Democracy

I’ve just finished reading Jon Meacham’s book The Soul of America:  The Battle for Our Better Angels.  Using various periods in our history (The Civil War, the McCarthy Era, Reconstruction, etc), Meacham tries to reassure us that things have been bad in the past and we managed to survive and even move forward.  When I think about this history I am comforted until I read the news.

In today’s Daily Kos Elections email newsletter we find that the Republican Party in North Carolina has changed its mind about joining in the effort to seek a new election and that the losing candidate in a New Mexico congressional race is refusing to concede a race she lost 51-49.  Add to the mix what is happening in Wisconsin and Michigan and the only conclusion is that the Republican Party no longer believes in democracy.

From the Daily Kos:

NC-09: In a bizarre about-face, the North Carolina Republican Party is once again demanding that the state Board of Elections certify the results of the tainted race in the 9th Congressional District, less than a week after state party executive director Dallas Woodhouse all but called for a new election. Woodhouse, rather impossibly, claims that his position “has not changed”; rather, he insists, the state GOP is only objecting to the fact that the board has delayed a public hearing on the matter until Jan. 11 and has not produced “one iota of public evidence” that wrongdoing altered the outcome in the 9th.

Of course, it’s impossible to square these two things. If, as Woodhouse briefly purported to, you believe that the widespread allegations of election fraud merit a thorough investigation, then you need to allow the necessary time for that investigation to proceed. Had the board instead tried to rush matters rather than conduct a serious inquiry, then Republicans would be howling about a lack of “due process.”

And this

NM-02: Even though we’re now six weeks out from the 2018 midterms, Republican Yvette Herrell still hasn’t conceded to Democratic Rep.-elect Xochitl Torres Small, who won New Mexico’s open 2nd District 51-49 in a race that wasn’t called until the day after Election Day thanks to absentee ballots. Like many of her fellow Republicans, who’ve decided that elections aren’t legitimate when Democrats win them, Herrell has been busy sowing vague doubts about the democratic process—and, naturally, refusing to substantiate any of her claims.

While the Daily Kos makes no claims to being non partisan, the underlying facts are pretty clear:  When the Republicans lose, they no longer believe in the democratic process.

On December 11, The Guardian ran an opinion piece by Andrew Gawthorpe, a lecturer in history and international studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, which did an excellent job of summing up what is going on.

America’s federal system of government is, in theory, key to the strength of its democracy. As opposed to citizens in the more centralized states of Europe, Americans get to vote for a huge array of local offices, policies and ballot initiatives that can influence their lives for the better. Innovation in the states can be healthy for the whole country, such as when healthcare reform in Massachusetts provided inspiration for the Affordable Care Act. The supreme court justice Louis Brandeis famously praised US states as laboratories which could “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country”.

In Wisconsin, where Scott Walker’s loss to the Democrat Tony Evers was a national embarrassment for Republicans, the legislature has moved to seize control of welfare policy from the incoming governor. Evers will no longer be able to overturn policies that require food stamp recipients to take drug tests, or that require Medicaid recipients to meet a work requirement. Nor will the state’s new attorney general, also a Democrat, be able to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit which seeks to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional.

Given that these are all policies that the incoming Democrats fought and won their elections on, we might expect Wisconsin Republicans to show some humility. But we would expect wrong. Wisconsin speaker of the House, Robin Vos, instead warned his fellow Republicans that the power grab was necessary to stop a “very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in”. Just not quite enough, that is, to actually win the election.

Gawthorpe concludes

While so much outrage is rightly directed at Donald Trump’s daily attacks on democratic norms, the growing detachment of establishment Republicans from them is arguably an even greater concern in the long run. Trump’s general incompetence and lack of focus have so far prevented him from doing serious damage to voting rights, but his administration has provoked a backlash and energized the left. This swinging of the pendulum is how democratic politics should work. But events in Wisconsin show the limits to what can be accomplished by even an energized left in the face of disciplined Republican attempts to rob them of the power that is rightfully theirs.

To see the complicity of establishment Republicans in these attempts to turn the states into laboratories of anti-democracy, look no further than Paul Ryan. Even as he leaves politics this year, the Wisconsin congressman and poster boy for a supposedly “respectable” conservatism has been silent on events in his home state and their broader implications. There is little indication that the next generation of Republican leaders will have any more scruples, and plenty of reasons to fear they will have fewer. As the incentives increase for Republicans to ignore the will of the voters, the threat to American democracy today goes much deeper than Donald Trump – and consequently will be all the harder to tackle.

