NDN Blog

Election Day 2012 Memo: Why Voters Are Not Voting for the Status Quo, The Consent of the Governed and More

As this remarkable election draws to a close, some thoughts:

The Electorate Isn't Returning the Status Quo - If the polls hold and the Democrats retain the White House and the Senate, and the GOP the House, we will not be returning to status quo.  Washington will be different.  The GOP will have whiffed on the White House and Senate despite a very challenging economy and all the money in the world.  This will be the first election since 2004 where the troubled economy did not turn out the incumbent party.  The President and Harry Reid will have withstood a tremendous onslaught, won their elections, and will come out stronger, more secure in their place than before.  The national Republican Party will only have the House, a chamber dominated by far right ideologues and led by a factious and divided set of leaders. The national Republican Party will also not have a Presidential primary to divert attention away from the House GOP freak show, meaning that Boehner and his troops will be the face of the Republican Party nationally these next few years, something that was not the case after the 2010 elections.

My own take is that the President and Harry Reid have learned a lot from the last few years, and will not allow the previous levels of Republican obstructionism to go unchallenged.  The President and Senate will have a mandate from the American people to end the gridlock and make progress on our very real problems.  I think it will be much harder now than before for the Republicans just to do nothing and block.  They no longer have the 2010 win at their back, and the President will be very focused on getting things done in his final and perhaps historic second term.  We will all learn quickly that gridlock in Washington is not inexorable.  It is a choice.  It is a choice made by the Republican Party these last few years.  I dont think that choice will be easy for them to make in the days ahead. 

Most significantly the President will be different.  On Wednesday he will be transformed from a struggling incumbent to a re-elected one with an improving economy.  His enormous political accomplishment in 2012 - getting re-elected despite a very tough economy - will become seen in the coming days as significant as his historic 2008 campaign.  He will also have the support of the American people, the "consent of the governed," in a way no President since Reagan and no Democrat since FDR has enjoyed - two consecutive election victories with more than 50% of the vote.  He is also older, wiser and more experienced - just simply better at the job.  So of all the things which suggest we are not returning to the status quo is it going to be the return of Barack Obama, who now has the very real chance of becoming an historic figure not just a decent President.  And my gut is that he is not going to waste this opportunity.

I discussed these ideas on a live interview I did yesterday on the UK's Channel 4 nightly news program.  You can watch it here.  (Update - If Pres Obama breaks 50 percent tonight he will be only the 7th President in US history to win two terms with a majority of the vote each time.  The others: Jackson, Grant, McKinley, FDR, Eisenhower and Reagan.  A pretty august group).

George W. Bush Played A Much Bigger Role In The Election Than Many Realize - One of the great mysteries of 2012 is why Mitt Romney did not do more to distance himself and the Republican Party from the disasterous Bush Presidency.  The entire Obama frame - Forward/Backward - was a direct reference to the idea that Romney represented a third Bush term.  Despite being gone for almost four years now, we are still digging out of the economic challenges, the foreign policy quagmires and the structural budget deficit he left behind.  The memory of his time in his office, a sort of modern day Hoover, created significant structural problem for the GOP brand this year, and helps explain the wide Party ID advantage the Democrats now enjoy. 

I had always thought that Jeb Bush would be able to someday overcome his brother's legacy, win the GOP nomination and potentially get elected President. I am no longer so sure about this.  The GOP is in need of creating distance between them and the Bush era, something Jeb will not be able to provide them in 2016, or beyond.  I think this need of a fresh approach, a fresh team will start to become more important to the GOP in the years to come (Christie, Jindal, Rubio, Martinez, Sandoval, etc). 

It Was A Lot More Than Sandy - Some early election spin coming from the GOP is that Obama won by accident - Hurricane Sandy - and they did not really lose the election to the "worst President in history," someone Paul Ryan said wants everything to be free "except us," and who Rick Santorum said would usher in the end of the American Republic.

As Nate Silver writes, and I reported repeatedly on twitter, the election had started to move to Obama before Sandy hit.  Nate goes into great detail about why this might have happened but to me the fact that the Dems won the last three debates by large margins, the strong Romney from the first debate never returned, Obama righted himself in the final two debates, and the improving economy are all enough reasons to explain the shift that was underway.  Mittmentum had already stopped, and a new race dynamic had already kicked in.  Arguments otherwise from the GOP are just ass-covering excuses from losing consultants.  

Next, the impact of Sandy, whatever it ends up being, will be because of the way the two campaigns handled the event, not the occurance of the event itself.   Katrina, remember, hurt the sitting President George W Bush.  Sandy has helped President Obama because his government was prepared and has done a good job in the days after; the praise from Christie, Bloomberg and dozens of other officials working the USG matters; and Romney was hurt by his loopy argument for privitization of FEMA and a return of its functions to the states.  Obama gaining ground from Sandy was not pre-ordained.  Like the financial collapse in the fall of 2008, Obama gained from the event because of his performance and reaction to the event, not the mere event itself.  Give the man credit for the performance of his government, and his own adroit political handling of the crisis. 

Watch Arizona - Arizona could end up being a big 2012 story.  The Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona has made it a race and leads in some polls.  The Congressional delegation will be majority Dem, 5-4, after tomorrow.  The state elected Democratic mayors in each of its largest cities in 2011, Tucson and Phoenix, for the first time in 40 years.  The yoke of the far right extemists like Jan Brewer who have been running Arizona is in the process of being tossed off by angry voters.  While a few years behind its neighbors like CO and NV, Arizona's Latino-driven march from red to purple status may become official this year (and I still think team Obama should have mounted a challeng here). By some accounts even Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a race on his hands.

