The Avalanche Has Already Started; It Is Too Late for the Pebbles to Vote

The dam has broken. No matter what our opinions might be of it, gay marriage is becoming a fact of life. On the heels of recent decisions by either judges or legislatures in Hawaii, Oklahoma, Nevada, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Arkansas, Idaho and Oregon, a judge in Pennsylvania today struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. That’s the fourth court victory for gay marriage advocates just this month. And this one, complete with a long and forceful opinion, was issued by a Bush 43 appointee whose appointment to the federal bench was approved by none other than Rick Santorum. (Judge Jones also wrote a long and stirring opinion against teaching creationism in public schools in Kitzmiller v. Dover). That makes 19 states where gay marriage is either legal or has won a recent court victory.

There is simply no putting this genie back in the bottle. Some of those overturns may be reversed by higher courts. Some may be turned over to referendums again. But even those are unlikely to pass. As I said when the Republican Party was pushing a wave of anti-gay-marriage amendments in 2004, their urgency was because they could see that they were losing support. It was then or never. The tide stopped in 2012 when Minnesota turned back an amendment in a tough battle. Now it has turned and is roaring back out to sea. California’s Prop 8 would not pass now. Some of the redder states would be able to keep it illegal, but even there, support is crumbling. Within ten years, gays will be probably be able to marry almost everywhere in this country. Maybe even less. This issue is basically dead (although, as I argued with the Brendan Eich case, I would prefer that people not gloat about it).

There is one question that sill lingers in mind however: whether this issue will haunt the Republican Party down the road. I’ve spoken of this before:

Back in the 1970′s, the GOP stepped back from their previous support for civil rights to support the so-called “Southern Strategy”: an effort to woo segregationists from the Democrats. The idea was not to embrace segregation, per se, but to jump on racially sensitive issues like welfare to build a power base in the South.

While it managed to get a few politicians to defect (Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond), it never really helped their electoral prospects. In Presidential races, they won the whole country in 1972, lost the South in 1976 and 1980, won the whole country in 1984 and 1988, split the South in 1992 and 1996. It was only in the mid-90′s that the South turned and, by that point, no one gave a crap about segregation issues. The turn was over economic issues. And by 2008, Barack Obama was able to dominate the South in the primaries and compete in the general election, winning three states.

Just to clarify this point: the Republicans took the South because the South was always conservative. The only reason the South hadn’t voted Republican up until the 90′s was because of the Democratic Party’s century-long history of racist politics. Growing up in Atlanta, I knew people whose family had never voted Republican. When George Allen was elected to the Virginia legislature, he was one of only a handful of Republicans. When the South went red in 1994, Republicans were winning elections in Southern states for the first time since the Civil War. The South was always conservative. They were going to go Republican eventually. It was only Johnson’s management of the Wallace faction that kept it blue for so long.

However, the Southern Strategy did have one palpable effect: both on its own and through liberal harping about it, the Southern Strategy alienated black voters to the point where the GOP is lucky to poll in single digits. This is despite a fair amount of conservatism among blacks, who are heavily pro-life and pro-school choice. P.J. O’Rourke said that Clinton’s popularity among blacks was because he allowed them to vote for a Republican without throwing up.

In the 40′s and 50′s, Republicans routinely drew support among black voters in the 20-30% range. If that trend had continued, more than a few elections would have gone differently.

I’m afraid the GOP is going down the same path again with their stance on gay issues. The country is shifting rapidly on these issues, especially among young voters — much more rapidly than it did on racial issues. Huge majorities oppose DADT, including a majority of conservatives. Gay marriage is closing in on majority support and large majorities favor at least civil unions. And barring gay adoption or gay sex simply isn’t on the radar for any but the most ardent cultural conservatives. Yet the entire GOP field supports DADT and DOMA, most favor the Marriage Amendment and Santorum favors just about every anti-gay measure you can think of.

Some of this support is in name only — the FMA, for example, has zero change of happening. But their vocal support for these policies is going to come back to bite them and probably not too far in the future. As more gays come out of the closet, as more people have gay friends and relatives, as more gays get married and have kids and as the world fails to end despite this, people are going to remember where the GOP was on this. People with gay kids are going to remember that the Rick Santorum wanted to deny their in-laws and take away their grandkids. People whose lives were saved by gay soldiers will realize they would have died had DADT been in place.

