Posts Tagged ‘election12’

My Top 10 Story List for 2012

I tell this story all the time, but it’s a true one:  When I came to the North Country thirteen years ago, someone — I can’t remember who it was — told me I’d scored the best job in the world, with one big caveat.

In a rural place like northern New York, he opined, you’ll run out of good new story ideas in two years, tops.

So far, thankfully, that hasn’t happened.  2012 felt like another huge year.  There just weren’t enough hours in the day.  Here’s my recap of the biggest events that I covered, counting down to the biggest.

10.  We learned that serial killer Israel Keyes lurked in the North Country, owning land in Franklin County, stashing weapons in St. Lawrence County.  He brutally stalked and murdered two people in Vermont and robbed a bank in Tupper Lake.  This guy was a true predator.  It’s lamentable that he was allowed to commit suicide in an Alaska jail cell last month, leaving so many questions unanswered.

9.  In August, Governor Cuomo signed a $47 million deal to acquire nearly 70,000 acres of land for the Adirondack forest preserve.  The former Finch Pruyn lands include some iconic spots, including vast reaches of the wild Hudson River.  The controversial purchase also continues to shift the debate over conservation in the Park, as more and more vulnerable timber land is protected.

8.  Earlier this month, the region won a second top-prize award in Governor Cuomo’s statewide economic revival competition – a victory that secured for the region $90.2 million dollars for grants, tax breaks and other incentives.  The award means a huge infusion of cash, but it has also put the North Country on the map as a region doing interesting things to boost jobs and investment, from renewable energy to Bombardier’s big rail car assembly plant in Plattsburgh.

7.  Human activity continued to spark a new kind of “living pollution” in the North Country, from the spread of noxious invasive species like Giant Hogweed and Spiny water flea to the explosion of toxic blue green algae on Lake Champlain.  We know how to clean up oil spills and PCBs.  But what do we do when our agriculture and recreation open the door to pollution that, you know, reproduces?

6.  The Hudson River Black River Regulating District won a victory in the courts in May that will allow it to bill county governments for its flood-control services.  This sounds arcane, I know, but the HRBRRD manages dams, reservoirs and waterflows across much of the Adirondack-North Country, from Watertown to Great Sacandaga.  Without this victory, the organization was teetering toward insolvency.

5.  Teresa Sayward, the Republican pioneer who crusaded for same-sex marriage in New York state, chose not to seek re-election to her Willsboro-based Assembly seat.  She faced enormous heat from social conservatives for her stance.  Yet she was, for decades, one of the most level-headed politicians in the region, and would have had a very real shot at being her region’s next state Senator.

4.  The North Country’s priest shortage continued to deepen.  For decades, the Roman Catholic church has been an essential part of the region’s fabric, a role defined in significant measure by priests dispatched from the Diocese of Ogdensburg.  But the number of priests continues to dwindle, with a third of the region’s RC clergy expected to retire in the next decade alone with few seminarians to replace them.

3. The New York Civil Liberties Union attacked the use of solitary confinement in state prisons statewide, but focused on facilities in the North Country.  In a sweeping report, and in a new lawsuit, the NYCLU set out to change the system by which inmates are placed in lockdown cells in facilities like Upstate Correctional in Malone.  State prison commissioner Brian Fischer has promised an “intense review” of internal procedures.

2.  The fight over the Adirondack Club and Resort escalated following the APA’s 1o-to-1 decision in January to green light the massive project.  Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club sued to have the permits invalidated.  In the months since, the mood in Tupper Lake has been bitter and the controversy became a major flashpoint during the political campaign, with most politicians supporting the development.  The lawsuit is still pending and its outcome could have wide ramifications for developers, the APA, and the environmental community.

1.  Democratic congressman Bill Owens was re-elected in a straight-up rematch with Republican challenger Matt Doheny.  We’ve known for a long time that the political temperament of the North Country was changing.  This contest settles the argument.  A once Republican-conservative stronghold is now a moderate, centrist sort of place.  Voters appear to have little appetite for partisan ideology and rhetoric.  Owens won with an even temperament, calls for bipartisanship, and a grounding in local, bread-and-butter issues. Boring and dramatic at the same time.

So there it is.  2012 distilled.  How about you?  What stories caught your attention?  Comments, as always, welcome.

 

The Life of Boehner

Time to face the tiger, John Boehner. (Photo: From “Life of Pi”)

As the Republican Party navigates this perilous chapter in its history, the organization begins to resemble — more and more closely — the desperate, lonely protagonist in “Life of Pi.”

If you haven’t seen or read it yet, it’s the story of a guy whose personal brand becomes so broken that he has to literally rename himself, swapping “Pi” for “Piscine.”

Pi barely survives a terrible shipwreck, only to land in a lifeboat with a tiger.