Watch Arizona. If Carmona wins it will be another significant blow to the self-deportation forces, who have been in retreat since a tough summer in the Supreme and other courts.  And another sign (along with CA's GOP registration dropping below 30%) of the transformative power of the growing Latino vote.  One of the most important exit poll numbers to watch tonight is that Latino number.  Romney's extreme position on immigration, and the Obama campaign's significant investment in running a truly modern and well funded campaign with Latinos, has pushed the Obama Latino number into the 70s in some polls, remarkable territory.  Many of the national polls released this week have Obama in the low to mid 60s with Latinos.  If this number does indeed end up in the 70s it could add a point or two to his national total tonight, and make a few states tilt much more in his favor. 

The GOP Needs A Modernization Project - I just published a major article which dives into this idea in depth (see it here in both Spanish and English) but it is clear the GOP desperately needs a modernization project designed to take its ideas and values and apply them to the vastly different circumstances of the 21st century.  California should be a warning sign of one possible future for the GOP.  In the place where the 21st century is perhaps arriving with its greatest speed, the Republican Party has essentially disapeared.  This is more than just about the GOP's problems with people of color and Millennials, the fast growing parts of the US electorate.  It is also coming to accept at a fundamental level how much the world has changed since the halycon Reagan days.  Words and concepts like globalization, rise of the rest, changing geo-politics of the world today, the digital transformation of our own economy are not even in the Republican Party's spell checker let alone a major topic of debate.  My own take is that a major part of the incoherence of the Romney campaign came from this - their Party on a very basic level doesn't understand what is happening in the world and in America today.  

As we look ahead to the 2016 GOP field, you can see candidates who could be modernizers/pragmatists.  Folks like Christie, Jindal and Rubio I think could fall into that camp.  The more ideological wing will be represented too in folks such as Paul Ryan and Mike Huckabee (As I wrote I have much more doubt now about Jeb Bush's viability than before, either in the primary or the general).  But man is this once successful Party of the 20th century in need of a major overhaul, a generational skip, a fresh start.  After all, it is likely that after tonight's vote, Democrats will have won the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections, which clearly should be a cause of concern for the GOP.

Obama's Second Term - There is already so much teed up for the second Obama term - managing the fragile US and global economies, tackling our fiscal challenges, implementing the ACA across the country, making further progress on immigration reform, nurturing the post-Arab Spring MENA region, winding down the war in Afghanistan, preventing the nuclearization of Iran, continuing to weaken terrorists networks, completing and passing TPP and making real the President's "pivot to Asia," deepening our commitment to an "All of the Above" energy strategy - just to name a few things.  As I said above, I think the President will be ambitious in his second term, and not shy from fights, or be tolerant of obstruction. 

As I wrote in a previous essay, Crafting An American Response to the Rise of the Rest, my greatest hope for the President's second term is for him to create a strategic rationale for his Presidency that is more than cleaning up the messes left by the Bush Administration.  As he hinted in his 2011 State of the Union speech, America is facing a new century, with new challenges, and needs a new strategy to ensure our prosperity and security in a new age.  It is time for him to put the strategic orientation of Bush era behind him and usher in a 21st century strategic vision for the United States which focuses on three things - restructuring the American economy to succeed in a more globalized, competitive and digital world; ensuring that as we transition into a new geopolitical era driven by the rise of the rest that the global architecture remains fundamentally liberal; and reinventing government for the digital age so it can do more with less.  As I have advocated in this video, while there are immense challenges ahead, I think the century we are hurdling into is full of more possibility than any time in human history.  I hope he/we can capture that sense of opportunity, possiblity, in the months ahead. These are deeply promising times, and much is going right in the world today.

Finally, I would add a fourth area of engagement for the President in his second term beyond the three I mention above - political reform and modernization.  I offer some initial thoughts on what that agenda could look like here.

My Prediction - As I submitted to The Hill yesterday for their prediction contest, I predict the President will win, 51-48, and win the electoral college with 332 electoral college votes.  The Senate will end up 53-47 for the Democrats and Harry Reid, and the Demcrats will get to 200 in the House.  I was a proud winner of the 2008 Hill prediction contest (Morning Joe won it in 2006). My success this time I think will hinge on what happens with Florida.

"Forward, or Backward?" An English Language Version of My Letras Libres Essay on the 2012 Elections

This is an English language version of an essay which originally appeared in the Mexico City-based, Spanish language journal, Letras Libres.  The Spanish version was translated from an earlier version of this essay, which added to a bit for this version.  So it should be seen as a version of the Spanish original, and not a direct translation.  The Spanish version can be found here, and a pdf of this version can be found below.  Enjoy. 

President Barack Obama has attempted to frame the choice for Americans this year in a simple way – he will take the country forward, Mitt Romney will take it backward.  A simple construction, but a powerful one I think to understand the true nature of the 2012 American elections.    

As the people of Latin America well know the world, and our hemisphere, is in the midst of profound change. Described by the brilliant Fareed Zakaria as an era witnessing “the rise of the rest,” we are seeing a historically significant movement to market capitalism and democracy in virtually every part of the world.  An unprecedented global middle class is forming; trade flows are expanding; the internet and the mobile phone are connecting humanity as never before; a “youth bulge” in many developing nations offers both promise and great peril; ideological opponents of this post WWII inspired version of a nation state are weakening; and as we feel every day in our own lives, the velocity of this transformation seems to be only increasing.  