We are going to pay for this crap. And we are going to pay and pay and pay (literally, given the spending habits of the Democrats).

My fears have only strengthened in the three years since I wrote those words. While a number of Republicans have broken ranks — showing much more political courage than any Democrats, incidentally — I still fear that gay marriage will go down in history as a faint echo of the Southern Strategy debacle. A faint echo because the Republican opposition was at least partially built on principle. It was clear in 2004 that many Republicans were uncomfortable with their gay marriage position (you may remember a leaked phone call where Bush talked about how much he disliked taking the position) and that this was, at least in part, a cold political calculus from Karl Rove who thought opposing gay marriage would win a tough election. But most of the opposition was a principled opposition to changing one of the pillars of our civilization.

(The echo should be even fainter because Democrats opposed gay marriage until it became politically safe not to. But Democrats are never held to any standard, let alone the ones that Republicans are held to. Republicans still get beat up over their short-lived Southern Strategy; Democrats are absolved from their century-long embrace of Jim Crow.)

Still, I think the analogy holds. It will not be forgotten that Republicans were the face of the opposition to gay marriage and that the remaining opposition is from Republicans. Will this hurt them enough to matter in an election? There are a lot fewer gays than there are blacks and they are not as unified electorally. But considering how close some elections have been, it’s entirely possible that this will hurt us down the road, especially as the young people who support gay marriage today become the political force of tomorrow.


The Democrats Open the Gubernatorial Clown Car

One thing I’ve mentioned in this space before is that while I frequently despair of Republicans on the national level, there has been a surge of Republican governors who are competent, conservative and effective. This can not, however, be said of their Democratic counterparts. Last week, I countered the assertion that Jerry Brown is the Best. Governor. Ever. But two more races are drawing attention to the complete dearth of ideas that is the Democratic Party.

The first is in New Jersey, where Chris Christie looks ready to easily win a second term. Christie is winning because of his first term performance and popularity in the state. But if I were a Democrat, I would be embarrassed by the opposition. I showed last week how Buono completely muffed a softball question in the debate. Her performance has been so bad, however, that the Star-Ledger spends half of its governor endorsement slamming Christie as a fraud only to endorse him because Buono is so awful:

Begin with education. Buono’s close alliance with the teachers union is a threat to the progress Christie is making in cities such as Newark and Camden. She is hostile to charter schools, which now educate nearly 1 in 4 kids in Newark.

Buono opposes the Newark teacher contract, which freezes the pay of the worst teachers and grants bonuses to the best. She wants a traditional union deal, in which no distinction is made. She would return control of the schools to Newark, which would spell the end of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s promising stewardship.

Her critique of Christie centers on property taxes and jobs, but she lacks a convincing strategy to do any better herself. She has a long list of expensive plans, from universal preschool to more aid for public colleges. But she can’t name a single spending cut beyond the traditional promise to attack “fraud and abuse.”

(I think it’s hilarious that the Star-Ledger, in criticizing Buono, inadvertently highlights Christie’s achievements. It’s like they can’t quite bring themselves to admit he’s been pretty good.)

But it’s worse. The other race is in Virginia. This should be a gimme for the Democrats. The McDonnell Administration has been hit by scandals and the state, thanks to the exploding public sector in the DC/NoVa area, has been trending blue. The Republican nominee is Ken Cuccinelli, a deeply divisive attorney general who only won the nomination by changing the rules. So the Democrats looked around and nominated … you won’t believe this … Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe is such an awful candidate that the Richmond Times-Dispatch decided to endorse … no one:

The Democrat stumbles when he proposes major spending hikes, which he claims can be financed by the federal dollars the state would receive by expanding Medicaid. He offers an easy answer to a tough question … On energy generally, McAuliffe has spun like a top and now supports items he once opposed, such as the exploration for energy sources off Virginia’s shores … McAuliffe styles himself a businessman and entrepreneur. He inhabits the crossroads where the public and private sectors intersect and sometimes collide. His experience with GreenTech does not generate confidence. He located the plant in Mississippi, which is not known for its social enlightenment. The company has not lived up to expectations. If it eventually does, no credit will accrue to McAuliffe, for he has, he says, stepped away from it. He is not the reincarnation of Henry Ford. His ignorance of state government is laughable and makes Rick Perry, the notorious governor of Texas, look like a Founding Father.

