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Attacking the cities

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Image National Conference of State Legislatures

While North Carolina’s HB2 anti-LGBT bill has received lots of press attention, it is simply the latest attack by Republican-led state legislatures against cities filled with large blocks of blue voters, the next phase of the Defund the Left strategy. Like Michigan’s 2015 “Death Star” preemption bill (HB 4052) which, as introduced, overrode “all local ordinances governing employers’ relationships with their employees,” but also “any local ordinance that controls minimum wage, benefits, sick leave, union organizing and strikes, wage disputes” and more, North Carolina’s HB2 is its kin. PR Watch looked at the trend back in February:

With Congress gridlocked and a majority of state legislatures controlled by right-wing interests, cities have become laboratories of democracy for progressive policies like a higher minimum wage, LGBTQ protections, or parental leave.

In response, corporate interests and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have increasingly been turning to state “preemption” measures—some of them unprecedentedly aggressive—to override an array of progressive policy gains at the city or county level.

“2015 saw more efforts to undermine local control on more issues than any year in history,” said Mark Pertschuk, director of the watchdog group Preemption Watch.

Last year, state legislatures in at least 29 states introduced bills to block local control over a range of issues, from the minimum wage, to LGBTQ rights, to immigration, according to Preemption Watch. Seventeen states considered more than one preemption bill.

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An “existential sense of betrayal”

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Democratic leaders have finally figured out that “The Bern” has “tapped into the zeitgeist of college-age voters, a key demographic for the party in a presidential election year,” Politico reported yesterday. In spite of Hillary Clinton’s momentum coming out of her Nevada caucuses win on Saturday, Sanders’ unexpected strength and fundraising ability has Democrats studying his message and trying to figure out how to incorporate it into their own:

… Democrats, particularly in the House, are actively strategizing about how they can reach the young, white voters who propelled Sanders to victory in New Hampshire and a near win in Iowa. And if Sanders can rocket out of obscurity to challenge a political heavyweight like Clinton, they admit it would be wise for Democrats to try and incorporate his most successful messages.

“I think Bernie Sanders has a very positive message,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared at a recent party meeting in Baltimore, echoing comments she’s made elsewhere. “It’s about fairness, it’s about opportunity. … I’m very proud of the way Sen. Sanders has expanded the universe of young people especially interested in the political process.”

Still, the progressive love for Sanders is something of a catch-22 for House Democrats. The majority of Democrats in the House are liberal but the party needs to win support from blue collar and moderate voters to retake seats in swing districts.

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It takes more than an Obama-style campaign

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Photo by Molly Theobald for the aflcio2008 (PA: Working America Voter ID and Persuasion)
[CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

People began asking early in 2015 if the local Democratic party was working on 2016. I told them we started working on 2016 the day after the election in 2014.

Each week I pick up messages at our local Democratic headquarters. For months, people have called to ask how they can get in touch with the Bernie Sanders campaign. (Even a disenchanted Republican now and then.) For months, I’ve directed them to the grassroots group organizing for Sanders here. Several hundred volunteers. On the ground it looks like 2008 all over again. They are phone banking out of our offices twice a week. Bernie Sanders is not a registered Democrat, but the memo from DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz says he’s running on our ticket.

I also get (fewer) calls from people asking how they can get in touch with the local Hillary Clinton campaign. I tell them I wish I knew. They are nowhere to be seen. Unless you’ve got the money to attend a high-dollar fundraiser downstate. Clinton volunteers could use our space too. But so far there aren’t any.

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Falling in love again

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By Alan Light (Own work by the original uploader) [GFDL ( orCC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It is a cliché by now, the observation Bill Clinton once attributed to a friend, “In every presidential election, Democrats want to fall in love. Republicans just fall in line.” But being a cliché does not mean it isn’t true. Mostly. To their great chagrin, the GOP’s base seems to cheating on them by falling in love with Donald Trump.

