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Category Archives: Politics
In the past week, I had three conversations that all intersect on the issue of the future of the Democratic Party. Three quite different people, and varying subject matters. I have not yet reached a conclusion, but the questions raised fascinate me.
I belong to a political action group and we had a meeting. While the topic doesn’t matter, this comment still rings in my ears: “I work in a factory, and we make decisions immediately. I hope the rest of you won’t take this wrong, but you are pencil pushers.”
There is an old saying that a week is a lifetime in politics. In most weeks, there is a lot happening either behind the scenes or at lower levels (e.g., committee hearings and markups on bills that nobody is watching). It is the rare week, however, that so much is taking place front and center competing for the attention of the American public.
The big story of the week was the non-vote on and the collapse of the Republican effort at major health care reform — the so-called Affordable Health Care Act (a name that in itself was an attack on the bill that it was trying to “repeal and replace,” the Affordable Care Act. There are several significant aspects to this non-event.
First, despite their efforts, Donald Trump and Paul Ryan could not get the sizable Republican majority in the House to pass a bill (forget the exact details of the last version of the bill, they could not get a majority behind any version) on one of the top Republican priorities of the past seven years. While Trump may have been a great negotiator, it is very easy to reach a two-sided deal. (Of course, it’s possible that Trump’s belief in his negotiating skill may be one of his great delusions. He may have just been offering the right deal at the right time and actually have been taken to the cleaners in his business negotiations.)When you have three or more sides to a deal, however, it becomes very difficult to keep everybody on board. This problem is particularly true in politics — when one faction thinks that a bill is too conservative and the other faction thinks that the bill is too liberal, there really isn’t any change that could make both sides happy. At that point, it’s not really about negotiating but selling.
Last night, we in Philly heard that hundreds of headstones were turned over Saturday night at a Jewish cemetery, a week after similar vandalism in St. Louis. Many people are saddened, appalled and surprised. They should be sad and appalled, but not surprised. This is Trump’s America.
I have been working with Indivisible locally, and I am heartened by the number of people completely new to politics who are suddenly aware, and ready to take action to both resist the Trump agenda, and help elect people who will serve America, and not what is actually the Bannon administration.
I keep hearing two themes through my work with Indivisible. First, people are concerned about what they can do to stop hate. And by “hate” I mean not just the vandalism, but the verbal abuse people see foisted upon innocent people, just for the colour of their skin, The ICE roundups are another form of hate: people question what they can do to help those who will be caught up in the dragnets. Hate also in the form of the administration’s moves against sick people (“repeal Obamacare” and dismantle Medicaid), Hate in the form of transgender bathroom rights. I’m a doctor, and I’m telling you, the only thing that matters is that you wash your hands. (If you’re a long-term reader, you remember back to SARS and fingers, nails, fingers, fingers, fingers.) And let’s not forget the hate of literacy in terms of claiming the media is the “enemy of the people”. The hate is creeping down from the Cheeto Team, and up from the GOP state legislatures.
Eight years ago, when President Obama took office, Faux News and others spent a good chunk of their time complaining about President Obama’s use of “czars.” By czar, they meant members of the White House staff who did not have to face Senate confirmation who were assigned responsibility for certain policy areas. Now that Republicans are back in the White House, they are about to learn the same lesson that the George W. Bush and the Obama Administrations knew — that the White House staff serves an important role in a functioning government. But, you can be pretty sure that these positions will not be referred to as czars by Fox News.
There are several reasons why Presidents tend to depend on “staff” advisors rather than executive branch people subject to Senate confirmation. The first reason has to do with the nature of Senate confirmations.
Most of our allies are parliamentary democracies. While there is some distinction between the appointees to ministries (mostly members of parliament) and the Prime Ministers personal staff, the bottom line in most parliamentary democracies is that parliament does not individually confirm members of the government. Depending on the country, parliament may have a single vote to approve the entire government (but, in others, the government takes power without any formal vote). This process puts the full government in place on Day 1 of the new government.
If you’d told me that “President of these United States” was an entry-level elected position, I would have laughed.
Who could have predicted that the Weekly World News would have gotten more right over its years of publication than what is shown on most news stations. (At the very end of this post is the best story EVER about the Weekly World News.)
I spent Election Day working for the county, greeting voters, putting those voters in one of six lines to make things move more quickly. Our polling place saw about 2200 voters that day, plus 184 absentee ballots. From that one polling place, there is a lot of insight about what went wrong.
