Rebuild the Dream hopes to boost Democrat’s fortunes
Seeking to match the intensity and scorched earth politics of the Tea Party movement, liberals are scrambling to muster their own form of grassroots punch to offset Republican momentum in 2012. It’s a colorful patchwork of efforts seeking an opportunity to coalesce around one central theme, and it remains to be seen just how much Democrats and their leader, President Barack Obama, can gain from it.
Among plans to even the 2010 midterm score and take back lost ground is Rebuild the Dream, a new mix of progressive groups and organizations tightly wrapped as one of MoveOn.org’s more ambitious projects heading into next year’s cycle. But, it’s also a fresh new attempt by former Obama administration official Van Jones, the controversial White House environmental adviser fired from his gig in 2009, to recast himself as a leading voice in the Democratic universe. Observers say Jones is eagerly waiting for his political stars to align, teaming up with MoveOn.org not only as a way to bring muscle back into a deflated liberal movement, but to also use the opportunity as a platform for future ambitions.
The Jackson, Tenn.-born and Yale Law educated Jones has never shied away from the spotlight of controversy as an up and coming activist and lawyer throughout the years. And, over the past decade he’s been busy cooking up a menu of civil rights and environmental justice joints, from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996 to ColorofChange.org (which he co-founded) in 2005. More than likely, it was the much-hyped Green for All non-governmental organization and his best-selling “The Green Collar Economy” which caught the attention of Obama hacks.
But, in line with usual form, the ever so cautious and temperamental Obama White House put Jones under the proverbial political bus as Republicans used the activist for target practice.
Since being canned, Jones has struggled to regain his footing, signing up as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and pressed to find new ground to stomp on. With many, particularly in the African American community, not feeling the allure of “green jobs,” Jones partners up with Moveon.org to raise both money and noise.
“We voted for peace and prosperity, not war and austerity,” was Jones earlier in the summer during a star-studded launch rally for Rebuild the Dream backed by organic grooves from Philly’s own The Roots. “It’s not about a fight between rich and poor, it’s about something deeper. America itself is at risk.”
Jones has been fairly vocal about his plans for the American Dream Movement, despite being strangely unavailable for comment for this article. The Center for American Progress, typically fast on media response, has yet to respond to initial contact. And, when the Tribune touched base with fundraising outfit PowerPAC, listed as a Rebuild the Dream partner, Chairman Steve Phillips punted to Rebuild CEO Natalie Foster.
“She can best answer your questions,” noted Phillips in a cryptic email. Still, by filing, Foster and Jones was pretty much ghost.
Lack of response from a famously loquacious political activist like Jones adds a layer of mystique surrounding Rebuild the Dream and its goals. Ari Melber in The Nation dubbed it the “ … liberal alternative to the tea party” with subtle praise for Jones as the next biggest thing in the progressive world. But, it’s still not clear the American Dream Movement, with its conspicuous patriotic tones, will be an effective counter punch to the down-and-dirty tea party rank and file.
Hiram College’s Jason Johnson, author of “One Day to Sell” and a prominent political scientist, is skeptical.
“That stuff does not work if you don’t go to the mat for what you want,” argues Johnson. “That’s the thing about the tea party — they don’t have any real policy platform.”
“If [Jones] wants to create a movement like the tea party, then he has to obstruct until he gets what he wants. The movement is nothing but a bunch of words, means nothing if you’re not willing to use it as a vehicle to force the change you want.”
Johnson suggests Rebuild the Dream should be willing to “primary” Democrats into submission, similar to how tea party activists threatened Republicans in key Congressional districts with primary challenges.
ColorofChange.org Executive Director Rashad Robinson partly attributes some of RTB’s growing pains to it “still growing” and being relatively young. “I think they’re just getting started and it’s been less than a year.”
And while ColorofChange might be highlighted as a major partner in the RTB consortium of liberal titans like Sierra Club, Daily Kos, AFSCME and others, Robinson is quick to emphasize that “… our work is separate from Rebuild the Dream.”
But, Robinson cautions against Rebuild the Dream or any movement making this only about the election. “Voting is just a piece of … political participation,” argues Robinson. “Many on the left confuse an election with a movement. It’s not about a candidate.”
WASHINGTON — Politics this past week was like a corny flashback replay of rapper knuckleheads boasting on about “East Coast vs. West Coast.” This week, however, was less about a Biggie/Tupac face-off than it was about competing visions on the roles of government.
Within the span of one week before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, leaders on both sides of the partisan aisle were staking out their positions on exactly how much or how little government should interact with its citizens — from spending to the provision of services that have become as ubiquitous and all-American as the crack in the Liberty Bell.
On one side was the president, offering up a highly anticipated jobs speech that ended up being the political version of a Braveheart battle scene — Obama playing William Wallace, face plastered with the trademark blue paint of Scottish rebels on the ridge yelling charge. The result was, instead, an uncharacteristically animated moment for the typically professorial commander-in-chief. It became less about the American Jobs Act being introduced and more a philosophical rant on the significance of the government’s role in national progress.
“The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy,” was a seemingly revived president in jab mode that evening, showing an unusual eagerness to pick a fight with plucky Republicans who had been dismissing the speech before it was even delivered. It was sharp and punchy, starkly different from the subdued mood and head hanging that defined the White House through a heated debt-ceiling summer.
“In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own — that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.”
