Various & Sundry, 3/17/15

– A couple of posts that look at the Democratic field for 2016. First Robert Tracinski on the Democrats weak bench.

The Democrats have an astonishingly weak bench of potential 2016 presidential challengers. National Journal runs down the list, and it’s not a very impressive roster. True, one of these could emerge, maybe a Democratic senator—Amy Klobuchar? Kirsten Gillibrand? Mark Warner?—but there’s no one with a lot of name recognition, even among Democrats, or much of a national political organization. There’s Vice-President Joe Biden, but I suspect his eccentricity is mostly tolerated because of the relative unimportance of his office. And then there’s Elizabeth Warren, who says she’s not running and who, besides, has all the down-to-earth, populist, all-American charisma you would expect from member of the Harvard Faculty Club. Other national Democrats include a bunch of septuagenarians—Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the like—who are hardly up-and-coming young saviors of the party.

How is it that the Democrats have hollowed out their party so much that they do not have an extensive roster of young leaders waiting in the wings?

Tracinski notes how Bill Clinton placed his own political ambition ahead of his party’s needs. Barack Obama has done the same, and in my opinion, has been even more aloof from the rest of his party than either Clinton. This has all had the effect of wiping out the party as it loses election after election at the state and local level, further eroding its bench.

What they may not have anticipated is how badly this would hit them on the state level, where they have been wiped out in the statehouses. This further weakens the bench by ending the career of many a young Democratic politician before it even begins. It’s like a big league baseball team trying to recruit players without access to the “farm teams” where rising stars can gain experience and demonstrate their talent. And as with the effect on Congress, this specifically deprives the Democrats of talent outside a narrow demographic that dominates big cities and the coasts.

Michael Barone suggests this effect: “The geographically clustered Obama coalition—blacks, Hispanics (in some states), gentry liberals—tends to elect officeholders with little incentive to compile records that would make them competitive in target states and capable of winning crossover votes.” A few years ago, this was called the Emerging Democratic Majority. But that theory is in shambles, and it’s looking like Democrats actually pulled aReverse Southern Strategy. They were so intent on basing their electoral future on educated young people and racial minorities that they thoroughly alienate everyone else: whites, southerners, blue-collar workers, suburbanites—all the people they thought they could do without and found out that they can’t.

Victor Davis Hanson has a similar analysis.

A paradox arose in Obama’s efforts at encouraging bloc voting. To galvanize groups on the basis of their race, tribe, or gender, the Obama cadre has resorted to divisive language  — “punish our enemies,” “nation of cowards,” “my people” — that turns off independent voters and even some liberal white voters. When the president weighed in during the trial of the “white Hispanic” George Zimmerman by telling the nation that if he had had a son, that boy would have looked like Trayvon Martin, such an eerie tribal appeal bothered at least as many Americans as it may have stirred. Blacks and Latinos may appreciate Eric Holder’s constant sermonizing about white prejudice or Obama’s riffs on Skip Gates and Ferguson, but just as many other Americans do not believe that Gates was singled out on the basis of race and do not see how the thuggish Michael Brown, who had robbed a store and rushed a police officer, could conceivably become a civil-rights hero.

More importantly, there is no indication that Obama’s knack for firing up minority voters is transferrable in the same measure to other Democratic candidates such as Hillary Clinton. Once one appeals to tribal identity on the basis of race and appearance, one lives or dies with such superficial affinities. Hillary, in other words, is not Latino or black, and her winning 60 percent of the former or 85 percent of the latter would simply not be good enough under the formulaic racial bloc voting that Obama has bequeathed to Democrats. In addition, Obama seems to bestow voter resentment, as much as he does enthusiasm, on other Democrats. In 2014, it seemed that Obama harmed Democratic candidates a lot more than he helped them, especially when he reminded the electorate that his own policies were de facto on the ballot.

There’s much more at the link, all of it good. The Democrats have put all their eggs in one basket – both in the person of Hillary Clinton and the overall theme of identity politics.