There can be little doubt that despite the remarkable progress made over the past generation across the globe, there are significant challenges remaining: tackling climate change, improving the way we provide skills to our workers and students in a more competitive global economy; state capitalism as seen in China and Russia and other nations; and a still unstable Middle East and Islamic world just to name a view.  But while significant challenges remain, there can be little doubt that humankind is going through perhaps it’s more remarkable and productive period on all of our history.  More people can do, contribute, and participate meaningfully in the life of their communities and nations than ever before.  What lies before us may be indeed a dark time, but my own sense is that we also may be entering – if we get things right – an unprecedented age of possibility for the people of the world. 

While this age holds great promise it has proven to be profoundly unsettling to the great architect of this age, the United States.  In the past decade and a half we have seen a President impeached; a contested Presidential election settled along partisan lines; high levels of electoral volatility; twelve years of no wage and income growth for American workers; dangerous levels of inequality; reckless foreign engagements which cost the nation extraordinary sums of money, global prestige and human capital; a Great Recession; a financial collapse; a burst housing bubble and one of the most devastating attacks ever on American soil.  It is hard to argue that America’s response to this first decade or so of this new century has been successful abroad or at home.

Additionally, these great global changes have manifested themselves in very particular ways in American society, which has magnified the sense of rapid and even unsettling change which is so much a condition of modern life across the world.  As perhaps the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, the transformation of our economy from industrial to digital has been perhaps more profound here than just about anywhere else.  One very direct impact of this has been the incredible speed in which remnants of the industrial age – companies, skills and schools, well known consumer brands, broadcast media – have been rendered obsolete and not yet fully replaced by their digital analogs. 

But perhaps most profound of these uniquely American changes is the way our people have changed.   Our demographic and racial history – the triumph of Europeans over Native Americans, and the subjugation of African slaves – is well known.  It produced a society dramatically unequal, where an overwhelming majority oppressed powerless minorities.  Any student of American history knows how significant the struggle over equality and racial integration has been, and by the early 1960s American had become a nation ninety percent of white European descent and about ten percent black and everything else. 

But this demographic and racially trajectory set on a very different course in the 1960s.  The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s finally ended institutional segregation in America.  And one of the most important piece of legislation ever passed in America that no one has ever heard of – the immigration act of 1965 – had the effect of changing America’s immigration targets from white Europeans to Asians and Latin Americans. 

The net impact of both these changes is the most profound demographic and racial transformation of the people living on this land called America since the arrival of the Europeans in the late 15th century.  In the past 47 years, fueled by high levels of non-white immigration, America has gone from a 90 percent white/10 percent minority nation to one 65 percent white and 35 percent people of color.  Current estimates have the nation becoming majority non-white in 2040. 

Of course the central driver of this change is an historic wave of immigration from Mexico and Latin America into the US.  In 1965 there were 3 million Latinos in the US.  Today there are 45 million Latinos 15 percent of the US population, a group is they were their own country would be the second largest Latin country in the Americas (if we exempt Iberian Brazil).  There are now more Latinos in the US than African Americans, and people of Mexican descent make up a full ten percent – one out of ten – of the people who live in the US today.   This figure is expected to double by that magic crossover point in 2040, with Latinos making up fully 30 percent of the US population, or almost a third.

Additionally, the great baby boom generation, for so long the dominant driver of American culture, is aging, and yielding to a new generation, made up largely of their children, the Millennials.  This generation is the largest generation in US history and is beginning to enter the American electorate in very large numbers.  Its members have grown up in the world I have described – more global, more connected, more competitive more diverse and have had very direct experience the inadequate response offered by American leaders in the past decade.  America has in essence its own “youth bulge” and how this generation swings politically might just determine which party reigns for the next 30-40 years and much else about American culture. 

By any measure – our own youth bulge and this historic transition to a non-white America - is an extraordinary level of demographic and socio-economic change, one which should be expected to roil the traditional politics of a nation. 

It is the premise of this essay that American politics in 2012 can be best understood by examining the reaction of political parties, ideological movements and elected leaders to the vast changes – demographic, economic, geopolitical – roiling the world today.  

The Democrats have talked of “building a bridge to the 21st century,” moving America “forward,” and “pivoting to Asia.”  Both Presidents Clinton and Obama have put crafting an adequate response to globalization and our changing economy front and center in their politics.  The current Administration has struggled to free American foreign policy from a failed neo-conservative period and launched the most ambitious global trade process in a generation; is re-orienting US foreign policy towards Asia; has attempted to usher in a new era, slowly, with Cuba; seen relations and trade with our neighbor Mexico deepen as never before; and by embracing the aspirations of everyday people of the North African and Middle East, and through its Internet Freedom agenda, in other parts of the world, has begun, in fits and starts perhaps, to re-identify America with its liberal internationalist tradition which has done so much good for so many. 

The Democrats are also in the process of building a political coalition of the people of this new America.  In 2008, President Obama won two-thirds of both the Millennial vote and the Hispanic vote, margins which helped him win 53 percent of the national vote, the best showing for a Democrat in a Presidential election since 1964.  The Democratic coalition is young, diverse, growing and geographically spread out.  In 2008 it found its young modern black berry wielding, globetrotting, self described racial ‘Mutt,” Barack Obama, who was not just America’s first black President but clearly the first President of a 21st century America on track to have a non-white majority by 2040. 

