Monday, December 22, 2014

Run, Liz, Run!

Now that the 2014 midterms are behind us (albeit just barely), the professional prognosticator class has set their sights squarely on the field of 2016 contenders. The press—as is usually the case with this sort of thing—are way ahead of themselves. They already treat it as a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton will announce a run for the White House sometime in the coming months. They are just shy of treating her eventual victory in the Democratic primary as equally assured. And then, of course, they are only slightly less bullish on her chances of obliterating the GOP nominee come November 2016. Now, I find these assumptions to be rather premature—not just the latter two, but the first one as well.

There are more than a few good reasons why Hillary could (and, in my opinion, should) decide not to run in 2016. Health and age would likely be foremost among those concerns. Clinton will be 69 years old on Election Day 2016, and she’s already had a few medical scares in the past few years. But surely she must also realize how much she stands to lose from a public image standpoint. Hillary ended her tenure as Secretary of State as the most admired woman in America, but has seen her approval numbers drop steadily since stepping down from that post and inserting herself into the world of partisan politics. After 20 consecutive years in the national spotlight, Hillary Clinton might want to ask herself if she’d rather retire as America’s undisputed queen bee or have her name (and her past) drug through the mud on the way to a presidential election that she just might not win.

So let’s say Hillary does decide to pull the biggest political shocker of the 21st Century and sit out 2016. Who then should take up the Democratic Party’s banner? The activist Left, as far as I can tell, has already answered that question for us. The populist fringe of the Democratic Party has begun to rally around Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a darling of the anti-big-business crowd and probably the most articulate voice in Washington when it comes to defending redistributionist policies. I particularly enjoy listening to less ideological Democrats clumsily attempt to imitate her rhetoric during speeches that are supposed to fire up their party’s liberal base. President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comments come to mind, as does Hillary’s horribly bungled speech from two months ago in which she told her audience, “Don’t let anybody, don’t let anybody tell you that, ah, you know, it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.” Compare the video of that speech to Warren’s and tell me which one would last longer in a Democratic primary.

If it sounds like I’m advocating for an Elizabeth Warren presidential run in 2016, it’s actually because I am. I know this may sound shocking at first—after all, I’m certainly no friend to progressive economics and any populist tendencies I have are of the free-market variety, not the planned-economy utopian dreams of leftists like Warren. No, I want to see Elizabeth Warren run because I want the United States to have a presidential election in which we actually engage in a real debate about how to move forward from the economic calamities of the last seven years. Too long have we lollygagged while our economy refuses to grow in any substantive way. As wages remain stagnant, as the middle class continues to be squeezed out of existence, as more and more people drop out of the workforce, as GDP growth remains under 3% annually, and as high-paying jobs remain absent from the so-called “recovery,” we continue to fall back on meaningless platitudes and divisive, distracting social issues. Our president, rather than do anything at all to help the recovery gain some steam, merely trumpets the falling unemployment rate and the soaring stock market—two data points that are largely meaningless to average Americans and conceal the underlying stagnation in the labor market. I want to see someone run for president who is actually brave enough to acknowledge these very serious issues, even if the proposed solutions are the exact opposite of what I would do.

David Harsanyi at The Federalist hails Elizabeth Warren as the face of the modern Democratic Party, saying that “Her hard-left economics—what the press quixotically refers to as ‘economic populism’—propels today’s liberal argument. It’s the default position of nearly every grassroots constituency on the Left. The center of the Democrats’ agenda.” Conversely, he compares Hillary Clinton to Mitt Romney, likening her to a plutocrat lounging in her New York penthouse and kowtowing to her big-business supporters while her party’s grassroots focuses its energies elsewhere. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but what I think Harsanyi gets right is his assertion that a Clinton candidacy would do nothing to forward an economic platform that actually benefits the middle class. On the subject of a potential Warren candidacy, he hits the nail on the head: “Warren, hopelessly wrong as she is, is liable to offer the country a better class of political debate than the one we’ve lived through the past eight years. There’s no doubt hackneyed wars on women, minorities, and common sense will remain. But it’s fair to say that Warren’s histrionics are often built atop genuine policy beefs rather than straw men.” I include that quote because I couldn’t say it better myself.

Peter Beinart, writing over at The Atlantic, bestows upon Warren the title of “The Rand Paul of the Democratic Party.” He makes this comparison largely because both Warren and Paul (supposedly) have the potential for crossover appeal between the parties. Warren, Beinart argues, could attract the attention of some grassroots conservatives who share her loathing for bank bailouts and the too-cozy relationship between the federal government and Wall Street. Paul, on the other hand, has attempted to make inroads among African American voters with his support for criminal sentencing reform and has excited some young liberals with his vehement opposition to America’s growing surveillance state. Although I have very serious doubts about either of these politicians being able to peel away the other party’s votes in today’s hyper-polarized climate, I think Beinart is right to compare these two non-establishment figures. Mostly because of the spiritual similarities between those two very different people, I would love to see Rand Paul as the Republican nominee opposite Elizabeth Warren in 2016. I will admit to having fantasies about a presidential debate between one candidate who has a philosophical objection to a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and another who wants the Post Office to be able to give out loans. Talk about a choice.

As Harsanyi very astutely says, “[Warren’s] presence in the race might impel Republican candidates to engage in a worthwhile conversation about corporatism and free markets.” And this, essentially, is the crux of my argument. If the American people were actually presented with an election in which they could decide how to move our country past the two disastrous presidencies we have been asked to endure, we would be so much better for it. With energetic, policy-driven candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul atop the major party tickets, we could actually engage in a constructive, fact-based debate about the state of our country’s economy and the direction of its future. Diversionary issues like contraception and the Koch Brothers could take a backseat to much more vital discussions about how to let future American generations prosper. The last thing we need in 2016 are out-of-touch establishment types like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Come on, Liz. Come on, Rand. Let’s give them something to talk about. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Media madly in search of a narrative

Anyone who has ever had a serious political discussion with me knows that I lay most of the blame for America’s horrid political discourse not at the feet of the Democratic Party, the GOP, big business, K Street lobbyists, or even our politically uninformed electorate, but rather at the Fourth Estate in Washington—the news media. This is because the media wields an immense power and with it—forgive me for sounding trite—comes an immense responsibility. Our nation’s newspapers, television networks, magazines, radio shows, and blogs are the ultimate purveyors of information. The journalists (both amateur and professional) who write for these institutions are the guides who provide us with a window to the wider world, putting our lives in context as they inform us about the goings on in legislatures, city streets, and warzones around our country and the world. We rely on them to tell us everything from what the weather is like outside to what countries our military is currently bombing. This is indeed a great power—one that demands above all else that they report this information accurately and with integrity. Just imagine the damage that could be caused if they didn’t.

