Friday, November 03, 2006

Happy About Tuesday

Right now, I'm pretty happy about the mid-term elections on Tuesday even if my prediction about the Democrats gaining majorities in the House and Senate don't pan out. No matter what happens on Tuesday, the 2008 election is setting up very well. Rick Santorum is way behind and George Allen is no longer a legitimate presidential candidate even if he is re-elected. That means th the rigjht-wing doesn't have a strong candidate for the Republican nomination.

John McCain might be a strong candidate of n0n-right Republicans, but he seems to be shrinking before our eyes as he campaigns for other Republicans. The conventional wisdom is that McCain would beat Hillary. I'm beginning to think that the conventional wisdom is way off track.

The Republicans might have one more round of success with baiting liberals, but the formula is weakening and success would mean that the Republicans would be accountable for the next two years of the war in Iraq.

It couldn't happen to nicer people.

The only cloud in my silver lining is the possibility that Santorum could win re-election in Pennsylvania.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Predictions for Next Tuesday

It's November, there's elections, and I'm a political scientist. So, it's time to predict.

House--Democrats pick up 25 seats and Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker, but they don't have a "working majority." Karl Rove has an impressive get out the vote operation, but the Republicans won't be able to get enough of their new voters from 2004 to vote again. As a result, the Democrats pick up a lot of seats in Rust Belt states from Indiana to Connecticut. The main effect of the Democrats' very small, ten seat majority, is that they will be able to play their "hedgehog" game of obstructing the Bush administration's initiatives more effectively.

Senate--The Democrats pick up the six seats they need to form a majority but not enough of a majority to have a lot of effect on the Bush administration. To make this prediction, I'm relying on Claire McCaskell to win in Missouri and James Webb to win in Virginia. It looks like Harold Ford is going to be defeated after a brilliant campaign.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Kerry Apology Challenge

Democratic candidates should distance themselves from Kerry's remarks about the military, but that isn't all they should do. Democratic candidates should also challenge their opponents to apologize for their support of the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration's conduct of the occupation, and the tremendous waste of American and Iraqi lives involved.

The statements of Democratic candidates should go like this. "John Kerry's remarks on American soldiers were inappropriate and offensive. If American soldiers had not performed so magnificently in Iraq, the situation would be even worse than it already is. At the same time, I call on my opponent to admit that the invasion of Iraq was misguided and that Bush administration's incompetence has guaranteed the failure of the occupation. Admitting the failure of the current course of action is extremely important if we're ever going to act more effectively and my opponent should dissociate him or herself from the ineffectiveness of the Bush administration now."

Kerry Pulls a Cheney

John Kerry's comment yesterday about students needing to stay in college so they don't get "stuck in Iraq" was stupid. The comment demeaned American troops in Iraq by implying that they weren't smart enough to go to college and it's an example of a real weakness among liberals--a bias against working-class guys. Kerry's remark was also false because a healthy percentage of the National Guard members would have college degrees.

Yet, Kerry should keep trying. Prominent Democrats need to be aggressively stupid until they figure out a way to be aggressively smart. Usually, it's figures like Dick Cheney who make aggressively over-the-top comments and the Democrats who are "outraged," "offended," and demanding apologies in response. These exchanges always make the Republicans look aggressive and strong and the Democrats look weak and whiny. Cheney's telling Kerry to "fuck yourself" on the Senate floor is a great example of this. Likewise, Kerry himself looked pretty strong yesterday when he lashed out at the Bush administration in response to their outrage over his comments.

Prominent Democrats have been ducking in their political foxholes for too long. They need to take a more aggressive stance toward the Bush administration, the war, and the Republican culture of extortion in Washington. Kerry blew it yesterday, but his over-the-top skills will improve if he gets more practice.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

How Appealing the Naivete?

Last night I participated in a forum on the mid-term elections on my campus at Morehead State University. My contribution was to emphasize the importance of next Tuesday's elections for determining the strength of the right-wing.

But the audience had other ideas. They wanted the conflict between the right-wing and the rest of the country to be over. A couple of the African-American students talked about reconciliation and healing. It's an appealing naivete. The students want an America that is more hopeful and less vicious than the one we have right now. They just don't understand the extent to which that better world has to be fought for.

Much like the Confederates that so many of them admire, the last thing that people on the right want is any kind of reconciliation with liberals, African-Americans, feminists, gay rights activists, or even moderates and traditional conservatives. For prominent media figures on the right like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Gordon Liddy, a slashing viciousness and vindictiveness is their preferred way fo life. The same was the case with Tom DeLay. Moreover, that's precisely what their followers admire in them. If there were any kind of genocide in the U. S., they would all be eager to pick up their NRA-protected weapons and start shooting.

It's precisely because of their relentless aggression that the activist right will remain a dangerous force even if they lose their power in Congress next Tuesday. And they will remain dangerous until they no longer control the Republican Party.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Webb pulling ahead?