The story of the Republican and conservative response to these great changes in American life has been a very different story.  A little history is in order here to explain.

The rise of modern American Conservatism was fueled by its response to the success of the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and the triumph of integration over segregation.   The Republicans, who had been out of power in the US since the early 1930s, adopted very direct appeals to whites unsure or uncomfortable of integration at the very core of their emergent politics.  Their political strategy was called the “Southern Strategy,” which sought to and successfully flipped the more racially intolerant South from the Democrats.  Their economic approach, low taxes, less government and accusing Democrats of “tax and spend” was a way to say Democrats were taking money away from “you” and giving it to the “them,” an undeserving class who of course happened to be black.  Their foreign policy – strong anti-Communism – was also fundamentally about exploiting fear – however appropriate - of a dangerous foreign threat. 

Lead by Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, the Republicans used this new formula to break the hold of Democratic liberalism on the country, winning the Presidency in 1980 and finally ending sixty years of Democratic control of Congress in 1994.   Conservatism was indeed a highly successful political enterprise of the later part of the 20thcentury.  It unseated the Democrats; helped bring an end to communism abroad (though Democrats did their part in this too) and on domestic issues provided a needed corrective to a US liberalism which had perhaps lost its way after many decades in power.

But the historical context which created the conditions of this conservative ascendency began to be swept away by events.  Large waves of immigration dramatically increased the share of minorities in the American electorate, making the GOP’s core domestic offering, infused by exploitation of racial fear, much less appealing.  The end of Communism, the Clinton Administration’s aggressive championing of the liberalization of the global economy and the PC/Internet tech boom unleashed powerful new forces which have led to rising global competition, the “rise of the rest” and a very different global economic and geopolitical dynamic. 

As the world changed, and a new set of much less agile leaders took the reign of power, the Republican Party and its Reagan coalition has struggled to understand new realities and adapt.  President Bush simply didn’t understand the new emergent threat of non-state terrorism and left American unprepared for 9/11.  His economic policies, enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and “de-regulation,” led to a housing collapse, rising inequality, slow job growth, declining incomes, a financial collapse and the Great Recession while offering no correction as conditions worsened.  And the development of the concept of "pre-emption" in foreign policy seems in hind sight to be particularly reactionary, a loud angry scream against “the rise of the rest” and the end of true post WWII American supremacy. 

While on immigration and integration George W. Bush was much more modern than his Party, by 2005 his more enlightened approach to immigration and the changing racial dynamic had been roundly rejected by mainstream Republicans.  In the fall of 2005, despite the President’s opposition, House Republicans passed a bill requiring the arrest, deportation and felonization of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.  It was as many said at that time an invitation for all these new non-white arrivals “to go home,” and of course was among the most shameful pieces of legislation ever passed by the United States Congress in its history. 

What we didn’t know in 2009 after the departure of President Bush was whether the terrible outcomes of the Bush Presidency were due to his failures, or to a broader set of failures gripping the modern Republican Party.  The rise of the Tea Party in 2010, and the Romney campaigns embrace of Paul Ryan, an intellectual leader of a new and more reactionary right, has made it clear that this resistance and fear of modernity is now at the core of today’s Republican Party.  What animates and unites the right in 2012 is the simple call for smaller government and less taxes, an approach not dissimilar from the tax and spend arguments of previous decades.  The Romney/Ryan ticket has called for the elimination of all taxes on investment income, lower taxes for wealthy Americans and severe cuts in all programs benefitting the middle class and those striving to get there.  The only part of the government which would receive funding increases would be the Defense Department, even though today the US spends more on defense than every other nation on earth combined.  

Despite the very real threat of global climate change, the Romney energy plan calls for continued preference of development of dirty fossil fuels over cleaner forms of energy.  Romney remarkably moved his party far to the right on issues of race, embracing the nativist strategy of “self-deportation,” a position which had never been adopted by a mainstream Republican leader before.   And on foreign policy, the only issue he has really engaged on is Iran, calling for exactly what American did so unsuccessfully in Afghanistan and Iraq – a unilateral invasion by the United States, and in this case, Israel, with no real articulation of what would come after yet another US military action in the region. 

What I think has to be considered disturbing as opposed to just disappointing, however, is the growing mainstreaming of anti-democratic strategies by the right.  Many states with Republican legislatures have past new laws making it harder for people to vote, which will disproportionately affect the Democratic leaning younger and more diverse electorate.  New campaign laws advanced by Republicans now allow unlimited, unreported contributions to be used in elections, making the voice of a privileged few as powerful as the voices of millions of every day Americans.  The debt ceiling fight last summer was a tactic to avoid the normal legislative process to produce a budget and amounted to an elevated form of political blackmail. 

At the recent Republican Convention in Tampa, the words globalization, rising powers, rise of the rest, were not mentioned.  The audience in the hall was almost entirely white.  This was the second GOP Convention in a row steeped in nostalgia for an America long gone (and probably never there in the first place).  And this Convention, as was reported by many, was full of harsh, over the top criticisms – many inaccurate or false – of America’s current mixed-race President but while offering no solutions to the many problems facing America and the world today. 

In this election cycle the Republican’s angry war against modernity has escalated and appears to have become institutionalized.  It is almost as if the more the world moves away from the simplicity of the Reagan moment the more angry and defiant – and of course wrong – the Republican offering is becoming.  It is understandable, perhaps, but especially tragic, nonetheless. For at this moment the vast changes cascading across the world are bringing about a world of more potential and possibility than any time in human history.  There are more people alive today who have the life circumstances and education levels to add value to the human condition – in art, in medicine, in science, in sport, in commerce, in NGOs and government – than ever before. 

