NDN Blog

WPost: Scandals alone could cost GOP their majority

Lot of news this morning.  Bush says Rumsfeld and Cheney will be there through 2009.  Republican House leader John Boehner says the troubles in Iraq are the military's fault, and not Rumsfeld's.  Of course more signs of disintegration Iraq. The NYTimes has a poll showing that the American people believe Democrats will significantly change our strategy in Iraq....

But to me the most remarkable story of the day is a lead story in the Washington Post that reminds all of us what a mess the Republicans have made of the government in recent years:

..."Indictments, investigations and allegations of wrongdoing have helped put at least 15 Republican House seats in jeopardy, enough to swing control to the Democrats on Tuesday even before the larger issues of war, economic unease and President Bush are invoked.

With just five days left before Election Day, allegations are springing up like brushfires. Four GOP House seats have been tarred by lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling scandal. Five have been adversely affected by then-Rep. Mark Foley's unseemly contacts with teenage male House pages. The remaining half a dozen or so could turn on controversies including offshore tax dodging, sexual misconduct and shady land deals.

Not since the House bank check-kiting scandal of the early 1990s have so many seats been affected by scandals, and not since the Abscam bribery cases of the 1970s have the charges been so serious. But this year's combination of breadth and severity may be unprecedented, suggested Julian E. Zelizer, a congressional historian at Boston University.

For more than a year, Democrats have tried to gain political advantage from what they called "a culture of corruption" in Republican-controlled Washington. Republican campaign officials insist the theme has not caught on with the public, but even they concede that many individual races have been hit hard.

"So many different kinds of scandals going on at the same time, that's pretty unique," Zelizer said. "There were scandals throughout the '70s, multiple scandals, but the number of stories now are almost overwhelming...."

A Warning on The Turnout Issue

Talk is turning to turnout this week, and the issue of motivation has been popping up. Ken Mellman recently put out a memo saying that there wasn't a motivation gap, and that the Republican base is as fired up as ever. Common sense suggests this is unlikely. Time will tell. Nonetheless, there is a danger that the turnout figure overall will be taken as some sort of proxy for a measure of voter enthusiasm. For instance, in low turnout polls where Democrats don't win, expect turnout to be blamed on "democrats who had nothing to vote for", or somethign similar. For that reason this piece, hidden away on the Washington Post's "Think Tank town" section, is a very useful corrective. It argues sensibly that turnout is going to be down - way down - not just on 2004 but on 1994 and other congressional years. Why? At least part of it will be the fault of Republican redistricting, which has significantly reduced the number of competitive districts. (Turnout is lower if voters don't think they influence the outcome.) But part of it is just the way the cycle has panned out. Arnold looks very likely to win in CA, while the word "win" doesn't really do justice to the spanking that Elliot Spitzer is meeting out to whoever his Republican opponent is in New York. The fact of these two states having no state wide competitive race will depress national turnout considerably. 

The fault is not on the voters; people's lives are busy, and a rational person will abstain when their vote does not matter to the election outcome. The political parties also are sensitive to competition and focus their limited resources where elections are competitive... The old adage of "build it and they will come" is relevant. All but hardcore sports fans tune out a blowout. Building competitive elections -- and giving voters real choices -- will do much to increase voter turnout in American politics. There are a number of reforms on the table: redistricting to create competitive districts, campaign financing to give candidates equal resources, and even altering the electoral system to fundamentally change how a vote elects representatives....

As a foreigner in this country, it has always seemed to me that the American system of politicized redistricting (as opposed to the impartial quasi-judicial system in most European countries) is little short of crazy. Here is just one more reason why. Lets hope someone fixes it before there aren't any competitive races left. 


Don't forget the Youth vote

Harvard's Institute of Politics (IOP) is releasing a new poll today that hints at record Youth (18-24 year olds) turnout in next week's election. As of now, only the press release is available; but the results show great promise for Democrats, noting:

...young people continue to disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as President, with the President averaging a grade of “C-”on seven key issues facing America, with the lowest mark coming on his handling of the War in Iraq (D+). Finally, 18-24 year olds seem to favor a swapping of majority parties in Congress, as a majority of likely voters (52%) said they favor a Congress controlled by Democrats following the November elections.

And, while it also hints that the Youth are not happy with the current climate in Washington, the study shows that "young adults still have hope for politics."

