Friday, December 25, 2015

Aside From The Legalistic Bribes, What Makes Politicians Tick?


Not long ago a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked respondents about their own incumbent Member of Congress: "In the next election for U.S. Congress, do you feel that your representative deserves to be reelected, or do you think that it is time to give a new person a chance?" Only 35% thought their Member had earned reelection. 57% said it is time for a new person. (So far, Blue America has only endorsed 10 House incumbents for reelection, the ones who do merit reelection.)

We've never endorsed a Republican, although we came close in 2012 when Grand Rapids and Battle Creek Democrats nominated a corrupt conservative, Steve Pestka, to run to the right of libertarian Justin Amash and Pestka proved himself to be more anti-Choice and more homophobic, as well as a warmonger. MI-03 voters reelected Amash 173,529 (53%) to 145,117 (44%), even though Obama had won the district 2 years earlier. And, in case you're wondering, no, the DCCC did not learn the obvious lesson about not recruiting right-wing Republican-lite (or, in this, case, Republican-heavy) candidates. And it isn't just the decrepit and failed DCCC. Beltway Democrats are conservative by nature.

In a post on a related topic for the New Republic, David Dayen makes some pretty unpalatable-- unpalatable for progressives-- arguments about the Democratic Party establishment. "[T]he overwhelming choice of the Democratic establishment," he wrote, "leading Sanders in endorsements among major elected officials by 195 to 2, is Hillary Clinton. And while Clinton has endorsed an agenda that puts her mildly to the left of where she was in her 2008 presidential run, that has lapsed somewhat as she’s pivoted to the general election."
And in one key area, she’s held to a policy vow that leaves her helpless to pursue anything close to a liberal agenda.

This came up in last weekend’s debate. Clinton maintained an important dividing line between her and Sanders, promising “no middle class tax raises,” a promise she also made in 2008. The problem is that, in her version, the middle class includes families making up to $250,000 a year, which encompasses around 97 percent of the population.

The $250,000 dividing line actually goes back to the first Clinton Administration’s demarcation of the top marginal tax rate (inflation has subsequently raised that to $464,000). And Barack Obama used the same vow to prevent tax increases on the so-called middle class. This has caused problems. Obama could barely fund his health care entitlement expansion by solely taxing corporations and the wealthy (the “Cadillac tax,” which dipped down to union worker plans, was delayed last week). By setting the tax bar at $250,000, Obama had to compromise to $400,000 for repealing the Bush tax cuts.

Because Democrats care more about deficits than Republicans--witness all the boasting about low deficits in the Obama era--opposition to broad-based taxes handcuffs the liberal project. Public investment in roads, schools, and other forms of infrastructure dropped in 2013 to its lowest level since World War II and hasn’t moved appreciably since. The country has advanced in several areas in the Obama years, but on the fundamental issue of the size of government, conservatives have succeeded.

With an aging population, and with the cost of what government buys-- health care, education, and defense, mostly-- going up at levels above inflation, government spending must rise just to maintain the current inadequate level of services. To do that you must either run larger deficits or raise taxes, and just keeping those taxes confined to “the rich” won’t bring in enough revenue.

For Clinton to double down on the $250,000 marker while making no promise to increase the deficit creates a one-way ratchet for public investment. She can announce all kinds of promising ideas-- paid family leave, debt-free college, early childhood education-- but if she refuses to either pay for them or decide that paying for them isn’t necessary given their boosts to overall investment, they aren’t likely to occur.

Clinton has rejected a paid family leave bill from her home-state senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, because it would increase individual payroll taxes by 0.2 percent, about a $1.38 increase for the median wage earner. If she opposes that, Sanders said in the debate, “She is disagreeing with FDR on Social Security, LBJ on Medicare.” It’s a disavowal of universal benefits that happen to be the most robust, secure, and popular.

Democratic campaign operatives claim this is necessary, that the public won’t accept broad-based taxes in exchange for more expansive services. If that’s the case, then you cannot claim that America is moving in a more liberal direction. A generation ago, Democrats would make the case that a strong America is worth paying for, that social insurance programs that benefit everyone need buy-in from everyone. And they would also note that taxing things we want to discourage, from cigarettes to high-frequency trades, has salutary effects even if someone who isn’t rich occasionally pays them.

People react negatively to taxes because they don’t feel like they get value for them. Democrats, as evidenced by Clinton, don’t try to tell them otherwise. They tell you that someone else will have to pay. That makes this notion Beinart proposes of an America drifting leftward impossible. He marshals decent support for the idea that the public, especially the younger generation, is ready for bolder, more activist government. But the politicians are lagging far behind.

Writing for the National Journal Thursday, Jack Fitzpatrick lays out a scenario which-- if we had a remotely competent DCCC that wasn't utterly crippled with conservative notions and self-serving corruption-- would be considered a reasonable case for the Democrats winning back the House. There's no chance anything like that can happen while the recruiting and messaging precepts put in place by Wall Street puppets Rahm Emanuel, Chris Van Hollen and Steve Israel dictate everything the DCCC does. Fitzpatrick's subject though, isn't the DCCC, but the likely impact on congressional races if Herr Trumpf winds up beating Cruz for the GOP presidential nomination. When asking Republican incumbents how they feel about Herr at the top of the ticket they'd have to run on, most ducked the question in typically cowardly politician fashion. "Already facing chal­len­ging races," wrote Fitzpatrick, "these mem­bers are now in a tough spot: Do they push back against the Repub­lic­an poll-lead­er, craft­ing a mod­er­ate pro­file but alienat­ing po­ten­tial sup­port­ers? Do they em­brace him and his sup­port­ers? Or do they keep quiet and hope the na­tion­al fo­cus on Trump ends be­fore they have to an­swer for their party’s loudest voice?"
The three who took a clear side were split: Rep. Cresent Hardy of Nevada said he would sup­port Trump if he were the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee, while Reps. Robert Dold of Illinois and Car­los Cur­belo of Flor­ida said they would not.