Many of us, myself included, spend a good deal of energy wallowing in the latest chapter of the Trump soap opera.  Perhaps we need to spend more on saving our democracy.  But is will be difficult when on political party appears to no longer believe in our basic democratic values.  Jon Meacham tells us that things have been bad before, but we have survived.  I hope he’s right this time.

Left behind

Demographers tell us that those who identify as white will be in the minority in a few years.  If you were a political party trying to maintain power and relevance wouldn’t you be trying to court members of the future majority?  I guess not.

Frank Bruni wrote in his recent column

From proud Republican harbinger to sad Republican castaway — that’s the story of Representative Mia Love, who finally conceded her extraordinarily close House race on Monday.

It’s the story of her party, really. Of what it once realized about the future and how it slouched backward into the past. Of trading the elixir of hope for the toxin of fear.

It charts Republicans’ ugly drift under Donald Trump, who rooted for her defeat not only as the votes in Utah’s Fourth Congressional District were still being counted (“Mia Love gave me no love,” the president pouted) but with all that he said on the campaign trail and has done in the White House. Tacitly and explicitly, he has sown disdain for the likes of Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants who, in 2014, became the first black Republican woman ever elected to either chamber of Congress.

She remains the only one. When she leaves at the end of this congressional session, there will be just two black Republican men — one in the House and one in the Senate.

And then you have Cindy Hyde-Smith winning in Mississippi.  Jelani Cobb writes in the New Yorker

A series of outrageous statements, regardless of whether they were calculated or clueless, was not sufficient to alienate enough white Republicans from Hyde-Smith. She blithely stated that she would be willing to sit in the front row of a public hanging, in a state whose history is marred by the spectacle murders of black people at the hands of racist white mobs. She “joked” that she was in favor of making it more difficult for certain people to vote in the state where, in 1966, the N.A.A.C.P. activist Vernon Dahmer was killed—his home was firebombed—for the crime of registering black people to vote. Earlier, she had praised Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis, as “Mississippi history at its best!” (It was also reported last week that she had graduated from a “segregation academy,” created to sidestep the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, and sent her daughter to a school that had had the same origins.)

Mike Espy was always a long shot to win the elections, but the margin, 54 to 46, surprised me; I thought it would be closer.  And Hyde-Smith is not the only Republican to win this fall despite their racist statements.  Think of Governor-elect DeSantis in Florida and Governor-elect Kemp of Georgia.  Cobb writes

Hyde-Smith’s victory means that, this month, three Southern white Republicans used cavalierly racist rhetoric in successful attempts to defeat three black Democrats in statewide races. In Florida, Ron DeSantis warned Floridians not to “monkey this up” by electing his rival. In Georgia, Brian Kemp billed himself as a Trump-like conservativewho drove a large pickup truck so as to have room for the “criminal illegals” he might round up as he went about his day.

Trump with his implicit and explicit racism has created the atmosphere that gives other candidates cover.  On the Democratic side as Bruni points out, there is a new diversity.

Everything you heard about the exciting diversification of midterm races? About the significantly increased numbers of women running for office, of people of color, of L.G.B.T. candidates?

That was on the Democratic side. The Republicans either couldn’t be bothered, couldn’t find any takers or — my guess — both. Love called that out in a remarkable concession speech on Monday. To the victor go the spoils, but from the vanquished comes the candor.

“Because Republicans never take minority communities into their home and citizens into their homes and into their hearts, they stay with Democrats,” Love said. Democrats “do take them home — or at least make them feel like they have a home.”

Mia Love has put her finger on the Republican problem.  After Mitt Romney lost in 2008, the Republicans talked a lot about a reset to become more diverse and attract more diverse voters.  It obviously has not happened.  In fact, the Republicans have gone far in the opposite direction.  Meanwhile, the Democrats have made, in Love’s words, a diverse group feel like they have a home.  Just take a look at this New York Times piece on the new Freshmen in Congress.  The contrast is striking.  The Republican Party is being left behind.

