Anatomy of the Bailout: Senate’s Conservative End-Run Pre-empts Pelosi’s Progressives

October 2, 2008

Begin By Understanding the Southernization of the GOP

An anatomy of the House GOP revolt on the Bailout Bill begins by going back to 1984—that’s when GOP House members from the South and West began to equal and surpass the number of GOP House members from the Northeast and Midwest. This was a momentous change that would only accelerate in future elections—a change driving the GOP to the right, empowering the rise of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House, and ultimately explaining why so many House Republicans voted against the Bailout.

The Southernization of the Republican Party is real and has profound political implications. The power of the Southern/Western/conservative wing of the Republican party has lodged itself in the institutional vehicle called the House Republican Study Committee (RSC). It was the RSC that led the way to defeating the bailout, and seems to be leading the way to growing public distaste at Republican values and leadership in Congress—Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006 and are poised to lose more seats in 2008. Though the RSC captured the center of gravity of the GOP with the “No” vote on the bailout, its leaders are marching their party ever deeper into the box canyon known as the conservative South, and thereby preparing the party for coming political oblivion in the 2008 election. In this, the Southernized RSC members are “the congressional equivalent of those Japanese soldiers hunkered down on remote islands, unaware that the war had ended years before and that their side lost” (Paul Waldman, The American Prospect).

2006 Elections Accelerate the GOP’s Southern Drift

Though the long drift of the Republican party, especially House Republicans, towards southern dominance is a chronic condition of American politics, things were acutely accelerated following the 2006 elections. For a detailed regional analysis of the 2006 elections, see here.

  • Of all House seats lost by the GOP in 2006, 85% were outside of Dixie—strengthening the dominance of the Dixie wing of the House Republican delegation. 27 of the Democrats 30 House pickups came from outside the South.

  • Following 2006, Republicans controlled only 1 of the 22 House seats from New England (Shays-CT), punctuating the fact of the GOP increasingly irrelevance in the Northeast and across the West Coast.

  • Massachusetts switched Governors from Republican to Democrat (after 16 years)

  • Rhode Island voters tossed their traditional Senator Chaffee, a Republican

  • Connecticut Democrats gained a veto-proof majority for the first time in 25 years

  • New Hampshire voters tossed two Republican House members—and for first time since 1874, Democrats control both New Hampshire State Houses.

  • The GOP also collapsed in the Midwest in 2006: Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana all experienced strong GOP losses.

For a visual picture of the Southernization of the GOP, check out these maps.

Democratic versus Republican Control of House Delegations

Democratic versus Republican Control of House Delegations

The House Republican Study Committee and Conservative Ideology

In the South, and in the South alone, the GOP remains strong in its conservative redoubt. And the Southern branch of the GOP is the most conservative: the most committed to reducing taxes, deregulating businesses, rolling back government, and regulating social morals. It is this branch of the Republican party that repudiated the Bailout bill in the House, throwing a massive monkey wrench into the emerging elite consensus on passing the bill.

These conservative Republicans have actually been ascendant (see 09/26/2008 post here) following the 2006 drubbing of the Republicans in the 2006 elections. The 2006 election sent the GOP into the House minority – and also sent several key moderates down to defeat. Since then, the remaining House conservatives have asserted their authority in setting the House GOP agenda, through their institutional vehicle, the House Republican Study Committee (The RSC).

The RSC was founded as a small group of committed conservatives in 1973 by the very conservative Paul Weyrich, with a mission to keep an eye on and pressure House Republican leaders, who the RSC saw as too moderate. Through the years, the RSC has carried the “free market” conservative torch, standing always for fewer business regulations, cutting taxes, rolling back government, and privatizing large institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Today, of the 199 current House Republicans, roughly 100 are members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and the The RSC is a stepping-stone to larger leadership positions in the House and Nation (e.g., Vice President Richard Cheney, and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay). (see 09/26/2008 post here)

It was the RSC that led the charge as 65% of House Republicans voted “NO” on the bailout bill. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) of Texas, chair of Republican Study Group: “I fear that under this plan ultimately the federal government will become the guarantor of last resort, and that does put us on the slippery slope to socialism.” (see “credit crisis” blog post)

The House RSC Alternative Solution

Instead, the RSC offered an alternative solution to the economic crisis, including familiar bromides such as tax cuts and privatization. Elements of the RSC plan included:

Suspend Capital Gains Taxes for Two Years

Offer tax credits to private companies that buy bad debt from financial institutions

Fully privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Offer tax-payer subsidized insurance plan to investors in bad debt, keeping those investments fully private with no taxpayer “equity share.”

