Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The State of the Union speech by President Obama was a success.  He hit all the right themes during this important address: winning the future, we do big things, investing in tomorrow.  The speech was a positive, upbeat look at the direction in which he wants to lead the country.  Yes, it was a little short on specific proposals but given the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, a thematic speech was the proper speech.

Some progressives have criticized the President for not forcefully defending Social Security benefits and for not stating his support for new gun laws being proposed in the wake of the Tucson shooting.  If he would have made those types of statements during the speech, the story would be about those comments instead of the way to win the future.  The media wants to cover controversy and progressives should look back to what happened during a prime time news conference Obama did on health care. 

You may recall that Obama spent over an hour answering question from the press about health care and then Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asked about the Cambridge police arresting Professor Gates.  Obama answered directly about how the Cambridge police acted stupidly and that was all the media could talk about for several days culminating in the “beer summit”.  That is how the media would have covered the State of the Union address if the President had made forceful statements about policy.

Contrast the President’s address with the official Republican response given by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI).  The contrast couldn’t have been more striking.  The President painted a positive picture for the future and Ryan painted a picture of gloom and doom.  Ryan took a page directly from the Republican playbook of 2002 and 2004 that believes electoral success comes from scaring the American people.  Saying we are going to be like Greece or Ireland if we don’t get a handle on our debt demonstrates Ryan’s ignorance about the historical size and strength of the American economy and the huge differences between the US and those European countries.  Once Ryan offers specifics from his “roadmap” like his plan to eliminate Social Security and Medicare, the American people will truly be scared, scared of Republicans.

As an added benefit of such a forward looking speech by the President, it can be contrasted to the rebuttal given by the self-proclaimed Tea Party leader, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN).  Her speech was filled with false statements that have been thoroughly debunked by groups like and Politifact.  If this is the best the Tea Party has to offer, then President Obama has nothing to worry about.

The President went a long way last evening in solidifying support from independents.    When his speech is contrasted with the Republican rebuttals, most American will be happy that Barack Obama is their president.  Progressive should remember what the alternative will be like if they fail to rally around President Obama.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


The Republicans in the House of Representatives bowed down to their Tea Party masters and voted to repeal the new health care law.  Now that they have turned their backs on millions of people, it is time for Harry Reid to put an end to this madness and schedule a vote in the Senate.  The Republican leader in the Senate is, predictably, calling for a vote on the repeal measure and the media is giving its usual deference to Republican talking points and complaints.  So, rather than giving Mitch McConnell (R-KY) the chance to whip up mass hysteria, schedule a vote and be done with it.

Senator Reid should not be concerned with the outcome of the vote.  If he polls his caucus, he will only have to worry about Sen. Manchin of West Virginia.  All of the other members have either voted for the original bill or are true Democrats and will support the new law.  Plus, if the Democrats are successful in changing Senate rules to make the filibuster harder to enact, then it will be easier for Republicans to bring the repeal vote to the floor of the Senate as an amendment to some other piece of legislation. 

Senator Reid should actively seek to put an end to this madness and force the Senate Republicans to vote against providing 30 million people access to affordable health care.  Polling is changing as more Americans want this new law to remain as is or want it improved to go further.  Let the Republicans show the American people that they are, once again, on the wrong side of history.

Monday, January 10, 2011

THE MEDIA and POLITICAL RHETORIC: The aftermath of the Gabby Giffords shooting

The attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) calls into question the state of political dialogue in our country.  Over the last several years, the use of violent rhetoric, metaphors and images has increased dramatically and has been aided by the insatiable quest for controversy in the media.  Inflammatory remarks by our elected leaders and media stars often go unchallenged leaving the viewer/listener with the wrong impression or completely misinformed. 

During the debate on energy legislation, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called on her constituents to be “armed and dangerous” in the face of what she said were nefarious actions by Congress and claimed to be “behind enemy lines.”  No explanation was demanded by the interviewer with whom she was speaking to clarify her remarks.

The 2010 Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, called for the use of “Second Amendment remedies” to stop Congress if she didn’t win her race against Harry Reid.  She frequently asked the voters of her state to “take out” Reid.  The media in this instance asked candidate Angle for an explanation and the candidate denied ever making such a statement.  But the use of the violent metaphor “take out Harry Reid” went unchallenged as to her meaning.