Actually, as it so happens, you don’t have to imagine. Just look around you. Over the past few weeks, we have had some stunning examples of the media failing their mandate to report news truthfully, objectively, and with integrity. Foremost in my mind is the shameful coverage of the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri and Rolling Stone’s recent 9,000-word feature detailing horrific rape allegations at the University of Virginia. Both of these failures have whipped the American people into a frenzy have and confused the conversation on two very important issues: racial equality and sexual assault awareness. Why, you might ask, would the media poison the well on these two very sensitive topics? I posit that this is due to one of the media’s biggest faults: their burning desire to make their news stories fit a predetermined narrative.

Make no mistake about it—the events surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri are painful, tragic, and have served to expose racial divisions that still very much exist in the United States. I’m not writing today to add to the considerable debate regarding the role of race in Mr. Brown’s death, but I am here to tell you that the media got it all terribly wrong. Rather than focusing on the facts of the case, newspapers and television programs all over the country decided that this tragic turn of events needed to fit a narrative. Michael Brown, the media wanted (you) to believe, was a victim along the lines of Trayvon Martin—a harmless black youth who was gunned down for no reason by a man armed with only a gun and racial animus. Now, I’m not saying that there is no way that this was the case; I’m just saying that there is no proof that it was. We can only go on what we know, and that is all the media is obliged to report. What we know is that Officer Darren Wilson claims that he shot Brown because he was acting belligerently and that Wilson feared for his safety. We know that over a half-dozen eyewitness accounts (from African American witnesses) conform to this interpretation of events. And we know that physical evidence—ballistics analysis and autopsy findings—also support Wilson’s story. And we know that the grand jury that decided not to indict Officer Wilson was exposed to all of this information and more.

You would never guess that the case was that ambiguous from the media’s coverage of it, though. News outlets worked tirelessly to stick to their narrative, instilling in the minds of Americans the image of a young black man getting gunned down while holding his hands up in surrender—something that we have no reason to believe actually occurred. Rather than focusing on facts, much more emphasis was given to perception, with excessive attention paid to the different ways whites and blacks perceived this case. In essence, it didn’t really matter what the facts bore out as long as you had sufficient emotional ammunition to back up your opinion. If something about Darren Wilson felt wrong to you, then he was wrong. If you felt like the grand jury should have indicted him, then an indictment constituted the right decision. If you felt like rioting, looting, and burning after the decision was announced, then you could.

Now, let me take a minute to say a few things before I start getting hate for viewing this case from the ivory tower of my white privilege. I find the media’s mishandling of the Ferguson coverage so disappointing primarily because, when talking about a justice system like ours that has given us so many reasons to believe it is racially biased, the last thing we need is to add a false positive to the pile of evidence. Having looked at the facts, I think that the grand jury in Ferguson could have easily indicted Wilson. I also think, however, that had this case gone to trial, Officer Wilson would almost certainly have been acquitted. And prosecutors, ethically speaking, are not supposed to seek indictments in cases where they can’t secure a conviction. This makes me think that this particular case may not have all that much to do with race, at least in terms of why the grand jury decided not to indict. I think it points more toward the significant flaws of the grand jury itself—specifically, a prosecutor’s nearly unlimited control over whether or not an indictment is given and the inherent conflict of interests that arises when a district attorney has to prosecute a police officer. I actually think the media jumped the gun in applying a racial narrative to the Michael Brown case because the more recent (and even more baffling) non-indictment in the death of Eric Garner seems to fit the bill disturbingly well.

But the coverage of the Michael Brown case wasn’t even the media’s most egregious lapse of judgment in the past few weeks. That dubious distinction goes to Rolling Stone, which on November 19 published a sprawling, graphic exposé of sexual assault at the University of Virginia. The feature tells the story of Jackie, a UVA student who claims she was gang-raped at a fraternity party as a freshman. It paints a picture of a campus wracked by rape and sexual assault, a fraternity culture that celebrates it, a student body that is afraid to talk about it, and an administration that willfully ignores it. Now, these horrific things may very well be true, but if you are going to write something that so thoroughly and disgustingly tarnishes the record of one fraternity in particular and one storied institution of higher learning in general, you had damn well better make sure your allegations are well-founded. If you are going to ruin someone’s reputation by accusing them of something as loathsome as rape, you had better be sure they did it. But most importantly, if you are going to publish a victim’s account of such a heinous act, it is paramount that you protect her by telling it right. As Amanda Taub at Vox states, “failing to ensure that the story was accurate before exposing it to public scrutiny didn't protect Jackie. It left her vulnerable.”

So yes, as I’m sure you can gather, evidence has come to light that the story told in Rolling Stone may not be very factual. It turns out that Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the article (who, by the way, should resign along with her editors and never be heard from in the world of journalism ever again), didn’t properly fact check Jackie’s story and didn’t contact any of the alleged perpetrators for comment. She claims that she engaged in this titanic lapse of journalistic ethics in order to protect the victim but, as I’ve already stated, she did the exact opposite of that. We now know that the fraternity in question did not hold a social event on the alleged night of the assault and that none of the then-members of the chapter match the victim’s description of her attackers. Now, does this mean that Jackie didn’t suffer some terribly traumatic event that night? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s quite possible that she did and that the post-traumatic stress associated with that night makes it difficult for her to accurately recall what happened. I cannot stress this enough: the discrepancies in the article are in no way the victim’s fault. This is entirely on the author and her superiors.

That last fact is what makes Rolling Stone’s apology for the mishap all the more disgusting. “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” reads the statement from Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor (who should also resign). If that wasn’t so wrong, I might laugh at the sick irony of publishing a story about rape without fact checking it and then literally blaming the victim for any discrepancies that popped up. Not only has Rolling Stone made a mockery of themselves and their credibility, but they have refused to even take responsibility for their own egregious failings. This is a gross injustice to the alleged attackers, to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, to the University of Virginia, and most of all to Jackie, a victim now twice exploited.

This all happened because of the media’s obsession with filling a narrative. Erdely wanted to write a story about heinous sexual abuse at an elite college, so she shopped around until she found Jackie’s story. She wanted it to work, so she didn’t fact check. Her editors wanted to make a splash, so they published it anyway. And now they won’t even do us the small justice of admitting that they were wrong to do so.

The mishandling of this story as well as the events in Ferguson are so disappointing because these conversations—about race and sexual assault—are truly uncomfortable ones, and must be conducted in the spirit of sensitivity and understanding. But how can we honestly discuss these painful problems if we can’t even trust the media to report them fairly, objectively, and accurately? How can we trust ourselves to have a constructive debate if the facts are incorrectly reported and the terms are set by arbiters of information who have their own agenda? I think that we, as responsible citizens, need to be more careful in how we receive the “news” that is fed to us on TV and in print. Because if journalists decide to throw their integrity to the wind, it falls to us to make sure we don’t believe everything that is spoon-fed to us. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to Darren Wilson. We owe it to Mike Brown. We owe it to Eric Garner. We owe it to Jackie. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What 2014 means for Team Red and Team Blue

In my last post, I talked about what exactly happened on Election Day and why. In a nutshell, an electorate that was old, white, and very friendly to the GOP went to the polls last week and delivered a massive win for Republicans all over the country. As I wrote last week, the Republican Party hasn’t done a whole lot to improve its showing with minority voters, but as several key races from this cycle illustrate, the Democratic Party’s continued slide among white voters means that it’s not just the Republicans who will need to alter their strategy if they want to keep winning elections in the future.


