A new electorate re-electing a mixed race President with more than 50 percent of the vote. Democrats winning the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 Presidential elections. New communications tools and strategies are allowing greater citizen involvement in our politics than ever before. And new issues - from climate change to gay marriage to immigration reform to the "rise of the rest" and the "pivot to Asia" - dominate the national debate.
Has the US entered a new post-Reagan political era, one where the center-left has replaced the center-right as the dominant force in our politics? To discuss this, NDN/NPI is conducting a live web video discussion this Friday at 3pm Eastern time. Joining me will be two noted authors of books which argued a new era was upon us:
For those who may have missed our terrific forum yesterday featuring mayors from both side of the US-Mexico border, you can watch the C-Span recording here. We were pleased that C-Span went live with it yesterday.
For more on our border and immigration work please check back in at www.21border.com.
"The President has taken bold and courageous steps to combat rising gun violence in America. We at NDN look forward to working with the White House to help turn his agenda into law this year.
It should not be overlooked how much the new approach outlined by the President today would impact the south bound flow of illegal guns into Mexico, guns which have done so much to contribute to rising levels of violence in our Southern neighbor.
The President's plan, particularly the more aggressive actions taken against "straw purchasers" of guns, will not just America much safer but will dramatically improve the safety of the Mexican people so scared by violence in recent years.
In his four years in office, President Obama has made the border region safer and the immigration system here in the US better. His new gun violence plan will be another important step to making our neighbor Mexico, and the border region itself, even safer still."
Like many I was a bit amazed at Wayne LaPierre's effort to blame fictional weapons found in the movies, TV and video games for Sandy Hook style shootings in the US, and not the real guns themselves. Since then I have followed the debate closely and have listened to leading figures attempt to blame a rising "culture of violence" in the US for the conditions that have created these horrific incidents.
"Culture of violence." Are we living in a worsening culture of violence in the US today? Are our cities more dangerous, our kids less safe, our communities more under threat? As someone who lived through the 70s, 80s, 90s and the last decade this argument seemed ridiculous. My own city, Washington, DC, has seen a huge drop in crime. Let's take the murder rate. In 1993, there were 454 murders in DC. In 2011, 108, almost a fifth as many! The city is profoundly safer and more vibrant than in the dark days 20 years ago. This is also true for so many other cities in the US. In fact there has been something of an urban rivival in the US, with vibrant, prosperous and safer cites once again becoming the core of more dynamic metro areas in many many parts of the country. See the chart below mapping DC murder rates from 1993-2011.
So, to check and see if the US was actually more violent today, I looked at national data. And here is what I found: the incidents of violent crime in the US per 100,000 people in 1993 was 747; in 2011 it was 386, or half the rate. Half! Not 10 percent less, 20 percent less, but fully half. Even in absolute terms - not adjusted for the rapid population growth and huge waves of immigration in the last 20 years (and explosion of video game use) - violent crime is down, and down in all areas measured. See the chart below for one cut on the data, violent crimes per 100,000 people over the past generation.
The reduction in crime that has taken place in the US over the past twenty years is something that, as a society we should celebrate, and be proud of. America was indeed a violent place. It simply isn't any more. All of this happened while immigration has soared, something that normally could be associated with less social cohesion, and all forms of media consumption - video games, tv, movie, youtube - have increased. Gun ownership, by the way, has also been declining for generations now. Far few people own guns in the US than two generations ago.
While I am no expert on these matters, it seems like a much more reasonable interpretation of recent data is that while the consumption of all forms of media has increased - including mature video games - all forms of violence in the US have dropped. There just isn't a strong statistical basis for claims that we are or have become more violent, and this violence has somehow contributed to these horrific incidents. But what seems clear as day is that if these disturbed people did not have high capacity assault weapons, the carnage they would have caused would have been much less severe. Crime is down, violence is down, but these mass killings are up. To me,the culprit seems to be much more likely to be real guns than the fictional ones in Mr. LaPierre's imagination. And we can, and I hope will, do something about that in this coming Congress.
