Demographic Doom Still Awaits GOP

Sean TrendeIn general, I’ve always thought that Sean Trende is a smart guy and I will always been impressed with this discussion of the sixth year curse. And I’ve thought that his arguments that the Republicans can continue to win some elections as a white man’s party were pretty strong. They weren’t strong in the sense that they made the idea a good one. But they did show that all was not lost and most important, they gave intellectual cover for the Republican Party to do what it was doing anyway.

Finally, some actual political scientists decided to look at Trende’s numbers. Yesterday, Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz wrote an article for Think Progress, No, Republicans, ‘Missing’ White Voters Won’t Save You. They don’t take on Trende’s entire argument, but they destroyed its core. Trende seemed to show that the big difference between 2008 and 2012 was that a whole bunch of white voters didn’t show up in 2012. The Think Progress article showed that this conclusion was based on bad data. Basically, Trende assumed what he was trying to prove. He noted that not as many white voters showed up in 2012, but he ignored the fact that not as many nonwhite voters showed up either. When this is taken into account, 2012 was not an election where there were “missing” white voters; it was an election with a smaller turnout, for all voters. As Teixeira and Abramowitz wrote:

So: GOP phone home! Your missing white voters have been found, and it turns out they weren’t really missing. They were simply sitting out a relatively low turnout election along with a large number of their minority counterparts. They may be back next time if it’s a higher turnout election—but then again so will a lot of minority voters. Bottom line: your demographic dilemma remains the same. The mix of voters is changing fast to your disadvantage and there is no cavalry of white voters waiting in the wings to rescue you.

This is good advice. But it can’t be a surprise, not even to Sean Trende. There is a demographic tidal wave coming; no one can question that. But of course, the GOP will not listen—at least not yet. As I’ve said all along, the party will only reform when they absolutely have no choice. As long as there is a possibility that they will regain the White House in the next election, they will remain unchanged.

The problem is that the Republicans aren’t even attempting to tread water on this issue. It seems daily that the party is more and more interested in passing laws that they must know will be overturned within a generation—after they’ve lost all power. Do Mississippi Republicans really think that the laws they’re passing now will hold as their states gets more liberal and women go with a practical ban on abortions for the next 20 years? It must be that they are either so deluded that they think eventually everyone will agree with them despite the arch of history, or they just want to change the country long enough for their old constituency to die off. Regardless, it is not the thinking of a strong party that has a promising future.

To a large extent, I’ve always cheered Sean Trende on because he is helping the Republican Party destroy itself. And I think this project is going pretty well. Recently, I’ve even begun to see the attempts at voter suppression as the pathetic last gasp of the party to stay in power. Their fall will happen. Of course, it would be better if the Republicans just reformed themselves. Unfortunately, with the Democrats so far right on economic issues, I don’t think there is any real hope of that. It is going to take something calamitous. In the mean time, they will become ever more conservative and white to the point where their base is just a hollow shell. And it will crack and the party will rebuild as something new—maybe even something good.

Tesla and the Good Life

Nikola TeslaOn this day back in 1509, the religion reformist John Calvin was born. There are actual theological distinctions between Calvinists and Lutherans, but they are mostly lost to time. My biggest problem with modern day Christianity is that it has lost its theological basis; it is all about culture now. What Calvinists are mostly known for today is exactly this: being very resistant to having any fun. But at this point that doesn’t much differentiate them from other Christian faiths. There is a standard joke applied to just about any type of Christian, but applied to Calvinists in the film Rob Roy, “Why are Calvinists against fucking while standing up? Because they’re afraid it might lead to dancing.”

The Flemish painter David Teniers III was born in 1638. He was the third David Teniers to be a painter, and his son of the same name was as well. But I think he was by far the best of the clan. You wouldn’t know based upon the amount of coverage the men get. His father (David Teniers the Younger) seems to have been the most important. But if you are looking for great art, go for the son—or as they have said, “The younger Younger”!

Mathematician Roger Cotes was born in 1682. He is best known for helping Newton, but he did a lot of important work himself. And then died young. At his death at the age of 33, Newton said, “”If he had lived we would have known something.”

The great Impressionist Camille Pissarro was born in 1830. When I was younger, I didn’t much care for his work, but I’ve come to love it as I’ve gotten older. In particular, when I was at the Getty Center last year, I was really struck by it. German brewer Adolphus Busch was born in 1839. Marcel Proust was born in 1871. He probably would have taken the day, but the truth is that I haven’t managed to finish one of his novels. I have read enough to conclude that even in translation, he is a great writer. But there is so much to read and given that Proust effectively just wrote one incredibly long novel his whole life, I’m afraid he is destined to be neglected by me. The great ragtime guitarist Blind Boy Fuller was born in 1907. Here he is doing “Truckin’ My Blues Away” that gives a good idea of his talent:

Our Herman Munster, Fred Gwynne was born in 1926. And our Count von Count (“The Count”), Jerry Nelson was born in 1934. When I told Andrea that he died of emphysema, she—typical of her great sense of decorum and respect—started doing the Count, “One cigarette! Two cigarettes!” I thought it was funny, but I was not exactly pleased. (It is not at all clear that he was a smoker, actually.) Here he is as The Count:

Actor, most recently from Firefly, Ron Glass is 68. Folk singer Arlo Guthrie is 66. Here he is doing his most famous song “Alice’s Restaurant” at Farm Aid 2005:

One of the better live performers I’ve ever seen, Greg Kihn is 64. One of the best gymnasts ever, Ludmilla Tourischeva is 61. Cinematographer Ellen Kuras is 54. And the bad guy from the Firefly movie Serenity who killed Ron Glass’ character Shepherd Book, Chiwetel Ejiofor is 36.

The day, however, belongs to the great scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla who was born on this day in 1856. He was a brilliant man who was critical to the development of AC electricity, which is the only real way we have to transmit electricity over long distances. Unfortunately, most people idolize Tesla for his more nutty ideas. Not that there is anything wrong with nutty ideas. For one thing, I’m sure that there was more to his nutty ideas than we normally realize. But his quest of these ideas took all of his money at the end of his life. Most people see this as sad, but I don’t. What was the point of dying rich? He used his money in the pursuit of his interests and I think that’s great.

Happy birthday Nikola Tesla!

Abortion and Sharia Law Are the Same Thing

North Carolia - Women's RightsAs you may have heard, in North Carolina last Friday, the Republican legislature amended a bill that prohibited the recognition of Sharia law. The ammended bill would also greatly restrict abortion rights. The folks at The Rachel Maddow Show have been doing good reporting on this. But there is one aspect of the reporting that bothers me. For example, this morning, Steven Benen wrote, Republicans “took a bill related to Sharia law, of all things, [and] amended it to include sweeping new restrictions on reproductive rights.” I often find Maddow and company pretty clueless when it comes to understanding conservatives and this is a very good example.

It makes perfect sense to put abortion restrictions in a Sharia law bill. Both issues are key signifiers for the Republican base. Both issues are Christian in origin. The Republican base is not against abortion because they are concerned about issues of citizenship and the protection of life. They aren’t even concerned about theological question like when the soul enters a fetus. To these people, being against abortion says that they are the good kind of people—the God fearing kind.

Similarly, who is America is concerned that we are going to follow Sharia law? No one. But much of the Republican base is very interested in proclaiming that Christianity is better than the other religions. So the same people who want to put an end to the scourge of Sharia law are the very same people who want to put monuments of Jewish Law (Ten Commandments) in our courthouses.

I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here. But the vast majority of social conservatives really don’t care so much about policy as about proclaiming that they are Good Christians and that the only way to heaven is through acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior. And that means first and foremost doing as their pastors tell them. And that means being against abortion because God decrees it, even though there is nothing in the Bible about this and even Thomas Aquinas thought that embryos were without souls. And secondarily, it means proclaiming that Christianity is the only true religion.

Nor do I mean to say that these social conservatives don’t really care about fetuses or their religious faith. But there is a process. First, they become associated with a tribe. That tribe has certain signifiers that indicate membership. The rest comes later. And can there be any doubt? A zygote is just 16 cells. Crushing an ant is an infinitely more cruel action than destroying a zygote. No one would have a strong opinion on this unless they were very detailed theological thinkers or (as is the case with almost everyone) simply people who were told to care by someone they respected.

So banning Sharia law and abortion at the same time makes perfect sense. It is too bad that the social conservatives aren’t more open about it. Then they might have proposed a better title for the bill than, “Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act.” Better would be, “Christians Rock and Everyone Else Sucks.”

Slow and Measured Filibuster Reform

Slow and MeasuredIt is filibuster time again. And you know what that means: time to be disappointed! You may remember last year around this time, we were talking about complete filibuster reform. And then only a month ago, we were talking judicial and executive nominee filibuster reform. Well, I knew something was wrong last night, when Sherrod Brown said he was for filibuster reform and immediately started talking about executive nominees. And sure enough, Politico has reported, Sen. Harry Reid Ready to Go Nuclear on Executive Branch Nominations. This is not good as I will explain shortly.

The argument is that since judicial nominees are appointed for life, we should allow the minority party to hold up pretty much every nomination for as long as they like—forever, if they want. It’s democracy, stupid! But there are apologists for the whole practice. Jonathan Bernstein, who is a brilliant commentator and probably more knowledgeable about the filibuster than anyone, is happy, The Best News in Senate Reform. And indeed, it is true that the Republicans are being a tad more reasonable when it comes to nominations. But I don’t think any reasonable person could conclude that this is anything but an effort to stop filibuster reform. As soon as the talk is over, they will go back to their normal behavior.