The sad thing about the Democratic field is that it so bad that it’s starting to make the 2008 GOP candidates look like a field of dreams.

– Of course it’s not all roses for the GOP, as it does face a headwind when it comes to the electoral college.

Yes, the somewhat arcane — yet remarkably durable — way in which presidential elections are decided tilts toward Democrats in 2016, as documented by nonpartisan political handicapper Nathan Gonzales in a recent edition of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.

Gonzales notes that if you add up all of the states that are either “safe” for the eventual Democratic nominee or “favor” that nominee, you get 217 electoral votes. (A candidate needs to win 270 to be elected president.) Do the same for states safe or favoring the Republican standard-bearer, per Gonzales’s rankings, and you get just 191 electoral votes.

This is true, but as the previous two articles highlight, some of the identity politics that have given the Democrats this electoral college advantage might no longer be as powerful.

– Then again, does it matter who wins. As this scathing post from Drew M highlights, it’s difficult to root for a team, so to speak, captained by the likes of John Boehner.

– Msgr. Pope digs deeper into the sin of sloth. It isn’t just about being lazy.

That said, sloth does often manifest itself as a kind of lethargy, a boredom that can’t seem to muster any interest, energy, joy, or enthusiasm for spiritual gifts. Such people may be enthusiastic about many things, but God and the faith are not among them.

. . . And boredom feeds right into sloth. The “still, small voice of God,” the quiet of prayer, the simple reading of Scripture and the pondering of its message, the unfolding of spiritual meaning through reflection, the slower joys of normal human conversation in communal prayer and fellowship … none of these appeal to the many who are overstimulated and used to a breakneck pace. Sunday, once the highlight of the week for many (due to the beauty of the liturgy, the music, the hearing of the sermon, the joy of fellowship, and the quiet of Holy Communion), is now considered boring and about as appealing as going to the dentist, a necessary evil at best.  Thus, sloth is fueled by the boredom our culture feels at anything going less than 90 miles and hour.


Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has decided that his 4,700-store enterprise is no longer just going to be offering customers coffee, frothy drinks, and overpriced pastries. His baristas will soon serve up a venti-size helping of social justice.

“Starbucks published a full page ad in the New York Times on Sunday — a stark, black, page with a tiny caption ‘Shall We Overcome?’ in the middle, and the words ‘Race Together’ with the company logo, on the bottom right,” read a Fortune Magazine report previewing a forthcoming Starbucks campaign in which the coffee chain’s baristas will be encouraged to talk about race relations with their customers.

I rarely go to Starbucks, mainly because I don’t feel like paying $2.50 for burnt-tasting coffee. This is just further reason to avoid the place. Because really, I fully expect bored twenty-somethings to provide meaningful dialogue about complex racial and political issues while serving coffee.

– The Ferguson Report reminds Dave French why he became a conservative.

And that malignancy has spread throughout the public institutions. Our local government’s core mission was dispensing favors. If you were part of the local elite, the normal rules of life simply didn’t apply. Speeding tickets? No problem. You need a conditional use permit? You got it! To this day one of the most satisfying events of my professional life was defeating the local zoning board in the first constitutional case of my career — winning the case after a local leader haughtily told my church client, “We can and will dictate how you worship.”

. . .Reading the DOJ’s Ferguson report took me back to the bad old days. It is the story of a small class of the local power brokers creating two sets of rules, one for the connected and another for the mass of people who are forced — often at gunpoint — to pay for the “privilege” of being governed. This is a very old story, and if the poor of Ferguson are overwhelmingly black, then it’s inevitable that a government built on exploitation will disproportionately exploit black citizens. I have no doubt that there are some racists in Ferguson’s leadership, but we also know that even black leaders will exploit black citizens in the cities they lead — setting up de facto rules that benefit the governing class at the expense of the poor. See, for example, Detroit.  It is entirely possible to believe (as I do) that the evidence indicates that “hands up, don’t shoot” is a fiction, even a malicious fiction, while also believing that the evidence indicates that Ferguson’s government was corrupt in exactly the way that government is typically corrupt.