Have found it interesting in the morning after the horrors of the Sandy Hook shooting discussions about what it would take, politically, to make our gun laws a bit more reasonable. Many of these discussions have eventually ended up reviewing the role of the "Republican House," a House which is either going to be a bulwark against "liberal overreach" (their formulation), or a reactionary force thwarting the will of the majority eager to leave an old age of politics behind (mine).
John Boehner is in no easy position right now. He retained control of the House not through popular will and the consent of the governed, but vigorous redistricting (as the Times documents today). His caucus is made up largely of Members from 70 percent plus GOP districts, whose values on most major issues are out of step with the majority of the country. The Speaker's job of course is to fight for his caucus, something that so far this year is driving his and his Party's poll numbers down to extraordinary low, even dangerous levels. His caucus is in the thrall of late Reagan era rigid, reactionary, ideological positions - no tax hikes, no amnesty, no Obamacare, no gun control - which leave little room for compromise or negotiation. The big question of this Congressional cycle is how long can Boehner and his team hold out against the popular will, and a much more organized and aggressive Democratic team. The negotiations over the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling are the first test of this new political moment. This is not just a Democrat vs. Republican battle, but very much one of forward/backward as I wrote in this major magazine article, and posited in "A 50 Year Strategy," a landmark Mother Jones piece from a few years ago (see Krugman's smart take on all this). And it is unclear how it is all going to turn out.
The Times redistricting piece today raises important questions about whether the particular distribution of today's US population has created a political system slow or unable to accommodate the popular will, or this era of politics. The Times piece looks at the packing of Democratic voters in urban areas. We have identified another, and I think, more serious problem - that half of the nation's population today lives in just nine states. Half of our country - more diverse, more urban, more immigrant - is represented by 18 Senators. The other half - more rural, more white, older - is represented by 82 Senators. This flow of our population into these 9 states over the past generation has resulted in what we described as a "small state bias," which is in itself has become a major mechanism for thwarting the national will.
This discussion began with more reasonable gun laws, but could also be applied to an issue like immigration reform. In the 2012 exit polls, fully 65% of voters embraced legal status for undocumented immigrants, a number consistent with most polls over the past 7 years. And yet we cannot move immigration bills through Congress, largely due to conservative (read House Republican) opposition. Why is this? I believe it comes down to a great degree to this issue of the distribution of the population. The majority of the country who want immigration reform is not represented by a majority in the Senate, or House, due to the methods we use to apportion representation in Congress. It is this small state bias at its most extreme.
The big societal and political breakthrough we saw this past cycle - the growing acceptance of gay marriage - happened without needing a vote of House Republicans, playing out in the courts and in the states. I am not suggesting in any way that the center-left should not fight with everything it has for its agenda in Washington these next two years. But we also have to understand that the Senate and House are not in synch with the growing majority consensus on issues like immigration reform, gay marriage, reasonable gun laws, economic and fiscal matters and other issues. The battles in Congress these next two years are going to be tough, hard and sometimes disappointing - but of course very much worth waging. The current House is just wildly out of step with today's America.
And it is also why a big, broad political reform agenda whose goal is to make it easier for everyone to vote and to remove anti-democratic processes from the system should be at the very top of the center-left's agenda in the years to come.
Update, Mon AM - New HuffPo poll shows majority support for more reasonable gun laws, assault weapons ban. Why I have no doubt these numbers may shift in the months ahead, it demonstrates that there is a working majority ready, now, to move on improving our gun laws.
Tues, AM - A new National Journal piece details the latest GOP scheme to game the US political system. This one will move to apportion electoral college votes by district in Democratic leaning blue states. One more reason why it is time for the Democratic Party to offer a big and bold political reform agenda, including the embrace of the National Popular Vote effort, which would eliminate the electoral college altogether.