Let me give Cobb the last word

The pre-Trump Republican Party certainly relied on the support of whites who held racially bigoted views, but it struggled for plausible deniability in such matters. With Trump, the racism is out in the open, and so, in some cases, is the willingness of the electorate to tolerate it. The Mississippi race reinforced something that has been impossible to avoid but difficult to accept: Trump’s imprimatur actually helped some Republicans win elections. Nina Simone titled her racial-justice protest song “Mississippi Goddam.” The shame isn’t just that the song remains resonant fifty-four years after it was released but that, looking at the landscape of 2018, there are still so many other places she could sing about.

Senate in a hurry

The Senate, that body that couldn’t seem to muster enough energy to do very much since 2010 except hold endless hearings about Hillary Clinton, has suddenly gotten busy.  Last night – or rather early this morning – they took the first steps toward repealing the Affordable Care Act.  The New York Times reporters wrote

The approval of the budget blueprint, coming even before President-elect Donald J. Trump is inaugurated, shows the speed with which Republican leaders are moving to fulfill their promise to repeal President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement — a goal they believe can now be accomplished after Mr. Trump’s election.

The action by the Senate is essentially procedural, setting the stage for a special kind of legislation called a reconciliation bill. Such a bill can be used to repeal significant parts of the health law and, critically, is immune from being filibustered. Congress appears to be at least weeks away from voting on legislation repealing the law.

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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is leading the charge to make Hill Republicans own the Obamacare repeal process.

The Democrats staged a protest on the floor, taking turns speaking even while being ruled out of order.  The vote was 51 to 48.  So, what can someone who is opposed to repeal do at this point?  I found a New York Times Op-Ed Seven Questions About Health Reform to be a useful guide to the questions we should be asking any Senator or Congressperson who supports repeal.  The piece by Harold Pollack and Timothy S. Jost should be read in full, but here are what I think are the most important of the seven questions. (The numbering is mine not theirs. And they are not in the order of importance.}

First, “How many millions of Americans will lose coverage?”  Among the issues pointed out is

Proposals by Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s choice to run Health and Human Services, and by the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, would repeal the expansion of Medicaid and replace the A.C.A.’s income-based subsidies with less generous tax credits. Another plan from the House Republican Study Committee would offer deductions. We particularly need to know how this would affect low-income Americans, to whom tax deductions are nearly worthless, and who would generally not be able to afford coverage under these plans.

Second, “Will people over 55 pay higher health premiums for the same coverage?”  If the repeal is paired with cuts to Medicare, all of us over 55 will be in trouble.  And younger folks who may not have saved much for retirement yet will find it impossible to save enough.

Third, “… how much more will those with costly illnesses or injuries have to pay in out-of-pocket costs?”

Critics of the A.C.A. often argue that the law has made health care unaffordable. But many Americans would pay much more without it. The A.C.A. capped out-of-pocket spending at $7,150 for individuals and $14,300 for families for 2017. Republican proposals appear to offer no protection from high deductibles and other cost-sharing.

This could be devastating to millions, including older Americans who often develop chronic illnesses.

Fourth on my list. “Will the new plan let insurers charge women higher premiums than men while offering them less coverage?”

Before the A.C.A. banned gender-based premiums, insurers in many states charged women more than men of the same age — some as much as 50 percent more. The A.C.A. also required all insurers to cover preventive health services without co-payments; for women, this includes birth control, Pap smears, mammograms and a host of other crucial services. Maternity care is fully covered as well. Republican replacement plans offer no such protection. And many Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood, too, which would deprive women not just of coverage but also of care.

And, as we have learned, many men, particularly Republican men, have no idea of how a woman’s anatomy works.  For those opposed to choice on abortion, this could have the effect of increasing the number of abortions – legal and illegal.

I think there is time while President Trump argues with Congress and Congress argues with itself about what should be in any new law.  If your Senator and/or Congressperson favors repeal, call or write or visit and ask some of the seven questions.  And express your support for those that oppose wholesale repeal.  Should you agree with what is happening, leave me a message explaining why you think this is OK.

Photograph:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

Repealing the Affordable Care Act

The Republicans have made a mantra out of repealing the ACA aka Obamacare.  I’ve lost track of how many times they have voted to repeal it, but close to 60, I think.  The surprising thing is how unprepared they really are to “repeal and replace”.  They seem to have the repeal part down, but in all the years it has been since the law was enacted, they haven’t come up with a replacement plan.  I think that even supporters of the ACA know that some things need fixing but no Republicans were willing to work with Democrats and President Obama to do so.