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  1. Must dissent. The Democrats retain a floor of about 40% of the federal electorate. A generation ago, Republicans were able to do better among weekly aligned voters and non-aligned voters. That’s likely still true. It’s just that there are fewer such voters.

    All of the Democratic candidates in 2008 were unsuitable for the office bar Bill Richardson, and he had latent problems with scandals in his administration. It’s a testament to the stupidity of the Democratic electorate that the the competitive candidates were three lawyers (one who hardly practiced and two who had skeezy practices) who had between them 16 undistinguished man-years in Congress. Edwards hardly hid his sociopathy, Mrs. Clinton had history of citations for unethical conduct before the ink was dry on her diploma, and Obama has to have been the most superficial creature ever to run for the office. Even with absolutely optimal conditions, Obama in 2008 did no better than did George Bush the Elder in 1988. It’s not that bad for the Democrats in 2016.

  2. Eric Holder needed a face-saver. If David French read that report without a hunk of rock salt and a vigorous critical intelligence, he’s just being foolish. Ditto the libertarian types who eagerly seize on complaints against the police because they’ve never gotten over high school.

  3. I agree that the Democratic electoral strength may be overstated. As for the state of the field, there are really two ways of looking at it. In terms of actual political experience and ability, you’re right about the 2008 field. But from the prism of electoral politics, the list of wannabes in 2016 is just absolutely putrid.

    I think the French piece is interesting because it provides another way of looking at the Holder report, though I also agree that it needs to be taken with a couple of chunks of salt.

  4. And I didn’t even mention the 2004 Democratic field, which was also quite awful in almost every respect. The fact that John Kerry got the nomination out of that bunch tells you what you need to know.

  5. No, I’m saying the Democratic base is stronger than you let on.

    The four competitive candidates in 2004 included Howard Dean, who played the clown but was a man of some accomplishment in private life who had also held an executive position for a decade. It also included Wesley Clark, who may be the most accomplished and prepared Democrat to have competed for the nomination since 1960. It says something lousy about the Democratic electorate that Dean thought behaving like a raving lunatic would be a good career move and that both of these men were rejected in favor of an ambulance chaser and a rank-and-file Boston lawyer who had for 35 years been dining out on yarns re his four months in the Mekong Delta.

  6. I don’t believe in that so-called Democrat electoral majority. That miserable empty suit has been egged on by racial identity politics and two weak and pathetic opponents. Granted, the Donkeys have New England, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, the West Coast and Hawaii. That might be all they get next time.

    Hilary Clinton isn’t going to get the “black” vote, not like Obumbler. She is an unlikeable, haggard-looking, lying, miserable person and that may be more than enough to depress Democrat turnout in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Florida and other places.

  7. Thank you for the link to the Electoral College piece. At the Presidential level, that’s what keeps their underwhelming bench competitive.

  8. Eh, I still think from a purely electoral/political point of view 2016 is shaping up to be fairly horrendous field for the Democrats. Obama was/is an empty suit, but he had and still has a very wide appeal. Heaven help us, so did John Edwards to a lesser extent. But Martin O’Malley?

    Both parties have a floor, it seems, at about 200 electoral votes, give or take, and 45% of the popular vote.

  9. “Must dissent. The Democrats retain a floor of about 40% of the federal electorate.”

    Which has always been their floor with the exception of McGovern who got 37%. Humphrey got 42.7% in 1968. The Peanut Farmer got 41% in 1980. Mondale got 40%. Truman got 49.6% in 1948 in an election he should have lost going away. Stevenson got 44.3% in 1952 and 42% in 1956 against Ike, a national hero! Al Smith got 40% in the Presidential blow out year for Republicans in 1928. The Democrats have had a floor of about 40% in Presidential elections for a very, very long time. What is unusual currently is Democrat weakness in every other level of elections. It will be interesting to see if in 2016 that weakness begins to show in Presidential races without Obama.