End SEC Mark to Marketing Accounting regulations, which require banks to value their assets at current market values, which means that their balance sheets in a declining market show declining capital and result in less ability to lend (since banks must hold 6% of their capital in reserve). The RSC would like banks to be more free to value their assets at predicted future values, thus resulting in better balance sheets and more current capital to lend.

Enamored with these pro-market solutions that would privilege private investment and tax cuts over government investment and regulation, Southernized RSC members voted NO on the Bailout, and the plan went down in the House.

Here’s how RSC Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) described the principles behind the Republican “No” vote.

Pelosi’s Progressive Alternative

In the immediate hours after the NO vote, House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatened to further isolate the conservative RSC by crafting a more progressive bill (including more relief for average taxpayers and increased taxes on Wall Street) that could attract more Democratic support and pass the bill without any Republicans at all. We will create a bill that Democrats can deliver a “conscience-vote” in favor of, Pelosi argued.

Pelosi’s Democrats began to bat around ideas for a new Bailout bill including such ideas as:

An extension of unemployment pay and a $1,000 tax credit for less affluent homeowners.

An new government agency authorized to take over or take major equity positions in failing banks.

Public payoff or refinancing of middle-class mortgages.

A new transfer tax on Wall Street trades to help pay for it all

The Senate End-Run around Pelosi Progressives

It is reflective of the continuing power of conservative supply-side thinking in America in general (and the power of the conservative Southern wing of American politics in specific) that before more Pelosi big-government liberalism could creep into the final solution, the Senate acted to steal the liberal thunder. When the Senate passed it’s “Rescue of the Rescue” Bill on Wednesday, October 1st, it had several components meant to please pro-investor, anti-tax RSC members, as opposed to appealing to the more liberal wing of the Democratic party.

The Senate principles include:

  • Increasing the FDIC insurance limit from $100,000 to $250,000 deposits, thus insuring the wealth of larger investors.
  • $100-plus billion in tax-cut “sweeteners,” including: Relief from Alternative Minimum Tax, increasing tax credits for alternative energy, enhancing the Child Tax Credit, Disaster Relief tax credits and a host of business tax credits for everything from race tracks, to offshore rum production, to wool research
  • Suspending the SEC to Eliminate “Mark to Market” accounting rules. Essentially, this de-regulation of bank accounting frees banks to lend more money, under the assumption that the market will soon rebound and asset values will inevitably grow

This deal will be more attractive to the tax-cutting, de-regulating wing of the Republican party, and it can be expected that the RSC will deliver enough “Yes” votes to pass the Bailout when the House re-votes on the bill in the days to come. House Democrats could theoretically amend the bill to more palatable to the liberals in their party, but i liberal revisions in the House are not likely to advance given the Senate decision, which has established the new “center” in Bailout Bill politics. The Senate moderates and the RSC Republicans have completed an end-run around House progressives, and the final Bailout bill will reflect more concessions to the ever-powerful Conservative and Southern wing of American politics than to the liberal Californians like Pelosi.


Palin Is Your Worst Pick

September 15, 2008

By Stephen Noriega

I have given myself pause after the convention, after the initial excitement and after the first interview to give my humble opinion on the Sarah Palin pick for Vice President. I must admit that when I first heard of the pick, I thought to myself, “What in the heck we’re you thinking?” After long deliberation and after looking at all the possible future permutations of your campaign, Senator McCain, I have just one thing to say.

What in the heck we’re you thinking?

This piece is not a hatchet job on Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is a politician that has risen to a high office and deserves the respect of that accomplishment. This obviously will not be a worship piece on her either. Once the ether wears off and people begin to study her, they will rally to her less. Becoming the governor of Alaska is no small task. For this, Palin should be commended. As a flash of interest and short-term strategy, Governor Palin was a brilliant pick by the Republicans. However, the time of her brilliance and her reality had better be more than fifty-some days if the Republicans don’t want to be embarrassed this November.

It is silly to attack Governor Palin for being a mother and future grandmother. I couldn’t care less about that stuff. If I ever cared about anyone’s family obligations and their ability to serve, I would advocate for candidates to only have one child (in college or older) before they could run for a higher office. That just doesn’t compute. Nancy Pelosi has five children and seven grandchildren. She does just fine. This may sound harsh but I could care less (except for historical curiosity) that she is female. We have been taught that men and women should have equal chances in all avenues of life. Thus, I have no reason to like or dislike the pick based solely on gender.

There are three reasons why Palin is a horrible choice.

First, she will only solidify part the base in the end.