Only then it turns out maybe he was just lying to himself the whole time.

Maybe he was the tiger, threatening and terrifying himself.

Are you listening, John Boehner?

Let’s recap for a moment the events of the last two months.

The Republican Party ran cranium-first into the reality that modern Americans are no longer creeped out by gay people, have no interest in revisiting the issue of contraception (or rape), and are in growing numbers not Caucasian.

That’s the shipwreck, see?

And then there’s this little life-raft, which is fiscal conservatism.  That’s safe, right?  I mean, if nothing else, Americans are hungry for a party that will balance the books, and run a (sorry, can’t resist) tight ship.

Only it turns out there’s this tiger.

Which is the decades-ago discredited fantasy that if you just keep cutting taxes, government revenue will magically blossom and erase all deficits.

And then there’s the presto-change claim that you can actually increase spending on the military — one of our largest single budget items — while somehow embracing austerity.

In “Life of Pi,” the main character actually winds up abandoning his life boat, leaving it to the tiger.  He builds a second, cobbled-together raft.

That moment has arrived in our national politics.  John Boehner is sitting on a rag-tag collection of half-ideas, slogans, pitches and click-your-heels-together three-times arguments.

All of which boil down to a hard-line defense of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

These are notions that 65% of Americans have no interest in, which in modern politics amounts to a landslide.  Even a majority of Republicans want the rich to pay taxes comparable to those they paid during the Clinton years.

Which isn’t to say that Republicans have lost this fight.  Americans are clearly worried about deficits and the national debt.  And they’re wide open to the idea that the government needs to shrink.

Getting to that argument and that set of ideas will take time.  Republicans first need to take control of their lifeboat again and then get that lifeboat to shore.  They need coherent, math-based budget proposals — not ideological manifestos.

(In the movie, Pi finds an instruction book full of hilariously useless survival tips.  For Republicans, on their raft, that book is “Atlas Shrugged.”  Or maybe it’s Grover Norquist’s pledge.)

The alternative to facing reality isn’t pretty, as Pi can attest. He wound up on a carnivorous island, after all.  It looks safe but you wind up a pile of bones.

Are you listening, John Boehner?  Mitt Romney is on that island.  So is John McCain.

Democrats already control the high ground on racial demographics.  They dominate American youth culture, on issues ranging from homosexuality to religious multiculturalism.

They have a party full of rock stars and thinkers and, yes, accomplished community organizers, from the Clintons to the Obamas.

Republicans, by contrast, have the Bush family in hiding, a lingering romance with Ronald Reagan — who left office in 1988 — and a penchant for cannibalizing anyone who doesn’t obey the tiger.

The one thing they have left is this lingering, stubborn reputation for caring about and understanding the economy.  They should be grateful.  It’s amazing that the hurricane of George W. Bush didn’t sweep that away, too.

But Barack Obama is now presiding over a slow and steady recovery, with unemployment edging downward and optimism edging upward.

And in the fiscal cliff debate — like the debt ceiling debate last year — it is Obama who sounds moderate and seasoned and grounded.  His poll numbers, not surprisingly, are the highest they’ve been in three years.

Are you listening, John Boehner?

The answer to all this isn’t all that complicated. Republicans need to face, once and for all, that the revolution is over.

The grand drama that began with Barry Goldwaters messianic flame-out in the 1960s is finished.  Richard Parker is heading into the jungle, and he’s not looking back.

Translation:  The GOP is never going to remake America into the “real” America.  We’re not going to get whiter, or more Christian, or less gay, or more rural.  We’re not going to abandon every last scrap of the New Deal.

So what’s left then for Republicans?  Governing.  Being grown-ups.  Helping to run the country.  Protecting the borders.  Tweaking the economy.

You know, the boring business of stewarding the world’s largest economy and most important democracy.

Which means coming up with plans that acknowledge some cold, hard realities (i.e. everybody‘s going to wind up paying more taxes, and losing government services that really help people), while embracing the America we’re stuck with and not some Greatest Generation flashback nirvana.

It means shucking the Apocalistas and the people who are trying to get us all to buy gold and the wild-eyed dreamers who think we’ll all be okay if we just stockpile enough handguns.

As Pi can attest, this kind of journey isn’t easy.  But it’s also not a time for messing around.  You have to get busy when you’re on a raft and the sharks are circling.

You have to take some risks, tame the tiger, get control of your boat.

Otherwise, the next In Box essay about Republicans may wind up using the TV series “Lost” for its metaphor.  And nobody wants that.

Is secession talk the new birtherism?

Influential conservative radio host Alex Jones wants to break up the United States of America because Barack Obama won the election. (Photo: Wikipedia)

In the days since Barack Obama won a second free, peaceful and fair election, capturing more than 50% of the popular vote again, a growing number of conservatives have called for their states to secede from the United States of America.

