Mar 25th 2010

An Optimistic Democrat's Guide to 2010

by Dylan Loewe

Dylan is a regular op-ed contributor for The Guardian

It's been a pretty amazing week for Democrats. And for those looking for more good news, there is plenty to be had on the horizon. Democrats are still facing an uphill battle in November; without a miraculous economic recovery or a deafening Republican scandal, Democrats are almost sure to lose at least 15 seats in the House and at least a couple in the Senate.

That's the best case scenario. The worst case is that they lose upwards of 30 house seats and as many as 8 senate seats. The difference between the two is stark. If the losses are on the lower range, the president will still have a good chance of seeing his agenda through in 2011 and 2012. But on the higher range, his entire legislative portfolio will almost surely come to a halt.

The difference matters. And with that in mind, there are some exciting things happening now that should give Democrats plenty of reason to feel optimistic.

Health Care: "A Big Fucking Deal"
At this point it's unclear whether the health care bill itself will be of value to the Democrats in November. A recent USA Today poll had Americans favoring the bill 49-40. But those numbers have yet to be reconfirmed by another poll. If Democrats (and the media) turn out to be better at explaining the health care law than they were at explaining the health care bill, the package has the potential to gain in popularity, perhaps even in the short term. That would, of course, have substantial implications for the outcome of the November elections. But even if health care reform's contents continue to get mixed reviews from the public, its passage still offers plenty of political value to Democrats this year.

Had Martha Coakley won her race, had the bill passed in January instead of March, it would have done so at a time when the Democratic party was deeply divided. Howard Dean was repeatedly calling for the Senate bill to be killed. So were Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz. So were Markos Moulitsas and MoveOn.org. Had the bill passed in January, it would have done so without the support of large portions of the American left.

But after spending eight weeks convinced that Democrats had failed, that the health care bill, however imperfect, was dead, the left rejoined the effort aggressively. The bill's ultimate victory was aided by liberal groups funding extensive ad campaigns and organizing to pressure wavering Democrats. By mid-March, 83% of MoveOn.org members favored the bill.

In December, MoveOn.org called for the bill to be killed. By March, they were fighting for it to be saved.

The end of the health care battle unified the Democratic base once again, and in success, it energized it.

And it did more than that. It proved that the mission of Obama campaign could be accomplished through the Obama presidency. It proved that change can happen in Washington even when Washington is at its worst. At a time when Democratic candidates are struggling, the party just had its proudest victory since 1965.

Job Growth on the March
A new Bloomberg poll found that nearly two out of three Americans believe that the economy got worse over the last year. It's actually gotten much better. As the Bloomberg article notes, "During that period, a bull market has driven up the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index more than 73 percent since its low on March 9, 2009. The economy grew at a 5.9 percent annual pace during last year's fourth quarter."

The recovery is happening, but the most easily translatable measure -- job creation -- has characteristically lagged behind. This month may very well be the end of that trend. The economy lost 36,000 jobs in February, but many economists have speculated that if not for the major snowstorms that battered the East Coast, the country would have experience positive job growth that month.

What didn't happen for February may very well happen for March.

At some point soon, the country is going to start experiencing six-figure job growth month after month after month. Until that happens, the public is likely to continue to feel pessimistic about the economy. But when it does finally happen -- as it may this month -- it could change the public's perception entirely.

What's Good for the Tea Party is Good for the ... Democratic Party?
Harry Reid is supposed to lose his reelection. He's been spending enormous sums of money advertising his accomplishments back home in Nevada, and in return, his standing in the polls has gotten worse, not better. He has a favorability rating worth retiring over.

But now it appears that the Tea Party has qualified for the Nevada ballot, and that a Tea Party challenger might change the outcome of the race. A recent Rasmussen survey found Reid trailing both of his potential Republican opponents by 13 points. But when you add a Tea Party candidate into the mix, everything changes. Reid goes from down 13 to up 4, with the Tea Party candidate taking 18% away from the Republican.

All around the country, in congressional districts that don't get the kind of national media attention one would expect from a Nevada Senate race, Republican candidates are under siege from within their own ranks. In some cases, that will result in far-right candidates getting nominated in districts too moderate for a Tea Party ideology. In others, it will result in third party challenges, in Tea Party candidates stealing votes away from the Republican nominee during the general election. In either circumstance, Democrats benefit.

The same force that has energized the Republican party will almost certainly be responsible for holding it back.

Republican Leadership Has Gone MIA
As retribution for the passage of health care reform, Senate Republicans have decided they aren't going to work passed 2:00pm. They've announced it. They've even found an obscure Senate rule that makes it binding. It sounds made up. It isn't.

It's one thing to obstruct policy. But this is obstruction without reason. Obstruction without purpose. This is not going to go over well with the public in 30 second ads.