I know that she has induced a spike in likely female voters. This looks promising but I believe that women voters are the most educated, issue-aware segment of the voting population. When some of her stances on choice, education and health care become evident, that spike will disappear. Palin has energized the far-right base right now. However, even fellow conservative have knocked the choice. David Frum said about Palin’s experience, “Ms. Palin’s experience in government makes Barack Obama look like George C. Marshall.” Of course, Frum’s statements, the first time Obama has been compared with the author of the Marshall Plan, could be dismissed as conservative chauvinism. Not this one. Dr. Laura Schlessinger sharply criticized the Palin pick from a conservative viewpoint of female roles and the family. I could not disagree more with her position but I think it might erode at some conservative voters when they really start thinking about Palin’s situation. McCain might think he can strip away some PUMA voters. This group is like any typical protest voting block. Andrew Dice Clay could be McCain’s pick and the PUMA’s would still vote for him because of how Obama treated Hillary. Thus, Palin does not do much to pick up votes there.

Some of Governor Palin’s conservative credentials will simply not pan out. She claims to be an enemy of earmarks, rebuking the Bridge to Nowhere and bragging about Alaskans building things for themselves. The truth, well-known now, is that Palin initially supported the Bridge to Nowhere., 9/2008

The truth about earmarks and Alaska is simple. Alaska receives more earmark dollars per capita than any other state in the union. According to Mark Murray of MSNBC, Palin as Governor requested hundreds of millions in earmarks every year. Fiscal conservatives would not be happy to know this. Social conservatives may not be super happy to know that she smoked marijuana when it was legal in Alaska (Anchorage Daily News, 8/6/2006 – Of course she said she didn’t really like it and certainly does not currently use it because it would be a bad influence on her kids. Religious conservatives might be in love with Palin now. However, when some of her church stuff gets out there, some might hesitate. Some clips from the Assemblies of God Church in Wasilla seem to imply that Alaska has a special role to play in evangelizing the world. The evangelists in Missouri that believe the rapture will begin in Jefferson City might have a real problem with that! But seriously, she might be put in a position to renounce something her church says and then the Right might start to peel away from her. Some of Palin’s political stances will totally line up with the far-right of the Republican Party. However, the Political Middle and the GDI (God Dang (another word) Independents) will not eventually be comfortable with her stances. She has an absolute stance on abortion. She believes it should not be legal in cases of incest or rape. Governor Palin also believes that intelligent design should be taught along side evolution in schools. According to On The Issues ( ), Governor Palin strongly favors teacher-led prayer in school. I’m sure that is under the assumption that the teacher will lead the students in a Christian prayer! The independents will become less and less likely to follow her. America is often characterized as center-right. The center will not subscribe to these beliefs in the end.

The second reason Governor Palin is a poor choice is her inexperience. I concede that experience is not the main characteristic necessary for getting elected and even being a successful president or vice president. However, sometimes inexperience has a dreadful outcome. For every John F. Kennedy there is a Jimmy Carter. As far as inexperienced Vice Presidential candidates, for every Harry S. Truman there is a James Stockdale.

Dan Quayle was questioned on his apparent inexperience even tough he had been elected twice to the U.S. House and twice to the U.S. Senate. Dan Quayle ended up serving as a perfect Vice President, at least for Saturday Night Live and the pototo(e) industry. Barack Obama is getting shelled constantly on the experience question. This is a valid argument. It is an argument of strength for McCain. However, he turns around and selects an inexperienced running mate. The campaign hid this inexperience through rehearsed speeches and catch-phrases. However, in her first, edited, fairly easy interview, Palin showed her inexperience through rote answers and she showed her ignorance by simply not knowing what the Bush Doctrine was. The legitimate press will tear at her experience like the tabloids will feast on her daughter’s pregnancy. She will either have to avoid shows like Hardball, Meet the Press and Face the Nation or hope that she is an incredibly fast study on matters she has never had to worry about.

There were other, more experienced women from whom to pick. Senators Olympia Snowe and Kay Bailey Hutchinson are respected Republicans. I know, I know, John McCain needs a non-senator. How about Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Labor? She has great experience and has helped with overtime reform. Perhaps McCain feels he needs a true executive. How about Governor Jodi Rell from Connecticut or Governor Linda Lingle from Hawaii? Lingle is a Republican Governor in an extremely Democratic state, with an approval rating of 71%! All of these women have more experience than Palin.

The third reason this is a bad choice is that Palin totally outshines McCain. One of the funnier lines on Saturday Night Live was, “The race is tightening up. McCain now finds himself only six points behind Sarah Palin.” (SNL – 9/13/2008)

Palin is on the cover of TIME, Us Magazine, People, The National Enquirer, etc. She is everywhere. Aliens, foreigners and those who spend most of their lives in caves know Palin but not McCain, the twenty-six year veteran of the Senate. Sarah Palin is a huge media phenomenon right now. Pictures of them together look Palin look even better, and McCain even older., 2008

However, if her star fades, McCain will have no comparable light to keep the attention on him. If Palin had accomplished something outside Alaska, her brilliance would be less vulnerable to a press that likes watching heroes fall even more than falsely giving rise to them.

