Tag Archives: Change

Obama and the Value of Going Wide

One of the impressive things about the Obama campaign, and Democrats in general this cycle, is its aggressiveness in going after not just a win, but a wide, convincing win. Obama is doing this by actually implementing a 50 State Strategy, which is just about unprecedented in modern campaigning. Democrats in the Senate are going wide by explicitly aiming for 11 GOP held seats, which give the Democrats 62 Senate seats, an unfilibusterable majority and the largest for either party since 1967.

I think what the Obama campaign is going for here is linked to two points made by Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein. Yglesias:

If Obama wins the election, marginal Democratic members of congress will face a basic choice. They can decide that their political interests will be served by making the Obama administration a “success” and agree to pass stuff that resembles what he’s proposed. Or they can decide that their interests will be served by distancing themselves from every controversial administration initiative. If they choose the former, marginal Republicans will feel pressure to get on board. If they choose the latter, marginal Republicans will stand firm. What will happen? I’m not sure. The ideological distance within the party is much narrower than in 1977 and 1993, but I worry that the incentives are still bad and encourage defection rather than discipline. Either way, though, I think the key decision-makers will be in congress rather than in the White House.


We talked a lot in the presidential primary about theories of change, but the simplest theory of change is 60 votes in the Senate.

I don’t know that it will necessarily take 60 Democrats in the Senate to implement a President Obama’s agenda, but that would be the easiest way. However, winning 9 GOP held seats is a tall task, even given the favorable environment for Democrats. The real key to being able to get anything done is a President’s ability to build political coalitions. That task becomes much, much easier after the type of resounding win that Obama and the Senate Democrats are aiming for than after a narrow win. In running in all 50 states Obama’s clear goal is to run up his margin of victory in places like New England, New York and California while holding his margin of defeat down in states like Texas, Alabama and Alaska. That is a mirror of Bush’s strategy from 2004, where he invested a lot of effort into running up the margins in conservative areas.

The real consequence of such a strategy is a large margin in the popular vote, which is useless in terms of getting elected but essential to governing. A President can’t really do anything without a mandate. Winning the popular vote is the only way to really achieve a mandate. In 1980 Reagan won a convincing majority on an agenda of tax cuts. Lo and behold he was able to pick off a lot of Democrats to vote for his tax cuts and keep the rest from filibustering. In 1992 Clinton won, but won without getting a majority of the popular vote. Republicans in Congress responded by holding firm against his healthcare, spending and social agenda.

To me, the clearest path to 60 votes in the Senate isn’t winning all 9 seats but rather winning several and giving a lot of supposedly safe Republicans uncomfortably close elections, combined with a relatively convincing majority in the popular vote for Obama. Does anyone really think that Republicans like George Voinovich or Judd Gregg, let alone Arlen Specter or Olympia Snowe, will go along with filibusters against popular Democratic legislation after watching a dozen or so of their colleagues be voted out in 4 years and facing off with a President who has the majority of the public behind him? Even hard line ideologues like Jim Demint and Tom Coburn would have second thoughts if Democrats run beat expectations but still lose in places like North Carolina, Texas or Mississippi.

The single best way to get good legislation through the Senate is to do what the Republicans did for years to Democrats; convince the other side that they will lose elections if they vocally oppose Democratic proposals. When Republicans appeared ascendant there was a cottage industry for Democrats like Max Baucus, John Breaux and Zell Miller who were afraid of voting with Democrats for fear of losing. Hence, Democrats were rarely able to stop Republican legislation.

Fear is healthy for legislators. Winning wide majorities is the way to provide them with it.

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Newt Gingrich. He Half Gets It

The GOP is in trouble. Newt Gingrich gets that much.

The Republican loss in the special election for Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District last Saturday should be a sharp wake up call for Republicans: Either Congressional Republicans are going to chart a bold course of real change or they are going to suffer decisive losses this November.

At first, he even seems to get that the same old tactics won’t work.

The Republican brand has been so badly damaged that if Republicans try to run an anti-Obama, anti- Reverend Wright, or (if Senator Clinton wins), anti-Clinton campaign, they are simply going to fail.

This model has already been tested with disastrous results.

In 2006, there were six incumbent Republican Senators who had plenty of money, the advantage of incumbency, and traditionally successful consultants.

But the voters in all six states had adopted a simple position: “Not you.” No matter what the GOP Senators attacked their opponents with, the voters shrugged off the attacks and returned to, “Not you.”