America is changing. So are its politics. New voters have entered the electorate. New tools are changing the way we connect, and the way we do just about everything else in our lives. New challenges – from a transforming Arab world, to the rise of China, to the way our economy is evolving – make navigating Washington and governing today very different from times past. To help our community understand and navigate these changes, NDN is launching an exciting new program called The Study Group.
The Study Group is not an endless string of happy hours or a series of stale symposiums. It is a community dedicated to learning and discussing the big changes going on in the world today, in intimate settings that empower our members in tackle these issues in their own careers.
Membership in The Study Group is $1,000 annually. SG Members will be invited to participate in private, monthly events that center on real conversations with leading thinkers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, and government officials who are blazing trails through this new world. SG Members will also have a voice in our programming and will be encouraged to help us identify future speakers and participants that speak to their unique interests.
Most of our events will be private lunches, but we also expect to host three or four receptions and parties each year.
You can become a member of NDN’s Study Group today by making a credit card donation of $1,000. Reserve your membership today – and you will start receiving event invitations right away. Our new program kicks off in January and our first group of speakers will be announced soon. And be sure to visit our website for The Study Group - it will be undergoing upgrades and improvements over the next few months.
Several polls out over the past few days show the Republican Party to be in terrible shape right now, both in absolute terms and relative to the President:
- Rasmussen and NBC/WSJ show a significant drop in the standing of the GOP since the election, a drop so severe and so big that it could be called a collapse. Rasmussen shows a 10 point drop, WSJ/NBC a net 8 point drop. Both find the GOP in the 30s, and far far below the Democrats. A new Pew poll has the GOP Congressional approval rating at 25%, a new WaPo/ABC poll finds only 24% of voters approving of the job Speaker Boehner is doing in the fiscal cliff negotiations. The Rasmussen Congressional generic is showing a staggering 21 point net swing towards the Democrats in the last two years.
- Pew and WaPo/ABC find the GOP to be in bad shape reletive to the President in the current fiscal cliff negotiations. In WaPo/ABC more than twice as many voters would blame the GOP if the deal collapsed, and only 32% believe the GOP is making a serious effort to reach a deal. while 55% believe the President is being serious.
Frankly, these are shockingly bad poll numbers. If I were Speaker Boehner I would cut a deal quickly, get out of town and live to fight another day. The GOP is in no shape to take on the President right now and need to retreat, quickly.
The intellectual decay of the modern GOP was on full display yesterday. In a 16 minute segment on Morning Joe, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor repeatedly made the following argument:
We need more revenue. We should create more revenue from growth. Growth comes from lower taxes. Thus to raise more revenue we need to cut taxes, not raise them.
See for yourself. And, if I am wrong, let me know.
What is remarkable about this argument - theological?ideological? - is that it's been so clearly debunked by the experience of our own economy over the past 20 years. Bill Clinton raised taxes on wealthy people, the economy boomed, jobs were created, the market soared, deficits became surpluses, poverty declined, medium incomes went up. Bush cut taxes on wealthy people and we experienced our worst economy in 70 years. Barack Obama has cut taxes repeatedly since in office, and the economy has not taken off. Given the complexity of our economy, and the limited role government plays in it, it really doesn't make sense for the party of limited government to exaggerate the role government tax revenue plays in the complex, dynamic economy of the United States. Lower taxes simply aren't a sufficient condition to guarantee growth. What Eric Cantor repeated yesterday again and again simply isnt true, and yet it is the foundation of current GOP economy orthodoxy (as we all have been reminded of late, the modern GOP just isn't very good at math).
So how does one negotiate with this argument? Not going to be easy. My read of the Cantor interview is the vast majority of House Republicans are not going to go along with any fiscal cliff compromise. It is an ideological bridge too far. There is no fallback position, no explanation of why they can in any circumstance accept an increase in taxes, whether increase in rates or capping deductions. Cantor explained the logic - we put additional revenues on the table, and the way we get there is through cutting taxes, or keeping them low, not raising them. Allows him in his own mind to "buck Grover" but oppose the President. My gut is that this is where the overwhelming majority of House Republicans end up.