The loss was obvious when the tape was run a little past 9, indicating that while Clinton had won the vote, turnout wasn’t high enough and the percentage wasn’t big enough. This ended up being the pattern across both the state of Pennsylvania and the country at large.
First, an anecdote that explains something. The voter who came out from voting grinning ear to ear, proud. Told me that although a lifelong Democrat who had never voted for a Republican, she proudly voted for Donald Trump. Why? “I did all my research because I wanted to be really sure and I think Clinton went bad when she shot all her partners at the Rose Law Firm and then Vince Foster.” When told that never happened, the response was: “Yes it did. I read it on the internet.”
In setting up the federal judiciary, the Framers wanted to separate the judiciary from politics to a certain degree. By giving judges and justices an unlimited term, judges would be free from having to decide cases on what is currently popular. Not that the courts would be absolutely immune from politics, but the influence of politics on the courts would be that elections to the “political” branches would be in the choice of new judges and justices to fill vacancies. The courts would be “conservative” in the sense of reflecting the values of the time at which judges or justices were appointed with a gradual change reflecting changes in those values over time through the appointment of new judges and justices. (On the Supreme Court, nine of seventeen Chief Justices served more than a decade, and thirteen of seventeen served more than six years. Of the Associate Justices sixty-eight of one hundred have served more than ten years, and another thirteen have served more than six years.)
The fact that federal judges do not have to stand for election does not mean that judges are not political or aware of politics. To ask that judges not view close legal issues through a certain political philosophy and that judges not be aware of the potential impact of decisions on elections is asking too much. However, the Supreme Court wants the public to perceive that they are above politics and would prefer that the Supreme Court rank somewhat low on the list of important issues in any election. This desire to “lay low” has been reflected in pushing off the arguments on the most controversial cases until after the election (or even later for cases that might currently reflect a 4-4 split). Even in terms of which cases are being granted for review later this year, the Supreme Court was avoiding cases that were likely to generate headlines. That changed yesterday when the Supreme Court issued its order reflecting which cases it had just accepted for full review. While none of the cases on the list are surprises in terms of the Supreme Court granting review, two of the cases are highly controversial — one dealing with transgender rights and the other with sex offenders and the First Amendment — and most expected the Supreme Court to push a decision on reviewing those two cases until after the election, particularly with the election controlling who gets to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court.
In the United States, unlike most major democracies, election law is primarily set by the state. Additionally, elections are run by local officials — usually elected in partisan elections. For those involved in elections (candidates, supporters, and voters), there are two significant consequences to this aspect of American democracy. First, every state has its own rules and timetables for registering to vote and for voting. Second, even within those rules, local officials have a lot of discretion that can influence the results of elections.
To win, campaigns need to do two things. First, they need to communicate a message that connects to potential voters. Second, they need to get those potential voters to vote. The messaging part is like the tip of the iceberg. It occurs above the surface. At this time of the cycle, advertisements are a rising tide. Depending upon where you live and what races are competitive, political ads are slowly becoming more and more omnipresent (ultimately peaking in the week before the election when ads for consumer goods will all but disappear from the air). But political ads are run out of the campaign headquarters and involve the local activist very little. It is the part beneath the surface — the get out the vote campaign — that requires a good field operation and local effort.
Earlier this week, Donald Trump — again — expressed his admiration for the strong leadership of Vladimir Putin as compared to the current leadership of the United States. It is understandable why somebody who is the head of a closely-held family business would sympathize with the leadership style of Vladimir Putin. There is a lot of similarity in the ability of such individuals to make decisions for their company or country between such a business and a police state. The leader of a democracy, however, does not have the same ability.
In Missouri, we have an interesting case working it’s way through the system. (The trial court issued its ruling yesterday; any appeal will have to be expedited.) The basic facts of the case are: 1) about five hundred people cast absentee votes; 2) the incumbent state representative got just under 80% of the absentee vote (picking up a net of approximately three hundred votes); 3) the challenger got the most votes from votes cast on election day; and 4) the incumbent won by a total of ninety votes. Given the small number of votes cast in primaries for state representative, the margin was significantly over the threshold for a recount, and the only option for the challenger was an election contest. In this case, the election contest focused on the validity of absentee voting. While there was some evidence of some improprieties by the incumbent in with some of the absentee votes, the evidence of such “fraud” impacted less than 20 ballots. Instead, the case came down to whether the election authority properly followed the rules for absentee ballots., and the current ruling emphasizes the difference between a true early voting system and an absentee ballot.