Thankfully, the New Politics Institute continues to urge us all to understand this Millennial generation, and how new mediums can be used to speak to it.


Baghdad (and Moktada al-Sadr) Calling

Something earth shattering happened in Baghdad yesterday, the US Army took orders from Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and moved all US troops out of East and Central Baghdad, giving up on the search for a kidnapped American soldier.  Those troops had been holding radical Shiite Cleric Moktada al-Sadr's militia under siege in Sadr City, while conducting manhunts. 

The flow of events could not be clearer.  An American soldier was kidnapped by al-Sadr's anti-American insurgent militia; US troops did the right thing and sealed off his powerbase to apply pressure on al-Sadr; al-Sadr declared a general strike and pressured PM Maliki; with only token US consultation Maliki ordered US troops to abandon their positions, and US commanders followed those orders.

That means that the third attempt this year to secure Baghdad has ended in failure and it has been met with silence from the White House.  President Bush won't even stand up to the Iraqi Prime Minister, and his weakness and lack of a plan is putting American troops at risk.  But don't take my word for it, read Andrew Sullivan's take on this historic failure of leadership. 

7 Sad Attempts to Exploit the Immigration Issue

Great job by TNR cataloguing the Top Seven Worst Anti-Immigration Campaign Ads.  The common thread between all these ads is that they are all run by or in support of Republican candidates.  It'll be interesting to see how many of these candidates lose on election day.  As NDN and our allies have been arguing, demonizing Hispanics doesn't take anybody to the electoral promised land.  Watch some of what we're up against: 

And my favorite.

Fixing the Broken Branch

The Brookings Institute held an excellent event yesterday, with Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein (authors of the recently published The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track) along with former Republican Congressman Vin Weber.  The event was moderated by Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne.

Rather then the usual bellyaching about the abysmal state of the legislative branch (although there was some of that) Mann and Ornstein diagnosed the problems and laid out steps that could be taken right now, or at least November 8th.

Some of the key points about where Congress has gone wrong:

-Congress is historically bad right now.  Congress is Article 1 of the Constitution (the longest article) and more time was spent on it then anything else worked on in Philadelphia.  Congress can and should be the lynchpin of our Democracy, instead it is a shadow of what the founding fathers intended.

-Congress is no longer a transformative body, but a parliamentary one that is limited to acting on ideas and initiatives that come from a tightly controlled leadership or, more often, the Executive branch.

-The endless fundraising, travel, campaigning and abandonment of rules and norms has led to short sessions, perfunctory committee and subcommittee review, much less minority party involvement and most disturbingly, the end of the traditions of deliberation, debate and amendment. 

-We are in the midst of maybe the most aggressive exertion of Presidential power in America's history, which would be fine if Congress would act in its own self-interest and provide checks and balances.  Unfortunately, party loyalty and ideology have resulted in a Congress that subordinates itself to the President, threatening our entire system of Government.

After hearing all this, I agreed with Orenstein when he said "16% of Americans approve of this Congress' performance.  All I want to know is, what medicines are those 16% taking?"

Fortunately, Orenstein, Mann and Weber gave us a look into what they would tell Nancy Pelosi to do to fix some of the most pressing problems:   

-Start with lobbying and ethics reform with teeth, to restore trust in the system.  And follow that with, as Republican Vin Weber said, "things that will make Republican squirm," like immigration reform and the minimum wage, which enjoy bipartisan support. 

-Ornstein was optimistic about Nancy Pelosi as Speaker saying that she would be "Speaker of the whole House" not "Speaker of the majority of the majority" like Hastert.

-The really gutsy thing to do would be to return to the rules and be willing to lose occasionally, by ending Republican practices like holding votes open all night to marshal one vote majorities, and allowing meaningful debate and reform again. 

-Pelosi should consult with Republicans, hold monthly meetings just to get talking again.  Weber used the language of armed conflict, calling this a "confidence building measure," showing just how bad bipartisan relations are on the Hill.

-Finally, the language of brinksmanship has to go.  Statements like Bush's recent line about a win for the terrorists being a win for the Democrats increases polarization and makes reform that much less likely.

El periodico el New York Times dice que el muro fronterizo es una mala idea

NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center sends regular updates to Spanish language media outlets about the issues and campaigns that impact their communities. The releases are reprinted in their entirety on our blog for our Spanish speaking readers, and you can read the latest below.