I’ve watched this race for a while and McAuliffe crosses me as someone who thinks it is basically his turn. He’s been involved in politics for a while, dammit, and he thinks he deserves this. He doesn’t know the issues and doesn’t seem terribly interested in learning about them. He doesn’t know Virginia government and doesn’t seem terribly interested in learning about it. And he’s the best the Virginia Democrats could come up with. Seriously.

The T-D comes close to endorsing Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis but shies away because of his lack of experience. I find that spineless. I endorse Sarvis and if I still lived in Virginia, would vote for him. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in not being a buffoon. As it is, McAuliffe is leading in the polls. Whatever failings Sarvis may have, he’s got be better than McAullife. If you think McDonnell has had scandals, just wait until that jackanapes is in the Governor’s mansion.

Next year may even more amazing. The Democrats want to run Wendy Davis for governor of Texas. You may remember her from the abortion filibuster earlier this year as well as … well, nothing. Davis’s only real claim to fame is filibustering a bill that had the support of two-thirds of Texans. Whatever you may think about abortion, this is not an issue that is going to win Democrat the Texas state house. In my own state, Tom Corbett has become deeply unpopular but it’s not clear that the Democrats will nominate anyone in 2014 who has more credibility than Shakes the Clown.

The Republicans at the national level have been criticized for being out of ideas. But I think that applies even doubly so to Democrats at the state level. They seem to think that because they see Republicans as evil monsters, everyone else does too and all they need to is prop someone up who can spew liberal bullshit long enough to win. They’re in for a rude shock in the next year.

Democrats Do What Democrats Do

The GOP’s shutdown strategy has predictably failed. Obamacare, despite its disastrous opening, is not going anywhere. The GOP is hemorrhaging at the polls and taking blame for the situation. The business community is bringing increasing pressure on the GOP to make a deal. So for the last few days, the GOP and Obama have been in talks about both the short- and long-term deals they want to make, starting with raising the debt limit.

If you’ve been watching American politics for a while, you are waiting for the other shoe to drop: when are the Democrats going to overplay their hand? Well, wait no more:

Senate Republicans are holding the line against Democratic demands for a framework to alleviate the across-the-board spending cuts established by sequestration as part of any deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

In talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the main sticking point is now where to establish funding levels for the federal government and for how long. The Republican offer made on Friday — to set spending at sequestration levels of $988 billion for the next six months -– was rejected by Reid and others on Saturday on the grounds that it was too favorable to the GOP position and discouraged future negotiations.

By Sunday morning, little notable progress toward a resolution had been made. McConnell, according to sources, was adamant that the spending cuts of sequestration be maintained in any final arrangement.

This is stupid. The push for the last few weeks has been to pass a clean continuing resolution — that is funding the government at its current level while a long-term budget is worked out. That long-term deal could include a relaxation of the sequester … but only in exchange for statutory changes to entitlements that address the massive long-term deficits.

The debt ceiling, however, is only four days away making the wisdom or folly of the sequester irrelevant. For the Democrats to drag this out now is not only ridiculous, it’s politically stupid. The GOP has been getting beat up on the shutdown. Now the Dems are determined that they too must look like idiots.

I would be surprised but … this is utterly consistent with everything we’ve come to expect from the Democrats.

Update: If you want a laugh, trip over to some liberal blogs and witness everyone who has spent the last two weeks talking about petty and vindictive the GOP is suddenly claiming that this is reasonable because the Republicans should be hurt for the shutdown. Notice also how they are re-inventing facts, ignoring that the CR that we’ve been debating for the past three weeks funded the government at sequestration levels.

The Big Deal

Grab onto something, folks. I’m going to agree with Mark Thiessen (H/T: Harley):

Quick: What do Republicans want in exchange for ending the government shutdown? If you know the answer, congratulations — because Republicans sure don’t.

we’ve gone from defunding Obamacare . . . to delaying Obamacare . . . to delaying parts of Obamacare . . . to funding the government piecemeal without touching Obamacare at all. If Republicans have already conceded the defunding of Obamacare, what’s the point of keeping the government closed? Why on earth would the GOP pass “clean” bills to fund individual parts of the government but not the whole government?