In contrast, the Republican debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., may not have disappointed the political junkies itching for a food fight on stage, but it certainly reconfirmed anxiety on the left over a crowded field of presidential aspirants bound by a common theme of diminished government. It was unnervingly surreal and contradictory: watching a crowded, almost rabid field of primary candidates slam government as if it was a disease, yet in a perpetual wrestling match for the biggest government gig of them all.
“It’s an interesting dynamic that you have, watching all these Republican candidates who are anti-government, yet running for the highest office in the land,” observes Jason Johnson, a political science professor at Hiram College and author of the recent “Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell.” “It fascinates me that these guys say government doesn’t create jobs, private sector creates jobs. Yet, they keep bragging about the number of jobs they created when they were governors. That makes no sense.”
The strongest in the anti-government pack is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, outfitted with cheese grin cowboy swagger and boots. Perry has experienced a healthy surge ahead of Romney, suddenly capturing the crown of polling king only a few weeks since he announced his candidacy. For certain, it means that Perry is the primary flavor of the month — barring any unforeseen gaffe, scandal or hand caught in a money or sexual cookie jar. Still, Republicans have been here before — perpetually picking “rock stars” and party quarterbacks, all hyped as the “Next-Biggest-Thing” or the next reincarnation of Ronald Reagan. Sen. Fred Thompson and Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008 became celebrity crash-and-burns; so did Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour earlier this year, pulling the plug on a candidacy that had little chance of getting jump-started.
But, Johnson takes exception to that when discussing Perry, calling him “somewhat of a phenomenon” as he personally watched the audience wooing for the longtime Texas politician.
“Perry is, by far, capturing the most passion of all GOP candidates, number one to only Ron Paul,” says Johnson, describing the scene at the Reagan Library.
Nor did Perry disappoint red meat conservative rank and file as he unleashed a furious string of volatile sound bites and catch phrases. At one point, he drew loud, mob-style applause from the audience during a particular high moment as he delivered a near perfect emotional performance on his views about the death penalty.
Media heads were hoping for the drama last night, particularly from Perry, whose own on-the-campaign-trail remarks have provided much ammunition for opposition hacks in the primary and the general looking for the perfect political ad. And he delivered. “Maybe it’s time to have some provocative language in this country,” was Perry at one point, as if there hadn’t been enough provocative language in the past few years of tea party revolutions, ugly midterms and unprecedented political snubbing.
But, questions mounted over Perry’s angle in calling Social Security “a ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie” without offering any attempt to suggest fixing it. What was the wisdom in calling climate change science “nonsense” and claiming astronomer “Galileo got outvoted for a spell?”
Going unapologetically scorched earth on topics such as Social Security is a curious move on the part of the Perry camp as it carries risk. Obviously, the GOP’s very reliable and very vote-happy base of senior voters won’t respond kindly to the prospect of a President Perry nixing their Social Security.
Still, one source close to the Perry camp says there is definitely an opening, pointing to polls that show “… nervous seniors even more nervous about their Social Security, but downright angry enough about it to demand that it be fixed.”
“There are old people in the tea party, too.”
Still, the White House moved forward the very next day with a combined $447 billion package much more broad-based than the $300 billion that was leaked in media reports. And despite the home run quality of the Thursday night speech, was it enough to push what amounts to another “stimulus” through a Congress still stuck on deficit reduction?
The true test of the message, of course, will be real world delivery. The White House may be able to push through the $240 billion proposed in payroll tax cuts — but, it’s the remaining amounts in spending that could stump the president’s agenda, including $62 billion in jobs programs and unemployment benefits extension; $35 billion keeping weary teachers, police personnel and firefighters on their jobs; $30 billion in school modernization; $15 billion for home and business rehabilitation; and $62 billion in infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and other public works. These were the parts of the speech not garnering much applause from Republicans that night.
“It’s a little discouraging that he’s going to at some point give us additional responsibilities when we’re struggling to meet the ones we already have,” said Budget Super Committee member Sen. Robert Portman (R-OH), in a post-mortem ulcer after learning that the president wanted the new deficit reduction panel to find a way to pay for his plan – in addition to finding $1.5 trillion in cuts.
Committee co-member Rep. Xavier Becerra, (D-CA), seemed up to the task despite the heartburn in Congress. “[He] is right to focus the nation’s attention on the biggest deficit we face – the jobs deficit,” Becerra said in a statement. “How can we expect to balance the nation’s checkbook when 14 million Americans are out of work and having a hard time balancing theirs?”
It’s the deadline most folks would rather forget about: November 23rd. Congress seemed to find itself in a comfortable pause, fumbling around for a breather since a bruising debt ceiling debate and just barely able to handle saber rattling over the president’s recent jobs bill. There was a sense that members of Congress could muster just enough energy to get through the remaining half of the year, just to get by and just to get to holiday recess so they could focus on food, family and fundraising.
But, renewed tension began building up throughout the week as congressional staff, nudged by a restless Washington press corps, went back to eyeing the calendar and noticed the deadline for the Joint Deficit Reduction “Super Committee” was fast approaching.
It’s this deadline — in the midst of a ballooning national debt which just surpassed $15 trillion — that had Capitol Hill breaking into a collective groan. House Republicans were putting enormous amounts of focus this week into passing a concealed firearms law and reinforcement of “In God We Trust.” But, while rank-and-file ideologues were attempting to revive social issues in an effort to distract their respective bases from bread-and-butter issues, the clock was ticking on a compromise to shave $1.5 trillion in federal spending.
