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.
Sep 302014

As the midterm election cycle draws to a merciful conclusion, it looks like the Republicans stand a good chance of taking control of the Senate. It’s still possible that Democrats–who are pouring money into get-out-the-vote efforts in states like Iowa and Colorado—could eke out a couple victories, but it’s difficult to ignore the gradual alignment of the various election prediction models pointing to a Republican-controlled Senate. At this point, neither result would surprise me.

A Republican Senate probably won’t change the political status quo much. Even if the Democrats retain control, it’s unlikely that any major legislation will pass in the next two years. Life could become more difficult for Obama’s judicial nominees and we might have to suffer another government shutdown, but America will muddle and bumble through as it always does.

That last statement isn’t meant to be reassuring. I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of our capacity to muster the political will to make life better for ourselves and our fellow citizens. Perhaps my optimism will return in 2016, despite Hillary Clinton’s concerted efforts to become the first robot to serve as President.

Jun 102014

Eric Cantor, the sitting Republican Majority Leader, just lost a primary election to a completely unknown political newcomer. In politics, this is a “holy crap” moment. No pollster or pundit saw this coming, which makes Cantor’s defeat so surprising. It also seems to dash any hopes for immigration reform in the next couple years; Cantor’s opponent cast him as a supporter of amnesty and that tactic seems to have paid dividends with primary voters. Considering how conservative Cantor was on a host of issues, it seems that the good people of Virginia’s 7th District will only be satisfied once every immigrant is rounded up, tarred, feathered, and shot out of a cannon into the Atlantic.

Boehner must be hitting the Dewars hard right about now.

Apr 242014

Conservatives really need to come up with a better process for vetting their potential folk heroes. Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy received plenty of media attention (much of it adulating) when he and a bunch of sympathetic militia members chased off federal officials who were trying to repossess his cattle. Bundy didn’t see a problem with not paying fees for grazing his cattle and plenty of people took up his cause as a means to protest everything they disliked about Obama’s America. Fair enough. But then Bundy decided to opine on topics unrelated to cattle or grazing:

I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro…They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.

Am I surprised that some geriatric self-styled “patriot” and country bumpkin has an abiding fondness for the bygone days of slavery? Not really. Most of Bundy’s militia pals and a sizable number of Fox News viewers would nod in agreement with this statement. But the next few days will see plenty of leading conservative politicians putting as much distance as possible between Bundy and themselves. It’s becoming something of a ritual in conservative circles. They rally around a Joe or Jane Sixpack of the Week—someone who represents all that is good and true about the Real America. Then Jane or Joe says something stupid, usually about people of color or women. And the rally is over and Jane or Joe find themselves friendless and alone.


Apr 012014

Six months ago, most observers would have bet that Obamacare would fail miserably at enrolling seven million people by March 31st. Hell, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic. But as the President announced today, that’s exactly what happened. This news will do little to deter opponents of health care reform from proclaiming yet again that the whole endeavor is either a misguided failure, a socialist plot, or both.  Fact on the ground matter, though. Obamacare now has a constituency; real people who will suffer if the law is repealed or scaled back. It’s a constituency that may not be the most politically well-connected, but they have a real stake in ensuring Obamacare’s success and longevity. Republicans will probably continue to pretend that this constituency doesn’t exist, even it makes them seem increasingly oblivious to reality.

I expect the law to be tweaked and revised in coming years, as it should be. But Obamacare is now a permanent fixture of America’s policy landscape, a fact worthy of a little celebration.

Feb 282014

The Arkansas legislature is currently debating whether to continue the state’s expansion of Medicaid for low-income children and adults. Since this is Arkansas, a bloc of Tea Party legislators has been blocking the extension because it might make the lives of poor people just a bit less miserable. One of the opposing legislators is Josh Miller, who also happens to be a Medicaid beneficiary because of a spinal cord injury sustained in an auto accident.

In interviews, Miller justifies his opposition to the expansion with claims that it would benefit people who don’t want to work or who want to abuse prescription drugs. He also is terribly concerned that the federal government will default on its obligations and he doesn’t want to make promises to his fellow Arkansans that can’t be kept.

People with disabilities span the political spectrum and Miller and is entitled to his opinion. But his stance that some people “deserve” assistance while others don’t is disheartening, particularly given his own experience with public assistance. He isn’t the first person with a disability who wants to protect Medicaid for people like himself, yet his position as a legislator gives him a unique opportunity to shape the programs that benefit him so extensively. It’s an opportunity I would love to have. If he chooses to use that opportunity to deny health care to 100,000 people, that’s his right. A day may come when Miller’s fellow legislators want to save money by trimming benefits for people with disabilities. If that happens, will Miller be as quick to side with his conservative brethren?

Feb 252014

The Minnesota Legislature begins its 2014 session today. Governor Dayton is calling it the “Unsession” because he wants legislators to focus on repealing and cleaning up old, outdated statutes. But legislators will probably be more focused on passing a bonding bill, raising the minimum wage, and repealing some of the tax increases enacted last year.

This is an election year, so lowering taxes will be a popular cause on both sides of the aisle. If the February budget forecast shows another substantial surplus, cutting taxes may be a reasonable policy. Still, no legislator should want to return to the days of budget instability and the fiscal gimmickry that accompanied it. Any desire to cut taxes in the short-term should be balanced against legislators’ responsibility to ensure that the state is on sound financial footing.

Dec 022013

The Times ran a great piece over the weekend that pulled back the curtain on the unfolding disaster that was the website. It details the bureaucratic bungling and poor oversight that led to the disastrous rollout of the site. The website’s performance seems to have improved as a result of the administration’s intensive repair effort, but problems could still crop up on the backend components that are responsible for transmitting enrolling information to insurers and for processing subsidy payments to insurers.

As President Obama has already admitted, he and his appointees badly mishandled this crucial task. Presidents shouldn’t be micromanagers, but Obama’s hands-off approach and the general insularity of this administration only served to undermine his credibility when it counted most. The politics of this clusterfuck are transitory; what really matters is whether the underlying policy succeeds. I still think success is likely, but I worry about our collective willingness to take bold action on other issues like climate change and income inequality. Government must constantly demonstrate its effectiveness and relevance to people’s lives. Unforced errors like this only give fodder to those who would be too happy to live under a government that stands an army, paves the roads, and not much else.

Nov 212013

Senate Democrats went “nuclear” today and voted for a rule change that ends the filibuster for most judicial and executive nominees while preserving its use for Supreme Court nominees and legislation. This change has been a long time in coming, given the constant Republican filibustering of Obama nominees over the last few years. Republicans will almost certainly reap the rewards of this change whenever they take back the majority, so their caterwauling about a Democratic power grab should be taken with a ginormous grain of salt.

Even though this move will ultimately make it easier for conservatives to enact their agenda once they’re in power, this is the right thing to do for the long-term health of our body politic. Elections should have consequences that cannot be undermined by the minority. Most parliamentary democracies operate under this assumption and none of them seem in danger of falling into tyranny. Any hope of passing major legislation in this Congress is long gone, but at least the Senate will fulfill its obligation to approve nominees for critical executive and judicial posts.