The drumbeat of secessionist talk has been pushed most actively by the Drudge website, the most influential right-wing news organization after Fox News, and a major shaper of opinion in hard-right circles.

The latest call to arms comes from conservative talk show host Alex Jones — linked to by Drudge — who last week insisted that the results of the election should be overturned by individuals and groups willing to destroy the fabric of our nation.

“America is already gone. We must recognize that, pull out the New World Order, prosecute the criminals that have hijacked the Republic that don’t flee, and then reconstitute the Republic,” Jones argued.  “But we must first separate or die to then rejoin.”

The hugely influential Republican leader Ron Paul, meanwhile, chimed in with the view that he’s not interested in pushing for secession right now, but “I call for the principle of secession being recognized.”

According to Paul, states can “voluntarily leave any time they want” and he considers the possible dissolution of our union to be a viable option that should remain on the table.

This follows on the heels of right-wing Americans who have hung our national flag upside down, raised nutty, fact-free allegations about ballot-stuffing and corruption, and begun an absurd bluster about impeaching a president elected earlier this month.

Secession talk has been described in words that range from “largely symbolic” to “treasonous.”  I think it’s both.

No one takes any of this seriously as an action item. Alabama and Texas won’t be leaving the union any time soon.

But it is a dangerous trend when tens of thousands of conservative Americans are radicalized and poorly informed to the point that they would destroy our nation because their side lost a single election.

The liberal version of this bitter childishness is talk of “moving to Canada,” which gets tossed around every time an Al Gore or a John Kerry is toppled.

But there is a substantive difference between lazy-minded people talking about quitting their country and crazy-minded people talking about destroying it.

I don’t think the Republican Party is solely responsible for radicalizing Americans who are so frightened of our modern society that they are (quite literally) buying up handguns and talking about a new secession movement.

But I do think the GOP has indulged and cultivated those fears — and attempted to capitalize on them.  2012 should be the year that party leaders reject that approach.

Some conservatives have already taken a stand.  Eric Erickson at the influential RedState blog wrote bluntly that he has “no plans to secede from the union.  If you do, good luck with that, but this is not the place for you.”

He goes on to say that “dabblers in this latest nuttiness” are unwelcome in his version of the conservative movement.

“Our aim is to beat the Democrats, not beat a retreat to a Confederacy that Generals Grant and Sherman rent asunder well over a hundred years ago.”

I think he’s right.  Republicans can be a clear-voiced party of the mainstream center-right.  Or they can be the party of the angry, desperate backward-looking fringe.

This month’s election suggests that they can’t be both.

NY21: What in the world happened to Bill Owens?

CORRECTION:  Bill Owens did not vote for the Federal stimulus plan backed by Barack Obama in 2008.  He didn’t take office until the next year.  We regret the error.  Owens did later embrace the policy, advocating for stimulus projects in the North Country.

In a blog post yesterday, I copped to the fact that I sort of expected Democrat Bill Owens to lose his race against Republican Matt Doheny.

I called Owens’ campaign “quiet” and “lackluster.”  During the final weeks of the campaign, I was in room after room where the energy and audience support for Doheny seemed bigger and noisier.

When Siena’s second poll of the NY 21 showed that Doheny had closed a big double-digit gap and moved to within a single point of Owens, the three-year incumbent from Plattsburgh, I thought it showed real momentum.

But on election night, Owens was the one who surged past Doheny, picking up big margins in Clinton and St. Lawrence County, which lifted him to victory.

So what happened?  Here are five theories about why Owen prevailed.

1.  Incumbency really matters.  I don’t mean this in a cynical way.  Owens has drawn strong reviews during his first three years for helping constituents with individual problems, while also working hard on big problems, including the aftermath of tropical storm Irene, the Crowne Point Bridge crisis, and the regional economic downturn.  As a consequence, even many elected Republicans have endorsed him or described him as a good partner.  When early polls showed Owens leading by 13%, it was clear that his job performance had built a reservoir of good will.

2.  Owens had the centrist resume.  When Bill Owens first ran for office as a Democrat in 2009, a lot of people thought he was a Republican.  He had a strong record of helping boost economic growth in Clinton County.  After he went to Washington, he was careful to tack hard to the center.  Yes, he voted for Obamacare and later backed the Federal stimulus (which was approved before he took office).  But he also won a strong rating from the NRA and focused a lot of his attention on veterans and farm issues.  This made it harder for Doheny to tag him as a Nancy Pelosi liberal.

3.  Owens is establishment.  Matt Doheny tried to brand himself as the businessman in the race, but Owens has much deeper ties to North Country’s chamber of commerce class.  He’s served for decades on bank boards.  In his own law firm he partnered with legendary North Country state Senator Ron Stafford, a Republican.  And Owens himself has a North Country persona — less brash, less noisy, less young, less fast money — that’s much more in synch with the business community here.