What’s been happening behind closed doors with the 12-member “Super Committee” is a mystery wrapped in some of the same edge-of-your-seat brinksmanship from the summer. Committee members are forbidden to talk about it, yet they drop clues on it like gamblers occasionally peering from behind poker cards. By the weekend, Republicans seemed more publicly pressed about it than Democrats, sweating the prospect that across the board “trigger” cuts activated by failure to deal would eliminate long cherished defense programs and weapons systems.
Democrats, previously maligned by progressives for the softer approach, appeared surprisingly hardened in their response to GOP offers of a deal. As details began leaking from the Committee faucet by week’s end, the portrait drawn was of scattered offers rebuked by hands thrown in the air. Republicans put cuts of $643 billion on the table, a mix of “fees and revenues,” cold cuts and eliminated interest. GOP leadership aides talking off record to the Tribune described an effort to avoid the controversy of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, instead reaching deep into the budget cookie jar and searching for “waste” where they perceived it.
Still, Democrats balked (and by some accounts actually laughed), quickly pointing out that the revenue component wasn’t all that, leaving a political opening for whiny Republicans poised to use the impasse as Sunday talk show fodder.
The question now is what happens as the deadline edges closer and doubts rise regarding a compromise. With talks seemingly headed towards oblivion, rumors begin to swirl of attempts to essentially circumvent the trigger, which would take effect in January.
Believing there should not have been a committee in the first place, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., tells the Tribune that Republicans are very nervous about the trigger cuts on defense. As a result, plans are afoot to somehow stop the trigger or completely invalidate it. “If they are not able to accomplish these cuts [through negotiations], defense will get a 10 percent cut and they are going to change the rules,” argues Waters, hinting at efforts to avoid the trigger altogether. “They are going to change the rules in the middle of the game.”
Last month, she introduced a bill to “repeal” the Committee, calling it unconstitutional. “Not only does it meet in secret,” argues Waters, “but I’ve never felt that it was constitutional or that it was constitutional in the way it is supposed to be run.” So far, the bill hasn’t seen any movement beyond Waters’ pitch.
The Congresswoman, however, may have some allies on the other side of the aisle — at least in terms of the opinion that the Committee should be done away with. Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., calls it a “collossally bad idea” and a “cop-out” by a Congress abdicating itself from budget responsibilities while setting up a shield against political fall-out.
“We have to read leaks and media accounts of what they’re deliberating. We can’t even have a public discourse over these major issues,” complained Rubio in a recent interview. “What we’re debating here is the role of government and how to prevent our country from going into a European-style downturn. People pay us to deal with these issues and we need to do our job.”
But, Rubio’s comments, along with accusations from Republicans in both chambers of Congress that the Super Committee was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s, D-Nev., idea,” may be an attempt to mold the political narrative against Democrats once the deadline hits. Republicans can say they put a deal on the table that Democrats dismissed and that devastating cuts to programs, particularly defense, were the result of Democratic stubbornness and inaction.
Many in the GOP are banking on the defense cut narrative as its ace heading into 2012. It’s the campaign stump path to peg both Congressional Democrats and a White House up for re-election as “weak on defense.” Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., a former Army officer, is all over the defense angle.
“I am concerned that we may have some Democrats on the committee that want to stonewall and allow these defense cuts to kick in when we’ve already cut $468 billion over 10 years in defense,” says West in talking with the Tribune. “We can’t afford to have another $600 billion in cuts over 10 years.”
Occupy Wall Street appears to have moved well beyond the outer limits of Manhattan and is now the global sensation, followed by the inevitable chatter about what this means amid a fresh, new recession. Perhaps, for the first time since the Arab spring revolutions, there is a nagging sense that this could be something bigger and much more troublesome. No one wants to say it — right now it’s just “whining 20-something, middle-class white kids” afraid of being jobless.
It’s only the sense rather than a full blown conversation at the moment.
But, you can’t ignore it: The brand itself forebodes something ominous. The word “Occupy” reminds one of Israeli troops occupying the Gaza Strip. It’s so hostile. Comparisons to a softer civil rights movement are a bit off. You’re talking about many thousands of people in multiple places with little to lose. The lexicon in this movement already hints at a mass flare-up over the horizon. It’s aggressive. It’s angry. It’s fed-up. It’s the unapologetic scream and middle-finger on blast. A collective “stick-it-to-the-man” that one can easily predict will make everyone else miss the tea party.
Folks are wondering if we’re witnessing the emergence of London riots 3.0. Last week, New York City police ended up standing down from what could have been a violent confrontation between authorities and protestors camped out at Zucotti Park; the real estate firm that owns the property claimed they were threatened by unnamed city officials — perhaps members of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration smartened up. They could see complete civil unrest waiting to blow up.
It got violent in Rome, where a peaceful protest that stretched for miles suddenly turned into a free-for-all clash between participants and police with a building burned down and dozens of injuries. Greece is on fire, too. Naturally, there’s nervous tension in the air, the worry that Occupy has somehow stirred the lull of those who were hoping to wallow in middle-class denial and withdrawal from the realities of recession. Suddenly, the pain of the unemployed and economically challenged is in our face. Those faceless neighbors that had to move out due to foreclosure — sorry: they suddenly have a face.
But, beyond that, there are multiple questions still unanswered. Many critics of the Occupy movement aren’t so much concerned about its very diffuse and flexible nature as they are the perception that there is lack of color in it. Given the economic dimensions of Occupy and its emphasis on the plight of the unemployed, how much is it honed in on the plight of the racial demographic hit hardest: African Americans.