For leaders of what we call the center-left – the descendents of FDR, JFK, Clinton and now Obama – this moment is one of great political opportunity and arguably historic responsibility.  In a time of great change it is hard to conserve – for the things one is trying to hold to, as we see with the party of Romney – are being swept away by history’s rapid course.  It is a time for those in who believe in progress, the opposite of the conservative impulse, to assert themselves on the global stage.  To provide the type of prosperity and peace, and sense of possibility, that the world and our societies offer today is our great opportunity, and an opportunity which holds greater promise for mankind than ever before.  But it will only be achieved if we stay deeply grounded in new realities of this new century and show the courage to build a new politics for a new time and the new aspirations of people hungry for a better life. 

So in a very real sense the American election of 2012 is about “forward,” and “backward.”  And just like President Obama got this framing right, he is closer to getting the policy response right to the vast changes afoot in the world today than an aging and reactionary American right, which is why he appears headed towards re-election despite challenging times domestically and abroad.  It is indeed the great question of American politics now whether and when the Republican Party can modernize and adapt to the new realities of the 21st century, choosing forward over backward.  Doing so of course would be good for America, and for the world.   But how this happens and who leads them to this better place is still very hard to discern sitting in Washington, DC in the fall of 2012. 

- Simon Rosenberg

September 15, 2012

Washington DC

 

Obama Appears To Have Retaken Lead in National Polls

(This text was updated at 715pm today):

Lets review the national polls released this week, leaving aside the controversial Gallup polll (Obama/Romney):

ABC/WaPo        49/46

Rasmussen       48/48  (Obama Up 2 points today)

PPP                   48/47 (Obama Up 1 point today)

IDB/TIPP           47/45 (Obama Up 2 points today)

RAND                49/46

Reuters/Ipsos    46/43 (Obama 3 pt lead unchanged today)

UConn               48/45

Averaging them together gives Obama slightly more than a 2 percentage point lead. This two point plus spread is a bit more than where Nate Silver has the race ending up.  4 of the 5 daily tracks which have been published today - Gallup, IDB/TIPP, PPP and Rasmussen - all show Obama gaining ground.

I realize many will bark about leaving the wacky Gallup outlier from the mix, but even with Gallup in, Obama leads by more than a percentage point.  7 of the 8 polls referenced here now have Obama even or ahead. Only Gallup has the President trailing.

I will let others try to explain why this is - Romney debate bounce fading, good econ news kicking in, strong Obama debate performance, etc - but as of today one can no longer say that that Romney leads or the race is tied.  What you can say is that Barack has regained a slight lead in the national polls, and has a slight advantage in the Electoral College (see this piece by Mark Blumenthal for more).

Thanks to Nate Cohn's Electionate column for some of this data.

Sat AM - PPP's Friday night report of its daily track had Obama up 1 more, 49-47 now.  Confirming trends discussed above.

Mon AM - More polls out this am, and only Rasmussen and Gallup have Romney ahead.  TPM Polltracker has moved 2 1/2 points to the President in last week or so, and now gives him a 1.5% lead.

Reflections on Benghazi: Administration Was Right From the Beginning on What Mattered Most

May 2013 Update - As this issue has returned the national stage, I stand by this analysis from the early days of this contentious debate. 

Like many not in government and without a security clearance I have wondered about what happened in Libya on Sept 11th, and about the Administration's response.  In the last few days, helped by the Presidential debate, I feel like I have a much better understanding of what happened and why the Administration played it as they did.  I tried to explain all this in a rather wild Fox News segment today, but wasn't able to get it all out.  So I offer up my thoughts here.  

I have no doubt that the Administration was a bit confused about what happened in Benghazi that night.  Reasonable, after all, given that those in charge were murdered.  But what we know now is that while there was confusion about whether, like dozens of other US government facilities in the region that week, the Benghazi consulate saw protests taking place because of the anti-Islamic video. there was not an awful lot of confusion about the nature of the attack on the consulate, however.  The attack on the Benghazi consulate involved military gauge equipment and tactics.  It was not out of control rioting like Cairo.  It was something totally different, and no one from the Administration ever represented what happened in Benghazi as anything other than such an attack.  Even I, on September 12 on Megyn Kelly's Fox News program, said it appeared to have been a military level attack. This level of information was already widely available in the media the very next day and reinforces the argument that no one from the Administration was attempting to down play the nature of the attack. 

Additionally, as the New York Times reports today, there is no evidence at this point that the group suspected of being behind the attack, Ansar Al-Sharia, was a "terrorist" organization with Al Qaeda ties. They are a hard line domestic Libyan Islamist group without a history of working with foreign terrorist organizations.  Based on the limited and competing intelligence available to the President on Sept 12th, it may not have been clear that a known terrorist organization was actually behind the attack.  And yet, as we all know now, the President used the word "acts of terror" on Sept 12th, and made a much more direct reference on to terror acts on Sept 13th. 

When Susan Rice went on TV on the 16th she openly talked about the military nature of the attack on the consulate but did not label the attacks "acts of terror," nor did she distance herself from the idea that these attacks came during a larger protest.  But what is important here is that at no point did Susan Rice compare what happened in Benghazi to what happened in Cairo.  She was clear that the attack involved military level equipment and tactics.  And it is critical to note that at that time, violence was erupting throughout the Arab and Muslim world due to the anti-Islamic video. It is easy to see how one could have assumed that the Benghazi attack came during such a protest. 

