Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Class Of Rahm-- Why Not Move Beyond That Kind Of Disastrous Politics


Wall Street owned centrists, Rahm Emanuel and Jim Himes, New Dems

This week a congressman called to ask me where the DCCC had gone wrong. I suggested he read one of the dozen posts-- like this one or this one-- I had written about it sinceTuesday but he made it clear he wanted to discuss it. Since he's a member of Pelosi's leadership team, I gave it a shot. But he didn't really want to listen; he was just doing some kind of bizarre due diligence and couldn't have cared less about the substance of what I had to say, especially when it was about anything relating to anything that happened before he was elected.

I tried telling him how New Dems (Rahm) and Blue Dogs (Israel) have a long history of forcing progressives out of primaries to make room for conservatives like themselves. And I started telling him the story of how Rahm and Steny Hoyer forced a local Florida activist, union member and progressive out of the race against Mark Foley, who Rahm knew was molesting underage male pages and has every intention of making sure voters were aware of that as well-- after it was too late for the Republicans to get Foley's name off the ballot. But Rahm and Hoyer didn't want some free-thinking liberal like Lutrin in Congress. They had a conservative Republican in mind, Tim Mahoney, who they got to switch his party registration and run as a Democrat. Mahoney won and immediately did three things we can expect from conservatives: he joined the Blue Dogs; he started voting consistently with the Republicans; and he started illicit sexual shenanigans that led to his own defeat after one scandal-plagued term.

I would have been happy to tell my congressional caller dozens of stories like this about how the DCCC twists the definition of recruiting the "best" candidates regardless of ideology. But he doesn't have much patience or attention span and clearly called for an other reason aside from listening to me answer his question.

In yesterday's Washington Post Phillip Bump never mentioned Rahm's name-- or even the DCCC-- when he remarked on how only 7 of the 30 Democrats in 2006's "Class of Rahm" are still serving in the House (although 3, Blue Dogs Kirsten Gillibrand and Joe Donnelly plus Chris Murphy, are currently in the Senate). Many of the worst of Rahm's Blue Dogs and New Dems were defeated in the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse of 2010-- or forced to resign rather than face certain defeat at the polls:
Harry Mitchell (Blue Dog-AZ)
Tim Mahoney (Blue Dog-FL)
Baron Hill (Blue Dog-IN)
Brad Ellsworth (Blue Dog-IN)
Nancy Boyda (Blue Dog applicant-KS)
Michael Arcuri (Blue Dog-NY)
Heath Shumer (Blue Dog-NC)
Zack Space (Blue Dog-OH)
Jason Altmire (Blue Dog-PA)
Patrick Murphy (Blue Dog-PA)
Chris Carney (Blue Dog-PA)
Nick Lampson (Blue Dog-TX)
Voting with the GOP didn't help this dozen from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party escape their fates. And even more Blue Dogs (and New Dems) were obliterated in 2012 and last Tuesday. In his NY Times column yesterday, Nate Cohn speculated that the Republicans might hold the House for eternity.
Whatever doubts existed about the Republican grip on the House should now be gone.

By picking up at least a dozen House seats in the elections last Tuesday, the Republicans cemented a nearly unassailable majority that could last for a generation, or as long as today’s political divides between North and South, urban and rural, young and old, and white and nonwhite endure.

Democrats might well reclaim the Senate and hold the presidency in 2016. But any Democratic hopes of enacting progressive policies on issues like climate change and inequality will face the reality of a House dominated by conservative Republicans. The odds that the Republicans will hold the Senate and seize the presidency are better than the odds that Democrats will win the House, giving the Republicans a better chance than Democrats of enacting their agenda.
He doesn't think the Democrats can flip the 32 House seats needed to take back control. He's wrong. Pelosi has taken Steve Israel out of the equation; if she replaces him with a competent and determined DCCC leader like Donna Edwards-- who won't spend the cycle taking bribes and writing a third-rate novella on an iPhone-- the Democrats can either take back the House in 2016 or get most of the way there. Cohn's analysis is all argle-bargle sleight-of-hand numbers disguised as science, and devoid of any of the realities of politics. I found Richard Kirsch's essay for the Roosevelt Institute, Progressives Have A Winning Economic Narrative-- And Democrats Who Used It Won, far more useful. "Democrats can connect with voters," he posited, "by telling a story about how they'll make the economy work for all of us."
[Progressive Jeff] Merkley won and so did [neo-fascist Republican Joni] Ernst. The explanation, according to progressive pundits, is that Democrats like Merkley who used a populist message-- which means they connected people’s economic concerns to the rich and powerful who are responsible-- were successful while Dems who ran away from that message lost. As someone who has been leading the Progressive Economic Narrative (PEN) project, I really wanted to believe that. But as it seemed too easy, I decided to look at some campaigns and see whether it was spin or the truth. It turns out to be the truth.