“I’m a Re­pub­lic­an first,” Hardy said, cla­ri­fy­ing that he hasn’t de­cided which can­did­ate he’ll sup­port in the primar­ies. “I am go­ing to sup­port the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee, be­cause I be­lieve that that nom­in­ee is go­ing to be by far-- not just a little bit, by far-- bet­ter than the al­tern­at­ive.”

Cur­belo and Dold went the oth­er way.

Un­like most Re­pub­lic­ans, Cur­belo hasn’t held back his criticism of Trump. In Ju­ly, he spec­u­lated the real es­tate mogul was ac­tu­ally a Demo­crat­ic plant, cit­ing Trump’s friend­ship with the Clin­tons. He re­peated that claim in an inter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al in which he called Trump a “fraud,” an “op­por­tun­ist,” a “farce,” a “clown,” a "liar,” and “an em­bar­rass­ment to our coun­try,” all in less than 10 minutes.

“No, no way,” Cur­belo said when asked if he would sup­port Trump as the nom­in­ee. “He’s not go­ing to win the nomination, and if he did I wouldn’t sup­port him. I wouldn’t sup­port the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee, either. But I would certainly not sup­port Don­ald Trump.”

Dold’s of­fice de­clined a re­quest for an in­ter­view, but his campaign spokes­man offered a state­ment mak­ing the con­gress­man’s po­s­i­tion clear.

“Con­gress­man Dold be­lieves Don­ald Trump’s dis­gust­ing and of­fens­ive com­ments to­ward His­pan­ics, vet­er­ans, wo­men, Muslims-- the list goes on-- dis­qual­i­fy him from hold­ing the of­fice of Pres­id­ent of the United States,” Dold cam­paign spokes­man Brad Stew­art said in an email. “Con­gress­man Dold does not and will not sup­port Don­ald Trump’s candidacy for Pres­id­ent.”

Most of their Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues haven’t been so ex­pli­cit: After Trump’s anti-Muslim pro­pos­al, Rep. Mike Coff­man of Col­or­ado re­leased a state­ment say­ing he aims to “rep­res­ent all of the cit­izens of my dis­trict,” but didn’t spe­cific­ally ad­dress Trump. His of­fice de­clined an in­ter­view re­quest, and when reached at the Cap­it­ol, Coff­man said, “Call my of­fice,” be­fore duck­ing in­to the House cham­ber.

Coff­man en­dorsed Sen. Marco Ru­bio in the primary, but he told Roll Call he was “not go­ing to go there” when asked if he would sup­port Trump as the nom­in­ee.

Rep. Steve Knight’s of­fice also de­clined an in­ter­view re­quest, and said the Cali­for­nia Re­pub­lic­an will not com­ment on the pres­id­en­tial race at all un­til next year. Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock of Vir­gin­ia said in a ra­dio in­ter­view that Trump’s pro­pos­al was “un­con­sti­tu­tion­al” and “un-Amer­ic­an.” But her office de­clined an in­ter­view re­quest and did not an­swer wheth­er she would sup­port Trump as the nom­in­ee.

Rep. Will Hurd’s of­fice also did not re­spond when asked if he would sup­port Trump as the nom­in­ee. The Texas Republican, a former CIA agent who serves on the Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee, has called Trump’s em­phas­is on building a wall on the Mex­ico bor­der “the most ex­pens­ive way to do bor­der se­cur­ity, and it’s the least ef­fect­ive.” Still, des­pite rep­res­ent­ing a 71-per­cent His­pan­ic dis­trict, Hurd hasn’t offered a Cur­belo-like re­but­tal to Trump.

These can­did­ates rep­res­ent the front­lines of Demo­crats’ attempts to chip away at a his­tor­ic House Re­pub­lic­an majority. Cur­belo is run­ning for reelec­tion in a newly drawn dis­trict that Pres­id­ent Obama would have car­ried with 55 per­cent of the vote in 2012. Obama won Coff­man’s dis­trict with 52 percent, and Mitt Rom­ney car­ried Knight’s, Com­stock’s, and Hurd’s dis­tricts with less than 52 per­cent.

While Hardy stands with Trump more than oth­er swing-district Re­pub­lic­ans, and cer­tainly more than Cur­belo and Dold, his own lan­guage about sens­it­ive policy is­sues sounds more like that of former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush. Hardy repres­ents a dis­trict in which non-His­pan­ic whites con­sti­tute just 48 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, and where Obama won with 54 per­cent of the vote in 2012.
Hardy is an accidental congressman who didn't so much win as watch the Democratic incumbent lose due to DCCC incompetence and ugly Steve Israel-racism. In November, the progressive candidate best positioned to end Hardy's cowardly political career is Democratic state Senator Ruben Kihuen, who sees the Trumpf problem very differently from the way the craven Hardy looks at it. After all, who wants a congressman who says he's "a Republican first," rather than an American first. If Cresent Hardy is unwilling or unable to defend his own party from the inherent dangers of Trumpf and his incipient fascism, how is he going to help defend the country that's given him so many benefits?

You can help Ruben Kihuen defeat Hardy (and Trumpf) here. Even an 8 year old knows you have to stand up to a bully or he'll just keep getting worse and worse.

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