Splitting the difference on this one is a mistake. If the Republicans can no longer filibuster Richard Cordray just because they don’t like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they will redouble their efforts on judicial nominations. You can bet that if Obama gets his new EPA director, the Republicans will want to stop him from getting his judges on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If the Democrats don’t go all the way on filibuster reform, the Republicans will assume (rightly) that they don’t have the votes to do more and it will be open season on judicial filibusters.

You may be wondering why I’m not calling for full filibuster reform—including legislation. Well, I am. But we certainly aren’t going to get that. What’s more, leaving that out doesn’t hurt us. When it comes to legislation, it is the House that stops everything, not the Senate filibuster. See, for example, immigration reform. If the Democrats held the House, it would be a different matter. Doing only executive and judicial nominations could stop legislation from getting passed. That just isn’t an issue now or for at least three years. (I’d be glad to be proven wrong.)

All discussions of filibuster reform come back to the same thing, however. The Republicans will abolish the filibuster as soon as they are in the majority with a Republican in the White House. From a practical standpoint, they already did this on judicial nominations. It was just that rather than allow the idea of the filibuster, the Gang of 14 allowed it to stand while in practice allowing pretty much every Bush nominee through. And then when the Democrats were in the majority, the coalition fell apart and the 7 Republicans who were part of the “gang” began the process of filibustering everything in sight.

When there is a Senate Republican majority with President Rubio, the Republicans will abolish the filibuster. At that time, the Democrats will cry foul. They will say that they made only minor changes to the filibuster. They will say that they were only responding to bad behavior of the Republicans. They will say that they could have gotten rid of the whole damned thing while it was to their advantage. And I will be there to say, “Yes. And you should have!”

Update (10 July 2013 11:09 am)

At least Ed Kilgore is on my side!

Pundits Still Hoping for Immigration Reform

ImmigrantsThere was a time not long ago when all the liberal Washington pundits were clucking about immigration reform. They said that if there was a big bipartisan vote for it in the Senate, then the House would just have to give it a vote. I felt very lonely in saying—time and again—that everyone must be out of their fucking minds. It didn’t make sense for all these pundits to predict the success of the bill. After all, I’m rather new to all of this and these guys have been hanging around Washington for a long time. And I wasn’t predicting failure based on cynicism; I was predicting it based on the merits. I didn’t and still don’t see why it is to the advantage of Republicans to pass immigration reform when (1) most of them won’t vote for it; and (2) the party is unwilling to reach out to immigrants in any other way.

And then the bill passed in the Senate and there was much celebration, even though 70% of the Republicans in the Senate voted against the bill. That’s when Boehner got quite specific: he wasn’t going to bring the bill up for a vote unless a majority of the Republican caucus was for it. The Hallelujah Chorus ended and everywhere I looked, Washington pundits were sounding a lot like I had been. Suddenly, people were making lists of the reasons why immigration reform was always a long shot.

Not everyone gave up hope, of course. There was a group of pundits and reporters—especially over at the Washington Post—who I have taken to calling the Happy Horseshit Caucus. It is made up of a lot of very smart people who I admire and generally find quite insightful. And it is led by Greg Sargent. You know, despite the the frowning caricature, he’s got to be one of the most optimistic people in Washington. And I admire that. I love it when people call me Pollyanna, even if they are always being sarcastic. Optimism may not be my cup of tea, but I admire those who can manage it.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t look kind of sad to watch someone scraping the last couple of ounces out of the optimism barrel. And I’m afraid that Sargent is doing that today, although I could be wrong; he may go back and scrape some more later. This time, he is focused on a bit of handicapping that David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report has done. Wasserman thinks there “may be a narrow majority in the House who could be privately willing to support Boehner allowing a vote.” And then he goes on to mention three Republican Representatives that might be in this category. Setting aside the two weasels there, the fact that we know who some of these Representatives by name are an indication that they would not be willing to do so. Wouldn’t the fact that they allowed immigration reform to pass be used against them in a primary? I can even see it being worse, “Not only did my opponent allow amnesty for 11 million illegals, he wasn’t even willing to be honest with the voters of this great country!”

Look: I don’t want it to be this way. I think the bill as it now stands is marginally more good than bad. But I think the pathway to citizenship is far too difficult and long. I’m not keen on many of the big business sweeteners. And I don’t relish the idea of militarizing the border. For one thing, it looks bad; it looks like just what it is: racism. Remember: nearly half of the illegal immigration problem is from overstaying visas. So militarizing the boarder seems mostly to say, “We hate spics!”

Of course. Of course. It could happen. I would say that Sargent’s optimism barrel has maybe 3% left in it. But that means that my pessimism barrel is 97% full. H. L. Mencken was attacking democracy and the common man when he wrote his famous quotation. But no one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the modern Republican Party.