Now I know that everyone is currently in love with Sarah Palin. She is looking like the smartest V.P. pick since Thomas Jefferson. I know that the polls have bumped in her and McCain’s favor. Reality and Saturday Night Live will have something to say about Palin and McCain. The reality is that home foreclosures are still destroying the housing market. The Dow Jones just sank 500 points in one day. Hurricane Ike might result in gas going up from the imagined affordable level of four dollars a gallon. Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. All three American auto makers are teetering on the verge of oblivion. Unemployment is at a five year high. Inflation is rising while relative income is shrinking. These are not Democrat talking points. These are economic facts that could become Teflon coated spears for the shiny object – Palin and her older sidekick McCain.

If reality doesn’t work, and it doesn’t always for voters, the LIBERAL MEDIA might. The LIBERAL MEDIA might start asking Governor Palin about things beyond her personal story in an attempt to discover if she is truly qualified to be president just in case a 72 year-old man doesn’t make it through a rigorous presidency. Ever see how fast presidents age? Tina Fey will do her best to satirize Governor Palin. This may seem small but I remember how Chevy Chase ‘framed’ Gerald Ford. People may not listen much to CBS and the New York Times but many do listen to SNL, Colbert and Stewart.

John McCain, you once said about Iraq that you would rather lose an election than see our country lose a war. Are you now ready to lose an election in order to win an election? We’ll see if your pick was insane genius or desperate politics soon enough.

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism

September 9, 2008

In 2000, John McCain was a media darling. He opened up his now-famous “Straight Talk Express” to reporters from all over the country. The media loved every moment of it. This year, McCain again opened up his “Straight Talk Express,” and began what looked like a replay of 2000. Again, the media loved it.

This summer John McCain started getting into trouble. He took on a new chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, who saw the McCain campaign not staying on message, and blamed it primarily on the media’s unfettered access to McCain. Immediately, media were banned from the “Straight Talk Express” and McCain gave few press conferences and interviews. The man who was once the sparkle in the media’s eye quickly became just another presidential candidate.

Since the pick of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate, the tune from the McCain camp has changed even more dramatically. Now, not only are they running against the Obama machine, they are running against the media – the liberal media, that is. And this is not a new stance for republicans to take:

“Ever since Spiro Agnew lambasted the press in 1970 as “nattering nabobs of negativism,” Republicans have reveled in attacking the national media for its so-called “liberal bias.” President George H.W. Bush ran for re-election in 1992 with a bumper sticker that read “Annoy the media: Re-elect Bush.” His son, the current President Bush, trotted before the cameras in 2001 with a copy of Bernard Goldberg’s book on the subject, “Bias,” conspicuously cradled in his hand.” (TIME Online)

What most likely sparked this anti-media sentiment in the McCain camp was his choice of Sarah Palin as his VP. The skepticism about her qualifications and thin resume were written off as attacks by a biased media. McCain hopes to sing the tunes of an elitist media that with reverberate within the American public.

Whether the charges of a “liberal media” are true or not, it has definitely created a new enthusiasm within the GOP base. This is not because Republicans revel in the opportunity to bash the media — it is also because the American public is skeptical of the media in general. According to Gallup, Americans rate Journalists as being less honest than chiropractors – although that is a better score than lawyers. There is a general distaste for journalists, and McCain plans to exploit every ounce of it.

Progressive Women Rising in Power; Palin Off the Mark

September 3, 2008
Women's Suffrage March, 1912

Women's Suffrage March, 1912

Celebrating Women’s Power in Denver

Tuesday, August 26th, was the 88th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote—and here in Denver it was quite a celebration.

During the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Emily’s List (a PAC dedicated to building progressive women’s power in politics) shared the news that 55% of the electorate will be women this year—the highest ever. The DNC Women’s Caucus met in a sprawling ballroom filled with a thousand energized delegates and fellow travelers, celebrating the fact that about 60% of the overall Democratic vote every year is women.

Die-Hard Hillary Supporters Take To the Street

At that very same moment, that same sentiment was sweeping down Denver’s Colfax Avenue.

Just as thousands of Convention women celebrated their power and role in the Democratic Party, hundreds more women gathered to march down Colfax. Out in the streets passionate Hillary Clinton supporters had traveled to Denver from across the Country to celebrate the woman who nearly claimed the presidency. They filled Colfax sidewalk to sidewalk, banged drums, chanted Hillary’s name, and promised to put a woman in the Oval Office within ten years.