A flurry of articles in the last 10 days have pointed out both Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ weaknesses as candidates. They also have their strengths. Those are worth debating on their merits (without rancor, please). But as the cliché suggests, what many don’t acknowledge they really want in an elected leader is a soul mate. As Seinfeld would say, not that there’s anything wrong with that. If that’s what you really want. (Cue Mick Jagger.)

I saw this phenomenon up close at ScruHoo when Heath Shuler ran for re-election in 2010. Progressive readers in the Cesspool of Sin by then had had enough of our Blue Dog and cited a catalog of sins for which they would never forgive him (and certainly would never again vote for him). I got curious. A few weeks later I posted:

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Had enough and then some

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Photo by AFGE via Creative Commons

In a conversation over the weekend, a knowledgeable rural organizer raised the prospect that in a an election with Bernie Sanders on the Democratic ticket, conservative, white, working-class rural voters might be persuaded to back Sanders. It’s not the first time the idea has been raised. Depending on whether or not Trump winds up the Republican nominee, it’s not necessarily a wild idea.

Americans have a remarkable capacity for compartmentalizing. It is that capacity that might explain how it is possible that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders can appeal to some of the same white, working-class voters. Yet, the idea that some Trump supporters might be persuaded to vote for Sanders, the declared socialist, seems patently absurd. At Political Animal, D.R. Tucker addresses that forcefully:

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Not a dime’s worth of difference?

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A couple of articles bring to mind the “lesser of two evils” argument one often hears on the left. That is, from someone who refuses to vote strategically for a candidate they perceive as the lesser of two evils rather than for someone who better represents their (the voters’) true views and aspirations. Or to stay home in protest. Long term, they’d argue, that is voting strategically — if there is ever to be hope of moving the country’s needle left. (Although Peter Beinart argues that’s already happening.)

It seems many Republicans and Democrats face a similar “lesser of two evils” dilemma this year.

Both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump “send shivers down GOP spines,” blares a Politico headline:

One growing worry about Trump or Cruz, top party officials, donors, and operatives across the country say, is that nominating either man would imperil lawmakers in down-ballot races, especially those residing in moderate states and districts.

“At some point, we have to deal with the fact that there are at least two candidates who could utterly destroy the Republican bench for a generation if they became the nominee,” said Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We’d be hard-pressed to elect a Republican dogcatcher north of the Mason-Dixon or west of the Mississippi.”

He says that like it would be a bad thing.

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Poisoning the well helps no one

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God help me, I am about to agree with Carly Fiorina. During Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Fiorina interrupted other bickering candidates to say, “This is why the nation is fed up…”

It is an article of faith on the left that “both sides do it” is a systematic dodge by the mainstream media to keep from calling out the right for reflexive dishonesty and worse. The media fears being accused of bias and losing precious “access.” For the most part, that is true. But something finally got under my skin this week about something both sides really do do: poisoning the well.

Distrust of government is already endemic. Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post declared that last Friday’s “What was fake on the Internet this week” would be her last column debunking Internet hoaxes, pranks, and urban legends (emphasis mine):

Frankly, this column wasn’t designed to address the current environment. This format doesn’t make sense. I’ve spoken to several researchers and academics about this lately, because it’s started to feel a little pointless. Walter Quattrociocchi, the head of the Laboratory of Computational Social Science at IMT Lucca in Italy, has spent several years studying how conspiracy theories and misinformation spread online, and he confirmed some of my fears: Essentially, he explained, institutional distrust is so high right now, and cognitive bias so strong always, that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested in consuming information that conforms with their views — even when it’s demonstrably fake.

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New Democrats are not amused

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It was their party and they’ll cry if they want to. Centrist Democrats threatened by the party’s Warren Wing find themselves out of step with a more populist message. Is it really a “lurch” to the left, or are Democrats beginning to find their voices again? Liberal is no longer the epithet conservatives once made it.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank explained last week how a few remaining Blue Dogs made protest votes during the election for Speaker of the House. “Colin Powell,” declared Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper. “Jim Cooper,” voted Gwen Graham of Florida, another centrist Democrat. Other Democrats voted in unison for Nancy Pelosi. Except for Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. She voted for Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat.