4.  Owens campaign wasn’t that lackluster.  I stick by my argument that Doheny out-hustled Owens.  And the barrage of third-party money from conservatives was extraordinary.  But Owens built a big war chest and spent a ton of dough on campaign ads, including a couple that were highly effective.  He also quietly mobilized union groups to help with his get out the vote effort.  In the final days, he was supported by robo-calls from Bill Clinton and a big influx of spending from Democrats in Washington.

5. Owens faced a flawed candidate in a Democrat-friendly election.  In the past I’ve described Owens as the luckiest politician in North Country history.  This time, he won straight-up, without all the stars aligning in his favor.  But the simple truth is that Republicans are still suffering under a very damaged brand right now and tensions within the conservative movement are making it very tough indeed for even the best GOP candidates to prevail.  For all his good qualities, Doheny wasn’t strong or appealing enough to overcome those hurdles.

The bottom line is that Bill Owens has now emerged as the most influential and important politician in the North Country, and he no longer has an asterisk by his name.

If someone had suggested a half-decade ago that Owens’ political resume would grow to rival that of Stafford, his one-time Plattsburgh law partner, I would have told them that they were crazy.

But as Owens pivots from the campaign to tackle monumental issues including the farm bill and the fiscal cliff that threatens Fort Drum, he will be influencing decisions that will shape our region for decades to come.

 

NY21: What in the world happened to Matt Doheny?

Matt Doheny left the North Country’s political stage last week after falling at least 4,000 votes shy of toppling Democratic incumbent Bill Owens in the 21st district congressional race.

After three attempts at winning the region’s House seat, and spending at least $750,000 of his own money in this year’s contest, Doheny says he’s retiring from politics.

As the dust settles, I find myself circling back to the question of what happened to this once-promising, ambitious politician — a man his national party labeled a Young Gun.

What is it that prevented Doheny — a self-described moderate-conservative — from winning back a seat that once seemed like a safe bet for Republicans?

Here are six thoughts about what might have clipped his wings.

1.  Sheer bad luck.  If Bill Owens drew winning hands in 2009 and 2010, in the form of a nasty, divisive Republican-Conservative cat-fight, Doheny got the shaft.  His best efforts at unifying the center-right were stymied by bitterness and ideological disputes beyond his control.  By the time he was able to harness his side into anything like a unified force, Owens was already established as a three-year incumbent.  Doheny had also earned himself a fair amount of distrust from some conservative activists who felt like he got in the way of Doug Hoffman’s tea party destiny.

2.  An untimely resume.  Doheny wanted voters to see him as a straight-up businessman, but he made a ton of money on Wall Street doing the kinds of Bain Capital-style things that average citizens don’t understand and are increasingly leery of.  That CV might have looked A-OK before Washington bailed out Wall Street.  But now?  Doheny argued that skeptical questions about his business history were a kind of class warfare.  And he worked to brand Owens as a lawyer who didn’t understand entrepreneurship.  But in many ways the Democrat’s resume and history sounded more Main Street than Doheny’s.

3.  A cultural disconnect.  Matt Doheny was hard-charging, aggressive, forward-leaning, brash.  Those aren’t bad things.  But it didn’t always scan well. My sense is that it sometimes came across as glib.  It contrasted sharply with Owens quieter, more mature posture.  Doheny at times seemed more eager to talk than listen.  He sometimes answered hard, complex questions with blunt, one-word answers.  I’m not sure how that played with the moderate Republicans, women, and independents who decide North Country races.

4.  Personal baggage.  Doheny made a big deal of his decision to marry just before the election heated up, but I suspect that voters were still a bit leery of his personal history.  In 2004, Doheny was tagged twice for boating while intoxicated on the St. Lawrence River and Coast Guard officials described him as “uncooperative, very angry and combative.”  This year, Doheny was spotted in public with a woman other than his fiance, prompting the Glens Falls Post Star to question his “late-night dalliance in Washington D.C. that was videotaped and played up in the New York City tabloids.”

5.  That killer ad.  I’ve described Bill Owens’ campaign as “quiet” and “lackluster” and I stick by that description for the most part.  But there were a couple of TV spots produced by the Democrat’s team that I think landed serious blows on Doheny, in large part because they tapped into the narratives in points 2, 3 and 4 above.  The most effective was a spot called “Four Islands.”  I’m not saying the spot was entirely accurate or fair.  But did it do Doheny damage?  I’m guessing Yes.  Check it out.