It seems natural that any pop-culture movement focused on jobs should focus heavily on communities of color suffering the most from unemployment. But, media images and reports from the streets talk of a narrative that is ran mostly by Caucasian actors, many young, some out of work, and happy to keep the agenda as scattered as possible without a coordinated center.
To some, that’s worrisome as there is no one political force that can apply pressure on Occupy to make sure it doesn’t forget about Black folks.
“The Occupy Wall Street protests are a mix of various causes, goals and ideas on how to fulfill both. But while their slogans and demands are quite diverse, this movement is primarily driven by a single demographic — one that is very young and predominately white,” blasted journalist and Our News Now! President and CEO Gary Anthony Ramsey in a recent blog. “For now, despite the diametrically opposed social views, Occupy Wall Street shares two denominators with the conservative tea party movement. Both are very angry and very White.”
That lack of diversity is creating a quiet stir amongst many Black thinkers who believe African Americans should be front and center in the global movement, a sense that young white college students and protesting wannabes are hijacking both Black concerns and the once proud Black legacy of social protest movements. With African-American unemployment at over 16 percent officially, there’s wonder why media coverage is somewhat thin on the question of what do Blacks think of Occupy and are they involved.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, is mad enthusiastic about the possibilities Occupy brings in bringing attention to what’s happening in urban communities, particularly amongst those in the “Hip Hop Generation” 18–35 crowd that he represents.
“I believe this movement is very powerful, because it’s just in time,” says Yearwood.
But, Yearwood, like other prominent Black-led civil rights and advocacy organizations is somewhat unclear about what their specific plans are to join or lead Occupy — if any. When contacted, neither the NAACP nor the National Urban League would comment on what their plans were on joining Occupy. The NAACP’s Communications office promised comment, but stayed mum through deadline.
Some political observers note that it could be cautious posturing on the part of Black organizations who do not want to tip over the electoral apple cart by openly motivating a movement that is widely unpredictable and, at this stage, non-partisan or non-affiliated. There is a quiet fear of a restless progressive beast that will backlash against the Democratic Party and end up causing President Barack Obama’s re-election bid to be unsuccessful.
Hence, politically, it might be safe to watch it carefully.
Normally, Hip Hop Caucus is typically spearheading large, modern social protest movements, with Yearwood standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the biggest names in Black political and civil rights Hollywood. But, this time around, Yearwood’s tone was a mix of cheerleader and pat-on-the-back best friend in describing Occupy. There was a sense of a view on the sideline without any real specific plans for Hip Hop Caucus’ involvement beyond simply encouraging its vast database of 700,000 people to attend the rallies.
“We have been active in telling people to be a part of Occupy Wall Street,” says Yearwood. “The way the movement works is that it’s not run by one organization. It’s run rather beautifully and democratic with people coming together with all types of issue. That has galvanized young people across the country and across this world.”
“We are always in support of the people fighting for freedom, and justice and equality. I have personally gone to some of the Occupy protests from D.C. to Boston and [we are collecting information] so we can report that back to the urban community,” adds Yearwood.
Color of Change Executive Director Rasheed Robinson, who was very enthusiastic about the Occupy Movement overall, was somewhat careful in his approach toward Occupy, for the most part taking steps to assess the situation on the ground.
“I do think that something is happening here. It’s a conversation that as Black folks, we understand. Whether or not Black folks are going to jump on board or not is still an open question,” said Robinson. “We’ve talked to a number of folks about ways in which we engage. We want to make sure that any engagement we are in is a value add for our members to make sure."
But, Robinson was a bit more candid in the popular racial notions about Occupy. “We understand that the movement has been changing since it launched. At first, it was probably as many characterized it, mostly middle class white kids.”
“But, I have seen a diverse array of communities represented. I have seen a diverse array of stories. The issues that they’re raising do impact Black folks.”
“When America gets the cold, Black people get the flu,” charged Robinson.
Dr. David Bositis, a senior research for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, does not see Occupy changing the direction of Black politics all that much.
“I don’t think that Black politics has ever been quiescent. It depends on the circumstances. I don’t see [Occupy] being a major factor as far as Black politics,” observes Bositis. “Relatively few Black elected officials have said anything one way or another about the Occupy movement. And those who have are fairly positive about the movement and their goals.”
While pundits and news hounds were hot on Herman Cain’s tail for more juice to sexual harassment allegations, another story was quietly brewing over the past couple of weeks.
Polling data slowly slipped into political consciousness reviving the possibility that President Obama might actually force Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to swap spots, picking his former 2008 rival as his 2012 running mate.
Conventional wisdom dismisses the scenario with a bit of disgust when it’s mentioned.
Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder felt some of that heat deep in the tea party summer of 2010 as Democrats braced for the eventual loss of their House majority a few months later.
Wilder, none too pleased with the president’s performance, wrote a scathing opinion piece in the pages of Politico by shredding Biden and recommending the president pick Clinton as wing-woman in 2012.
“Has Biden ended these 18 months with the stature of a man ready and able to be president should the moment call for it? The answer, sadly, is ‘no,’” wrote Wilder. “Clinton is better suited as the political and government partner that Obama needs. I suggest this as one who vigorously supported Obama over Clinton in 2008. In fact, I campaigned across the country and engaged in spirited debates with former colleagues. I don’t regret any of that. Yet, now I think Clinton brings bounty to the political table that few can match.”
Observers at the time suggested Wilder, one of a few godfathers of African-American politics, was hearing an abundant amount of static from Black elected officials (some former Clinton supporters) who were also disappointed with the president’s scattered focus on Black unemployment.