What is important here is that within two weeks of the Sept 11th attack in Benghazi, the Administration had enough information to make a public judgment that it was indeed a "terrorist" attack, and openly acknowledged that it had nothing to do with protesters as was originally thought.   The early and consistent use of the words "terror" and "terrorists" showed that the President was aware of the nature of what went on, and no one from the Administration ever implied our Ambassador will killed by angry mob.  Based on reporting today we now know the Administration and our Libyan allies are making real progress in identifying the attackers. So all of this is proceeding apace. 

As former Bush/Clinton Counter-Terrorism Chief Dick Clarke writes today, the obsession by some about the acknowledged confusion in the early days of a tragic moment is misplaced.  A newly released interview with one of the alleged attackers himself suggests that anger over the video did indeed play a role, and that things were extremely chaotic outside the consulate.  The repeated assertion that people from the Administration lied is untrue; there was confusion about what happened in Benghazi but not about the nature of the attack; within a short period of time the Administration came to a coherent and fact-based understanding; and that the politicization of this by Mitt Romney and others is simply reprehensible and should end, now.  

I wish we could have used all this energy to have had a real debate about what has happened in the region these past few years.  The draw down of our military presence; the historic transitions to democracy we've seen from the Arab Spring; the unprecedented coalition which has been established to thrwart Iran and the crippling impact sanctions have had; and the decimation of Al Qaeda and the killing of Bin Laden.  Any honest assessment of what has happened in these last few years should offer us great hope that we could be seeing an historic transformation of a troubled region begin to take root.  What we should be talking about is how to best support this transition, and help usher in a new and better era for the region.  That is what I hope we hear Monday in the foreign policy debate, and it something that our MENA Initiative has spent many many months discussing.

Update - Be sure to read this terrific piece by Brad Bosserman on how President Obama could discuss his record and approach to MENA in the coming debate.

Update - Eric Wemple features this debate today in his Washington Post column. 

Update - Fox's Megyn Kelly praises my analysis on the air, recommends it to her viewers. 

Improving Our Democracy: Reforming the Electoral College

Of the many take aways from 2012 I hope one everyone on the center-left will agree on is the need to modernize and improve our democracy.  A combination of factors - new technologies, a new distribution of our population, and outright anti-democratic tendencies on the right - has created a political system in need of updating and improvement.

The thing I will focus on today is the anachronistic Electoral College.  First, we are the only developed country in the world who has a system where the person who gets the most votes in a national election is not guaranteed the win.  Second, when I worked for Bill Clinton's war room in 1992 we contested 31 of the 50 states.  In this election the two Presidential campaigns are contesting no more than 9 states with about 24 percent of the population, leaving a full three-quarters of the US out of the process of picking their President. 

Why does this matter? Because at the core of our theory of government was the bestowing of legitimacy on a leader by the vote of the people and not other means (heredity, divine right of kings etc).  If 80 percent of the country is not meaningfully involved in picking a leader, and only 20 percent is, it starts to undermine the theory of our system and I think create legitimacy problems for our leaders and the political system itself. 

You can see how perverse this has become in a current set of national polls.  Gallup has Romney leading today by 5, 51-46.  Yet Obama is either leading or winning in the Electoral College.  If this current situation holds we could see Romney winning the popular vote by a wide margin but losing the election.  While Democrats and the President will take that win, it is clearly not in the best interests of sound governance to have a situation where one side feels (like we did in 2000) that they was robbed.  To create legitimacy elections need to be definitive.  I am no longer certain our system as constituted has the ability to provide clear and definitive outcomes every two or four years. 

The answer? Support an effort underway to reform the national vote to essentially eliminate the Electoral College.  Called the National Popular Vote campaign, it is a compact between the states that they would award their EC votes to the winner of the national popular vote.  So far this quiet but effective effort has rounded up half the EC votes needed to move the nation to a better system.  My gut is that after this campaign, when so many states not in the NPV compact were ignored by the national campaigns we could see them making a serious run at getting to 270.  And I for one think that would be a terrific thing.

I can think of no other reform - with perhaps the exeception of universal same day registration - that would do more to bring more people into the political process.  Presidential campaigns would be truly national, and we would restore one person one vote to the Presidential process - every vote would count the same no matter where one lived.  Given the new internet based organizing and fundraising models a national campaign of this scope and scale is possible now.  A truly national effort could bring millions into the process who aren't now, and force both parties to become more reliant on citizen involvement and less on paid media and big dollars to pull off such a massive undertaking.

While there are many reforms the national can adopt to improve and modernize our democracy in the years ahead, this one may be the most important of them all.

The Second Presidential Debate - Obama Reasserts Himself, Romney's Job Gets A Whole Lot Harder

Last night's debate revealed how fragile the Romney candidacy is.  His recent surge came from his strong performance in the first Presidential debate, not some big new issue advantage.  As poll after poll has shown Romney is not winning any issue argument with the President, in part, I would argue, because he really isn't trying.  He offers strong poll tested attacks on the President, and his five point plan, which had a different order last night than before, and had a very different description of the education portion, is untethered from reality and the Governor's own budget.  It is a bit of a joke - and changing, mutating, and evolving like the fluid Romney enterprise itself.