6.  A shifting political tide.  Doheny himself has pointed out that the district’s voters tilted to Obama this year, making it tough for a Republican challenger to buck the regional trend.  I think it’s a fair argument.  But I also think it’s reasonable to point out that Doheny didn’t do much to distance himself from elements of his party that don’t play well here.  He was fiercely anti-union in a part of the world where unions are accepted even by many GOP leaders.  He made a big deal out of attacking President Obama and healthcare reform, and opposing tax hikes for the wealthy, even though those issues have complicated textures in the North Country.  Doheny, like a lot of Republicans around the country, bet the farm that average voters here were ready for a much more conservative line in Washington.  They were wrong.

I acknowledge cheerfully that this is all Monday morning quarterbacking.  There’s no prescience here.  If you had forced me to bet my nickel on one of these candidates last Tuesday morning, I guess I would have bet on Doheny

Given his defeat, the field for Republicans is wide open for 2014.  There are signs that Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate, may be interested in throwing his hat back in the ring.

Tomorrow in the In Box, we’ll look at how Owens won this race, and we’ll look at what it means that a Democrat has captured the North Country in a straight up contest with a sane, well-funded, centrist Republican.

Can the GOP weed out the crazies?

Is this man really good for the future of the Republican Party?

I know this will be heresy to many Republicans, but it’s time — long overdue, in fact — for the GOP to abandon Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment.

“Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” Reagan wrote.  “It’s a rule I followed during that campaign and have ever since.”

But that was in a different time, a different era.

These days, there are so many outright, full-bore crazies in the conservative movement that Republican leaders need to do some serious trash talking.

Even more, they need to do some gate-keeping.

How bad is it?  After Tuesday’s election, long-time Republican front-man Ted Nugent dispatched a series of tweets calling American voters “soulless fools.”

“What subhuman varmint believes others must pay for their obesity booze cellphones birthcontrol abortions & lives?” Nugent asked.

Donald Trump, meanwhile — one of Mitt Romney’s most visible surrogates during the election — called for “revolution” as the results were coming in.

“We can’t let this happen,” Trump insisted.  “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.”

And then there was Bill O’Reilly, blaming the outcome of the election on brown-skinned people who “want stuff.”

“It’s a changing country,” O’Reilly said, his voice breaking.  “It’s not a traditional country any more.”  He went on to clarify that “the white establishment is now the minority.”

And then there was popular conservative talk radio host Neil Boortz, who responded angrily to the idea of congratulating President Obama on his victory.

“I would like to congratulate Ted Bundy on sneaking into yet another sorority house and killing another coed. I would like to congratulate Adolf Hitler on his invasion of Poland. I would like to congratulate the — Al Qaeda for their successful attack on New York City. I would like to congratulate the Ansar al-Sharia crowd over there in Benghazi for their successful assault on our consulate. Congratulate Barack Obama? I’m sorry.”

This stuff isn’t “conservative” and it’s not “principled” and it’s not the “real” America.  It is, to bend a phrase, crazier than an outhouse rat.  It’s bonkers.

When you have top-tier Republican candidates talking about “legitimate” rape and pregnancies resulting from rape being “God’s will,” it’s vicious and it’s unhinged.

When you have leading Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain calling for construction of a fence along the Mexican border that is “electrified, with a sign on the other side that says it can kill you” it’s ugly and nuts.

When you have top conservative voices calling the President of the United States “a retard” (Ann Coulter) or “Barack the Magic Negro” (Rush Limbaugh), it’s grotesque and lunatic.

When conservative allies blame hurricanes on gay people or earthquakes on abortion, they aren’t devout or fundamental or churched.  They are creepy and weird.

So here’s the 12th commandment for the Republican Party.  If you say crazy things — about “diseased” immigrants, say, or about women advocating for contraception being “sluts” — you are out.

O-U-T.  Persona non grata.  Done.  Finished.  If you babble on about the President’s birth certificate, or his secret Muslim faith, you are banished.

The GOP has a steep enough hill to climb, rebuilding its damaged brand, without being hoisted again and again on the petard of the lunatic fringe.

Taking this kind of hard-line on nuttery will be frightening for party leaders because they’ve let so many kooks into the big tent.

It’s also true, as David Frumm has pointed out, that a lot of carnival barkers are making kajillions of dollars by co-opting the Republican brand, joining what he calls the “conservative entertainment complex.”

It’s good business — damn good business — for Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Michael Savage to bounce off the walls and tell people to go out and buy gold and survival kits in advance of the coming apocalypse.

But it’s not good for the Republican Party.  Not by a country mile.

So where does the GOP start?  How about saying good-bye to Trump?  Or Nugent? Surely, the GOP is capable of that kind of baby step toward sanity and self-policing.

If not, then we will certainly continue to see legitimate conservative causes — and smart, sane conservative voices — eclipsed and deligitimised by the kind of people you wouldn’t trust to baby-sit your dog, let alone run your country.