Let’s take a look at the Senate race in Colorado, where Rep. Cory Gardner (my favorite candidate of the entire cycle) defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall last week. I’m not alone in thinking Gardner was a fantastic candidate—the authors of The Fix blog at The Washington Post named Gardner the best candidate of the year—and there’s a reason for that. Basically, Cory Gardner was the exact opposite of the kind of crazy, firebrand culture warrior that Democrats love to run against. Try as they might, Sen. Udall’s campaign and their allies couldn’t convince the Colorado electorate that Gardner was anything other than the smiling, affable guy that he is. And that strategy not only failed but backfired on Udall, who is actually one of the nicer guys in politics himself. His relentless attacks on Gardner made him look like a cantankerous old incumbent who would rather smear his opponent than have a substantive debate about the issues.

In an attempt to replicate Sen. Michael Bennet’s upset win amid the 2010 GOP wave, Udall took the winning play out of Bennet’s playbook and used it relentlessly. Again and again, Udall’s campaign hammered away at Gardner’s stance on reproductive issues, arguing that he supported fetal personhood measures that would outlaw all abortion and certain kinds of contraception. But, very early on, Gardner made a decision that was brilliant in its simplicity—he completely reversed his position on personhood and said he didn’t support it anymore. And just like that, he eliminated the one avenue of attack around which the entire Udall campaign was built. And, on Tuesday, he won.

According to exit polls, Gardner only lost the female vote by eight points, 52%-44%. The margin among white women, while still in Udall’s favor, was even smaller at 50%-46%. This isn’t really much of a “gender gap,” especially if you compare it to Gardner’s margin of victory among men, which was a whopping 56%-39%. He won white men by over twenty points, 59%-36%. This is one of the many reasons why Gardner’s campaign this year should be a blueprint for future Republican efforts in competitive elections. He did what far too few Republican candidates do and not only refused to give his opponent cudgels to beat him with, but actively removed one that had previously existed. He didn’t double down on social issues and didn’t let Udall define him for the voters. As The Fix puts it, “He focused on energy, the economy and the idea of fresh-faced leadership who wouldn't be a supporter of most of President Obama's policies. Even when Democrats boasted that they had destroyed his candidacy in the summer with their attacks on his record on reproductive rights, he stayed totally focused on his own message and refused to bend to the whims of the political moment.” The result was that Gardner could make his case directly to the Colorado electorate and, it seems, they liked what they saw. He limited his losses among female voters and emerged as the first Republican candidate to win a top-of-the-ticket race in Colorado in a decade.


If there was a true shocker in the battle for the Senate last week, it was definitely the race in my home state. Sen. Mark Warner, repeatedly referred to as the most popular elected official in Virginia, was considered as close to a lock as any Democratic Senate candidate this year. Virtually no one expected his race against former RNC Chairman and sleazy beltway insider Ed Gillespie to be close. And yet, when the dust had settled, Warner won by less than a percentage point. This race, as much as any other on Tuesday, demonstrated just how poorly the Democratic Party is faring among white voters these days. Let’s compare Tuesday’s results with those of Warner’s two previous wins to get some perspective.

Here’s the county-by-county map of Warner’s successful gubernatorial run in 2001:

Note how strong his support was in predominantly rural Western and Southside Virginia. Warner ran a very blue-collar campaign that year, going to NASCAR races and running campaign ads with Appalachian folk music in the background. He won largely on the strength of his performance among the rural white electorate in what was a low-turnout, off-off-year election. You’ll note that he even lost the important Hampton Roads swing cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, usually a key part to a Democratic win in The Old Dominion. But if you’ve won over the NASCAR voters, you can afford to lose a few suburbs.

This is the county-by-county map of Warner’s first run for the Senate in 2008:

Obviously, he destroyed his opponent in this race. There were several reasons for this, but basically that sea of blue is the result of an extremely popular former governor running for the Senate in a year in which his party is experiencing a national wave. There’s not really much else to talk about here.

But take a look at the map for Warner’s squeaker of a win last week:

This is radically different from his wins in 2001 and 2008. His support in Southside and especially Western Virginia eroded considerably, with only a smattering of counties voting for him in those areas. He significantly underperformed compared to Tim Kaine’s performance two years ago, when he managed to sweep Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. Warner lost in population-rich Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Loudoun County. This meant that his narrow victory came almost entirely at the mercy of voters in a few Northern Virginia counties and Richmond. Basically, he won like a generic Democrat would win in Virginia, not like a well-respected and popular moderate. Indeed, this map is almost indistinguishable from Terry McAuliffe’s win in the gubernatorial race last year. That’s not the kind of company Mark Warner should be keeping.

The exit polls for this race provide a pretty simple answer as to why this happened—Warner lost the white vote by an astonishing 60%-37% margin. That’s almost unthinkable for a candidate who won the white vote 56%-43% in his first Senate run six years ago. White men, who backed Warner 53%-45% in 2008, abandoned him for Ed Gillespie to the tune of a 63%-33% whooping last week. That means only one in three white males voted for Mark Warner last Tuesday. Gillespie even won white women by an impressive 57%-41% margin, again illustrating that the GOP’s struggles among women voters are mostly a symptom of their poor showing among minorities. Basically, Mark Warner’s standing among white Virginians, once the backbone of his winning coalition, had deteriorated to the point that he nearly lost his seat last week. It seems that any Democrat, even one with a reputation as a moderate and who isn’t associated with the unpopular Democrat in the White House, still has a significant uphill climb in capturing the white vote.


In a nutshell, I think the Colorado and Virginia races illustrate two factors that are bright spots for Republicans: the GOP has the ability to win in blue states if they run good, savvy candidates and the white vote is continuing to abandon the Democratic Party in droves. Cory Gardner proved that if the Republican Party is smart enough to nominate non-crazy people as its nominees, then they can actually win elections on their own terms and with their own message. Too often Republican candidates double down in the face of criticism and allow Democrats to paint them as extremists. But if a candidate reaches out to the electorate with a friendly, down-to-earth message, it’s hard for that label to stick. And the key is to get that message out early. Even non-crazy candidates can lose winnable races if they allow their opponent to define them. (I’m looking at you, Mitt Romney.)