Some of the marchers were adamant that they would never support Barack Obama, because he had stolen the nomination from the experienced and prepared Hillary Clinton when she had already put in her time, and because Obama was allegedly sexist for paying his male Senate staffers more than his female staffers. To get a sense of the flavor of the march, including some interviews with the Hillary supporters in the street, go here and scroll down to audio reports on the August 26th Hillary Clinton supporters march. Or you can see what some of the delegates inside the Convention Center hall had to say here:

And to cap it all off, on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton addressed an adoring crowd of thousands in the Pepsi Center, in a moment that will be be remembered through history in the same breath as suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton herself.

Rising Women’s Power = Rising Progressive Power

The growing power of women in American politics is big news for politics and big news for progressives.

Progressives take heart in the growing political power of women, because women vote Democrat. Since 1992, Democrats have enjoyed about a 10 point “gender gap” in presidential elections as women have preferred Democratic candidates by an average of 10% over the Republicans.

This gender gap is present as well in 2008 pre-election polling. Obama enjoys a 12% pre-convention lead among all women voters—while younger Millennial women voters give Obama an incredible 30 point lead.

chart source:

Here’s more good news for progressives. Younger women, are now 57% of all college students. And as college graduates are increasingly female—they are likely to grow their civic participation even more.

The future female powerhouses of the country are even more liberal than senior women. 46% of young women believe that America’s growing racial diversity is entirely a good thing—only 30% of senior women think that. 36% of young women believe that it is good that the Christian tradition is declining in strength—since there are traditional notions of patriarchy embedded within it. Only 26% of senior women shared this idea. And 53% of young women believe in full acceptance and inclusion of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgendered in the community—while only 26% of senior women agree.

Sarah Palin Pick Misses the Progressive Boat

This is the heart of the trouble for the McCain pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Although Palin made an explicit appeal for Hillary Clinton supporters and women of all stripes to vote for McCain since a woman was now on the Republican ticket

“It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.” — Sarah Palin’s Vice-Presidential announcement speech

It is becoming clear that women voters are not lining up behind the McCain/Palin reasoning. The Palin reasoning seems to be that Hillary Clinton’s advantage with women, is driven more than anything else why women’s desire to vote for a woman, not matter who she might be. Even though Palin’s politics are profoundly different from the liberal politics of Hillary Clinton (e.g., Palin is pro-life, believes in teaching creationism in schools, is opposed to gay rights, and is a fiscal supply-sider), and even though Palin has no national experience and is only 44 years old, she asserted that Hillary Clinton supporters would be excited to support her in order to advance female solidarity against the “good old boys” network.

But come to find out, women are voting for Democrats not because the Democrats run more women, but because women align more closely with the progressive values and policies of the Democratic party. That is why early polls show women LESS likely to vote for McCain after the Palin pick. Palin’s conservatism, her lack of experience, and perhaps the “insult” that some women feel with McCain’s transparent attempt to woo women voters with an arguably inexperienced female candidate just isn’t appealing to female voters. It shouldn’t be that great a surprise. Polls from some time ago have shown that Hillary’s strongest supporters were more attracted to her politics and her experience than to the fact that she was a woman. This is why the leader of a PAC dedicated to enhancing women’s power in politics (Ellen R. Malcolm of Emily’s List) spoke out so strongly against the Palin nomination.

“How ironic that, on his 72nd birthday, McCain has raised the question of whether his running mate is prepared to be Commander in Chief and lead the country. Governor Palin and John McCain are a good match because they both want to overturn Roe V. Wade, they both want to continue the failed economic policies of the Bush administration and they both offer more of the same that has led this country down the wrong path. McCain clearly sees the power of women voters in this election but has just as clearly failed to support any of the issues that they care about. His choice for vice president only reinforces that failure”

Though Sarah Palin has not been welcomed by a mass movement of women voters—Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party has been. That’s because women voters tend to have Democratic/progressive political values—far more so than men. And these progressive women are rising in power. As Hillary Clinton addressed the American people during the Democratic National Convention, she represented a real and fundamental transformation in American society. Like never before, the future of American politics is in the hands of women, and especially young women—progressives can take heart in the future these women will build.

Anti-War March at the DNC: But Where Were the People?

August 27, 2008

I happen to live in Denver, and recently was tapped by a local community radio station to report on the news during the Democratic National Convention (DNC) (For an audio version of this post, see here ). This position means that for the past weeks, and all during the DNC itself, I have been attending community meetings, reporting on demonstrations, interviewing delegates, and witnessing the DNC program at Denver’s various convention sites.

But if the street demonstrators had their way, none of the thousands of journalists in Denver for the DNC would be covering the events inside the staged convention hall at all—rather we would all be covering the drama in the street as tens of thousands of demonstrators showed up in Denver to shut the whole show down.

Protestors Call For Action

On the website of, the street activists issued their call to action.