Third Way, “a vestige of the New Democratic movement,” issued a report that blames the populist wing for the Democrats losing ground and registration since 2008. Democrats should “rigorously question the electoral value of today’s populist agenda,” Third Way argues. Milbank is not so sure:

It was a good effort, but Third Way came up short. First, there really aren’t two wings of the party anymore; the pro-business Democrats have lost. “There’s zero question,” Jonathan Cowan, president of Third Way, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday, “that the party is now a populist party.”

It’s also dubious to say, as Third Way does, that the elections of 2010, 2012 and 2014 were about Democratic populism; that theme has only become prominent recently. Also suspect is the Third Way argument, often heard from corporate interests, that reducing inequality could hurt growth. Plenty of evidence says otherwise.

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80 percent of winning is just showing up

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People ask me, Bernie or Hillary? I tell them I don’t care. My fight is not in Washington, D.C. It is here. I care that someone from the left side of the aisle wins the presidency in November 2016. I need those next 2-3 Supreme Court picks. I’m just not that particular which left-leaning president gets to pick them. And good luck getting them approved by a Republican-controlled Senate. (More on that later.)

The old saying goes: Democrats want to fall in love; Republicans just fall in line. You might have trouble convincing John Boehner of the latter, but the former still seems operative. Bernie-mania is this year’s Obama-mania. It is as if the left’s disappointments with the Obama administration never happened. They’ve found a brand new lover and it will be totally different this time. For a movement confident of its intellectual heft, we are really slow learners.

Matthew Yglesias points out the obvious:

The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Indeed, even the House infighting reflects, in some ways, the health of the GOP coalition. Republicans are confident they won’t lose power in the House and are hungry for a vigorous argument about how best to use the power they have.

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It’s human nature

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Writing at Wonkblog, Max Ehrenfreund examined the psychology of Trump supporters (and the rest of us) the other day. It’s nothing shocking, yet we seem to have to be reminded of it regularly:

From a psychological perspective, though, the people backing Trump are perfectly normal. Interviews with psychologists and other experts suggest one explanation for the candidate’s success — and for the collective failure to anticipate it: The political elite hasn’t confronted a few fundamental, universal and uncomfortable facts about the human mind.

We like people who talk big.

We like people who tell us that our problems are simple and easy to solve, even when they aren’t.

And we don’t like people who don’t look like us.

I might add a few others, but that’s a good start.

“Really, we’re not giving people enough credit,” argues John Hibbing, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. “We have to take this seriously. You can look down your nose if you want to, but these people aren’t going away.”

Looking down your nose at people. That’s another one: We don’t like people who don’t like us.

The second one recalls the famous H.L. Mencken quote: “There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.” Mencken must have met plenty of people like Trump. There are plenty out there. Still …

“People like the idea that deep down, the world is simple; that they can grasp it and that politicians can’t,” Hibbing said. “That’s certainly a message that I think Trump is radiating.”

“Radiating” is a good descriptor. The left puts too much faith in rationality and language, when that’s not how most people operate. They read a lot from nonverbal cues. As I wrote a last year:

One of my favorite southernisms is, “I wouldn’t trust anyone my dog doesn’t like.” That, I caution canvassers, is how most Americans really vote, like it or not. And if you don’t purge the thought, those “low information” voters? They will know you think they’re stupid before you do. Right before you ask for their votes.

Campaign schools drill two things during their trainings. First, we are not normal people. Normal people don’t spend a weekend learning to run political campaigns. Lefty wonks should not try to talk to normal people the way we talk to each other. Second, your job when knocking doors is not to persuade people or to engage them in debate. Your job is to knock, smile, be polite, drop the literature, and, most of all, leave a good impression. If the voters like you, they will vote for your candidate. In many cases it really is that simple. It doesn’t satisfy our need to win some philosophical victory or to browbeat people into submission with the power of our superior arguments, but that’s how things really work in spite of how we think they should.

There is more at the link about tribalism, zero-sum thinking, and “our species’s unconscious and its unchanging predispositions.” Fascinating stuff.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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