The first case I looked at was Minnesota Democrat Al Franken’s campaign. After eking out a victory in the great Democratic year of 2008, Franken won handily this year, even as Republicans took over the Minnesota House of Representatives. Imagine my smile when I quickly found Franken ads based on the key value statement in our Progressive Economic Narrative, “We all do better when we all do better.” This was also a key theme of Minnesota’s great progressive senator, Paul Wellstone.

Franken’s progressive populism makes a key distinction when he uses the key word in that values phrase, “all.” As he says in another ad, “I work for all Minnesotans. Wall Street wasn’t happy about that. But I don’t work for Wall Street. I work for you.”

The name of our Progressive Economic Narrative is “An America that works for all of us,” which is central to the aspirational power of our story. However, what is needed for that message to win is to make it clear who is not included in “all of us” (i.e., the wealthy). A poll of voters last spring found that voters preferred “growing the economy” over “an economy that works for all of us” by 10 percentage points. By contrast, voters chose “an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy” over “growing the economy” by 22 points! Merkley was also sure to name the villains of the economic story throughout his campaign, as in the Wall Street ad mentioned above.

So what about those Democrats who lost in purple states? I would have thought Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who founded the populist caucus when he got to Congress in 2007, would have run a populist campaign. Instead, Braley ran on working across the aisle to get things done in Iowa and not “letting the extremists from either party get in the way.” Because voters are skeptical about anything getting done for them in Washington, his message fell flat.

Braley listed progressive issues, but without a narrative to link them together. His only villains were the “Koch brothers and their extreme agenda,” but he didn’t say what made their agenda extreme. Contrast that with how Merkley described “the billionaire Koch brothers,” who want to give “more tax breaks to millionaires and reward companies that ship jobs overseas.”

What about Mark Udall in Colorado, another Democrat who lost in a purple state that Obama carried? Udall built his campaign narrative around a war on women by his opponent Rep. Corey Gardner. He, like Braley, ticked off a list of progressive issues-- from minimum wage to pay equity to protecting Social Security-- without providing any framing story to link them together. He left out who the villains are in the story.

Udall also committed the ultimate narrative sin: delivering your opponent’s story. Here’s the closing line of a Udall ad: “I’m Mark Udall. No one-- not government, not Washington-- should have the power to take those rights and freedoms away.” Voters who wanted the anti-government candidate chose the real thing!

Udall would have had a much broader audience for his “war on women” message if he framed it as part of a broader war on American families by the rich and powerful. It is easy to make opposition to pay equity or a woman’s right to make her own decisions part of this broader story, which speaks to Americans’ deep concerns about their families.

One part of the story I didn’t see in the candidate ads was how Democrats should address Luntz’s “blame government” narrative. The answer, as Hart Research pollster Guy Molyneaux explains in the New York Times, quoting almost verbatim from the Progressive Economic Narrative, is that “the important question facing America today is not how big government should be so much as who government should work for: corporations and the wealthy, or all Americans?

As Molyneaux points out, “That is a debate Democrats can and will win.”

What even progressive Democrats need to do better is tell a story about how to create that economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy. This is a matter of both clear narrative and bold policy.

The core of our economic theory is, as we say in the Progressive Economic Narrative, “working people and the middle class are the engines of the economy.” Another version of this, popularized by the Center for American Progress, is “we build the economy from the middle-out, not trickle-down.”

The story we are telling is that people are the job creators, not businesses. That raising the minimum wage is not just about fairness, but about creating economy-boosting jobs that put money in people’s pockets to spend in their communities. “We all do better when we all do better” is not just a statement of values; it’s the progressive belief about how the economy works.

Our narrative connects to policy with the phrase “we build a strong middle class by decisions we make together.” Democrats need to step up with bold policies, many of which are already out there, waiting to be championed. Here are just three:

1.     A massive public investment to dramatically increase the use of clean energy-- which would at the same time tackle the challenge of climate disruption-- with a requirement that all the jobs created pay wages that can support a family.

2.     A $15/hr minimum wage that grows with productivity, so that workers get their fare share of the wealth they create.

3.     A robust system of public financing that would allow candidates to win office without taking big campaign contributions from anyone, addressing the public’s belief that the rich call the shots.

One thing Democrats had better not say is “Oh, what’s the narrative? What do we say about the economy?” Progressives have a powerful narrative and bold solutions to create an America and an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. Candidates who run on this have won and will win. And an America that runs on these policies will do to what too many Americans no longer believe is possible: provide a better life for our children.
A Wall Street shill and New Dem vice-chair like Jim Himes, a Steve Israel mini-me, has no way to relate to any of this and won't even try. If Pelosi names him DCCC chair, she'll be locking our party into Cohn's vision-- and the GOP's-- not Kirsch's hopeful prognosis.

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At 6:35 PM, Anonymous Megaman_X said...

I remember when Jim Himes ran against Chris Shays. He was a pathological liar like Chris Carney.

At 6:12 AM, Anonymous ideals vdr said...

A robust system of public financing that would allow candidates to win office without taking big campaign contributions from anyone, addressing the public’s belief that the rich call the shots is important step for a politic.


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