Many believed that the impending beat down from Republicans months later was the result of misplaced Presidential faith in bi-partisanship.
Wilder responded by blowing his spot up.
At the time, commentators called the legendary Governor and former Presidential candidate a nut for even going there.
“It all seems a bit of a stretch,” said Media Matters’ Joe Strupp back then. Others were laughing too hard to even tweet about it.
But, along came MSNBC regular Jonathan Alter over a year later pressing the same narrative in an October Bloomberg news column.
“To understand why the idea of Clinton as Obama’s vice presidential candidate and Biden as secretary of state in a second Obama term isn’t just another far-fetched scenario cooked up by bored pundits, consider the DNA of the players,” writes Alter “Obama, Biden and Clinton would not want to do this. But like most politicians, they are genetically disposed to do ‘what it takes.’"
“Obama, Biden and Clinton are on good terms with each other, and they view the stakes — a possible conservative takeover of all three branches of government — as extremely high.”
Playing game theory and alternate reality in politics is common practice, particularly when deeply immersed in the analysis. It’s best to mold what’s not being said to sometimes find the perfect analysis. Strategists figure there’s nothing wrong with thoughts or ideas dropped outside the box.
In recent weeks, two major polls have found traction suggesting that Wilder in 2010 and Alter in 2011 were not that far off mark. And the Sunshine State could be where it’s at — with Obama’s re-election chances hinging on a combination of good polling, strong campaigning, and just pure luck in a state hit hard by recession and full of stubborn retirees.
A poll in Florida, of all states, is good reason for revisitation.
There is a reason the GOP picked one of that state’s larger cities, Tampa Bay, to hold its convention. A recent Suffolk University Poll found the president in dangerous territory if the Republican nominee decides to use whiz-kid Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as their running mate.
Strangely enough, however, the specter of an Obama-Clinton ticket re-emerged with the secretary of state being his only hope in the swing state were the election held today. “While Obama struggles in the low 40 percent range on job performance and head-to-head matchups with Romney and Cain,” says Suffolk’s David Paleologos, “he rockets to 50 percent when Hillary Clinton is added to the Democratic ticket.”
Soon after, YouGov released its poll showing 58 percent of Democratic voters wanting Hillary as Barack’s solid — yet, most don’t believe it will happen. Still, an overwhelming 88 percent of Democratic voters think favorably of her, a higher percentage than what was enjoyed by the current Vice President this same time last year.
There have been many whispers as of late about that scenario, with quite a few hoping the general public would wish that all away. Others say those who think it are either chewing on salmonella-poisoned fat or simply smoking dead trees.
But, observers and strategists in Washington, many afraid to speak on record for fear of being ridiculed, say anything is possible.
When a Chicago-trained pol is backed into a corner, he may start clinging to recent polls showing the need for a game changer — something other than a gaffe-prone old white guy hitting the campaign trail with him. It’s definitely not 2008.
There are pros and cons to the scenario, with potential risks perhaps outweighing benefits.
While the secretary of state has won enormous praise from both sides of the aisle for her handling of national global priorities, she is also one of the most polarizing figures in American politics. Hardened conservatives still grimace when her name is mentioned and few within the Obama campaign team forget the painful episode of trench warfare against her in 2008.
But, there are clear benefits as Obama must find the path of least resistance in his re-election bid. The Suffolk and YouGov polling are indications that if pollsters are talking about it, the inner circle of Obama advisers is definitely asking “what if?” Something’s there, with Clinton possibly doing much stronger than Biden among women voters feeling impassioned by their closest chance at White House glory since … ever.
And, there is still the issue of primarily white, working class, blue collar voters who clung to Hillary with deep fervor in 2008, essentially prolonging a primary that became movie-ready lore by convention time.
WASHINGTON — One thing is for certain about the failure of the Joint Special “Super Committee” on Deficit Reduction’s failure at a compromise: the timing of its deadline could not have been any more perfect for members unwilling to break with party lines into election year.
November 23 not only represented the deadline for the committee’s 12 members to come up with nearly $1.5 trillion in spending cuts, but it was also the marker for the Thanksgiving holiday season, a time when folks would be more pre-occupied with the size of their turkeys than the size of the federal debt.
Or, for that matter, how Congress failed to do something about it.
Not only was the “Super Committee” — a misnomer from the beginning by the accounts of most longtime political observers — a convenient way for Congress to kick its own can, but it also offered a glimpse into election battle lines as both Democrats and Republicans searched feverishly for the Best in Blame.
How that blame game unfolds will depend greatly on what polls say in the wake of the Super Committee’s failure. Both parties on Capitol Hill and the White House, each sharing culpability in the committee’s creation and ineffectiveness, will calibrate their messaging based on what polls say in the coming days.
Those numbers, with pollsters crunching what they could as a holiday lull set in, will provide ammunition for the level of finger pointing already taking place before the oven gets hot.
Politic365.com’s online polling released to The Philadelphia Tribune for examination suggests enough blame to spread around for “everyone” in Washington, with 35 percent of respondents blaming it on all players. However, Republicans also tie with that tally at 35 percent — compared to 18 percent who believe Democrats are to blame.
Interestingly enough, only 6 percent of respondents blame President Obama for the impasse, despite the suggestion by many Congressional members on both sides of the aisle and many pundits that the White House failed to show leadership on the issue.
The spread between Republicans and Democrats, however, is much slimmer in the latest YouGov poll released to the Tribune. While most respondents blame Republican members of the committee, at 25 percent, about 17 percent put blame on Democrats. However, nearly 50 percent of those surveyed found both sides responsible for the failure.