They could just repeal it.  This would create chaos in the health care system and upset millions.  I don’t think they want to deal with loss of support right away.  I’m not sure that voters who say they don’t like the ACA understand that things like free vaccinations, physical exams, and mammograms are part of the Act.  On the other hand, Republicans cannot seem to agree on a plan to replace the ACA.  There are a lot of ideas, but no plan and not even a framework for a plan as far as I can tell.

In the January 4 edition of the New York Times, Robert Pear had an interesting and informative article, Republicans’ 4-Step Plan to Repeal the Affordable Care Act.  In it he outlines the things that have to happen before Repeal.

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Vice President-elect Mike Pence, second from right, listened as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, spoke after a Republican luncheon on Wednesday.

Step One is to pass a budget resolution that is filibuster proof in the Senate.

The Senate intends to pass a budget resolution next week that would shield repeal legislation from a Democratic filibuster. If the Senate completes its action, House Republican leaders hope that they, too, can approve a version of the budget resolution next week. Whether they can meet that goal is unclear.

Step Two would add details.

Republicans say they will delay the effective date of their repeal bill to avoid disrupting coverage and to provide time for them to develop alternatives to Mr. Obama’s law. They disagree over how long the delay should last, with two to four years being mentioned as possibilities.

Step Three adds in ideas from President Trump.

Within days of taking office, President-elect Donald J. Trump plans to announce executive actions on health care. Some may undo Obama administration policies. Others will be meant to stabilize health insurance markets and prevent them from collapsing in a vast sea of uncertainty.

“We are working on a series of executive orders that the president-elect will put into effect to ensure that there is an orderly transition, during the period after we repeal Obamacare, to a market-based health care economy,” Mr. Pence said at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Step Four is replacement.  For which there is no consensus.

Meanwhile Democrats are also taking action.

In the Senate next week, Democrats will demand votes intended to put Republicans on record against proposals that could protect consumers. Defenders of the law also hope to mobilize groups like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association to speak up for patients.

This process is far from over.  Even Republicans put implementation of a new health care law a minimum of 2 years out – just in time for mid-terms- and more likely, 4 years away – just in time for the next Presidential election.

Photograph:  Doug Mills/The New York Times

So what the hell happened?

Everyone was wrong except Donald Trump.  How could that have happened?  I didn’t blog at all during the campaign season because everyone seemed to be writing what I would write, but this post is meant to be therapeutic.

First, let me make it clear that my heart was with Bernie Sanders.  He is my Senator; I like his politics.  But when I voted yesterday I thought it was a vote for the first woman president, Hillary Clinton and that was exciting, but I did wear my pin that said “My heart’s with Bernie, but I’m voting for Hillary”.  So what happened?

I haven’t read any of the papers or clicked on any email or looked at my Facebook feed this morning so this is all my own take:  The Democrats screwed up.  We all knew the country was divided and the election would hinge on turnout, but the Democratic party, as it turns out, did not have a deep bench.  I believe that in nominating a candidate with a lot of baggage, (most of which was not true, but no one could ever convince people of that) we set ourselves up for what happened.  She just couldn’t excite enough people.  Yes, she had a ground game and, yes, she got people out to vote but she lost too many people who got discouraged by various voter suppression rumors and didn’t vote, decided they didn’t like Trump, but didn’t like her either, as well as a fair chunk of Bernie supporters.

Bernie did his best for her, but it just wasn’t enough.  I await the analysis, but based on what I saw last night around midnight, Johnson and Stein took just enough votes for Trump to win in some close races.

I have many friends who were Trump voters, some reluctantly, and to them I say, “have fun trying to actually govern.”  To those who voted third party:  This is why Bernie told you not to do it.

It should be an interesting next few years and I’m back to blogging.

The Republican Convention 2016

So, we have made it though the Republican Convention.  Donald Trump is the nominee and even though people keep expecting him to “pivot toward the general”, I think he won’t/can’t change.  My politically conservative brother-in-law did make an astute observation the other day.  He basically said that the left feared Trump and the right feared Hillary which makes this the election based on fear.  Here’s hoping that the Democrats give us some positive reasons to vote for them.

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In fact, I found this meme on Facebook posted by a friend of a friend, Louise Aucott.  I gather she is a Bernie supporter.

I really don’t understand the Republican Governors who talked about how well their states were doing, while The Donald was saying that the country had no economy.  Do they want to go back to 2008?  They really need to credit President Obama because their state economies didn’t get better in a vacuum.