The 2010 election cycle saw the rise of the Tea Party in American politics.  Many of the participants at their rallies carried signs using an out of context quote by Thomas Jefferson about liberty.  Right wing web sites had bumper stickers designed with that message:

            The tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of patriots…and tyrants.

Rarely, if ever, was the quote put into context by the media or were organizers of the Tea Party asked whether they were proposing armed insurrection. 

The former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate and the half-term governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, included a “target” list of 20 Democratic members of Congress that her political action committee wanted to defeat in the 2010 midterms.  To indicate which members were targets, she used the crosshairs of a rifle’s scope to mark the location of the congressional districts on a map.  Representative Giffords was one of the “targets” on the map.  When asked about the use of the word target combined with a gun’s crosshairs, Palin dismissed it as meaningless.  The media accepted her explanation and went about its business obsessively giving undeserved attention to the former governor.

Fox News star, Glenn Beck, frequently uses violent rhetoric in his broadcasts.  Media Matters published an article compiling many of the instances in which Beck incited violence by using inflammatory metaphors or images.  Beck repeatedly has claimed he will forever be a “progressive hunter”.  The rest of the TV media world refuses to take Fox News to task for allowing one of their hosts to fear-monger to such an extreme level and implicitly promote violence.

The current attempt in Congress by Republicans to repeal the health care law passed by the Democrats and signed by President Obama is another example of violent rhetoric.  Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) introduced the repeal legislation with the title of “Repeal the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”.  Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) is calling for Cantor to change the title of the bill out of respect for Rep. Giffords.  Up until her request, no one questioned the use of the term “job-killing” in the title.  Not only is it factually inaccurate, it is inflammatory and unnecessary. 

Historically, the left has used their share of violent rhetoric, too.  During the Vietnam War in the late 1960’s, groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Chicago Seven, the Weathermen, and the Black Panther Party were advocating violence to achieve its goals.  There was never any doubt in the minds of a majority of Americans that these groups were radical.  America had limited media availability in those days with only three television networks broadcasting 30 minutes of news weeknights, Sunday morning news shows, news magazines and newspapers.  Fringe elements of society were covered if they made news but they were accurately depicted as being out of the mainstream.  There were no 24 hour cable news channels with the need to fill hours of airtime with unsubstantiated opinion in order to appear “fair and balanced”, so the viewer had a clearer understanding as to the nature of the protestors and protests.

The current vitriol in political speech must stop.  Americans understand the fact that political debate can be heated and partisan.  We do have passionate views on many issues and it is good for people to debate the issues of the day vociferously.  But that is no excuse to cross the line and use language that could incite violence as a way to settle our political disagreements.  While it is true that an overwhelming majority of Americans understand that political talk is just talk.  Some people lose sight of that reality and have their passions so inflamed that they become irrational.  For it is never a majority of people storming the Capitol and taking over by force.  Usually, it is the lone gunman who decides that he must take matters into his own hands and commits an unspeakable act of violence.    

Our elected officials have a duty to stop their use of violent rhetoric and violent metaphors.  But it is up to the media to do their jobs as journalists and challenge inflammatory language and force people to explain and defend their rhetoric.  To continue on the current path with no changes, means the overcharged atmosphere will go on unabated and another assassination attempt remains a real possibility.  

Friday, January 7, 2011


The selection of Bill Daley as President Obama’s Chief of Staff is a good choice.  Many in the “professional left” say the exact opposite but it is time for a reality check.  The progressive community must ask themselves: what progressive legislation is going to be passed by the House of Representatives?  If the answer is anything but “none”, then the left is delusional.  Since the progressive agenda is in a legislative timeout for the next two years, the President needs the skills that Daley brings to the job to help him move the country forward through executive action.

Daley will never be mistaken for a progressive as Howard Dean said to Keith Olbermann on Countdown recently.  He has held positions in the private sector with the big banks and corporations.  Those jobs should not disqualify him for this position.  In fact, if the economy is going to improve it will take cooperation from the business community.  The fact that the business community likes Bill Daley will be invaluable in convincing businesses to get off the sidelines and start creating jobs.

The primary role of Chief of Staff, however, is to organize the White House and the executive branch.  Yes, he will advise Obama on all of the important issues but the President seems more than capable of listening to divergent ideas and making his own decisions.  Remember, the former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, was not in favor of tackling the health care issue in one large piece of legislation and yet that is what Obama decided to do.  Bill Daley will express his opinions but, as a loyal Democrat, he will support whatever decision the President makes.  And if he can help organize the Cabinet to be more visible and vocal on promoting the President’s agenda, then he will have served the President well. 