Still, the YouGov poll leaves out whether or not President Obama is to blame.
That said, 30 percent of those polled by YouGov blame the size of the federal budget deficit on the President. Another 30 percent blames “some” of it on him, while 26 percent say “only a little.”
While there’s no clear majority putting absolute blame on the President, there’s reason the President should worry.
It’s an interesting observation considering the White House sat back and watched it all unfold. Politically, President Obama understood it was as radioactive as the Fukushima reactor. Staying out of it put distance between him and the fact that he also signed off on the idea. Letting Congress drown in its own inaction is both great distraction tactic to keep heat off the White House. In the meantime, the President kept up the appearance of looking busy with Executive Orders, including recent initiatives at slicing federal spending through elimination of waste.
But, as quick as the super committee’s failure was announced, there was the President swinging hard at Republicans from the White House bully pulpit.
“Now, the question right now is whether we can reduce the deficit in a way that helps the economy grow, that operates with a scalpel, not with a hatchet, and if not, whether Congress is willing to stick to the painful deal that we made in August for the automatic cuts,” the President said. “Already, some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts.”
“Clearly someone was feeling himself a bit more after coming back from a nine day tour in Asia because President Obama looked ‘large and in charge,” observed Hiram College’s Jason Johnson. “What was particularly surprising about this speech, though, was that Obama made it clear that he was not going to budge. He insisted that he would not sign any bill that sought to get the Congress out from under the draconian across the board cuts that would start in 2013 because it was important to keep the pressure on both sides to actually negotiate.”
While the President was positioning himself for showdowns toward Christmas, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll placed 18 percent blame on Republicans and 13 percent blame on the President — surprisingly, Democrats are off the hook with only 7 percent of Americans blaming them for the debt committee’s failure.
But, in the most recent day-after Gallup poll, 15 percent — more than 50 percent more than the Reuters/Ipsos survey — of respondents placed blame on Democrats and 25 percent on Republicans. Still, a convincing majority of Americans polled by Gallup — 55 percent — placed blame on both sides.
At this moment, both sides seem more intent on crafting their respective political narratives than molding a compromise. One wants to say why the other screwed it up, so hacks, staffers, strategists and message artists are all working furiously, dropping beads of sweat on their keyboards to come up with smart and plucky sound bites that can steal the talk show circuit.
Democrats complain that Republicans are coming up with quite a few cuts, but little revenue. Hence, the reason to slap back recent GOP gestures. Hear Republicans tell it and you’ll think Democrats are “stonewalling,” want to “cut defense” and that it was all their bad idea in the first place.
Of course, Texas Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee disagrees. “The ‘super committee’ was bogged down by Republican dissension that did not or would not listen to [the majority of] American people that indicated that they were willing to tighten their belts, willing to make the sacrifice, but they wanted to have a mutual burden and benefit,” argues Jackson-Lee.
“The unwillingness to do the job that’s necessary was what torpedoed the super committee. We can [now] move into the next fiscal year and do our job.”
But, there is some political advantage and discipline to the GOP narrative that could find Democrats in a fix. For one, the claim of who owns the Super Committee — or who started it — is something Democrats should watch as Members are fanning out across the talk shows. While hacks might think it’s crucial to constantly pitch their side of the Super Committee story in a push back on opposition talking point, who is showing up more in media will only lead to public assumptions that a certain half of the Committee is owned by that perspective. Average voters naturally blame the most public face.
And, Democrats have not taken the latest GOP claim that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is the founding father of the Super Committee seriously.
Republicans have found a plainspoken political pitch in one-hit message points like “stonewalling” and “defense cuts” that may be tough to counter as Democrats seem immersed in the weeds of “revenue generation” and undecided on the extent of entitlement cuts they know are coming. Folks on the left side of the aisle have yet to find that attractive, beats-and-rhymes like narrative, and that could be problematic if and when the trigger kicks in and blame starts to circulate. The next political fight won’t be over the debt, but more like who owns it.
But, when looking further at recent polls, will it even matter. According to the YouGov poll, only 31 percent “heard a great deal” about the super committee compared to an astonishing 42 percent that heard “only a little.” Even more interesting: a high 27 percent of respondents claimed to have heard “nothing at all.”
WASHINGTON — Seemingly lost in the ongoing spat between President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus is the point that was raised in the first place: unemployment. But, headlines are quaking with an increasingly chalkboard scraping pitch of rhetoric lobbed back and forth between Black political titans. The past week has been filled with a national conversation on the President’s rift with his former colleagues, each side unwilling to give ground on the other’s perception of a desperate situation.
There are a multitude of interpretations regarding what exactly the President meant or who exactly he was targeting at the end of a combative, knuckle-up speech at a recent CBC Annual Legislative Conference dinner. What was apparent that night was the image of a President not feeling the adulation of his surroundings or the company of the dinner crowd.
Few smiles were found as he worked through his maturation moment: the tone since a fiery “You Should Pass It” jobs bill joint before Congress a few weeks earlier had been angry and exasperated. There is indication that the President has, perhaps, grown up — not in any way that assumes he was childish beforehand.
But, a sense that the reality of his predicament has set in hard, that desperate times require the aggressive management style of desperate measures. Forgotten by many swimming in the euphoria of 2008 is that then-Candidate Obama had little, if any, executive background before settling into Oval Office chair. To a degree, the learning curve has worn rough on the former Senator.