This business of passing funding bills for little piece of the government has been driving me a bit crazy. In a rational budget process — even in a shutdown — you would carefully pick which parts of the government to fund. But it’s clear that the strategy has been to identify whatever parts of the government are getting the most complaints (NIH, park service, etc.), pass a tiny bill to fund them and then go on television to bash the Democrats for not assenting to it.

That wins the media cycle but it’s no way to run a government. It’s completely arbitrary. It means that we try to divert funds to highly visible things like the Park Service, which would be one of the last things I would fund right now. More, it encourages partially shutdown services to deliberately make things worse to get their funding restored. Gain Nortion, Bush’s former Interior Secretary, describes how the Park Service has a long history of deliberately inconveniencing people whenever their budget is threatened (this weekend, they have “closed” the Vietnam Memorial — which is a wall that anyone can visit 24/7). No doubt, the Administration doesn’t mind this sort of visibility. But by putting forward little bills to fund whichever government agency is making the loudest noise, the GOP is encouraging this sort of behavior.

Back to Thiessen:

It calls to mind the episode of “Seinfeld” where Jerry and George are coming up with an idea for a show to pitch to NBC — and decide it will be “a show about nothing.” That’s what this standoff has become — the Seinfeld Shutdown, a shutdown about nothing.

Thiessen, however, is not just throwing bricks. He has an alternative proposal: that instead of using the shutdown or the debt ceiling for leverage, the Republicans use the Budget Control Act (aka the sequester). Grover Norquist is on the same page:

I think the original plan for the Republicans was to move the continuing resolution past the debt ceiling and then to sit down with Obama and decide whether he would be willing to trade some relaxation of the sequester for significant reforms of entitlements. That was something Obama might well do. Democrats in the House and the Senate are very concerned about caps and limits in sequestration. Republicans could get significant long-term entitlement reform — all on the spending side, I’m assured by leadership — for some relaxation of sequester.

See, this is what an actual compromise would look like. The Republicans are running around saying Obama won’t compromise because he won’t delay or change Obamacare. But they are not offering anything in exchange other than not blowing up the government. A sequestration-for-entitlements exchange would be a real compromise, giving Democrats something they want. But it would still be a huge win for Republicans — a few billion in spending now for statutory changes in entitlements (e.g., chained CPI) that could save trillions down the road. Statutory changes in entitlements are an especially good thing because, unlike sequestration, they would be very hard for future Congresses to undo.

The thing is, our budget situation is a bit tricky right now. The FY 2013 deficit is below $700 billion and projected to fall more in the next few years. But starting around FY 2018, it starts ramping up again. The reason is entitlements — the wave of retiring Baby Boomers putting a strain on Social Security and Medicare spending.

(This long-term situation has, over the last few years, gotten a lot less horrifying by trillions of dollars. The reason is that healthcare spending has leveled off. Obama is trying to claim credit for this but he’s a bit hoist by his own petard. He delayed Obamacare until after the election both to avoid the political hit and to force the CBO to claim that it decreased the deficit. But those delays also mean the cost curve bent before he did anything. The reasons the cost curve has come down are mainly the down economy and the natural saturation of the healthcare market. I said years ago, when people were projecting that healthcare would eventually consume 2,634% of our GDP, that if something can’t be sustained, it won’t be. It couldn’t and it wasn’t.)

The time to strike on entitlements is now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be and the more dramatic the changes required. You reform entitlements and keep discretionary spending level and you will basically balance the budget within the decade without any further action. Cutting spending further will make the situation even better, but … further cuts will entail either cutting defense spending (which the Republicans oppose) or more discretionary/entitlement spending (which will not happen until the GOP wins an election; which will not happen until they show they can govern).

There are whispers that this deal may happen but it seems to be focusing more on yet another budget committee. But we’ve had eight — count ‘em — eight budget committees. We don’t need another one to tell us what we need. What we need is a deal.

Closed for Business

As of midnight tonight, we will very likely have a partial government shutdown due to the lack of a continuing resolution. The Republicans passed one that stripped funding from Obamacare (although it’s not that simple; stopping Obamacare requires statutory changes). The Senate bounced it. Now the Republicans have passed a CR that delays Obamacare a year and voids the medical device tax. This has also been rejected by the Senate for fairly obvious reasons. Among other things, most of Obamacare will start to be implemented tomorrow, regardless of what Congress does. And the Democrats will never accept delaying Obamacare a year. Their only hope is that the inevitable Obamacare clusterfuck becomes less of one by election time. They’re not going to accept a deal that puts maximum clusterfuckery right on top of the election.