El Centro de Estrategia Hispana del NDN les envía este editorial del New York Times sobre el muro fronterizo. El editorial dice que el muro reemplazó cualquier estrategia integral que tenía el Partido Republicano para resolver el problema de inmigración. Dice que desafortunadamente, el Partido Republicano se dejó manipular por la histeria y el miedo que tenían varios en su partido en defender una política sana, justa, integral y verdadera, lo cual hubiese sido el proyecto de ley de los senadores McCain y Kennedy. En vez, el Partido Republicano y ahora el Presidente Bush han confirmado que solo desean arreglar sus problemas políticos internos acudiendo a lo peor de la política humana - el miedo y el deseo de culpar a un grupo en particular - los inmigrantes - por todos los males que sufre nuestro país.

George Will on George Allen

George Will is my kind of Conservative. And this is a lovely piece of writing. More generally, it is such good news that Jim Webb seems to be ahead. I repeat: Jim Webb is ahead. Anyone in the NDN community who can support his campaign shoud do so. He ran a positive campaign. He ran on the issues. He will be an asset to the Dems in the House on security for a generation. And we will all feel awful if we wake next wednesday and find he lost by a couple of hundred votes.

But Allen, who makes no secret of finding life as a senator tedious, is fighting ferociously for another term, a fate from which his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, is close to rescuing him. As a result, Allen is dabbling in literary criticism. He has read, or someone has read for him, at least some of Webb's six fine novels, finding therein sexual passages that have caused Allen -- he of the football metaphors, cowboy regalia and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco -- to blush like a fictional Victorian maiden and fulminate like an actual Victorian man, Anthony Comstock, the 19th-century scourge of sin who successfully agitated for New York and federal anti-obscenity statutes and is credited with the destruction of 160 tons of naughty printed matter and pictures.

Responding to Kerry: A desperate act, a failed government, a new era

Within several hours of John Kerry's slip of the tongue, the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, found time to rush to the mikes to somehow, perhaps, to change the subject from how badly they've botched just about everything. 

As James Carville said "Kerry may have blown a joke.  Bush has blown a war."

I'm not really worried about the Kerry remark.  Yes the right-wing spin machine will grab and toss it hard into the debate.  Yes the news organizations will oblige, and pick it up for a day or so.  But at the end of the day, the uncommon good sense of the common people will prevail.  For they have already decided that this election will not be about nothing, but will be about the future of our country. 

The people have already come to believe that the nation has gone off track.  That our foreign policy has failed.  That our occupation of Iraq needs a new path.  That Bin Laden is still on the loose, and Al Qaeda is growing again.  That Katrina showed we are not ready.  That we cannot balance our books, and borrow too much from abroad. That it has become harder to get ahead.  That college has become too expensive, health insurance too uncertain, retirement an extraordinary struggle.  That global climate change has turned from science fiction to fact, and that we have done nothing to lessen our dependence on foreign energy sources.   That the governing party has become too corrupt, and more concerned about their power than America's success. 

The American people understand that this is a serious time, one where important choices must be made.  They are looking for firm, honest, leadership.  The President of the United States, in his insistence that Iraq is doing fine, that the economy is strong and that Democrats are not to be trusted is only serving to remind the American people how tired they've grown of the Republican's commitment to politics over governing; and will in these final days do what is necessary to usher in a new and better era for the great country we love.

More Writing on the Wall: Google buys a startup of collaborative wikis

We can see now that Google is going big time into social software, the area that rival search engine Yahoo! had been leading in. Google just announced that they are buying Jotspot, a leading company helping popularize wikis, or software that allows many, many people to write and edit on the same document.

Wikis have yet to go mainstream, but they are proving to be very useful among more techie crowds. It allows people from all over the world to easily work on common projects, such as an attempt to create a bottom-up encyclopedia, or wikipedia.

Google’s purchase will give a boost to popularize the tools. Jotspot itself was known for making wikis much more user friendly, by adopting many of the conventions that people are used to in word processing programs like Microsoft Word. The two together will help spread the word.

Not long ago a good rule of thumb was that Google relied more on advanced technology in their offerings, while Yahoo! focused more on user input and social software. Yahoo made some early purchases, like that of Flickr, the photo-sharing company, that started to stake out that turf. But now Google is jumping on the bandwagon with its recent acquisition of YouTube and now Jotspot. The trend is becoming clear….

Peter Leyden

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