GOP outflanked in NY and nation

The Republican Party’s brand new crisis in New York state is a metaphor for what’s happening to the GOP nationally.

In case you missed it, while Mitt Romney and Senate Republicans were getting spanked around the country, Democrats were also quietly making moves to take final, complete control of the state legislature in Albany.

Yes, the votes are still being counted, but make no mistake:  New York Republicans thought they had this election in the bag and were convinced, especially after this year’s redistricting efforts, that their state Senate majority was safe.

What went wrong?  It’s pretty simple, really.  The Republican Party has been outflanked in the American political scene, not once but twice, and we’re seeing the impact here in the Empire state.

On the right, Conservatives and tea party activists are increasingly well organized and dogmatic.

Republicans who don’t toe the inflexible line carved out by purists will be punished, either with primary challenges or with third-party attacks during the general election.

We saw this drama play out through the spring in the GOP national primary, with Mitt Romney swatting desperately at ultra-conservatives who were unelectable, yet who held broad appeal with many voters inspired by tea party rhetoric.

Even after Romney moved to center himself for the final push to the White House, fringe Republicans kept popping up with loony arguments about “legitimate” rape and pregnancies caused by rape being “God’s will.”

Here in New York, meanwhile, conservative Republicans went hard at moderates in the state Senate, unseating Roy McDonald in Saratoga county in the primary.

Then Conservatives ran a third party challenger against Poughkeepsie moderate Stephen Saland in the 41st district Senate race.

Saland’s crime against conservative orthodoxy?  The Republican supported same-sex marriage.  Without that challenge, Saland would have won handily.

In an interview with Gannett,  Conservative Party chairman Mike Long was unrepentant about attacking the GOP from its right flank.

“I want [Republicans] to keep control but I was not going to throw the principles of the party out the window for the purpose of keeping control,” Long said.

“That’s the lesson that legislators have to understand. They have to understand that when they vote—many times, not all the times—votes have consequences.”

Meanwhile, however, Republicans are also being challenged on their left flank.

The Democratic Party, which is less purist, less insistent on orthodoxy than the conservative movement, has been running more moderate candidates.

Many of them are pro-business centrists.  They’re following Andrew Cuomo’s lead, taking a progressive line on social issues, while embracing regulatory and tax reform.

Terry Gipson, the man poised to steal away the traditionally Republican seat in the Hudson Valley, is a businessman and a moderate, who campaigned on jobs and the economy.

No longer are Democrats offering up candidates in upstate races who have no funding, and who campaign exclusively on liberal causes that give them little chance of winning.

With Democrats willing to move to the center, the electorate in New York state is also becoming more and more Democratic.  That combination gives them a powerful edge in elections.

In an interview yesterday with NCPR, state Senator Betty Little said her Republican Party will have to change to compete in this new climate.

“I think [party leaders] have to look deep and look at where the country is going.  And I think they need to be a little more centrist than what they have been in this election.  They do need to be more inclusive,” she argued.

But in the months and years ahead, the path walked by the GOP will likely grow narrower and narrower. Welcome to the razor’s edge.

If Democrats continue to gobble up moderate positions — pro-business, pro-growth — while Conservatives continue demanding hard-line social stances — anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage — Republican lawmakers may find themselves toppling.

Indeed, we’ve already seen some talented, moderate Republicans leave the scene or change flags altogether.  Dede Scozzafava now works for Democrat Andrew Cuomo.  Teresa Sayward endorsed Democrat Bill Owens and Barack Obama.

Those are the kind of women who might have been the future face of the GOP.

Now, instead, they’ve moved on — weary of ferocious attacks from conservatives.  The fear for Republicans is that more and more voters will do the same.

 

 

The chink in the Democrats’ armor

[NOTE:  This essay first appeared in May of this year.  I've posted it again here with a few small additions.]

I’ve reported here repeatedly that the Democratic Party is riding a long-term wave of demographic and cultural trends that bode well for its future.

A more urban, multi-ethnic, women-empowered society — and those are all measurable, real-world changes our nation is experiencing right now — will almost certainly benefit the party of Obama and Pelosi.

But as we head into the crucible of the 2012 election, there is still a massive, gaping omission in the story that the Democrats are telling to voters, one they will need to remedy if they are to become the party of the future.

Put simply, Democrats need to explain how they will pay for the government which they believe America wants and needs.

Before I explain what I mean, let me detour for a moment to point out that Democrats don’t need to spend much time or energy arguing in favor of their vision of “big” government.

By overwhelming margins, Americans support all the big-ticket items that make up about 90% of the US budget, from Social Security to Medicare and Medicaid, to education, the military and homeland security.