Another thing I don’t understand is why all of the Trump/Pence supporters don’t give up Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps (because I’m sure many are getting assistance), disaster aid (which Republican governors are quick to ask for) and give back any raises they might receive as the result of an increase in the minimum wage.  If they hate the government so much, they should forgo the benefits that come from it.

Back to what I started this post to do:  Let’s look at the Republican Convention.  I’ve been to a national convention (1972) and I know just how chaotic they can be when there is dissent among the ranks.  I think we debated everything from the rules to many platform planks and managed to cause George McGovern to give his acceptance speech in the wee hours.  But that was back in the hay day of participatory democracy.  There is no such excuse for the mistakes made by the Trump campaign beginning with poor Melania’s speech which no one vetted.  I can understand why she was so taken with Michelle Obama’s words.  Melania is not a politician and may not have realized that she was quoting the enemy, but someone from the campaign should have known.  And then allowing Senator Ted Cruz to speak just before the Vice-Presidential acceptance speech was another management failure.

The New York Times summed up the convention this way

Mr. Trump and his fellow speakers over four days and nights did not pivot, did not shift, did not seek the notional sweet center of American public life. With few exceptions, the convention was aimed at stirring up true believers and wedding them to his cause. The emotional and cultural core of Mr. Trump’s campaign — reversal of, and even revenge for, perceived slights, disrespect and loss — were undisturbed and at times amplified before a prime-time audience. In Mr. Trump’s telling, the most powerful nation in the history of the world was a victim. And Mr. Trump was its avenger.

Wasserman on Trump
The Republicans give us the message that America isn’t a country any more and only Mr. Trump can wave a magic wand and fix it.  And it is a magic wand because he has offered few specifics.
Those of us who don’t buy into this message shouldn’t be voting out of fear, but to continue the positive progress we have made.  I think my brother-in-law will be proven wrong.
Cartoon by Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe

My Supreme Court Fantasy

One of my friends asked if she would go to hell because she was glad that Antonin Scalia was dead.  I have mixed feelings.  First, I’m very sad for his family as sudden death is always difficult.  On the other hand, I am happy he is no longer a factor on the Supreme Court.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote on the the nicest tributes I’ve seen.  This is from Vox.

So it’s no surprise that of all the tributes to Justice Scalia, who died Saturday of an apparent heart attack at the age of 79, Justice Ginsburg’s is uniquely moving. It’s a tribute to Scalia as an interlocutor, a fellow opera lover — including a reference to the opera Scalia/Ginsburg: A (Gentle) Parody of Operatic Proportionswhich debuted in 2015 — and a “best buddy.”

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: ‘We are different, we are one,’ different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his ‘energetic fervor,’ ‘astringent intellect,’ ‘peppery prose,’ ‘acumen,’ and ‘affability,’ all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.

Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.

So my fantasy is imagining Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined by a Justice Amy Klobuchar.  What a quartet that would be!

Patrick Condon writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is likely to mix it up in the coming political brawl in Washington around replacing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and not just because her own name has again surfaced as a potential high court nominee.

Klobuchar

Klobuchar sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  This can be a plus because she has worked with all the Republican members.

Obama said late Saturday that he intends to try to fill the vacancy “in due time.” It is already shaping up to be an epic battle as Obama has been handed the rare chance to swing the ideological balance of the court, where Scalia served as one of the most reliably conservative voices in the 5-4 majority.

As Republicans who control the U.S. Senate vow to block Obama, the president will look for judiciary committee allies like Klobuchar and Franken. But Klobuchar, an attorney and a former elected prosecutor, may first be considered as a prospect.

“I think there’s a bunch of reasons she makes sense,” said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress and U.S. politics at Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, who was touting Klobuchar’s case on Twitter over the weekend. “I think there’s a substantive argument for her, and a political argument for her.”

Ornstein said by choosing a U.S. senator, Obama could make it a harder for Senate Republicans to block a trusted colleague for the entirety of 2016. And he suggested it might be a good time to reverse the recent presidential trend of only picking judges.

“There was a long tradition of selecting people who had been in public life, gone through elections and served in legislatures or executive office,” Ornstein said.
 Chief Justice Earl Warren and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Conner are two examples cited.
President Obama may ultimately decide that Klobuchar is too political an appointment and we don’t know if she would even be interested, but I can dream of the Mighty Four on the Supreme Court.
Photograph:  Twitter.com