The next two years will be about keeping the economy headed in the right direction and defending the gains of the last two years from Republican attempts to repeal everything.  The President’s reelection chances depend upon economic improvement and a more robust defense of his accomplishments.  Bill Daley will help him achieve these objectives.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A GOVERNMENT MANDATE IS NOTHING NEW: Auto Insurance and Health Insurance

The Republican attempt to repeal the health care law will not succeed.  A Democratic controlled Senate and the veto pen of President Obama guarantees the survival of the new law.  But that won’t prevent Speaker Boehner and his lackeys from moving forward with this futile exercise.  After all, they must cater to their crazy Tea Party base or risk a primary challenge in 2012. 

It seems that the major objection to the Affordable Health Care for America Act, other than it was enacted by President Obama, is the mandate that every American must purchase health insurance beginning in 2014.  Somehow, according to the right wing, this is an infringement on our freedoms.  That has been the basic argument made by several of the court challenges making their way through the federal court system.  The government mandating the purchase of a product is not a new idea.  Car insurance has been mandated for years with little or no objection.

The conservatives argue that the mandate to purchase car insurance is different from the requirement to buy health insurance because not everyone needs to own a car and the simple fact of being alive is not a justification for mandating the purchase of health insurance.  This argument is weak.  Just ask anyone living outside a metropolitan area with no access to mass transit if they need to own a car. 

When a person purchases car insurance, they do not expect to get into an accident or think that will ever need to file a claim against their auto insurance policy.  A car owner has a great deal of control over their ability to drive and can minimize the chances of being involved in an accident by practicing safe driving techniques.  Many people have no auto accidents for years and yet, despite their driving record, they must purchase car insurance every year.

A person’s health is quite a different matter.  No one expects to get sick just like no one expects to be involved in an auto accident.  But people have much less ability to prevent the need to see a doctor or go to a hospital.  Most people get sick during a year and without insurance wind up in an emergency room to get basic care.  Since no one can be turned away from an emergency room regardless of their ability to pay for treatment, the cost of uncompensated care gets passed on to those with insurance through higher premiums and to the federal government.

The advantages of mandating health insurance are:

1.     Lowers the cost of medical care for everyone.
2.     Provides 50 million new customers for the private insurance industry.
3.     Improves the health of America.

Once the mandate takes effect in 2014, states are supposed to have health insurance exchanges operating where consumers can compare policy options and choose the health insurance plan that meets their needs.  Smart insurance companies will design various plans that appeal to people of all ages and all health situations.  Plus, there will be no government run health insurance plan for people to select.  Conservatives should have no problem with this aspect of the Affordable Health Care for America Act since it is the true essence of capitalism.

In summary, the requirement to purchase health insurance is very similar to the requirement to purchase auto insurance.   Republicans have mounted no effort to repeal the auto insurance mandate over the years and they should forget trying to repeal health insurance.  If it wasn’t for the fact that the new law gives President Obama a tremendous victory, they probably wouldn’t even try.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


The 112th Congress is planning on starting the session by reading the U.S. Constitution aloud.  This would be a fine practice if the intent of doing so were to remind our representatives of the significance of the document and the seriousness of the job that they are undertaking.  However, this is not the purpose of the exercise.  This is nothing more than an attempt by the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives to placate their Tea Party base.
The Tea Partiers ran on the idea that all legislation must be constitutionally based, as if all preceding legislation hasn’t been.  Speaker John Boehner and his minions in the Republican Party are going to require that all bills cite the specific language in the Constitution which proves the proposed law is constitutional.  The Tea Partiers are going to be in for a shock when they discover that the U.S. Constitution is a flexible document subject to interpretation as times change in the country.  That is one reason for its longevity with so few amendments.

As Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution is read aloud, the enumerated powers granted the legislative branch by our founding fathers will be heard.  Those powers are, in the order listed:

     -        To lay and collect taxes
-        To borrow money on the credit of the United States
-        To regulate commerce
-        To establish uniform rules of citizenship and bankruptcies
-        To coin money
-        To establish standards of weights and measures
-        To punish counterfeiting
-        To establish Post Offices and Post Roads
-        To establish copyrights and patents
-        To create a federal court system below the level of the Supreme Court
-        To punish piracy on the seas
-        To declare war
-        To raise and maintain an army and navy
-        To call into action the Militia (the National Guard)
-        To establish the District of Columbia as our capital.