Yes, we all grumble about pork and waste.  But that’s just the normal bird-dogging of citizens who, quite reasonably, want to get good value for our tax dollars.

There is no evidence that voters have bought into the broader, conservative, Ron-Paul-esque notion that the fabric of government itself needs to be unraveled or dismantled.

When pressed, Americans are even pretty comfortable with the idea that there should be an appropriate safety net, to help citizens who stumble, or fall into poverty, especially if they are children or senior citizens.

And we also want — indeed, we demand — a robust network of police and first responders.

The big question, then, isn’t what government should look like in the future.  The real question — and, yes, I lay this predominately at the feet of Democrats — is how to pay for it.  How to sustain it over the long term.

[Why do Democrats' carry this burden?  Because they are, for the moment, the political movement that supports maintaining something that looks more or less like the status quo.  The modern Republican Party does not -- which is one reason they lost big last week.]

Currently, roughly half of all US spending is borrowed.  Which means that any vision for a long-term, stable government on the scale that Democrats (and their constituents) want will have to include some enormous changes.

Some cherished services will almost certainly have to be cut, not because leaders oppose them ideologically but because they are just too expensive.

I’m guessing that in the future people probably won’t be able to retire at age 65 and draw government checks for the next quarter century of their lives.

[I'm also guessing that a moment is coming when Americans will no longer feel comfortable spending more on our military than the next five most powerful nations combined.]

Other services will have to be provided more cheaply, either by allowing the private sector to deliver them (not always the solution, but in some cases it might help) or by demanding concessions from public employees.

(The era of lifetime health insurance and pensions ended long ago for private sector workers, and I’m betting the time has come for public sector workers to see a big change as well.)

We will also have to generate a lot more revenue.  Some of that will come from growth, as the economy bounces back, but it’s also time to level with the American people:  all of us will have to pay more if this is really the government we want.

Taxing rich people won’t get us there.

The short-term reality, of course, is that Republicans will block enactment of any vision that achieves a sustainable balance.  They’ll argue that even when balanced with spending cuts, any new tax revenues are a socialist scourge.

But that doesn’t mean Democrats can’t or shouldn’t lay out what their plan looks like.

Some on the left will point out that Republicans have also quietly embraced big government, and done little to bring down our national debt.  This is true.

Most economists believe the various budgets put forward by GOP leaders over the last year would grow rather than shrink the long-term deficit, because of massive tax cuts that aren’t off-set by spending cuts, and because of plans to grow the military.

But fair or not, the identity and core values of the Republican Party aren’t linked to the health, quality, and sustainability of the Federal government.

On the contrary.  Many conservatives would be quite cheerful seeing even good programs cut or eliminated, even if it requires insolvency to get us there.

So for better or worse, Democrats carry the torch of the government model created during the New Deal.  They will be the ones to figure out how to pay for it, and put it on an even keel, or no one will.

Until President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put forward that vision, they will remain vulnerable to the suggestion that their vision, no matter how laudable or popular, is simply a pipe dream.

And right now, that pipe dream is adding about $1 trillion a year to the national debt.

Whoot! In Box nails Electoral College prediction

This journalist is ready for his fifteen minutes of fame. Photo: Mark Kurtz

I’ve been accused today of triumphalism, so I thought I might as well indulge in some.

On October 30th, I predicted that Barack Obama would win a second turn and I laid out this set of numbers:

Come election day, score my prognostication skills against this mark:  Obama wins the popular vote 49%-48% and he captures the electoral college by a 332-206 margin.

For now, at least, with Florida in Obama’s column, that’s exactly the mark the Democrat hit.  I also made a prediction about the reason for his victory:

On election day, the ground game advantage that Barack Obama’s campaign has been bragging about will turn out to be real.

Snap!  And I also laid out predictions about the exact map that would get Obama to 332 electoral college votes.

To hit this mark, Obama will win the states that are now essentially tied, including Colorado, Florida and Virginia.

Obama’s margin will be extremely narrow in a surprising number of places — Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin — but he will eke out wins.

B-ingo.

I will acknowledge that I got the popular vote percentage wrong by ONE STINKING POINT, putting the final tally at 49-48% rather than the actual outcome of 50-48%.

But I only acknowledge it to point out how amazingly close I was.  I know, I know, shameful gloating is never pretty.  And yes, it’s always better to be lucky than good.

But when you have a day when you beat Larry Sabato, Nate Silver and most of the truly talented punditocracy, I say you’re owed a victory lap.

In my case, that means taking myself out to the local diner with a good sci-fi novel and ordering a big breakfast with a side of bacon…but you get the idea.

Memo to GOP: It’s not just about demographics

Time for an end to magical thinking?

In the first flush of post-election analysis, a lot of pundits are pointing to the massive structural problems within the modern Republican Party.