Giving the speech was a necessary exercise — or risk seriously offending his most loyal base of support. Whether or not he wanted to be there is a looming question. Many present can make the argument that his mind was elsewhere, and that the resulting remarks were a veiled attempt at telling the honorable Members seated in front of him to, as one former Mayor and longtime Democratic party elder speaking on condition of anonymity put it “… kiss my Black a--.”
“He definitely didn’t want to be here,” said the former two-term city boss who was careful not to let influential colleagues hear within earshot. “And he’s got a certain look in his eyes that’s telling quite a few stories. This President is pi--ed off.”
References to “complaining” and “whining” detractors wearing “bedroom slippers” only confirmed that assessment.
But, backing away from the conventional wisdom surrounding the Black political family shouting match this week, there are signs of a political end justifying the means. This was by no means an off-scripted speech. Seeking to ensure his re-election in 2012 the President needed a key moment, a coming-back-to-Jesus gyration to snap his Black base back into attention.
The word choice, admittedly, was a bit risqué and full of racially charged lexicon. One can’t resist the psychobabble analysis. On one hand we found mainstream news outlets eagerly grabbing on to language laden with stereotypes, of shiftless do-nothing Black folks who do nothing but “complain” and “whine.” Here was the President playing role of subtle overseer, keeping the jaded and restless slaves of economic circumstance in line.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), already on a bombastic, barnstorming national tour of lashing out at the White House found the President’s comments "… curious."
"I’m not sure who the president was addressing,” said Waters with usual raised brows and irritated look during an appearance on Meet the Press. “[He] spoke to the Hispanic Caucus and he certainly didn’t tell them to stop complaining about immigration. He never would say that to the gay and lesbian community who really pushed him on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Even in a speech to AIPIC (the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee), he would never say to the Jewish community, ‘Stop complaining about Israel,’”
That’s one interpretation.
For the most part, CBC Members attempted to be mum about the affair, with few willing to speak on record in any real meaningful away about whether or not they were bothered. Most wanted to move on with the business of wrapping up legislative business and moving on to recess the following week. All seem bothered by the negative spotlight on the spat.
"Now, with Obama’s numbers falling, he has very publicly commanded them to shut up and perform what he believes is their only legitimate function: to get him re-elected," said relentless Obama critic Glenn Ford, Editor of Black Commentator. "In the looming contest, he will again resort to Black-baiting whenever it is useful to shore up White support. In that — as with his foreign and domestic policies — Obama is no different than White corporate politicians. His one great distinction is to have a core constituency that cares more for his security and dignity, than their own."
Still, there was quite a bit of call and response and standing ovations from Black folks that evening, lasting well into the following week. It’s not like he got booed off stage. There were folks in the audience who ate it up.
Exploited were two sides in an almost eternal debate, sociological and class warfare between the elites and elite-nots. In a bid to get his Black base back, the President sought to alienate his Black political critics, from the cantankerous Waters (who is defiant to the end) to the eccentric Cornel West and media-hungry Tavis Smiley.
While the Black intelligentsia might not be satisfied with the way things are going, the President can count on the grassroots, the average folks in barber shops and hair salons who aren’t as concerned with the political intrigue and process as they are with the idea that one of “ours” is in the White House.
Politically, however, objectives were achieved on a number of levels in light of President Obama’s re-election bid. Openly chiding disenchanted African Americans is a time-honored national tradition, thereby suppressing any suspicions the President is “too Black” at the expense of his White majority.
It’s also a way to gain his rather disheveled, unemployed and battered Black base back by letting them do political dirty work. He had to do something given a recent and rather alarming Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed African American support for the President at 58 percent. And while that’s still a majority, it’s nothing to sleep on considering it was 81 percent six months ago — that’s a steep canyon of a drop.
Hence, the master strategy is to make a controversial, sermonic-like speech that raises enough noise from the masses loud enough to drown out the voices of his critics and naysayers. In reality, it’s like a nasty political encore of Jumping the Broom with age old class conflicts bursting like exposed pimple.
The week long Black national conversation on “the speech” — followed by a persnickety BET interview — was exactly what the President and his political team wanted: for folks to talk about him in a context that wasn’t related to the jobless rate. If he is to replicate that same cultural enthusiasm from 2008, he’ll have to find creative ways to sidestep the jobs conversation in 2012.
While any substantive political discourse within the Black community should focus on jobs, the topic of the week was absorbed with the tellingly personal and petty tone of dirty laundry flapping on the clothesline. Get ready to see more of that.
It’s a position the ever effusive West Philadelphia pol and ranking U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., finds himself in when pushing long shot legislation through the House: the challenge of a long game. Drawn out and ugly it is these days as he struggles to find votes to push his debt-busting American Consumption Fee proposal.
But Fattah has a knack for somehow mustering smiley face spin on a desperate situation. As the connection of his cell phone crumbles in and out along a highway drive to Hershey for a long awaited pitch on his idea to wipe out national debt, the congressman is restless and gabby. “I introduced Emergency Mortgage Relief legislation way back in, what, 2002, right?” poses Fattah, setting it up like pugnacious rapper eager to take out competition during a freestyle rhyme session. “It passed in 2010.”
In fact, one can make the argument that he seems to revel in that challenge, as if the legislation doesn’t have juice or that it lacks credibility unless it took hits along the way.
“With any major piece of legislation, you first have to pass the laugh test for it to gain any sort of currency,” argues Fattah.