And, last but not least, the necessary and proper clause:

      "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."

Our founders were not some form of all-knowing, all-powerful gods.  They were smart businessmen and politicians.  They knew that they couldn’t predict the future of our country and that the list of enumerated powers adequately covered the immediate needs of establishing a nation.  By adding the necessary and proper clause at the end of this list was an acknowledgement of this reality.  The founders wanted to be sure that they did not restrict the ability of the federal government to meet the needs of the country as new issues arose.

This is similar to a job description of an employee in a business.  Frequently, after listing all of the specific duties an employee is expected to perform, an item at the end of the document is inserted that says “and any other tasks as deemed appropriate by the management”.  This clause protects the management and gives them the ability to have their employees perform tasks for the business as the need arises.

The Tea Partiers are going to find that it is easy to cite the need to regulate commerce or the necessary and proper clause as justification for almost all legislation.  And if that isn’t enough, the Preamble to the Constitution will suffice.

     "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Any one of the six goals for our country laid out in the Preamble will justify most legislation, as well.

The reading of the U.S. Constitution is a nice, historical thing to do at the start of a session of Congress.  But it is no substitute for the difficult job of governing. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

U.S. SENATE ELECTION FORECAST, 2012: Cloudy; High: 57 Democrats, Low:41 Democrats

The 2012 Senate elections are two years away but it is never too early to take a look at the potential outcome of that important election.  With the current Senate composition at 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans, the 2012 election will be pivotal in determining which party controls the Senate and, by extension, controls the legislative branch of government.  There will be 23 Senate Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats) running for reelection compared to 10 Senate Republicans.  The Democrats can only lose a net of 2 seats to retain their majority. 

The Senators running in 2012 will be facing a distinctly different electoral situation than in 2006 when they won their Senate seat.  This is also true for the three Senators who won their seats in special elections held since 2006: Scott Brown (R-MA) in 2009, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in 2010.  The main difference is that 2012 is a presidential election year.  The presidential candidate for each party will have an effect on each Senate race.  Voter turnout will be higher than during mid-term or special elections.  The make-up of the electorate will be closer to the registered voter percentages due to the importance of electing a president thereby reducing the influence of the committed partisans who always vote in every election.  The 2010 election was a good example of what can happen when the electorate is dominated by one party’s committed partisans.  That phenomenon rarely occurs in a presidential election year.

There will be other important factors that are hard to predict at this time.  The direction of the economy is probably the biggest unknown that will impact the 2012 election.  If voters are still worried about the economy then this could affect their willingness to vote for incumbents.

The quality of the incumbent’s opponent will help decide the election.  This was an important factor during the 2010 mid-term election.  Harry Reid (D-NV) should have lost his reelection bid but a Tea Party opponent, Sharron Angle, was unacceptable to the Nevada voters.  The same was true in Delaware where another Tea Party candidate, Christine O’Donnell, was so out of the mainstream that Democrat Chris Coons was easily elected.

With all of those factors outlined, here is the forecast for the 2012 U.S. Senate election.

“Bet the Farm” Democratic Winners (10):

Diane Feinstein (CA), Tom Carper (DE), Daniel Akaka (HI), Ben Cardin (MD), Jeff Bingaman (NM), Herb Kohl (WI), Bob Menendez (NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Bernie Sanders (VT).

“Bet the Farm” Republican Winners (6):

John Kyl (AZ), Richard Lugar (IN), Roger Wicker (MS), Bob Corker (TN), Orrin Hatch (UT), John Barrasso (WY)

The two “Bet the Farm” groups are extremely safe.  These Senators have proven they can win multiple times and/or they come from states that reliably vote in their respective party’s favor.     

“Should Win, But…” Democrats (7):

Bill Nelson (FL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Maria Cantwell (WA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Kent Conrad (ND), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Bob Casey, Jr. (PA).

“Should Win, But…” Republicans (1):

Kay Bailey Hutchinson (TX).