And then there’s the matter of the white vote. Although Cory Gardner lost white women last week, many Republican candidates did not. Some of them, like Ed Gillespie, won them quite handily. The so-called “gender gap” that is said to favor Democrats doesn’t really exist, as I’ve said many times before. The performance of Republican candidates among white women goes a long way toward closing that gap and, in many cases, eliminates it entirely. Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for Texas governor whose entire claim to fame was as a women’s rights advocate, lost the overall female vote in that race by a 54%-45% margin. If anything, the Democrats’ growing deficit among male voters is more of a factor in who is winning and losing.

Now, I would be remiss if I made all of these points and didn’t emphasize that all of this data is coming from a midterm electorate. Although the Republican Party is doing remarkably well among old and white voters, those demographic groups will make up a smaller slice of the electorate in the 2016 presidential election. Basically, I think the turnout factor provides both a bonus and a warning for each party. The Republicans have a motivated and reliable base that can be counted upon to show up and vote in every election, be it presidential or midterm. This gives them a distinct advantage in midterms because the Democratic coalition is so very unreliable. Obviously, this gives the Democrats a built-in advantage in presidential years, when their voters actually tend to show up. Moreover, their coalition continues to grow as a share of the electorate each year, just as the Republicans’ gets smaller and smaller.

Nevertheless, those factors mean that while the Democrats can feel bullish about the next presidential election, they should very seriously consider retooling their strategy for midterms. After all, dominating on the presidential front doesn’t do much good if you never have majorities in Congress to go along with it. Just as there are talks of a “permanent Democratic majority” at the presidential level, one could just as easily call the Republicans a lock for Congressional majorities until 2020. (Both of these claims would be bogus.) And I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the Republicans’ utter dominance in governorships and state legislatures, which are the building blocks for a strong national party.

And so, heading into 2016, there are good and bad signs for both parties. Just as the Republicans need to improve their standing among minority voters to bolster their performance in presidential elections, the Democrats need to focus on putting together a more reliable coalition that can come through for them in off-year elections. These are very real challenges that neither party can truly afford to ignore—and how they deal with them will have a profound impact on who sits in Congress and the White House in just a few short years. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

So, what exactly happened on Tuesday?

Brace yourselves, folks. This is probably going to be a very long blog post. Nevertheless, I hope you are as excited as I am because this is only the second opportunity I’ve had to talk about a major election since I started this blog and I’m eager to say quite a few things about what happened at the polls earlier this week.

What Happened

Partisan control of state legislatures, pre-2014
(Photo courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures)
Going into Election Day, the consensus among the experts was that the Republicans were likely to capture the Senate, if for no other reason than because of the incredibly favorable map. With Democratic incumbents up for reelection in deep red states like Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana and with Democrats retiring in equally red Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia, the Republicans had an inherent advantage from the get-go.

Partisan control of state legislatures, post-2014
(Photo courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures)
The polls weren’t showing particularly strong evidence of a GOP wave, with the Republicans only holding a 2.4 percentage point lead in the generic congressional ballot average as of Tuesday. On top of that, polling still showed very tight races in states like Kansas, Alaska, North Carolina, and even Georgia as the election drew near. In fact, conventional wisdom held that the Republicans would probably have to wait a while for their majority to materialize, as they were expected to lose the race in North Carolina and Georgia was widely assumed to be headed for a January runoff. What’s more, many incumbent Republican governors were assumed to be in very real peril earlier this week, with the statehouses in Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Florida, Georgia, and Alaska up for grabs. Sam Brownback, the Republican governor of Kansas, was considered almost a sure loser in his reelection bid.

But, as you probably already know, that’s not how things turned out after the polls closed on Tuesday night. Indeed, I knew something was up when the race for Kentucky’s Senate seat, where polls had shown Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with a consistent but modest lead over his opponent, was called immediately after the polls closed at 7 PM. McConnell was definitely expected to win that race, but it wasn’t supposed to be a blowout. But that’s exactly what it turned out to be—his 7-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average of polls morphed into a 15.5-point election night win.

And that opening volley turned out to be an accurate indicator of what was to come. There is no way around it—Tuesday night was a wave election. Call it whatever you want: a disaster, a triumph, a rout, a bloodbath, a sure sign of the apocalypse, but it was undeniably a wave. The Republicans nearly ran the table on competitive Senate elections, winning in Georgia, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, and even North Carolina. They picked up the open seats in Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia and forced the Louisiana race into a runoff. As of today, the Republican candidate also leads in Alaska. That makes for a net pickup of seven seats as of right now—with two more that could very possibly be added within the next month. That translates to a Republican majority of at least 52 seats starting next term, with the final tally more likely to be 53 and maybe even 54.

Meanwhile, the Republican incumbents in gubernatorial races managed a near sweep as well, which I found to be even more miraculous than the Senate results. Republican candidates won bitterly contested races in Michigan and Maine, while the incumbent in Ohio cruised to a massive win. Rick Scott, one of the nation’s most unpopular governors, nevertheless eked out a win in Florida. And Scott Walker, the polarizing governor of Wisconsin, won this third election for that office in four years. But even more astounding was the performance of Republican gubernatorial candidates in deep blue states. In Illinois, first-time candidate Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Governor Pat Quinn, while Charlie Baker defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in a close race for Massachusetts governor. And, in what I consider to be the most astonishing upset of the night, Larry Hogan defeated Lt. Governor Anthony Brown for the Maryland governorship—just the second GOP candidate to win a gubernatorial election in Maryland since Spiro Agnew. You know, Nixon’s first Vice President? Simply amazing.

Of course, it didn’t end there. In the House of Representatives, the Republicans added a net of at least nine seats to their majority, with a few more likely on the way (plenty of recounts are still pending). Congressional Republicans are now on the cusp of achieving their largest majority since Herbert Hoover was president. This majority includes gains in Democratic strongholds like California, New York, Illinois, Maine, and New Hampshire. And in the world of state legislatures, Republicans built on their successes of 2010 and flipped 10 state legislative chambers (either the state house or state senate) to GOP control. After Tuesday’s results rolled in, Democrats were left in control of both houses of just 11 state legislatures. They control the governorship as well as the legislature (known as a “trifecta”) in 7 states. That’s single digits, folks. National Journal quotes Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures as saying that Democrats are now “at their lowest point in state legislatures in nearly a century.”

Why it happened

Basically, the short answer as to why this shellacking occurred is contained in one word: turnout. According to early exit poll data, the electorate that showed up to vote on Tuesday was older and whiter than that of a presidential year, as is always the case in a midterm year. The national exit poll shows an electorate where 43% of the voters were between the ages of 45 and 64 and 22% of them were 65 or older. Compare that to 2012, where those demographics comprised 38% and 16% of the electorate, respectively. There was a corresponding drop-off among younger voters, with the 18-to-29-year-old demographic shrinking from 19% in 2012 to 13% this year. Similarly, voters aged 30-44 dropped to 22% from 27% two years ago.