The danger for House and Senate Republicans in 2008 is that the voters will say, “Not the Republicans.”

But then, we get to his solutions. Gingrich wants the GOP to adopt an agenda of “real change” to galvanize their supporters and tap into the national wave that Barack Obama has so successfully tapped into. He offers 9 proposals that the GOP should advance in an attempt to steal Obama’s mojo. So what does he offer?

Repeal the gas tax for the summer, and pay for the repeal by cutting domestic discretionary spending so that the transportation infrastructure trust fund would not be hurt.

So, lets go for the same transparent pander that is universally opposed by economists and policy experts, continue to subsidize gasoline, buffering demand and increasing carbon emissions and making it harder to move towards renewable energy. Not to mention the fact that it wouldn’t even reduce the price at the pump. So, strike one for real change.

Redirect the oil being put into the national petroleum reserve onto the open market.

Another transparent pander. There is relatively little oil that actually goes into the SPR and redirecting it would do very little to reduce the price. This is a pander that has been proposed by Al Gore and John Kerry, but it really wouldn’t do anything. Change? Nope. More of the same. Strike two.

Introduce a “more energy at lower cost with less environmental damage and greater national security bill” as a replacement for the Warner-Lieberman “tax and trade” bill

I see. Ponies for everyone. There are no tradeoffs to be had here. We can have more energy, at less cost, for less environmental damage. If such an idea is out there please show it to me. No politician, anywhere, ever would oppose it. The Warner-Lieberman bill isn’t perfect. But it does implement a market based, cap and trade approach to carbon emissions, which is the best way to deal with the problem. (Also, given the way cap and trade works, it should be most compatible with Newt’s conservative ideology.) Real change? Nope. Strike three. But Newt’s not out yet.

Establish an earmark moratorium for one year and pledge to uphold the presidential veto of bills with earmarks through the end of 2009.

Huh. Real change is what the GOP is already proposing. I see. Yet they can’t even get their own caucus to agree to it (which makes sense, given that the explosion of earmarks came under their watch), and as John McCain has shown, earmarks are so easy to get rid of. Strike 4.

Overhaul the census and cut its budget radically

Ok. Not a bad idea. Its a little small bore for what the country is asking for, but given the recent failure to the Census Bureau to find a way to develop a computerized way to do the census I’d be ok with slashing the budget and encouraging the Census Bureau to innovate. This is Newt at his best. Pragmatic, technocratic and non-ideological. This makes a ton of sense and I’d love to see either party jump on this one. Thats 1 for 5 so far.

Implement a space-based, GPS-style air traffic control system.

Again, good idea. using GPS in airplanes makes a ton of sense and modernizing out air traffic control system would increase capacity and make the whole system run more smoothly. He’s up to 2-6.

Declare English the official language of government.

Yup. This one is real change. It’d make a huge difference in Americans’ lives. Not a symbolic pander to nativist sentiment at all. 2-7.

Protect the workers’ right to a secret ballot.

Ok. This one is a little more complicate. I can see the problems with the employee free choice act, which Gingrich is opposing here. Whereas the current system is plagued by employer intimidation and illegal firings, the EFCA would reverse the tables and open to door to intimidation by union organizers. Its not ideal. The system clearly needs reform. I’m not sure EFCA is the be all end all, but I’m generally ok with the pendulum swinging a bit too far towards workers as an antidote to the current problems. But I dont’ get worked up about it. However, in terms of real change, this is pretty thin gruel. You could sum it up as “stand with business interests to protect the status quo.” Real change indeed. We’re up to 2 out of 8.

Remind Americans that judges matter

Translated as: “Keep up warning Americans about those scary “activist judges” (read: judges we don’t agree with) who will make you marry your brother in law and force your wife to have an abortion.” Thats a real change in the Republican agenda, ain’t it?

So, 2 out of Gingrich’s 9 ideas might be good ones, but their pretty small potatoes in comparison to the change Americans are demanding. What’s striking is what isn’t on Gingrich’s list. Iraq, healthcare, foreign policy or the economy. Its a little difference that the GOP strategy of recent election, which was tax cuts, scary arabs, tax cuts, terrorists are going to eat your children, tax cuts and lies. But not much.

Good thing too. Democrats could actually have trouble if Republicans actually embraced an agenda of Real Change. Good thing Newt doesn’t know what one looks like.

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