These “Should Win, But…” Senators will face some challenges in order to win their races.  Under certain circumstances they could lose, but they will probably win.  For Stabenow and Cantwell, they represent states that have been Democratic in the past but the margins are getting smaller.  Conrad represents North Dakota and a strong Republican challenger could make for a tough race considering North Dakota voter’s support for the Republican presidential nominee over the years.  Bill Nelson of Florida, the perennial swing state, seems to be fairly safe based upon his past races but the Republican tide that swept Florida in 2010 could make him vulnerable if a serious candidate emerges on the Republican side.  In the cases of Klobuchar, Brown and Casey, the 2012 election is their first election as an incumbent Senator, always a dangerous election if the opponent is credible.  That being said, each of these Senators poll fairly well in their respective states and should win if they run an aggressive campaign as voter registration numbers are in their favor.  Kay Hutchinson of Texas should be safe but may be subject to a Tea Party challenger.  If that occurs, Hutchinson may not be the nominee which opens the door for a Democratic upset especially if the Obama campaign mobilizes the growing Hispanic vote in Texas.

“Anybody’s Guess” Democrats (5):

Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), Jim Webb (VA), Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Lieberman (CT).

“Anybody’s Guess” Republicans (1):

Olympia Snowe (ME).

The “Anybody’s Guess” groups are just that, anybody’s guess as to the outcome.  Joe Lieberman and Olympia Snowe are the easiest races in which to hazard a guess.  Lieberman as an Independent caucusing with the Democrats will lose if the Republicans field a good candidate.  He won in 2006 with under 50% of the vote because of a weak Republican opponent.  Regardless, the Democrats will retain control of that seat since Connecticut is solidly in the Democratic column.  It would be nice to get rid of Joe Lieberman as he deserves to lose given his campaigning for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.

Olympia Snowe will retain her seat if she is the Republican nominee.  However, there are rumblings in Maine that she will have a Tea Party challenger.  If that is the case, then the Democrats have a legitimate chance to pick up this seat.

The fates of Claire McCaskill and Jim Webb will be closely tied to the results of the presidential vote in their states.  Both Senators barely won their races in 2006, a year that was favorable to Democrats across the country.  McCaskill also benefited from a minimum wage initiative being on the ballot that influenced the results in her favor.  Webb was aided by his opponent’s (George Allen) “Macaca Moment”.  In this election, the turnout for or against Obama will play a huge role in deciding the election.  If McCaskill and Webb are smart politicians, they will stick with the president over the next two years and take their chances as proud Democrats instead of trying to be Republican-lite.  Obama easily carried VA in 2008 but narrowly lost MO so McCaskill is probably in more danger of losing than Webb.

Jon Tester and Joe Manchin will have to rely on personal popularity to get reelected.  President Obama is not well-liked in West Virginia, to put it mildly.  Manchin will be a thorn in the Democrats side on many issues over the next two years.  But if he follows the lead of his colleague Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), then he can win despite the president.  Obama almost carried Montana in 2008 and Senator Tester can be a loyal Democratic vote by following the lead of his colleague, Max Baucus (D-MT) and win reelection.

“Pack up Your Office” Democrats (1):

Ben Nelson (NE)

“Pack up Your Office” Republicans (2):

Scott Brown (MA), John Ensign (NV)

These three Senators will lose in 2012 provided that each has a good candidate running against them.  The Democrats will be glad to see Nelson lose and a two for one trade off nets them 1 additional Senate seat.  Scott Brown will probably not get the benefit of running against a weak Democratic candidate again, like Martha Coakley.  In a presidential election cycle, very blue Massachusetts will elect a Democrat in 2012.  Brown’s only chance is to break from his party often and vocally support President Obama.  John Ensign stands no chance against a good Democrat.  His marital infidelity and cover-up will cost him his seat, especially given the fact that Obama will carry Nevada. 

This rather long post boils down to a final prediction.  In the worst case scenario, Democrats lose all of the races other than the “Bet the Farm” group and keeps the Connecticut seat.  The Republicans win all of their races including the “Pack up Your Office” group.  This would mean a net loss of 12 seats for the Democrats and the new Senate in 2013 would consist of 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats.  Under this scenario, President Obama will have lost his reelection, too.

The best case scenario for Democrats is to hold all of their seats and win the races in TX, ME, MA, and NV for net gain of 4 seats which would increase their majority to 57 seats.

The most logical outcome at this point, though, is to have a split decision.  Democrats will lose in MO and NE but win in MA and NV which will keep the Senate at its current makeup of 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans.

I will update this forecast over the next year as candidates emerge and more polling data becomes available.  But for now, put your money on no change.