Unconventional Action’s strategy at the Democratic National Convention will hold the Democratic Party accountable for promoting unjust policies: environmental degradation, the enforcement of arbitrary borders, attacks on the poor, complacency in war, and racist policing.

We will expose to the nation that the Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same coin, both parties funded by the same corporations and upholding the same unjust political system which fails to meet the needs of the vast majority of people. Anarchists and Anti-Authoritarians are urged to engage in a broad variety of tactics to disrupt fundraising events and prevent Democratic delegates from voting for no-choice candidates. Unconventional Action will honor and support autonomous actions while coordinating a highly publicized assault on the pageantry, violence, and abuses of the Democrats and the two-party capitalist system.

Unconventional Action will target a variety of the 1,500 proposed fundraisers, countless delegate hotels, and designated institutions perpetuating global injustice. Using space reclamation, street theatre, direct confrontation, positive action, and a broad array of other tactics, we will force the national media to question the Democratic Party’s failures, hold Democratic candidates accountable for their abuses of power, and engage in
direct actions that reflect our ultimate goals of joy and liberation through creativity and confrontation.

As demonstrators organized throughout the summer of 2008, preparing for the coming convention, they predicted that 25,000-50,000 demonstrators would descend on Denver, committed to public demonstrations on the scale of the 1960s , to force the Democratic party to recognize the anti-war community in America, the crisis of global warming, the shame of sweatshops.

Bad Portents and Dismal Protests

But as I talked to delegates arriving in Denver for the DNC, I heard bad portents for the upcoming protests. On Saturday, I asked a superdelegate from Wisconsin , chairman of the DNC youth council, about his thoughts on demonstrations by groups such as recreate 68, and he answered bluntly: “never heard of them.”

Here in Denver we’ve heard plenty about such groups, and their plans to disupt the convention. Some of the demonstration leaders estimated 50,000 people would show up for Sunday’s anti-war march. The local dailies predicted 10,000 would show.

But come Sunday morning of the march, the anti-war crowd simply didn’t show. Only about 1000 showed —at least 10 times smaller than predicted. The anti-war demonstrators called for the voice of the people, but only found the voice of a few friends.

Where Were the People?

What can account for such a result? Where were the people?

As I wandered throughout the crowd of demonstrators, the answer was almost always the same—it was the paranoid fear-mongering of Denver city officials, and overblown police presence: the officials made people scared to come downtown (see reports of the action here (click link for Monday 08/25) and at Or just watch these clips and look for the police…

Others suggested that the low turnout reflected the fact that the Iraq War has lost its urgency. Both parties now talk about timelines for withdrawal, fatalities are down, and domestic economic crisis has trumped other concerns. People just aren’t paying attention to the war.

Both of these reasons play a part in accounting for Sunday’s surprisingly low turnout—but the most important reason why demonstrators did not “Recreate 68”— is simply because it is NOT, any longer, 1968.

2008 is not 1968

In 1968, the Democratic nomination was entirely decided by Superdelegates—the popular vote in the primary was meaningless—and when the anti-war votes of millions in the primary were ignored by insider Democrats committed to the Humphrey, the war candidate—you can bet it catalyzed a street anger that can’t be matched today, when the popular vote is decisive in choosing the Democratic nominee.

In 1968, 18-20 year olds couldn’t even vote, though they were being drafted to fight and die in Vietnam. A lot of those young people showed up in Chicago—and registered their discontent in the streets, as the ballot-box was off limits.

In 2008, 18 year olds can vote, and they turned out in record numbers during the primaries—voting for Obama 4-1 over Clinton. Now that he’s the nominee, on the strength of the youth vote—it’s no surprise that young energy has been diverted from the streets, into the party.

And speaking of the draft. In 1968 they had one; in 2008 we don’t.

In 1968, King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated and the party fell apart while the street exploded. In 2008, the Kennedy of our day is leading the party, while the street seeks direction.

Is 2000 1960?

In fact, 2008 looks more like the hopeful 1960 than like the angry 1968. In 1960 as in 2008, the progressive hopes and youthful energy of a nation centered on the Democratic Party and its charismatic leader, and the party had not yet proved bankrupt.

Barack will likely win this election as Kennedy did, as the hopes of the left wrap themselves into the Democratic party rather than into the passion of the street. If Obama wins, he and his party will have their chance to respond to the national call for change. Will Obama fail? Will the party that captured the hopes of a record number of primary voters prove bankrupt? Will the hopeful “yes we can” of 2008 become the disastrous Democratic disintegration of 1968? Obama will likely win this election–And then we, and the street, will see.

Convention Choreography and Street Disruption

August 25, 2008

In 1972, it was a bit of a scandal when a secret script for the upcoming Republican National Convention was discovered. In The Boys on the Bus, author Timothy Crouse reported on the details of the script—calling it a “stage-managed coronation of Richard Nixon.”