  10. Both parties have a floor, it seems, at about 200 electoral votes, give or take, and 45% of the popular vote.

    Isn’t it lovely that we’re all at the mercy of the 5 to 10% of the electorate that can never seem to quite make up its mind –either about what it wants or what believes?

  11. Which has always been their floor with the exception of McGovern who got 37%.

    For electoral performance, yes. What’s been curious about Obama is that he’s hardly fallen below 40% in polled approval. His floor re this metric is about where Ronald Reagan’s was, though he’s never collared the breadth of affection Reagan had at his peak. George Bush the Younger had a floor in polled a=pproval of around 25%, as did Nixon, Reagan, and Truman.
    One curio of the last generation has been that the parties switched roles. At the time Alan Ehrenhalt wrote The United States of Ambition, it seemed the Democratic advantage in the state legislatures was impregnable though any advantage in marquee contests in state government was not. The Democrats had held the federal House of Representatives for 54 of the previous 58 years and the Senate for 48 of 58 years. Yet, the Republicans had one five of the previous six presidential elections and nearly won the sixth. Now, the Republicans are sitting on the largest advantage they’ve had in legislative bodies in nearly 90 years and they’ve accomplished it with in spite of the uninspired ‘leadership’ of creatures like John Boehner and A.M. McConnell. However, they have made a has of Presidential contests for 20-odd years.

  12. Obama was/is an empty suit, but he had and still has a very wide appeal.

    No, he get’s the people who will pull the D lever forever and ever and just enough of the remainder to put him over the top. Some portion of it is mobilizing Democratic constituencies which have conventionally low turnouts. It’s very curious how blacks seem to regard this issue of Honolulu’s haolie bourgeoisie as one of their own. The gyrations in the electoral behavior of the post 1970 cohorts is most puzzling and it does give one the idea that it’s atypical for people’s political opinions to be all that well grounded.

    Again, look at the situation in 2008. You had a discredited incumbent, a recession, and a banking crisis erupting just six weeks before the election which the electorate stupidly blamed on the Republicans in spite of Barney Frank’s sabotage of efforts by Gregory Mankiw and others to improve the accounting practices at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. You also had a media willing to function as an extension of the Democratic National Committee press office (a phenomenon which extended to some of the Republican chatterati). In addition, John McCain had entrusted his campaign to a pair of skeezy careerists who were, among other things, hostile to the vice presidential candidate. It was an absolute perfect storm, and Obama collared an ordinary plurality and nothing more.

  13. Pretty sure in 2008 Obama won by the largest margin of victory in 20 years.

    So what? Did the country have no history prior to 1988? (And, while we’re at it, Clinton’s plurality in 1996 was larger than Obama’s in 2008).

  14. I’m just calling “rubbish” on your “Obama collared an ordinary plurality” claim; nothing more.
    I’d insert a smiley emoticon here, if I did the emoticon thing
    but I don’t.

  15. Also, the difference between Clinton and Obama is that more Americans voted for Obama than voted for Clinton. Twice.

  16. For what it’s worth, and I think this is a good omen, as reported by the NYT:

    “After a bruising campaign focused on his failings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel won a clear victory in Tuesday’s elections and seemed all but certain to form a new government and serve a fourth term, though he offended many voters and alienated allies in the process.

    “With 99.5 percent of the ballots counted, the YNet news site reported Wednesday morning that Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party had captured 29 or 30 of the 120 seats in Parliament, sweeping past his chief rival, the center-left Zionist Union alliance, which got 24 seats.”