So here we are.

Ted Cruz says this is the Republicans “listening to the people” but it really isn’t. The public is opposed to a shutdown. This is Cruz listening to the sliver of his supporters that do. Just to be clear: whether or not the government should be shut down to stop Obamacare shouldn’t be dependent on polls. But the idea that public is demanding a shutdown is simply wrong.

While a shutdown is not as bad as hitting the debt ceiling, I still think it’s a bad idea. The perpetual budget crisis is creating massive uncertainty for businesses — remember when uncertainty was a bad thing? — and hurting our economy. Maybe you could justify that if there were a hope of tossing Obamacare, but there isn’t: not with the Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House. And as the shutdown goes on, it is only going to strengthen the Democrats’ hand. Any problems with Obamacare will be ignored in the wake of the larger crisis or blamed on the shutdown. And the shutdown is very likely to blow up in the GOP’s face, politically. It’s very hard to turn this around to blame Obama when a) you’re the one who wants changes to existing law; b) your party is opposed to government anyway (or claims to be); and c) parts of your party are running around saying a government shutdown isn’t a bad thing.

(The shutdown is also a great unknown and is likely to have some very bad effects. I work with some active duty military and they’re staring down having to work without pay while the shutdown lasts. There’s some word about passing a bill to pay the soldiers, but no word yet on where it’s going.)

So ultimately, while this might make for good sound bites, I believe it is making for bad politics and making the permanent installation of Obamacare more, not less, likely.

The situation with the debt ceiling has, however, gotten even worse. The Republicans have issued a list of demands for suspending the debt ceiling for three months. There’s no word on if it was written with letters cut out of magazines:

Tax Reform Instructions

  • Similar to a bill we passed last fall, laying out broad from Ryan Budget principles for what tax reform should look like.
  • Gives fast track authority for tax reform legislation
  • Energy and regulatory reforms to promote economic growth

  • Includes pretty much every jobs bill we have passed this year and last Congress
  • All of these policies have important positive economic effects.
  • Keystone Pipeline
  • Coal Ash regulations
  • Offshore drilling
  • Energy production on federal lands
  • EPA Carbon regulations
  • REINS Act
  • Regulatory process reform
  • Consent decree reform
  • Blocking Net Neutrality
  • Mandatory Spending Reforms

  • Mostly from the sequester replacement bills we passed last year
  • Federal Employee retirement reform
  • Ending the Dodd Frank bailout fund
  • Transitioning CFPB funding to Appropriations
  • Child Tax Credit Reform to prevent fraud
  • Repealing the Social Services Block grant
  • Health Spending Reforms

  • Means testing Medicare
  • Repealing a Medicaid Provider tax gimmick
  • Tort reform
  • Altering Disproportion Share Hospitals
  • Repealing the Public Health trust Fund
  • They also, at a late stage, added a provision to remove the birth control mandate.

    Look, most of those are good ideas. The problem is that the Republicans ran on those ideas in 2012 and lost the election. Romney lost by four points and 126 electoral votes. And before you say, “he wasn’t conservative enough”, remember that he polled better nationally than the rest of the party did. The GOP lost eight seats in the House and two seats in the Senate, at least partially because of the primarying of moderates. To threaten the credit of the United States in an attempt to enact a rejected agenda would be absurd if it weren’t so repulsive. Again, the question I asked last week: do you want the Democrats doing this to President Rubio?

    It’s also, to me, fundamentally unserious. Even if Obama were amenable to the GOP’s wish list of issues, no agenda like that could be passed in three months, let alone a few days. It makes me more and more suspicious that the GOP’s actions are more about talking a big talk and raking in donations from the Tea Party than about seriously changing the course of our country. A serious group of conservatives would be trying to actually, you know, accomplish something, not breaching the debt ceiling so that they can prove how “tough” they are while accomplishing fuck all.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this sort of thing has happened before. Congress has previously attached debt ceiling hikes to legislation. Most of it was fiscally related; but several hikes were linked to other issues, such as in 1973, when Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale tried to attach campaign finance reform to a debt ceiling hike.

    But I would submit that when you’re following in the footsteps of Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale … maybe you need to rethink your strategy.