“Spontaneous cheers will interrupt the convention secretary in mid-sentence and at 10:33 the President will be nominated and there will be a ten minute spontaneous demonstration with balloons..”

The Republicans were planning their convention rather than just letting events unfold unpredictably, and this shocked the establishment! Back then conventions were a raucous affair, where it was often the case that delegates didn’t know who would win the nomination when they went into convention, and where serious and divisive debates about platform planks (should the Democrats stand for civil rights in the South, for example) would tear the party to pieces. The fact that the Republicans were working to remove any division or unpredictability from their convention was a surprising new development in 1972—but this strategy was quickly adopted by both political parties.

Today, the primary election process insures that the presidential and vice-presidential nominees are already chosen, debates over the platform have all been worked out , and all other sources of party division are almost always resolved before the convention ever begins. The line-up of speakers has been carefully vetted and planned to the last detail .

So what’s the point? Why do the parties even continue to hold a convention and why do so many voters watch?

Conventions continue to play several roles for political parties, including serving as a single place where thousands of delegates representing different factions of a party can gather to build solidarity and excitement for the hard work ahead in winning an election and serving as a star-studded occasion where lot of big-money donors gather for fund-raising dinners, invite-only parties and other special events to raise necessary millions of dollars for the party.

One of the key functions of a political convention is to serve as a carefully choreographed advertisement to share the values of the party and image of its presidential nominee with the voters.

“Contemporary conventions are staged primarily as mega-media events designed to electrify the party faithful and to woo undecided voters by dazzling them. Scholars have demonstrated that support for the party’s nominee is boosted immediately after the convention, and the prevailing nostrum seems to be: the better the convention, the bigger the boost. Elaborate effort—and resources—are now lavished on the conventions by party leaders to orchestrate, anticipate, plan, schedule, rehearse, time, and script every detail of every minute of the convention—especially those proceedings that will be aired during prime time.”

— Costas Panagopoulos, 2008

For four days, the Democratic and Republican conventions will feature long lines of speeches, tributes and video presentations revealing what exactly the party stands for, what kinds of people associate with the party, and what the party intends to do once in power. It is a rare moment for voters to truly watch the party present itself—and this serves a vital purpose for American democracy.

We certainly can’t rely on the mainstream media to help voters learn about core values of a party. Studies show that the average amount of time that a candidate or official is allowed to actually speak, in their own words, on the television news is about 7 seconds. Seven second sound-bites are hardly enough time for parties to present their ideas or values in any kind of nuanced ways.

But at a convention, candidates can give lengthy speeches, and they aired in their entirely o various news stations. Video tributes to party achievements and great party leaders are aired for the voters to experience and learn from . Some people call it a useless advertisement, and there are even some in the mainstream media who suggest that none of the convention should even be covered (in favor of what? 8 second soundbites?)—but the convention experience is not so much a useless advertisement as it is a multi-media classroom that voters can enter to learn about the party and its nominee.

Voters are certainly interested in what goes on in that classroom. Although viewership has dropped in recent decades (although there have been few studies of alternative ways of following a convention such as on-line or through casual conversation with friends), at any given moment, 15% of all television viewers are watching the convention—no small number. And the number jumps during the big speech by the nominee. 15% of all voters also make up their actual election decision while watching the convention—a number matched only by the presidential debates.

Conventions are a way to convey the party and its values to the voters—but the choreography of a convention is always threatened by events in the street organized by demonstrators who are intent on challenging a party, confronting it with opposing ideas, and thrusting an alternative narrative of grass-roots priorities upon the national stage. In 1968, convention demonstrators in Chicago were so numerous and so unruly (as were violent police, intent on squashing grass-roots demonstrations in the city) that the Democratic party looked out of control to voters who saw it all unfold on television. They responded by voting in a Republican president.

To this day, demonstrators seek to recreate the energy and drama of the 1968 anti-Vietnam protests, and party officials try to minimize and silence such street demonstrations that distract from the party’s message.

This year in Denver, party leaders worked with the city of Denver to create a carefully planned parade route for demonstrations that would go nowhere near the convention itself, and passed a rule that all parades had to end before the convention events started for the evening. They designed a “freedom cage” (see previous post on the subject) where other protestors could go to speak out at the convention, also out of sight of delegates and hidden behind a large white tent.

But Denver organizers have threatened to tear it all down. Groups in Denver have named themselves such things as Recreate 68, Unconventional Denver , Disrupt DNC 08 , and Tent State University—and they have claimed that up to 50,000 protestors will be descending on Denver to march in the streets, ignore the rules relegating protestors to small cages, and push the Democratic party to take more strong stands against the Iraq War, against poverty, and against global warming (for example).