And it’s true that the GOP has embraced policies and ideas that have steadily alienated the minorities — primarily Hispanics — who make up the fastest-growing slice of the American electorate.

Conservatives have also infuriated many women (who went for Barack Obama by double-digit margins Tuesday) with bitter and divisive talk about rape and abortion and contraceptives.

Women, it happens, are on the rise in our society, taking more positions of power, moving into careers that generate more wealth, and earning more high-level college degrees.

So yes, Republicans are on the wrong side of history when it comes to appealing to the next generation of American voters.

But that’s not the whole story.

The bigger, more painful truth is that conservatives — who once prided themselves on being realistic, grounded pragmatists — have embraced a basket of ideas that range from the fanciful to the frightening.

Global warming is probably the easiest place to start this conversation.  Scientists say it’s real.  Scientists say we’re causing it.  And those same scientists say climate change poses huge dangers to our society.

Yet many conservatives continue to simply pretend it’s not true, exhibiting the same kind of magical thinking they accused hippies of indulging in through the 1960s and ’70s.

The same goes for modern conservative economics.   The Ayn Randian vision of all-powerful and benevolent free markets is idealistic to the point of dreaminess.

Yes, capitalism is a powerful and important tool, one of the pillars of our society.

But without progressive tax policies, common sense regulation, and other modest interventions by a democratically elected civil authority, capitalism produces some really awful things, ranging from huge income inequality to toxic medicines.

That’s not an ideological argument.  It is observed, recorded fact.

It is also long past time for Republicans to finally and utterly abandon a political brand based in large measure on appealing to the racial anxieties of white people.

The GOP — in its common-sense era — was the laboratory for pro-active thinking about civil rights, economic fairness and racial equity.

But too many party leaders have bought into the “southern strategy” delusion that people of color are lazy, or unAmerican, or — I’m not making this up — diseased.

So enough already with the “bell curve” winking and “welfare queen” nudging and the “urban” dog whistling. Enough of Fox News’ fixation with the one pathetic Black Panther activist standing outside the polling station.

Those characterizations of minorities in America aren’t factually true and they’re not helping the conservative movement win elections, not anymore.

The GOP also has a big problem with politicians who are, bluntly and plainly, incompetent or nutty.  When you have top-tier Senate candidates talking about “legitimate” rape, it’s bad — very bad.

When many of your most prominent legislators are people like Michelle Bachmann and Alan West, it’s bad, very bad.  And when your most prominent voices are bigoted oafs or crude parodies like Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump, it’s even worse.

Finally Republicans have to get over their phobia about cities.  American cities are where most of the wealth and culture are created in our society.  That’s where most of our people live.

That’s not to say that anyone wants to abandon beautiful elements of our small town roots, but it’s time to acknowledge that East LA is just as true to our culture as Mayberry.

The modern conservative claim is that without this kind of looniness, this ginned-up base froth, the GOP just can’t win elections.

But that argument is belied by the long and honorable track record of post-War Republican policy moderates who won handily, from Dwight Eisenhower to Richard Nixon to George H.W. Bush.

And it’s also belied by yesterday’s dismal results, in the presidential race and in Senate contests.

So how does the Republican Party begin to turn the corner, rediscovering its good old fashioned boring sense of responsible political and fiscal duty?

The first step is to acknowledge that Barack Obama is the legitimate president of the United States, a man who despite his skin color, his middle name, his Chicago roots, and his post-modern life story is every bit as “real” and American as any other citizen.

The second step is to confront the reality that he’s not outside the political mainstream in our Republic, and never has been.

That’s not to say Republicans have to agree with his ideas.  But when the president talks about returning taxation levels to those of the Clinton years, it’s not radical communism, or anti-capitalism, or a secret Muslim colonial-hating plot.

It’s just a policy that you oppose.  And that’s enough.

When he creates an oversight board to propose new ways to reduce the costs of Medicare, it’s not a “death” panel.  It’s just a policy you oppose.  And that’s enough.

And when he uses measures like an industry bail-out or a stimulus — which have been standard tools for managing economies for decades — he’s not staging a socialist coup.

In practical terms, this means Republican leaders should fundamentally and publicly reject the idea that anyone should want our elected president to fail.

Top GOP officials should make it clear that they plan to compromise with their President, offering significant concessions on everything from healthcare to taxes to entitlements – and that they fully expect him to compromise in turn.

Then conservatives should pivot to the real task at hand, which is dragging their own movement and party back to the real principles of American conservatism — moderation, civility, pragmatism, fact-based thinking and fiscal responsibility.

When this work is done, our nation will be a little less divided, a little less unhinged.

And in 2016, Republicans might just win back a sizable chunk of Hispanic and perhaps even African American votes, while also healing their dangerous rift with women.