Not surprisingly, minority turnout was also muted on Tuesday. This was particularly the case with Hispanic voters, whose numbers dropped from 10% of the electorate in 2012 to 8%. That two point drop somewhat understates the drop-off; looking at individual states makes for a more illuminating comparison. In Florida, for instance, Barack Obama carried the state in his reelection bid with an electorate that was 17% Hispanic. In this week’s midterms, only 13% of Florida’s voters identified as Hispanic. That four point drop likely made all the difference for Gov. Scott, as Hispanic voters favored his opponent by 20 points (58-38), essentially the same margin by which they backed Obama two years ago (60-39).

Really, though, the drop-off among young voters was the single largest factor separating this year’s electorate from that of 2012. Although many Hispanic voters seem to have sat out the midterms, turnout among the African American community was quite strong compared to two years ago. Nationally, they only dropped one percentage point, from 13% then to 12% now. And even though the Republicans narrowed the gap among minority voters somewhat, they still lost those demographics to the Democrats rather handily. The national exit poll shows black voters favoring Democrats 89%-10%, only a slight improvement from the 93%-6% margin in the 2012 presidential race. Plus, one could argue that not having President Obama at the top of the ticket was the only real factor contributing to even that small shift.

Similarly, Hispanics favored Democrats by a 26-point margin (62%-36%) this week. Granted, this is indeed a significant improvement from the 44-point drubbing Mitt Romney endured among that same demographic in 2012, but it’s actually slightly worse than the GOP’s performance with Hispanic voters in 2010, who backed Democrats by a 60%-38% margin. I think that particular comparison is even more illuminating than looking at 2012 data, since I’m comparing votes for House candidates in both years. Putting exit poll numbers for a presidential contest side-by-side with those for House races is quite a bit less precise. (If I could have found more detailed crosstabs for the 2012 House race data, I would have used that instead). So, basically, we’re still looking at a Republican Party that is struggling mightily among minorities, but took advantage of an electorate that was much older and three points whiter (75%-72%) than it was two years ago.

What’s really interesting, though, is the fact that Republicans were not only able to win in states like Florida, where the drop-off in young and minority voters made all the difference, but also in states where the electorate is almost entirely white and usually quite Democratic. Essentially, this signifies a continuing of racial polarization in voting, with more and more white voters gravitating toward the Republican Party. Nowhere is this truer than West Virginia, a state that had a 96% white electorate this year. This week’s midterm marked the end of decades of Democratic dominance in West Virginia politics—Rep. Shelley Moore Capito became the first Republican to be elected senator from that state since 1956, just as both houses of the state legislature flipped to GOP control for the first time since 1928 and 19-term Rep. Nick Rahall, the last Democrat in the state’s Congressional delegation, lost by over 10 points. Granted, West Virginia had leaned heavily toward Republican candidates in presidential elections for some time, but the continuing disappearance of split-ticket voters in red states is a bad sign for Democratic prospects of maintaining Congressional majorities. Losses by Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Rep. John Barrow in Georgia are further examples of the realignment among white voters that continued this year.

Now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “What does all this mean?” Well, this blog post has already been long enough, so tune in again soon for the answer.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Czar Ron Klain I

Not Ron Klain

As I’m sure all three of my faithful readers have noted, I’ve been posting to this blog quite a bit less frequently of late. There is one big reason for this: in the heated weeks leading up to a high-stakes election such as next month’s midterms, the media is so focused on who might win any number of disparate races that they stop talking about any actual issues. All the chatter devolves into an endless cycle of meaningless prognostication and laughably short-sighted attempts to project how next month’s wins and losses will affect our two parties’ hopes in the distant future. Add into the mix the American people’s remarkable inability to decide what constitutes the world’s number one crisis (remember when ISIS was a big deal?) and, honestly, I’m at a loss for words.

So, today I just want to talk about one little thing that’s bothering me. Yesterday, Ron Klain began his tenure as the Obama Administration’s Ebola Czar (because Ebola is now the number one crisis, at least for the next few hours). Mr. Klain is merely the most recent addition to a long and storied tradition of American czars. He follows in the footsteps of missile czars, oil czars, AIDS czars, climate czars, ethics czars, rubber czars, reading czars, and the wonderfully fun-to-say car czars. Oh, and let’s not forget the almighty Asian Carp Czar. Actually, Mr. Klain isn’t even the first Ebola Czar. That distinction goes to Dr. Nicole Lurie, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services. As per The Daily Beast, Klain will be working alongside a great many bureaucrats in addition to Dr. Lurie:

With the spread of the disease in the United States, more leaders have stepped in to join the fight. Among [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director] Dr. Frieden’s counterparts in the relief effort are National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, Director of HHS Preparedness and Response Robin Robinson, and Assistant Commissioner in the Office of Field Operations at Customs and Border Protection John Wagner. That’s not to mention Obama’s Homeland Security adviser, Lisa Monaco, who is coordinating the efforts of all the agencies just listed.

Indeed, if there is anything to take away from all this, it’s that we need another government official getting a piece of the Ebola action. But, honestly, that’s not even what bothers me about this. What bothers me is who Ron Klain is. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Mr. Klain is a lifelong Democratic political operative whose most recent work was as Vice President Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff. He also served in that same position with Vice President Al Gore and Attorney General Janet Reno. During President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, Klain helped with debate prep. But the one thing I’ve always known him for is his role as the head lawyer with the Gore Recount Committee in 2000, a role which was dramatized by none other than Kevin Spacey in the HBO Film Recount. Needless to say, I was shocked when I saw so many photos of Klain after he was announced as the Ebola Czar and he didn’t fit my mental image of him, which looked something like this:
Also not Ron Klain

Ron Klain is nothing more than a Democratic insider. He has no medical experience of any kind. Never before in his life has he dealt with either Ebola or bureaucratic coordination of this scope. So why did President Obama give him this job? Some, including the author of the aforementioned Daily Beast article, contend that this illustrates Obama’s perception of the Ebola issue as a political and governmental problem rather than a medical one. And, to be fair, that might be all it is. The White House spokesman was rather upfront in admitting that what the administration was looking for in this position was “not an Ebola expert.” But here is my take on this rather curious appointment. Politico reported earlier this week that the leading candidate to replace John Podesta as counselor to the President is—yep, you guessed it—Ron Klain. Also noted in that report was that a leading candidate to replace Dennis McDonough, the current White House Chief of Staff, would also be Ron Klain. “Bringing Klain into the West Wing now,” the article states, “would provide a smooth transition to Podesta’s job when he departs — probably early next year, perhaps after the State of the Union address.”