The foundation of the Romney campaign at this point is his strong performance/strong leader bearing, and his assertion that Obama has left us less prosperous and left safe (Republicans do know a bit about these matters).  On the first part Romney took a hit last night.  He had some strong moments, but he also seemed a bit shrill, tired, confused, angry, and at times like he wanted to run over and fight with the President.  His performance and thus the perception of him as a leader was both much weaker than the last debate, and much weaker relative to a much stronger performance by President Obama.  As I have written before, as Romney has no clear advantage on an important vote motivating issue with President Obama, Romney must maintain his advantage in the strong leader/weak leader dimension if he hopes to win in November.  Last night was not helpful in that regard, and hard to see how this wildly inexperienced foreign policy hand/ticket regains this critical advantage in the final debate on foreign policy, a format which should be a good one for the Commander in Chief.

Additionally, the core argument of the Romney campaign - that Obama has left us less prosperous and less safe - is not true, and is even less true given all good economic data of the last few months (uemployment down, housing up, deficit 20% lower than last year).  That these arguments were not true was much clearer last night and in the VP debate than in the first Presidential debate.  Having to sell a manifestly untrue argument to the American people is a tall order for any candidate, let alone one not all that skilled.  The always flimsy argument/issue side of team Romney did unravel last night when challenged, and leaves him in a much weaker position for the close.  

Finally, for weeks now team GOP has been attempting to take the tragedy in Libya and use it in two ways - to undermine the President's significant foreign policy advantage, and to strenghten the strong leader/weak leader comparison for Romney.  For me it has always been much of a strong/weak leader offering by the right, for on the face of it, the underlying argument that given all the progress made in the region things are more dangerous today is silly. Team Obama has not responded well to these attacks, and it seemed like Romney and the right might actually turn this incident into something consequential in the race.  Romney's clear mishandling of the Libya exchange last night, however, also made this avenue of attack - always a reach to begin with - much less potent. 

So while the polls last night showed a modest victory for the President, I think there was a deeper structural change in the race which does not bode well for Mitt Romney.  Romney's arguments were challenged and did not hold up well, and his strong leader/weak leader advantage took a bit hit.  Like the narrow path he has in the electoral college, Romney wakes up today with a much more narrow strategic path to victory than was the case during his recent post-debate surge. 

All of this of stems from the President's strong performance last night.  He took on the fragile issue framework of the Romney campaign and tore it apart.  He did enough to explain his own policies to score a win.  And of course his performance was much much better than before, and much more what we all expected from this man who has been so much with us these last six years, and who we know so well.

What happens now?  I don't think we will really know where the race is until the middle or end of next week, a few days after the next debate.  The race is fluid, and has been moving.  My gut is that if the race was effected at alll last night might be a slight movement towards Obama.  But any momentary trend could be altered - or reinforced -  in the next debate, so close to this one.  So I am not really going to pay attention much to the polls for a week or so.

Having said all that I think Romney has far few tools today than he had a few days ago, and Obama has more.  The debate revealed the significant weaknesses in the Romney offering, weaknesses which will be well exploited by team Obama in the final few weeks.  Romney is a far weaker candidate today than he was a few days ago, Obama a far stronger one. So my sense is that in the these final few weeks, baring some extraordinary event, the President will use the more favorable structural environment to slowly pick up enough of his lost 2008 vote to win a narrow victory in November. 

But who knows - this thing feels like it has a few more twists and turns left.

Update - Was able to discuss all this today on Fox and the BBC.

Invite: Thur, Oct 25th - New Paper, Discussion of Middle Class Incomes, Wages w/Rob Shapiro, Ed Luce

On Thursday, Oct 25th please join NDN/NPI for a lunchtime discussion of a new paper on the American economy by the Chair of NDN's Globalization Initiative, Dr. Rob Shapiro. 

Using recently released data from the US government, the paper takes a fresh look at the income gains of Americans across four decades, and shows that the lives of most American improved fairly steadily from the 1970s until the last decade – when income progress for most people simply stopped. 

The Financial Times' Chief US Commentator, Edward Luce, author of the critically acclaimed book, Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descentwill join Rob on stage as a respondent.

Lunch will be served at noon, and the program will begin at 1215pm.  The lunchtime discussion will take place at NDN's event space, just a block from the Whte House, 729 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC. 

Please RSVP here, and we look forward to seeing you Thursday!

Romney Site Still Has No Mention of "Closing Loopholes," and No Plan Either

Last Friday I went to the Romney website to learn more about his plan to close "loopholes" to recoup some of the $5 trillion he is spending on across the board and very sweeping tax cuts.  Amazingly, what I found was nothing.  No mention of "closing loopholes" anywhere in his tax and jobs plans, and of course no plan itself. Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic took a similar tour of the site and found what I found - nothing. 

So I went back this morning to see if the Romney campaign had updated their plans to include more than the offing of Big Bird, the only cut every specificied in public by either Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan.  And again what I found was nothing. No mention of the concept, and of course no plan. Given how central this whole argument is to the Romney campaign I still find this extraordinary. 

Did I miss it? Take a look for yourself and let me know.

Update - Huff Po's Arthur Delaney has a good writeup and the video of the discussion of whether there are loophole offsets from the Vice Presidential debate last night.  The Atlantic has yet another analysis of why the math doesn't add up.

No Mention of "Closing Loopholes" Anywhere on Romney's Website

Intrigued by the back and forth in the Presidential debate the other night about Romney's claim that he would produce a revenue neutral tax plan by "closing loopholes" worth trillions of dollars, I went to the Romney web site today to learn more.

Interestingly, after much looking, I could not find the words “closing loopholes” anywhere, let alone a plan showing the path to the $5 trillion need to offset the orgy of tax cuts listed on his site.  There simply is no mention of closing loopholes anywhere on the Romney website.

