Mar 162016
 

This election cycle keeps getting weirder. Conservative elites—still grappling with the rise of Trump—are now pointing their fingers at white working-class voters and blaming them for the current state of affairs. They aren’t mincing words, either. Here’s Kevin Williamson in the National Review:

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy—which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog—you will come to an awful realization. … The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.

Now, most people won’t care about some diatribe in a conservative magazine. But a growing class rift could spell problems for the Republican Party. For decades, the GOP exploited the cultural and economic anxieties of “downscale” white voters in order to win elections. They promised that tax cuts and less government spending would create prosperity for all. They also promised to resurrect a traditional American culture that would keep women and assorted “others” marginalized.

Trump voters are no longer buying what the conservative establishment is trying to sell them, at least in terms of economics. And the demographics and culture of the nation continue to shift rapidly. If the establishment has alienated one of their core constituencies, does the GOP transform into a more overtly populist and nativist party? I’m not sure that’s a viable party for winning national elections. Or does it schism into a Trump party and a conservative party? If we see more attacks from conservative elites on working-class elites, a schism seems likely.

Mar 042016
 

As we watch the GOP immolate itself in a dumpster fire of spectacular proportions, I’ve been thinking about Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? In his book, Frank tries to understand why working-class people vote for Republican candidates who appeal to their cultural values but, once elected, do very little to address their economic interests. He argues that they have been duped into voting against their own interests in order to give cover to politicians who enact policies that solely benefit the wealthy and corporations. Frank wondered how long this could continue before those same voters realized they were being used and rose up in anger against the Republican establishment.

The rise of Trump may be the answer to that question. Trump, in his own crude but vigorous fashion,  freely expresses the economic and cultural anxieties of many conservatives. He makes them feel heard while the other Republican candidates have struggled to connect with voters. And he makes vague promises of swift solutions without delving into boring policy details. Trump isn’t terribly interested in slashing entitlements or banning abortion and neither are his supporters. They have found their champion in a super-rich New Yorker with a checkered business record and a bottomless appetite for self-promotion. The irony of all this would be singularly delicious if the implications for our country weren’t so dire.

The implosion of the Republican Party has given birth to a dangerously authoritarian and xenophobic movement which is likely to persist even if Trump is defeated in November. There may not be enough Trump sympathizers to secure the presidency, but they could further destabilize our brittle, flailing political system. We need to find ways to boost prosperity and security for all Americans before we teeter into a future that is truly dystopian. I just wish I could feel more confident that it’s not too late.

Sep 222015
 

Like a lot of other armchair political observers, I thought Scott Walker had a decent chance of securing the Republican nomination. Establishment types liked him because he’s a conservative governor who has significantly reshaped a traditionally blue state. Grassroots types liked him because he said all the right things about freedom and values and Mom’s apple pie. Trump’s entry into the race did him no favors; Walker’s stilted Midwestern demeanor may work on the nice folks in Rhinelander, but it couldn’t withstand the bellowing winds of Hurricane Donald. If you’re going to steal attention away from the angry orange man standing at center-stage, you’d better have something interesting to say. And Walker is about as interesting as a weekend sale at Kohl’s. I mean, have you seen the man’s Twitter feed? Insomniacs rejoice, for your cure is only a click away!

I still expect Republicans to eventually coalesce around someone like Bush or Rubio. Party politics still matter in nomination contests and Trump has done nothing to ingratiate himself with party leaders. But if Trump manages to secure a substantial number of delegates, the Republican convention could make for compelling summer TV.

And please stop littering my Facebook feed with Ben Carson quotes set against backdrops of the American flag or overly Photoshopped sunrises. I’m sure he was a skilled surgeon, but a brilliant crank is still a crank.

Apr 262015
 

When Republicans took control of the Minnesota House last fall thanks to the support of rural voters, they promised to enact policies that would promote the interests of greater Minnesota. But House Republicans are now pushing for a major tax cut that would be paid for with the elimination of MinnesotaCare, the health care program for low-income Minnesotans who don’t qualify for Medical Assistance. Republicans would require these individuals to purchase private insurance via MNsure and pay the associated higher premiums and cost-sharing.

It seems unlikely that our Democratic governor and Senate will agree to this. Minnesota has a budget surplus of $2 billion and it makes little sense to eliminate a program that provides affordable health coverage to so many and that, until recently, has enjoyed bipartisan support at the Legislature. Republicans also seem reluctant to acknowledge that a substantial number of people eligible for MinnesotaCare live in rural districts; perhaps because it would undercut their claim to be champions of rural Minnesota. They should have been clearer in their campaign literature: “Minnesota Republicans–we’ll cut your taxes! And that’s about all you can expect from us.”

Mar 232015
 

Ted Cruz should enjoy his moment in the spotlight because today is likely to be the apex of his presidential campaign. Yes, he could pull out a victory in Iowa, where caucusgoers have a history of voting for the person who most fervently promises to wage holy warfare on secular America. But a man who is something of a pariah in his own party probably has little hope of winning the nomination. Cruz is a smart guy and I’m sure he knows the odds; I suspect this whole exercise is his gleeful attempt to force the other candidates to pander to his base while he burnishes his credentials for a lucrative post-Senate career as right-wing pundit.

Even though Cruz’s campaign couldn’t be any more cynical, it should produce some entertaining soundbites. And by “entertaining”, I mean “batshit crazy”.