Talking Points Memo has a couple of polls with Jim Webb pulling ahead of George Allen in Virginia. If Webb wins, the Dems will have to win one of the two Senate races in Tennessee and Missouri to move into the majority. Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri are all red states. They would all be extremely disappointing for the Republicans.

Instead of viewing this election as another 1994, I see it as the beginning of a sea change. As the Republican Party moves right, the Democrats are gradually cleaning them out of the Northeast, making progress in states like Colorado, and are beginning to flip Ohio to blue. Having made themselves into the party of rural whites, the Republicans are beginning to pay the price.

Rove Still a Genius?

Will Karl Rove still be a genius next Wednesday? Perhaps. When the campaign began, Rove had a depth strategy for minimizing the Republican losses that could be expected as a result of the failed war in Iraq, Republican scandals, and the general bumbling of the Bush administration. The bottom line was that Rove wanted to defend Republican majorities by making the Bush administration the "lion that roared." Rove had Bush and Cheney on the road promoting the dichotomies of Republican "resolve" vs the "cut and run" Democrats and Bush's "toughness" on interrogation against the willingness of the Democrats to give rights to terrorists. Rove could count on every bit of red meat rhetoric being echoed effectively by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and the rest of the attack media.

Second, the huge Republican money edge would make it possible for Rove to carpet-bomb Democratic candidates with attack ads over the last three weeks of the election. Rove talks a lot about making elections "local." What he means is that he'll use negative advertising to make the elections about their smear campaigns.

Finally, Rove and his allies have built up a get out the vote apparatus that is far superior to anything on the Democratic side. Rove has a comprehensive knowledge of the American political landscape down to the precinct level and he has built up an organizational apparatus that had enormous success in getting out potential Republican voters in 2004.

Rove has already lost the policy dimension of his strategy and might be losing on the negative advertising as well. The problem Rove faced all along as a strategist was that the bad news kept piling up for the Bush administration. September and October have been no different. The Bush administration didn't look very strong when North Korea held their nuclear test. Likewise, the Mark Foley scandal, replaced the "strength and resolve" that Rove wanted to project with an image of sleaziness that was even more powerful than the Abramoff scandal. The situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate as the American military's efforts to stabilize Baghdad bogged down. Right now, there's not much lion left in the Republican Party. Even the attack media has struggled. Limbaugh and Hannity are practically begging Republicans to turn out next Tuesday.

The main question now is the extent to which the right-wing roaring machine is still formidable. Blanketing the airwaves with negative advertising, the Republicans have struggled to take unfavorable issues like the war and the economy out of the Senate campaigns in Virginia and Tennessee. Even where negative advertising has not forced them to focus on defending themselves, it has bullied candidates like Harold Ford and James Webb into devoting their resources to attacking the advertising. In this way, Rove has been successful in making elections local because they've transformed the key Senate contests into referendums on his own advertising.

Even this may not be working. Despite George Allen's attempts to smear Democrat James Webb for passages in his novels, Webb moved ahead in at least three of the polls that were published yesterday. Rove's candidate in Tennessee hasn't established any distance from Harold Ford despite the focus on the racist advertising of the Republicans.

If the Republican ground game doesn't inspire rural and exurban white voters to go to the polls in much larger numbers than predicted, Rove will have failed and the Democrats will win majorities in both the House and the Senate. But does that mean it was a bad strategy. I don't think so. To the contrary, I believe that Rove has been very effective in working with a particularly bad hand. Given the thoroughgoing failures of the Bush administration and the foolishness of Republican candidates like George Allen, Conrad Burns, and Kurt Weldon, there was every reason to expect the Republican right-wing to be dispirited and unfocused. Indeed, it's easy to imagine a lot of Democratic strategists giving up the ghosts. Indeed, many Democrats are still worried about "blowing it" despite their many advantages.

For their part, Rove and people like Ken Mehlman have energetically sought to turn every misstep and scandal into more attacks on the Democrats. In Ken Burns's documentary on the Civil War, the late Shelby Foote emphasized that Robert E. Lee was brilliant on defense as well as offense. In the same way, Karl Rove has been brilliant in defense of the increasingly hopeless Bush administration.

The Unstable Stasis

In some ways, there actually isn't much at stake in this election. Stasis rules now and stasis will continue to rule after next Tuesday. Even if the Democrats win the House and the Senate, the political landscape won't change much. The Bush administration will still be pursuing the failed war in Iraq, torturing Afghan farmers, and fighting off corruption charges from the DeLay/McConnell years. Nothing's going to change there.

There won't be much change from the Democrats either. The Democrats are not going to push for exit from Iraq legislation and tax increases. They won't be doing that many investigations either. Instead, the Democratic leadership will continue to spend most of their energy fending off the right-wing attack media.

Because of the on-going stasis, both sides will be gearing up for the more decisive election in 2008.