See for yourself - http://www.mittromney.com/issues/tax

And if you find any evidence of a plan to close tax loopholes on the Romney site, or even a mention of it, please do send it along. Could be I missed it. 

Mon Update - TNR's Jonathan Cohn joins me in taking a walk through the Romney website, and similarly, finds it wanting. 

Some Initial Thoughts About The First Presidential Debate

A First Look For Many Voters - The impact of the debate last night on public opinion might end up being greater than its impact on the election itself.   Because of the highly targeted nature of the 2012 election, where only a small number of states are experiencing the campaign, more than the usual number of voters checked into the campaign last night for the first time.  These voters have far less information about Mitt Romney than those who have seen the Obama ad campaigns in the battlegrounds, and thus would be more easily moved by Romney's strong performance last night than the voters with a much more detailed understanding of his candidacy.  So I could imagine that the debate could produce a significant shift - 2/3 points - in the non-battleground states and in perhaps overall electorate but a much smaller shift in the battlegrounds where Obama retains a substantial lead.  This national shift was likely to come any way this October as Romney was consistently polling 2-3 points below 47% in recent weeks, a number which has to be considered his November floor.

For team Obama, I think this discrepancy between what voters in the battleground know and what everyone else knows is both a blessing and a curse.  I still think Obama is likley to win this fall, but he needs to be the President of the entire country not just nine states.  It is important for the Obama campaign to use these remaining debates, and perhaps some limited national advertising, to make their case for a second term agenda and not just go for the "win."  If the country, and the President, is to have a successful second term, President Obama has to win the economic debate with the Republicans this fall, giving him a mandate to pursue his agenda and perhaps forcing the Republicans to reconsider their current obstructionism in Washington.  The President's campaign is winning the election in the nine states, but he now needs to make sure he wins it in the rest of the country too or his second term could move to lame duck status much quicker than is good for him or the nation. 

Romney's Lying - The Obama campaign is already all over this subject this morning but I still maintain that no candidate in modern American history lies as easily about truly consequential things as Mitt Romney.  I have written about this before and why I think it is so.  To me the most extraordinary moments in the debate were those where Romney tried to explain how his fiscal plans would not favor the rich; would not add to the deficit; would not gut social programs like education; and would bring the budget into balance.  I cannot imagine a bigger and more consequential set of lies about truly important things than these repeated statements last night.  It is truly unbelievable, and says so much about the character of this man who wants to be our next President (and who weirdly insulted his own sons last night).

As Ron Brownstein recently noted, the rightward lurch of Romney in the GOP primaries was going to be a huge problem in the general election.  So, in order to deal with the unpopularity of their arguments, we saw, as promised, the Etch-A-Sketch candidate last night, one totally disconnected from reality and his own campaign so far.  It was, my friends, a bit shocking and should be central to the after debate analysis these next few weeks (TNR's Jonathan Cohn also has a good take on this).

Strong Leader/Weak Leader - I think the overall movement in the debate last night was most importantly on the strong leader/weak leader dimension, a way of understanding Presidential politics more traditionally important to Republicans than Democrats. Romney looked strong, President Obama didn't.  Romney put some spirited but ephermeral lipstick on his policy pig, and Obama got lost in the weeds.  But on a fundamental level I don't think a major new understanding was reached about the philosophy or approach of the two candidates last night. Romney's distortations and lies will be addressed by Obama in the coming debates and ads in the battlegrounds.  His somewhat ridiculous answers to many of the questions last night revealed a weakness to be exploited not a strength to be capitalized on.  But how President Obama deals with the strong leader/weak leader dimension successfully exploited by Romney last night, particularly as a foreign policy debate looms, may be the most important challenge ahead for the President, and one he has to address head on or risk letting this election slip from his grasp. 

The Need for A National Popular Vote - This election is reinforcing the need to scrap the anachronistic Electoral College.  How at odds with the idea of representative government and a healthy democracy is a national election where 80 plus percent of the voters have no say and do not get to meaningful participate in the campaign itself? By its nature this kind of system reduces the legitimacy of the one elected, regardless of the popular vote or Electoral College margin.  

One of the great openings for the center-left in the coming years is to promote large scale modernization and reform of our democracy itself, a subject NDN convened a conference on at Tufts University this spring.  And to learn more about one effort which has a chance of making a national popular vote happen in the not so distant future visit this site.

Fri Update - First post debate poll from Reuters/Ipsos much more positive for Obama than conventional wisdom right now.  As I wrote above, we should expect movement for Romney now as he is still consolidating his base.  His movement will come from weakness - underperformance with GOPers prior to the debate - rather than a new structural strenght in the race.  Possible he starts to gain beyond his 47% floor, pulling undecideds and Obama voters, but there just isnt great evidence of this yet in any of the post debate surveys. 

And here is video of me discussing all this on Fox yesterday.

Wed Update - Well, national polls do now show powerful movement for Romney since the debate.  As TNR's Nate Cohn argues this morning we haven't seen as much movement - yet - in the battlegrounds, something I thought might be possible.  Nate Silver also has an extensive new analysis up this morning.

Thur Update -Slew of state polls out this am from NYTimes/CBS and NBC/WSJ Marist.  These new polls show much the race has changed, how much ground Romney has gained despite an improving economy and Obama's improving and strong approval ratings.  My conclusion this am is that Obama is still winning, but Romney had made it a race.

 

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