Mar 162015
 

Sarah Kliff of Vox offers an excellent explanation of Republican plans to transform Medicaid into a block grant. Instead of guaranteeing to cover a fixed percentage of all enrollees’ medical expenses, the federal government would give each state a specific amount of money to spend on Medicaid coverage. Republicans claim that this would give states more flexibility to tailor coverage to meet the needs of their residents. But by placing a specific dollar limit on Medicaid spending, millions of people would likely lose coverage. In other words, “block grant” is a euphemism for deep cuts.

Republicans are deeply hostile to any Medicaid spending that benefits low-income adults because they see it as a disincentive to work. These are the people who are most likely to suffer under Medicaid block grants. And many of them work low-paying jobs that don’t provide affordable health insurance. It would remove an already frayed safety net from those who dwell on the economic margins of society. The elderly and people with disabilities are also likely to see substantial cuts in services, so everyone will feel some pain if block grants are implemented.

Republicans will do their best to disguise the true human cost of their policy proposals, which is why explanatory posts like Kliff’s are so important. We can’t allow conservatives to put innocuous labels on their terrible ideas.

Feb 032015
 

I tend to think of anti-vaxxers as highly educated liberal white people, so I’m a little surprised to see GOP presidential hopefuls pander to that crowd. But I also get that opposition to vaccines can be symptomatic of a deeper suspicion of government and/or science, characteristics that are deeply embedded into the DNA of the modern conservative. I’m just not sure that efforts to appeal to the relatively small number of people opposed to vaccines are worth the risk of being perceived as a kook by the rest of the electorate.

And yes, opposition to vaccines is decidedly kooky. Given the absolute lack of evidence showing that vaccines are harmful, along with the recent evidence that the decision not to vaccinate does  harm others, it’s difficult to understand how intelligent people can continue to hold such irrational beliefs. Of course, I often ask a similar question regarding people who are religious, which implies that I simply don’t understand beliefs rooted in faith and nothing else.

Dec 062014
 

Over at Vox (my favorite new site of 2014), Sarah Kliff has a great article pointing out the emerging and conflicting narratives of the Affordable Care Act. From a political perspective, the ACA seems like a train wreck. It continues to poll terribly, its backers have made some boneheaded remarks about American voters, and senior Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer are now saying that it was a mistake to pass health care reform. This is not what the story of a successful law should look like.

And yet, the actual policies seem to be working. More Americans have health coverage than ever before. Health care costs are slowing at a remarkable rate. And during the current open enrollment period, over 750,000 individuals have already selected an ACA health plan.

The law continues to offer real benefits for millions of people, but this fact gets lost in the political echo chamber. As for second-guessing Democrats like Schumer, I suggest they take a running leap into a very shallow lake. If Democrats had done a better job of actually explaining how the ACA helps people, the conservative misinformation campaign might have been less successful. They could have also fought harder for a public option plan or, even better, Medicare for all. Instead, they spent an interminable amount of time trying to win conservative support that never materialized.

The ACA is certainly a flawed piece of legislation, but it is ultimately making life better for Americans. Rumors of its demise remain greatly exaggerated.

Nov 072014
 

My election predictions were mostly accurate, although I underestimated the strength of Republicans in both Minnesota and nationally. Four years of political stalemate, combined with stagnant wage growth, has left voters frustrated and angry. They directed that anger at the most obvious target: the President. I’m not sure Tuesday’s results point to a more conservative electorate, though. Republicans did so well because they didn’t have to define a specific agenda; attacking Democrats was all the strategy they needed to win. We’ll see whether voters remain as enamored with Republicans once they take control of Congress and start putting policy proposals in writing.

Even if Republicans wear out their welcome, Democrats are unlikely to take back Congress anytime soon. As long as Democratic voters are concentrated in urban areas, it will be a struggle to recapture the House. The Senate and the Presidency may swing between the parties in coming years, but it’s going to be a long while before Democrats have enough power to advance a truly progressive agenda.

Nov 042014
 

It’s Election Day and Republicans are poised to take control of the Senate. As I’ve noted previously, Republican control of Congress won’t make our national politics any less dysfunctional. The GOP will need to win the Presidency and probably a few more Senate seats in 2016 before they can start enacting their agenda. In the meantime, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to watch gushing public displays of affection between Mitch McConnell and John Boehner while Obama does his best to tame that pulsating vein in his forehead at every press conference for the next two years.

Here are my predictions for the Senate and state races:

  • U.S. Senate: Republicans will secure a 53-seat majority with victories in Montana, South Dakota, Georgia, Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Kansas, and Iowa. Democrats, through the strength of their ground operations, will eke out victories in North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Colorado. Here in Minnesota, Al Franken should easily win a second term against an opponent who didn’t attract much national attention and struggled to introduce himself to voters.
  • Minnesota Governor: This race has tightened in recent weeks, but Dayton should win by 5-7 points. Minnesota’s economy has been performing well and Republican Jeff Johnson hasn’t been able to make a compelling case for Dayton’s ouster.
  • Minnesota House of Representatives: This is a difficult call. Minnesotans don’t like to give either party extended control of government, but the DFL should benefit from Dayton and Franken appearing on the ballot. I’ll take a chance and predict that the DFL will retain a slim House majority, which could allow Minnesota to follow a progressive path for another two years despite the ongoing policy stalemate at the national level.