And I am a bit mystified by all this attention to Grover and his pledge. This low tax, anti government approach is not an ideology foisted on unwitting politicians by a modern day Svengali. It is the core economic argument of the modern right, the intellectual foundation of their entire domestic and economic agenda. Consider that Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 nominee, embraced an extreme and almost cartoonish version of this philosophy, calling for a 20 percent across the board tax cut, an increase in defense spending all while arguing he would balance the budget. For good measure he attacked President Obama for reforming Medicare, something the Republicans now claim is an essential part of any fiscal cliff deal. The President rightly pointed out that due to the embrace of radical tax cuts Governor Romney's plan would actually increase the deficit by trillions of dollars. Grover Norquist should be seen as a manifestation of this ideology, not its cause.
While I am optimistic everyone wants a deal on the budget getting there in the next few weeks, and then again over the next few years, it is not going to be easy. The Republicans have staked out such extreme positions on fiscal matters that moving to a place of reasonableness is going to take a great deal of leadership and patience. We start from the place held by Romney, Ryan and Cantor - saying their plan would reduce the deficit when in fact it would increase it. Pure magical thinking, of course, ripped right from the respected and increasingly influential Harry Potter School of Economics. The reason that Romney's plan, and other current Republican plans would not actually reduce the deficit is that they have been publically opposed to doing the three things we have to do to attack the deficit - raising revenue, cutting defense, reforming Medicare and other health care programs (repeal Obamacare, restore $716b in Medicare spending). The President on the other hand is for all three of these things, and already showed he was willing to cut domestic spending to the tune of $1 trillion over 10 years, something he agreed to as part of the debt ceiling deal in the summer of 2011.
As we enter the next phase of this public debate about our fiscal future, it is important to understand that it is President Obama who has shown a willingness to compromise, and do the hard things to attack the deficit. The same cannot be said of the Republicans, which is why the burden now is on them to make the next move and return to the land of math and Muggles.
Update: Discussed all this on Fox News today. Was a fun segment. And got to debate these issues again on Thursday on Megyn Kelly's show. Been remarkable to watch the right deny the reality of what the Dems have already done on spending and entitlement reform, and what they are willing to do now.
Friday Update - Please sure to review this major magazine article I wrote recently on the need for the GOP to modernize, and how hard it will be for them to do so.
Please join me on Wednesday, Nov 14th for a special luncheon discussion with the two of America's leading experts on the Latino electorate, Sergio Bendixen and Fernand Amandi of Bendixen and Amandi
Sergio Bendixen is seen as a true pioneer in identifying and researching the growing Latino electorate in the United States. He and Fernand were the lead Hispanic strategists for the Clinton primary campaign in 2008, and he and Fernand conducted the Hispanic polling and produced the Hispanic paid media for the historic 2012 Obama/Biden campaign.
Our event will review data of how the Latino electorate has changed and performed over the past decade, discuss a new poll just conducted of the Latino electorate in Florida, and of course review some of the strategies which helped President Obama increase his share of the Latino vote from 67% in 2008 to 72% in 2012.
Our event will begin at noon on Wednesday, with the program itself beginning at 1215pm. It will take place here at the NDN event space, 729 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC. Please RSVP here, and we look forward to seeing you next week.
Please join me for a special live web video briefing/discussion this Monday, November 12th with NDN Fellow Morley Winograd, author of two critical acclaimed books on the Millennial generation and its impact on American politics and society. Morley and I will be offering our thoughts on the vast changes in the US population today which is doing so much to usher in a new political age.
This presentation will be live over the web using the web video platform Spreecast. All participants will be able to ask questions and join the conversation, while those with web video cameras will be able to ask questions live on camera. To RSVP for our Monday briefing please visit here. We will begin at 3pm Eastern and end around 3:45pm.
For more from NDN and Morley and his partner, Mike Hais, please review this compendium of recent web videos, essays and press clips about the 2012 election and America's changing electorate.