In other news, Tea Party protesters called John Lewis a "nigger." They called Barney Frank a "faggot." They spat on Emanuel Cleaver. They tried to cut the gas line at Tom Perriello's house -- and cut his brother's line instead. They sent faxes of nooses to Jim Clyburn and Bart Stupak. They placed a coffin on Russ Carnahan's lawn. Ten Democratic members of Congress have had to get increased security.

You'd think that the Republican party would be falling all over itself to disavow these kinds of tactics. You'd think the Republican leadership would be smart enough to see how dangerous it can be to be affiliated with this kind of violence.

But they are nowhere to be found. Instead of denouncing the Tea Party, they are still trying to co-opt it.

Just because Democrats control Congress and the White House doesn't mean the Republican party is somehow impervious to public opinion. Already, a new Democracy Corps poll found that Republican favorability among independents has dropped 11 points. It's dropped 12 points on the generic congressional ballot.

If that trend continues, the conventional wisdom about November's outcome will be completely upended.

The 2010 Obama Agenda
The Democrats have put forward an ambitious agenda for 2010. New financial regulations, a major overhaul of education policy, immigration reform, and a comprehensive energy policy.

With so many issues moving forward at once, it's going to be more difficult for Republicans to demonize each piece of legislation as effectively as they were able to when health care was moving forward alone. And with each issue, the GOP faces serious potential pitfalls if they choose to obstruct and oppose.

The Republican party is going to have a very difficult time explaining their opposition to financial reform to swing voters. They are going to have an even harder time explaining their opposition to immigration reform to a Hispanic voting bloc that they already may have lost for a generation.

If they vote against education reform, they'll be voting against policies they have advocated for years -- like bringing accountability to teacher performance. If they vote against energy policy, they'll be voting against other pet policies -- like new domestic drilling and new nuclear power plants.

If Republicans vote yes on any of these bills, they hand an enormous victory to the president and the Democratic party.

But if they vote no, they hand a bruising set of liabilities to themselves.

We don't know exactly how things will shape up seven months from now, but we do know this: The Democratic party has seen rock bottom. January and February were rock bottom. From here on out, almost everything facing Democrats is upside.

Now as they march toward November, they do so with momentum at their back, the kind that can only come from a genuinely big win.

