to bear, which is why I keep harping on the importance of civic education. (If your favorite “personality” is attributing the failure of Congress to pass the XYZ bill to President Biden, for example, it helps if you are aware of the GOP’s constant misuse of the filibuster and a President’s legal inability to do anything about that particular form of obstructionism–or actually, if you just understand that American Presidents aren’t kings.)

The Politico article was troubling, however, because it demonstrated one of the many, many ways in which Americans today are feeding the wrong wolf.


November Danger Signal

There is nothing that makes my heart drop down to my knees more quickly than a headline that reads “Trump Gets Some Good Election News.” But that was a Politico headline a week or so ago, and it was and is very troubling.

Late last month, the Democratic data firm TargetSmart found that while new voter registrations had plummeted amid the coronavirus pandemic, those who were registering in competitive states tended to be whiter, older and less Democratic than before.

When he saw the numbers, Ben Wessel, executive director of NextGen America, said he “got nervous,” and other Democratic-leaning groups felt the same.

The report seemed to confirm what state elections officials and voter registration groups had been seeing in the field for weeks: Neither Democrats nor Republicans had been registering many voters during the pandemic. But Democrats were suffering disproportionately from the slowdown.

Unlike countries like Australia, America doesn’t have mandatory voting. If U.S. voters want to ignore the political process, if we want to leave the outcome up to those most passionate about it, if we just don’t care and want to stay home, we can. One of the reasons polls can so often be misleading is that pollsters have to make educated guesses about who will actually show up on election day.

Unlike a lot of countries, America doesn’t have a national agency that administers federal elections, either. Election day isn’t a national holiday–it isn’t even on a weekend–and very few states have made it easier, rather than harder, to register and vote. Add to that the GOP’s determination to use every suppression method it can muster–including some recent “enthusiastic” purges of the voter registration rolls– and the fact that a substantial majority of Americans want Donald Trump and the GOP defeated becomes irrelevant.

As one political observer puts it, “The electoral dynamics have already hardened. Donald Trump will lose if everyone who wants to vote can. His remaining hope is to choose his own electorate.”

In our system, what matters isn’t what a majority of Americans think or want. What matters is who shows up.  

November has always been about turnout. Democrats need to turn out a blue wave–a blue tsunami–if voters are going to decisively defeat Trumpism. Whatever happens in the wake of such a defeat–further erosion and ultimate disappearance of the cult that was once the GOP, or a thorough housecleaning by the sane remnant–is less important than the decisiveness with which we defeat the corrupt and traitorous cabal that currently controls the White House and the Senate.

That tsunami cannot happen if Democratic registrations lag.

We know that Trump’s cult will show up at the polls. If rational Americans don’t register and vote in numbers sufficient to overwhelm them, we can kiss America goodby.

As Politico concluded:

The months-long lull in registration, at a minimum, has added an additional measure of uncertainty to the fall campaign, muddying the likely composition of the electorate. In some areas of the country, a swing of even several hundred voters could tilt the registration balance on Election Day.

Ask everyone you know whether they are registered. If they aren’t–or don’t know–get them registered. In Indiana, you–and they–can check whether they are registered by going here.

We can’t afford to let the polls lull us into false complacency. Again.

The Wall And The Wave

No, not that wall. The wall that Republican partisan redistricting built to keep Democratic voters out.

A report from Politico in the wake of the midterm elections put it succinctly:the GOP had used partisan redistricting to build a “wall” around Congress; Trump tore it down.

For years, some Democrats said gerrymandering was an insurmountable roadblock to the House majority that couldn’t be cleared until after the 2020 census.

Then along came President Donald Trump.

House Democrats steamrolled Republicans in an array of districts last week, from those drawn by independent commissions or courts, to seats crafted specifically by Republicans with the intention of keeping them in the GOP column.

The overriding factor: a Republican president who political mapmakers could not have foreseen at the beginning of the decade. Trump altered the two parties’ coalitions in ways that specifically undermined conventional wisdom about the House map, bringing more rural voters into the GOP tent while driving away college-educated voters.

I’ve posted numerous times about the ways in which gerrymandering undercuts democratic decision-making, and discourages voter turnout. I’ve also referenced several  books and articles detailing 2011’s “RedMap”–the GOP’s most thorough, successful national effort at locking in a Republican House majority. (The book Ratfucked said it all…)

The were two important structural lessons from this year’s midterms.

First, the results confirmed a truism among political operatives and observers: In order to surmount the gerrymandered wall, Democrats would need at least a 7 point vote advantage. Nationally, they got that, and a bit more.

Second–gerrymandering really does matter more than the geography of “sorting” would suggest. In Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort, he pointed out that Americans currently migrate to locations where they feel philosophically and politically comfortable. We can see the results in the rise of the Urban Archipelago–those blue dots representing cities with populations over 500,000.

One argument against nonpartisan redistricting rests on the theory that–since we have “sorted” ourselves into red and blue enclaves– gerrymandering really doesn’t make much difference. The Politico article undercuts that argument, bigly.

Despite Democrats’ massive House gains — the party’s biggest since 1974, after Richard Nixon’s resignation — redistricting clearly held them back in some places. Democrats netted at least 21 districts drawn by independent commissions or courts — getting a major boost from courts in Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia that altered GOP-drawn maps in the past two years — along with 10 districts drawn by Republicans and the two in Illinois that were drawn by Democrats.

As the article makes clear, Democrats did appreciably better in non-gerrymandered districts.

The blue wave was high enough to overcome a large number of gerrymandered walls, thanks to revulsion against and very welcome rejection of Donald Trump. But in districts drawn fairly–without partisan bias–they did even better.

Gerrymandering, vote suppression (Georgia, anyone?) and the other tactics being used by the GOP to game the system need to be eliminated. A few states–Missouri and Michigan among them–voted this month for fair elections; the rest of us need to do the same.

We shouldn’t need a “wave” to install a government that reflects the values of  the majority  of America.