Well, that makes for a tidy little arrangement, doesn’t it? Why bother to find someone who has the proper credentials for a newly-created bureaucratic position when you can just bring in a longtime party operative who you want to re-join your inner circle at some point anyway? Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t think this is that big of a deal. If nothing else, Klain’s selection as Ebola Czar makes it pretty clear that there isn’t much of an Ebola crisis in the United States and that this post has been created mostly to make the needlessly panicked masses feel better. But it also reinforces a belief I’ve always had about the Obama Administration: that they care a lot more about keeping the Democratic machine well-oiled and running than they do about anything else. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Harry Reid has to go

Aside from my earlier post about the kerfuffle in Kansas, I haven’t spent much time on this blog talking about the Republicans’ chances of taking the Senate in next month’s midterm elections. This is very much by design. First of all, I really don’t like prognosticating about election outcomes unless I’m reasonably certain as to where they’re headed. And even with just a month to go, I’m still very uncertain about a handful of individual races that will determine which party is in control of Congress’ upper chamber come January. Secondly, I’m actually pretty ambivalent about what a Republican-held Congress could realistically achieve, given the fact that President Obama would unhesitatingly veto just about anything they passed and that a GOP Senate majority would have a pretty good chance of disappearing come 2016. Nevertheless, there is one very specific consequence of a Republican takeover this fall that I would welcome with open arms: Harry Reid would lose his job as Senate Majority Leader.

Over the past two years, Harry Reid has become my least favorite person in Washington—and that’s saying something, considering I basically loathe everyone in and around Capitol Hill. (A vast, vast majority of Americans are in agreement with me on that second point.) Now, I was never a big fan of Sen. Reid to begin with, but I really soured on him during the 2012 presidential campaign, when he turned the Senate floor into a forum for baseless campaign rhetoric by asserting an unsubstantiated claim that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid any income taxes for 10 years. PolitiFact gave that particular statement a “Pants on Fire.”

This campaign season, Sen. Reid has continued to use the Senate floor as a means to attack private American citizens. His victims of choice this time are the infamous Koch Brothers, the big-money bogeymen of liberals’ worst nightmares. Now don’t get me wrong—I don’t mean to say I’m a huge fan of the Kochs or anything, but when Sen. Reid turns around and defends Sheldon Adelson, a personal friend of his who does the exact same kind of electioneering as the Kochs, I can’t help but think of the man as a cheap partisan hack.

And all of this is to say nothing about how Sen. Reid goes about the actual business of governing. Like most Democrats, he prefers to blame the gridlock in Washington solely on the Republicans in the House. But, as PolitiFact points out, it takes two to tango*. As Majority Leader, Reid is notorious for keeping bills that could garner bipartisan support from ever reaching an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, usually to rob Republicans from being able to claim they are capable of reaching consensus with their Democratic colleagues. Just last month, Reid openly lamented that a few Republicans voted with his caucus to open debate on a Constitutional amendment that would repeal part of the Citizens United decision. According to Reid, actually considering something for a change is how you “stall” business in the Senate.

Just as with his abuse of floor time, Sen. Reid’s languid pace of business in the Senate is also mostly a product of campaign-season maneuvering. As Fred Barnes points out in The Wall Street Journal, Reid will go to great lengths to protect his vulnerable incumbents and preserve his caucus’s majority. He was behind the spectacular gambit that made retiring Montana Senator Max Baucus the new U.S. Ambassador to China, thereby allowing Democratic Montana Governor Steve Bullock to appoint his Lieutenant Governor, John Walsh, to fill out the rest of Baucus’s term. Not only did this install an incumbent Democrat in a difficult-to-hold seat (Walsh has since dropped out due to scandal), but it also allowed the Democratic Senate Caucus to shuffle their committee chairs and install Sen. Mary Landrieu, an extremely vulnerable incumbent from Louisiana, as the new chairwoman of the powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee. These kinds of machinations, along with the big spending of Reid’s Senate Majority PAC, are what Barnes calls “unprecedented tactics.”

Do I think these kinds of tactics would continue in a Republican Senate? Perhaps. And if that were the case, then a hypothetical Majority Leader McConnell would become my new least favorite person in Washington. But for the time being, Harry Reid is the undisputed holder of that dubious title. And for that reason, and perhaps that reason alone, I would relish an election outcome next month that would take the Senate reins away from him.

*NOTE: The PolitiFact report I’m citing here is in response to a claim by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) that Harry Reid and the Democratic Senate are entirely to blame for gridlock in Washington. PoltiFact asserts, just as I do, that the Democratic Senate only shoulders half of the blame for our do-nothing Congress, and thus rates Rep. Jenkins’s claim as “half true.” 

**UPDATE: Just one day after I published this post, Gallup released a new survey that has Sen. Reid's favorable ratings at an all-time low of just 21%. Turns out I'm not alone on this one. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why, exactly, are we starting another war in the Middle East?

Two days ago, President Obama gave a speech outlining his Administration’s plan for launching an attack against ISIS (or ISIL, if you want to go with a more accurate translation of the Arabic), an organization of Sunni militants seeking to remake much of the Muslim world into an Islamic Caliphate. The Obama Administration’s plan, in simplest terms, is to launch airstrikes against ISIS and to arm so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels in an effort to diminish and eventually eliminate ISIS as a power in the Middle East. This is, first of all, an absurd product of the same kind of pie-in-the-sky oversimplification that the Bush Administration used to sucker the American people into a long, expensive, and deadly war in Iraq. But, even more troubling, this represents the beginning of another open-ended war in the Middle East that has little to nothing to do with a direct threat to America’s national security.

Now, unlike the Bush and Obama Administrations, I’m not going to pretend to fully (or even mostly) understand the complex political environment of the Muslim world, which has as much to do with sectarian and tribal divisions as it has to do with nationalist ones. But this is what I do know. When we invaded Iraq in 2003, we toppled a Sunni regime under Saddam Hussein and left a pretty big power vacuum. We attempted to nation-build by filling that vacuum with a quasi-nationalist, Shiite-dominated government in Iraq that has all but completely fallen apart as of today. Why? Because the Sunni minority in Iraq found ISIS to be the perfect counterweight to what they perceived to be the overly sectarian rule of Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Thus, Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in Iraq found a natural successor and the power vacuum found a formidable replacement.

So, if I’m not making myself clear enough, what I’m asserting is that the rise of ISIS is the United States’ fault as much as anyone else’s. And now, the Obama Administration would have us believe that the prospective successor to the Hussein regime—which we toppled despite it not being a direct threat to our national security—is a direct threat to our national security. This is utterly bogus, folks. Yes, ISIS is unquestionably a reprehensible organization. Yes, we should be outraged that ISIS has barbarously beheaded two American journalists. But that does not mean that we need to engage ourselves in yet another stupid war in the Middle East.