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More Current Affairs

Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."
Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: "Reminiscent of Don Quixote, Trump is tilting at windmills. His administration is flailing at antiquated perceptions of the Old China that only compound the problems it claims to be addressing. Financial markets are starting to get a sense that something is awry. So, too, is the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the global economy is fraying at the edges. The US has never been an oasis in such treacherous periods. I doubt if this time is any different. 
Aug 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "In fact, with firms in the US, Europe, China, and other parts of Asia having reined in capital expenditures, the global tech, manufacturing, and industrial sector is already in a recession. The only reason why that hasn’t yet translated into a global slump is that private consumption has remained strong. Should the price of imported goods rise further as a result of any of these negative supply shocks, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable household income growth would take a hit, as would consumer confidence, likely tipping the global economy into a recession."
Aug 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Climate change is real, and it is a problem. According to the IPCC, the overall impact of global warming by the 2070s will be equivalent to a 0.2-2% loss in average income. That’s not the end of the world, but the same as a single economic recession, in a world that is much better off than today.  The risk is that outsized fear will take us down the wrong path in tackling global warming. Concerned activists want the world to abandon fossil fuels as quickly as possible. But it will mean slowing the growth that has lifted billions out of poverty and transformed the planet. That has a very real cost. "
Aug 20th 2019
EXTRACTS: "It is no exaggeration to say that Johnson has lied his way to the top, first in journalism and then in politics. His ascent owes everything to the growing xenophobia and English nationalism that many Conservatives now espouse................Johnson has chosen a government of like-minded anti-European nationalists. His principal adviser, Dominic Cummings, was described by David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister from 2010 to 2016, as a “career psychopath.” Cummings is, alongside Johnson, the most powerful figure in the new government; he is an unelected wrecker who earlier this year was ruled to be in contempt of parliament. Fittingly, if depressingly, he now is masterminding our departure from the EU with or without parliamentary approval."
Aug 19th 2019
EXTRACTS: "Back in May, a jury found Patrick Syring, a former State Department official, guilty of 14 counts of making threats against my life and my staff at the Arab American Institute. This week, a federal judge sentenced Syring to five years in prison to be followed by three years of court-ordered probation.................It gives me no pleasure to see this man going to jail for a long period, but it does provide us all with a sense of enormous relief. I've been threatened before. My wife, my children, and I have received death threats for the past 50 years – owing to my advocacy for Palestinian rights and the rights of the Arab American community. My office was fire-bombed and an Arab American colleague, whom I hired, was murdered. Two individuals who, in the past, made death threats against me and my children were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. But this case was different."
Aug 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Gaslighting typically refers to intimate relationships. It’s a way of controlling someone by creating false narratives – for example, that they are irrational or crazy. If such lies are repeated constantly, victims may get confused and start believing there really is something wrong with them. Confusion, diversion, distraction and disinformation can similarly be used to gaslight an entire society. So how can you tell if you are being gaslighted, and how do you avoid it in the first place?"
Aug 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Trump has once again painted himself into a corner. Since the latest massacres, he’s been at pains to present himself as a reasonable fellow who can get behind gun reform (and perhaps mollify suburban women, his most dangerous foes on this issue). But he’s also noticeably (and typically) anxious to maintain the loyalty of the rural voters who form an important part of his base. Trump has also taken the gamble of using racial politics and white supremacy as instruments for winning in 2020. When faced with the dilemma of trying to assuage suburban voters or keeping the base close, time after time his instinct has been to shore up the base. (That didn’t work very well in 2018.)"
Aug 5th 2019
Extracts: "it is impossible to model many of the most important risks. Global warming will produce major changes in hydrological cycles, with both more extreme rainfall and longer more severe droughts. This will have severe adverse effects on agriculture and livelihoods in specific locations, but climate models cannot tell us in advance precisely where regional effects will be most severe. Adverse initial effects in turn could produce self-reinforcing political instability and large-scale attempted migration........Achieving a zero-carbon economy will require a massive increase in global electricity use, from today’s 23,000 TW hours to as much as 90,000 TW hours by mid-century. Delivering this in a zero-carbon fashion will require enormous investments, but as the Energy Transitions Commission has shown, it is technically, physically, and economically feasible......Added up across all economic sectors, however, it’s clear that the total cost of decarbonizing the global economy cannot possibly exceed 1-2% of world GDP. In fact, the actual costs will almost certainly be far lower, because most such estimates cautiously ignore the possibility of fundamental technological breakthroughs, and maintain conservative estimates of how long and how fast cost reductions in key technologies will occur. In 2010, the International Energy Agency projected a 70% fall in solar photovoltaic equipment costs by 2030. It happened by 2017."
Jul 31st 2019
Extract: "I admire the US for its culture, entrepreneurialism, and universities, and I have many American friends. Furthermore, I know how grateful the rest of the world has to be for US leadership after World War II. Never before had a victorious power behaved so generously toward others, including the defeated. We owe so much to US policy in the second half of the twentieth century. But although I am no declinist regarding American economic, intellectual, and military power, the country’s soft power has certainly decreased, and its positive influence around the world has declined. The reason for this is simple: US President Donald Trump is a bad man surrounded by a bad team of incompetent and dangerous ideologues."
Jul 30th 2019
Extract: "This pattern holds true in every extremist movement I have studied, whether from the past or the present, or the West or the East. This abuse of religion that provides security and certainty to those who are experiencing a loss of control is a universal phenomenon. If merely left there, it would not be a danger. But when it masks a political agenda or when it justifies violence either by groups or state actors, it becomes a danger."
Jul 30th 2019
Extract: "......the day before Mueller testified, the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.” And the day after Mueller testified, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report stating that Russia would be involved in the next presidential election, and that countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China have the capacity to interfere in US elections as well. Despite these warnings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Senate consideration of two bills aimed at strengthening US election security,....."
Jul 15th 2019
".....one of the most accurate recession indicators, known as the yield curve, has recently been flashing warning signs. Every postwar recession in the US was preceded by an inversion of the yield curve, meaning that long-term interest rates had fallen below short-term interest rates, some 12 to 18 months before the outset of the economic downturn."
Jul 6th 2019
Extract: ".........growing poverty even when working, the collapse of stable and safe social identities linked to work, the increasing instability of employment security, and the rapid change of local communities due to emigration, migration, collapsing housing affordability, and redevelopment initiatives that displace communities. These provide precise and urgent electoral rallying points. They are particularly effective given that so many mainstream politicians ignore these basic grievances. In recent years, the lineup of politicians opposing the New Right – Hillary Clinton, the Remain campaign, Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Renzi – have been unwilling to even recognise these structural problems. This provided the New Right the opportunity to appear credible, simply by acknowledging them."
Jul 6th 2019
".........an openly Russophilic administration in the US may be one reason why Putin’s domestic support has been declining so sharply."
Jul 3rd 2019
"Extract: .........in a world of rapidly expanding automation potential, demographic shrinkage is largely a boon, not a threat. Our expanding ability to automate human work across all sectors – agriculture, industry, and services – makes an ever-growing workforce increasingly irrelevant to improvements in human welfare. Conversely, automation makes it impossible to achieve full employment in countries still facing rapid population growth........The greatest demographic challenges therefore lie not in countries facing population stabilization and then gradual decline, but in Africa, which still faces rapid population growth."