  17. About sloth: I’ve been thinking about something that Chesterton wrote ever since I read the recent Ides of March article. I’m going to paraphrase – and man, paraphrasing Chesterton should be a crime, like making a cheese steak out of a porterhouse. Anyway, he said that it was necessary that humanity should have already peaked before the birth of Christ. We demonstrated the best we can do naturally, and were falling from it. He said that despair isn’t tiring of sorrow; it’s tiring of pleasure. Humanity had grown bored with its highest achievement, demonstrating that the natural wasn’t sufficient to fulfill it.

  18. I’m just calling “rubbish” on your “Obama collared an ordinary plurality” claim; nothing more.

    Except it is not rubbish. To see that it is not, simply survey all the Presidential elections held since the advent of the contemporary presidency in 1933, including, ahem, the election of 1996. You have 20 presidential elections. Obama’s plurality in 2008 improves on that of Truman in 1948, Kennedy in 1960, Nixon in 1968, Carter in 1976, Clinton in 1992, Bush in 2000, Bush in 2004, and Obama himself in 2012. That puts his plurality at just north of the 40th percentile, which is to say it is an ordinary plurality.

    Also, the difference between Clinton and Obama is that more Americans voted for Obama than voted for Clinton. Twice.

    Clinton was running against the Republican candidate and a third-party candidate with ample funding and a popular base. Obama faced a conventional contest with a binary choice. Electorates are also somewhat larger and voter turnout in 1996 was pretty close to a historical nadir for presidential elections.

  19. Well, Obama was the first Democrat since Carter to win a majority of the popular vote and in his 2008 victory he garnered the second higher percentage of the popular vote of any Democrat since FDR (LBJ in 1964 being tops). On the other hand, Clinton garnered more of the electoral college in both 1992 and 1996 and was, as Art points out, facing two major opponents.

    What’s interesting from a historical perspective is just how much more common GOP blowouts have been (Ike twice, Nixon in 1972, Reagan twice, GHWB 1988) than Democrats (LBJ) in the relatively modern era. That probably has almost no bearing on the 2016 race, but I just make the observation.

  20. What’s interesting from a historical perspective is just how much more common GOP blowouts have been (Ike twice, Nixon in 1972, Reagan twice, GHWB 1988) than Democrats (LBJ) in the relatively modern era. That probably has almost no bearing on the 2016 race, but I just make the observation.

    We’re all looking at pretty small samples of events the individual elements of which are influenced by contingencies not repeated.

    When I was a student of political science many moons ago, your courses on American domestic politics included discussion of partisan re-alignment and de-alignment along with ‘critical elections’ (a frame I think has been abandoned). Retrospectively, federal politics can be periodized and we can discern that the current period (dating from 1968) is the longest on record and characterized by an abiding and ultimately even balance between the parties in federal elections.
    One might conceive of the period from 1932 to 1974 as a transitional one wherein a revised political economy was constructed, resulting in a stable political ecosystem with a stable quantum of state allocation of resources (one which BO &c. have attempted to upend). One might posit that the parties now reflect assemblages of interests which (after several generations of conflict, alignment, and re-alignment) are contextually antagonistic but whose struggles merely push the gyroscope off-kilter for brief periods.

  21. Maybe the Democrats aren’t worried about the Democrat bench. That’s so “today”! American politics are not the whole ball of wax anymore. It’s the UN. that’s where O is headed… after paring down US influence /power. Forward!

  22. It would be great, if I was a Starbucks customer, to go in with a photo and some information about race and abortion in hand. Yes, let’s race together, Let’s talk about abortion and population control in the countries and areas populated by black and brown skinned people.

  23. “. .Reading the DOJ’s Ferguson report took me back to the bad old days. It is the story of a small class of the local power brokers creating two sets of rules…”
    Will there be a DOJ report on a small class of power brokers with two sets of rules, for people like themselves …Clintons. etc… (in our dreams)
    but then those are earthly frustrations- pretty sure there is one set of rules at the pearly gates…

  24. Clinton garnered more of the electoral college in both 1992 and 1996 and was, as Art points out, facing two major opponents.

    The latter just might explain the former.

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