What, exactly, does the White House hope to achieve here? ISIS is too busy trying to conquer the Muslim world to turn its attention to attacking the United States. Peter Beinart at The Atlantic quotes Michael Morrell, a former acting CIA director, saying that although ISIS could very well refocus toward attacking the United States in the future, bombing them now is more likely to increase the chances of that happening than anything else. Beinart also marvels, just as I do, at the overwhelming narrative in the media and among America’s political elite that ISIS poses some immediate terrorist threat to the United States. Never mind that President Obama openly admitted in his speech that our intelligence agencies “have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland.” Apparently it’s time to go to war anyway.

Perhaps the most troubling implication of the Obama Administration’s fantastical construction of events in the Middle East is the plan to arm Syrian rebels. These rebels, as The New York Times points out, are “a diverse group riven by infighting, with no shared leadership and with hard-line Islamists as its most effective fighters.” Indeed, arming these rebels against ISIS may even benefit the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria that has been fighting alongside the rebels in the Syrian Civil War. That seems smart, doesn’t it? Aiding the one terrorist organization that has the greatest ability to attack the American mainland while expending resources against one that doesn’t? The White House seems to have the idea that there actually exists a unified Free Syrian Army that is composed of human-rights-loving moderates who have a coherent command structure and are just waiting for us to train and supply them. The reality, though, is that the rebels are a hodgepodge of apolitical rural dissidents who come from all sorts of nationalist and jihadist groups. Honestly, I’m not sure how we could even know where the guns we send them end up.

Thomas Friedman, himself a pretty big Obama apologist, penned an op-ed in the New York Times a week before President Obama announced his intentions regarding ISIS. In it, he warned against the kind of “‘fire, ready, aim’ approach [that] led George W. Bush to order a ground war in Iraq without sufficient troops to control the country, without a true grasp of Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite sectarian dynamics, and without any realization that, in destroying the Sunni Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Sunni Ba’athist regime in Iraq, we were destroying both of Iran’s mortal enemies and thereby opening the way for a vast expansion of Iran’s regional influence.” Well, given that line of analysis, I wonder what Mr. Friedman thought of the President’s speech two days ago? Because it sounds like “fire, ready, aim” all over again to me. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Meet the Senator who could lose it all for the GOP this fall

The media and the Republican establishment have spent much of this election cycle trumpeting the narrative that the Tea Party is dead. After establishment-backed candidates won the primaries in key Senate battlegrounds such as Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Iowa, the GOP is bullish on its chances to capture the Senate majority this fall and end Harry Reid’s reign of terror as Majority Leader. Citing examples of flawed Tea Party candidates such as 2010’s Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell—who lost a winnable Senate race in Delaware that year—establishment Republicans believe this year’s much more electable slate of candidates will avoid such costly mistakes this time around.

But it hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies, as they say. Overlooked by most is the very real struggle many entrenched Republican incumbents have had in retaining their party’s nomination this year. The leading example would be Sen. Thad Cochran, who has represented Mississippi since 1978. Despite Mississippi’s tendency to return incumbents to Washington until they retire or die, Sen. Cochran came in a close second to his Tea Party challenger, Chris McDaniel, in Mississippi’s June 3rd primary. In the runoff that occurred three weeks later, Cochran had to bring African-American voters to the polls just to squeak by McDaniel by a margin of less than two points. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has been active in Tennessee politics since his first run for governor in 1972, survived a challenge from a conservative upstart by just nine points earlier this month. He didn’t even manage to receive an outright majority of the votes. Now, a nine-point victory would be a relative landslide in a competitive general election, but for a two-term Republican senator in a solid red state running against a woefully underfunded primary challenger, that’s a certifiably terrible showing.

And let’s not forget about Sen. Pat Roberts, who has represented Kansas in Congress since 1981 and served as a senator since 1997. Sen. Roberts has been in trouble this entire election cycle, with many in the state upset about the fact that he lives full-time in Northern Virginia and doesn’t own a home in Kansas. In a year when Congressional approval is at an appallingly low 13.6% and the mood among the electorate is more anti-incumbent that anything else, not having any physical ties to the state you’ve represented in Congress for 33 years is a bad, bad deal. But, in spite of all this, Sen. Roberts won his primary challenge earlier this month, albeit by just a little over seven points. He, too, failed to win an outright majority.

And now, according to a poll released two days ago by Public Policy Polling, Sen. Roberts is in even bigger trouble. It seems that winning his primary contest did him more harm than good, as he is polling at only 32% in a four-way contest against Democrat Chad Taylor, Independent Greg Orman, and Libertarian Randall Batson. Even with 17% of voters undecided, if you add up the other three candidates’ poll numbers, you get 51%. Forget Sen. Roberts’s decidedly lousy 27%/44% approval/disapproval rating; 51% of voters have already made up their minds that he shouldn’t be reelected.

But wait; it gets worse. If you take the third-party candidates out of the equation, Sen. Roberts leads his Democratic opponent, but only by a margin of 43%-39%. Now, it’s bad news for any incumbent if he polls below 50%, but for a Republican incumbent in Kansas(!), 43% is practically a death knell. And here’s the real kicker: in a hypothetical matchup between Roberts and Orman, a businessman from Olathe running what was once considered a long-shot campaign, Orman leads by a shocking 43%-33%. And from there, it just gets embarrassing for Roberts. When the poll respondents were asked if they think Sen. Roberts considers his home to be in Kansas or D.C., only 30% said Kansas. A full 50% of respondents believe he considers D.C. to be his home. And when they were asked if Roberts spends enough time in Kansas, respondents said no at a 61% clip. A measly 18% said yes.

So, what does all of this mean? First and foremost, this serves as a clear illustration of the American electorate’s frustration with any and all incumbents in this election cycle. Just ask Eric Cantor. (Or read this great piece by my hero Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics). But to me, at least, there is a more pressing concern raised by Sen. Roberts’s struggles. The Republicans have a very real shot at taking the Senate this fall. With President Obama’s sagging approval ratings and Democratic incumbents running in deep red states, the electoral environment is almost entirely in the GOP’s favor. But in order for there to be a Republican Senate majority next January, the GOP needs to hold on to every seat they already hold. Since most of those seats are in places like Alabama, Wyoming, South Carolina, and Idaho, that shouldn’t be a problem. But if Pat Roberts pulls off the remarkable feat of losing a United States Senate seat in Kansas that has only been in Democratic hands for 8 years since it was created in 1861, it could all be for naught. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

When the government murders our murderers

I like to think that every politically-minded person has one particular issue on which they stake out a crazy, far-out position that stands as a clear outlier compared to their myriad other beliefs. For some, it’s guns. For others, abortion. But for me, it’s the death penalty. I call myself a pragmatist when it comes to most issues, but when it comes to capital punishment, I take about as hard a line as one possibly can. I am completely and unequivocally opposed to allowing our government to take the lives of any of its citizens.