Will the demonstrators be able to steal the stage from the Democrats? Do convention demonstrations have a role to play, similar to the Convention choreography itself, in teaching the nation about the political lay of the land? In Denver and in St. Paul over the next few weeks, we will see who truly has the upper hand—the party in the halls of power or the movement in the street.

Democrats Ascendant in the Rocky Mountain West

August 12, 2008

It’s been a long exile for Western Democrats. The last time Denver hosted a Democratic National Convention was over one hundred years ago, with the William Jennings Bryant Democrats of 1896. Since those heady days for Western Democrats, the Western path to the presidency has been something of a lost El Dorado. Rather than looking to the interior mountains, Democrats have conventioned in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Dallas and Miami, avoiding altogether the flyover states of the Rocky Mountain West.

But the tectonic plates of American politics shifted in 2004, when several Western states elected Democratic state houses, governors and Members of Congress; followed by the big electoral earthquake of 2006, which shattered the old mold and revealed a new electoral geography.

The West is turning blue.

Democrats are suddenly running and winning in races from Arizona to Montana, all across the once reliable eight-state Republican region. Leading strategists (here, here or here are advising the Democrats to drop their southern infatuation and follow the Western route to the presidency, and once again the Democrats are bringing their national convention to Denver.

“I have long believed that the essence of a Democratic victory goes through the West,” Party chair Howard Dean has noted.“If we are going to have a national party, we are going to have to have Westerners to vote Democratic again on a reliable basis.” The website presents a plethora of insider excitement over rising Democratic prospects in the West: “In the West, it is our time,” stated Denver’s DNC host committee president, Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, upon learning that Denver had been chosen to host the 2008 DNC. Colorado Senator Ken Salazar added that “Colorado is an ideal site to showcase the Democratic Party’s resurgence and our hopes for the future,” while Harold Ickes (deputy chief of staff for President Clinton) weighed in that “I think Denver, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West are an area that’s increasingly in the Democratic focus and out to be”.

Colorado is the showcase of the changing West, electing a Democratic state legislature and a Democratic Senator in 2004, choosing a Democratic Governor in 2006 and sending a Democratic delegation to the U.S. House

Montana, a state that hadn’t elected a Democratic House and Governor for decades, recently turned its state house and Governor’s office over to the Democrats, and sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

Five years ago, the eight-state Rocky Mountain region boasted eight GOP governors. Today, there are only three. Even Wyoming has a Democratic governor.

And that’s why the Democrats are coming to Denver for their convention. Win Colorado or New Mexico, and Al Gore wouldn’t have needed Florida, back in 2000.

What accounts for the Democrat’s Western strength? Some point to the Latino surge—Latinos are rapidly growing in the West, and they vote Democrat. Certainly party strategists and scholars are focused on the behaviors of this growing Latino vote.

Some point to the Cowboy Democrats as the source of western change—its all those libertarian rural cowboys, fed up with a GOP that has lost its way; they’re turning Dem or sitting it out.

And, some (here or here) point to the Californians—its all those new creative class liberal transplants pouring in from the Coast—they’re Californicating Colorado.

I’m part of a research team covering this subject, and we’ve run the numbers for a forthcoming article, and here’s what I can tell you. It’s the Californians. The engine of liberalism in the West are those migrating in from other states—with California the biggest contributor.

What about the other two theories? Latinos are indeed growing in the west, and they tend to vote Democratic, put the fact is that Latinos post very low voting rates (many of them are ineligible to vote, and many others have simply not yet been mobilized into dependable political participation). Every year, this group grows as an electoral force, but to date it cannot be said that Latinos are voting at high enough levels to be the driving force behind change in the West.

As for the Cowboy Democrats—the actual voting data shows that the cowboy counties (those most sparsely populated and most dependent on agriculture, especially in states like Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Montana) are actually NOT trending towards the Democrats. The more cowboy the county, the more likely it is to buck the Democratic movement in the West and actually be trending towards the Republicans. So it’s not the Latinos and it’s not the cowboys driving the West left-it’s the Californians.

Interstate migrants into the West hail most often from California counties that are substantially more Democratic than the Western area they are moving into, they are more likely to be single, childless and white-collar than existing residents, more likely to work within the “creative class” sector of the economy; and they catalyze rising Democratic strength wherever they show up.

When new migrants pour into once isolated rural counties by the thousands, moving into the West from the coastal regions, bubbling into the rural hinterlands out of Democratic powerhouses like Denver, and bringing a new, creative economy with them—they are announcing an electoral transformation that is shaking the foundation of the existing geography of political power in America.

And that’s why Obama is coming to Denver—to ride the Californians to the presidency.