This, in essence, is the heart of my objection: I believe that there is no right more fundamental than the right to live. No one—not you, not I, not our parents, and certainly not the government—has the right to decide that someone is no longer allowed to live. Naturally, that philosophical slant keeps me from trying to sympathize with murderers, and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. I’m simply saying that there is no type of harm or evil that, once propagated, allows someone to strip the perpetrator of their right to be alive. No one on Earth has moral authority of that magnitude. We aren’t living in Biblical times, after all. I’d like to think that over the course of the last several thousand years, the human race has evolved beyond the sort of eye-for-an-eye barbarism that leads to executions. And all of that is to say nothing of the innocent people who have died because of this archaic practice.

Granted, the United States is not alone in practicing capital punishment. While many countries have laws allowing capital punishment, relatively few of them actually carry them out in practice. In 2012, the United States was joined by China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading executioners. From a human rights standpoint, that’s not exactly the best bunch to be hanging with.

So, you may ask, why am I talking about the death penalty this week? Well, in case you haven’t heard, the United States experienced its third high-profile botched execution last week, when Arizona resident Joseph Rudolph Wood died one hour and 57 minutes after being injected with lethal drugs in an execution chamber. According to a reporter present at the execution, Wood started “gasping shortly after a sedative and a pain killer were injected into his veins.” Politico reports that “[h]e gasped more than 600 times over the next hour and 40 minutes.”

There are, of course, differing reports as to what exactly happened that day. While Wood’s lawyers insist that he was “gasping and snorting for more than an hour,” the team who conducted the execution deny that Wood was in any kind of discomfort and was comfortably sedated. The family of the woman whom Wood was accused of murdering were also less than sympathetic, and understandably so. Naturally, all of these accounts need to be taken with a grain of salt. But the fact of the matter is that it took this man nearly two hours to die. Nobody is disputing that.

The Arizona execution comes on the heels of two others earlier this year that inspired similar controversy. In January, an Ohio man accused of raping and murdering a pregnant woman died after gasping and snorting on the execution bed for 26 minutes. That execution team used the same drugs that were used in Arizona. A few months later, an Oklahoma man accused of murdering a 19-year-old with a sawed-off shotgun was the subject of yet another botch. After the IV technicians struggled to find suitable veins in his arms, they inserted a single IV of lethal drugs into his groin. The drugs were determined to be working improperly after about 40 minutes, and the technicians halted the execution. He died a few minutes later from a heart attack.

That all sounds pretty unsavory, doesn’t it? Well, that’s largely because these three incidents were examples of government employees killing United States citizens. It’s kind of difficult to take the gruesomeness out of a death, as the friends and families of those murderers’ victims know all too well. And to be perfectly fair, I don’t blame them at all for not caring if their friends’ murderers suffered a little bit before they died. Grief is a terrible, all-consuming emotion that leads people to think and act irrationally. It’s perfectly natural to want to hurt the people who have hurt you most. But that doesn’t make it right. And, quite simply, when it comes to capital punishment, the United States is wrong.

In the aftermath of the Arizona execution, U.S. 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski advocated bringing back the firing squad as a means of execution. Writing in response to Wood’s lawyers’ appeal for a stay of execution, Kozinski said, “Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful — like something any one of us might experience in our final moments.” But that’s simply not the case, he says. “[E]xecutions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”

And that is the simple truth of it. Although Judge Kozinski is a supporter of the death penalty, his remarks do much to bolster the argument against capital punishment. Every time an execution is carried out, our government commits a murder using the powers we the people have given to it. I think it’s about time we ask ourselves: is that really a power we’re comfortable giving to them? 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The irony of Paul Krugman’s partisanship

Note: I want to state for the record that I am aware that Forbes posted an article that makes the same basic points that I am about to lay out before I got the chance. I still feel the need to make this case myself, and if anything I feel validated that big voices in the media think Paul Krugman is as dumb as I do.

A few days ago, I pulled up one of Paul Krugman’s latest blogs on my phone to help me go to sleep. Now, I usually cut Dr. Krugman a little bit of slack, since I recognize that he has an obligation as a liberal pundit to occasionally abandon the economic bona fides that earned him his Nobel Prize in favor of partisan rhetoric. Granted, as my faithful readers know, I’ve been known to bash him in the past when he goes a little too far.

Well, after reading his article on the politics of economic analysis last week, I determined that that was just such an occasion. In short, Krugman laments that in recent years, “economics is a far more political subject than we liked to imagine.” Particularly, he cites the vanishing consensus in the economic world over the effectiveness of aggressive monetary policy as a means to counteract recessions. Apparently, everyone used to think that if the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low, everyone would benefit as the economy grew and increased demand led to more jobs. Now, Krugman says, there are a group of economists calling for an end to the Fed’s easy-money policies—a position he refers to as “sadomonetarism.”

Why, Krugman asks, would there exist a group of people advocating the end of the monetary policy that is the undisputed best method of averting a depression? His answer is a simple one: basically, these economists are all from the right side of the spectrum and, by the logical extension of Krugman’s liberal political calculus, they are obviously shills for the super-rich. One must always remember that conservatives of every stripe are merely mouthpieces for the upper class. And the rich, says Krugman, are the only people in the country who don’t benefit from easy-money policies since most of their money comes from assets that accrue interest. With interest rates low, the fat cats’ income is greatly reduced.

And that was the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I am not exaggerating when I say that Dr. Krugman has this precisely backwards. First of all, his assumption that all conservative economists are merely champions of the super-rich is completely baseless—although it comes straight out of the book of liberal dogma. But more importantly, he seems to have forgotten the other half of an expansionary monetary policy—the one that conservatives actually object to. When the Federal Reserve is attempting to increase aggregate demand, it doesn’t merely keep interest rates low. The point of keeping interest rates low is to lower the cost of borrowing and, by extension, put more money in people’s hands. But in order for that to happen, there has to be lots of money to lend out. As such, the Fed has coupled the low interest rates with asset purchases—basically, the Fed buys up assets from the country’s biggest banks and prints cash for them in return.

Most of this money does not end up in the hands of everyday Americans like you and me. Either the banks sit on it or it ends up in the hands of really rich people, who then buy stocks and other goodies that rich people like. The stocks are their best bet. Why? Because all of the easy-money reassurances from the Fed bolster confidence on Wall Street, leading to record highs on the stock exchange. So the Fed not only vomits money for the rich to spend, but ensures that they get a huge return on it through capital gains.

No, Dr. Krugman. The super-rich are not the only people who don’t benefit from an expansionary monetary policy. They are the only ones who do. Indeed, Paul Krugman himself has pointed this out before, when he wrote in 2012 that “95 percent of the gains from economic recovery since 2009 have gone to the famous 1 percent.” “In fact,” he noted, “more than 60 percent of the gains went to the top 0.1 percent, people with annual incomes of more than $1.9 million.” If conservative economists were all windbags speaking for the 1%, they would never want these policies to end. And if Paul Krugman could admit what a liberal hack he is, he might realize the irony of accusing other economists of contradicting themselves in order to make a political point. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?