That laugh test has been splitting its own rib in knee slap since 2004 when Fattah first dropped the concept. Eliminate the federal income tax and replace it with a seemingly modest 1 percent tax on every financial transaction. Fattah describes it as a “user fee” for utilizing the economy. His contention is that the national economy shifts $900 trillion annually, much of that wrapped up in financial transfers and sales. Every time there is a major transaction, one large company purchasing another one (such as, for example, Texas Instruments recent $6.5 billion transaction of National Semiconductor), money cats will have to pony up to the federal government in the form of a 1 percent tax.
“Right now, the federal government gets zero on that transaction,” claims Fattah “Even though it’s a substantial transaction requiring the use of government services. It’s only fair that we apply a user’s fee to it. We have a user fee for most everything else.”
Ultimately, after charging a 1 percent transaction tax on so many accumulated transactions, Fattah argues that you can easily pay down the $14 trillion national debt in about a decade.
Seems simple and forward-thinking, right?
Amid all the talk, shutdown debacles and credit downgrades surrounding the issue of national debt, most would assume that Congress would be banging Fattah’s Rayburn House Office Building door for more meat. Debt appears to consume every meaningful conversation in Washington these days, with politicians on both sides of the aisle refusing to budge on any major piece of policy unless a debt or deficit reduction package is attached to it. Yet, with Congress’ new Debt Super Committee locked in mysterious huddle over how to manage it, few ideas are finding any traction as both debt and deficit balloon. Still, the Republican majority in Congress — dominated by conservatives who cringe at anything with a tax on it like it’s kryptonite — is laser-focused on debt reduction as the rationale behind every program cut.
Strangely enough, Fattah’s proposal gets the gas face from many conservative or center-right experts who don’t see any merit to it — despite his offer to do away with the federal income tax and the fairly modest nature of 1 percent (with Fattah even willing to put a half-percent tax on the table just so he can cut a deal with fiscal skeptics).
“I’m not aware of any serious proposal to study it,” blinked the Cato Institute’s budget expert Tad DeHaven on first glance. “It strikes me a kind of odd.”
“I suspect you’d see fewer ‘transactions’ and thus it wouldn’t procure as much revenue as proponents believe,” offers DeHaven in a surprisingly short rebuke. “Not to mention that it would disrupt and distort financial markets. The fact that he can’t find a cosponsor probably speaks for itself.”
Heritage Foundation’s Senior Research Fellow David John was equally dismissive, thinking it might be too good to be true. “While the plan may appear to have positive features, it would be very bad policy, and would likely not raise anywhere close to the revenue that supporters expect,” balked John. “For one thing, while a 1 percent tax may seem small, in most cases, it would far exceed the profit to the financial institution of handling the transaction. Especially in the case of large transactions, the profit may be just a few hundredths of a percent, well short of the 1 percent tax rate.”
John contends the cost of the tax would be passed on to the customer, thus driving up their cost substantially, and potentially causing the entire transaction to be cancelled. Alternately, the higher cost may encourage the customer to move their business to a financial institution located in another country that is not subject to the tax.
On any given in-session day, the hard right-steering Republican Study Committee would be pushing out talking points like a machine gun in a World War II flick. But, when the Tribune called to ask about any potential merit to Fattah’s ACF, the office went silent with no calls back.
But, without any serious study of the proposal — despite an attempt by Fattah in 2010 to mandate one — how would Congress know that it doesn’t work? Observers say it might be worth a shot considering the lack of any other serious proposals on the table. Economists and tax experts alike have argued, in sync with the lone Congressman from Philly, that the current revenue system is outdated, an antique from a period when the country was transitioning from an agricultural-based economy to big industry. In the digital age of heavily linked globalized economies, many argue it’s time for a do-over.
Even the G-20 economic powerhouses are proposing the transaction tax, with France eyeing it hungrily and hoping for some movement on the concept when the G-20 meets in Cannes this November.
“We are working on a proposal that we will present to the European Union in September, which will be studied in the autumn,” French Finance Minister Francois Baroin told newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche in late August. “We are determined to get results at the G20 on November 3–4 in Cannes.”
But, in a surprise move that appeared to vindicate Fattah from afar, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was striking a tone much more confident that Baroin’s.
“Ahead of the Cannes summit, we will come out with a proposal for a European financial transaction tax and we are committed to explore this further also at the G20 level,” was Barroso in a televised address as Europe was scrambling for a way out of its debt-driven meltdown.
On this side of the Atlantic, the Congressman is making his rounds, already meeting with experts at the vaunted Brookings Institution and the financial titan Goldman Sachs.
Yet, there are critics even on Fattah’s side of the aisle. “It taxes the everyday transactions of Americans and exempts most Wall Street transactions,” argues Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Or., who wants colleagues to consider his Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act that he’s been pushing for about two years. “The implications of this bill on average Americans and the revenues received by the federal government are murky at best. His bill has no cosponsors.”
Fattah, however, seems unfazed by the criticism, rattling off the names of House Democratic leaders, Congressional Black Caucus colleagues and clout movers in the Senate who support the idea. There’s an I-told-you-so glee in his voice at the mention of the G-20 looking into it, and he’s got former House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas — a Republican — looking at it closely. While evasive on the question of whether or not debt Super Committee member and fellow Pennsylvanian Sen. Pat Toomey, Pa., digs it, Fattah argues that it’s better than “any other option currently out there.”
“The question of future world leadership is at stake,” says Fattah, who worries that the Super Committee is too focused on the $2 trillion deficit rather than the larger near $15 trillion national debt — much of it borrowed from China. “Here we have a treaty with Taiwan which stipulates that we will defend them if China invades them. But, we’re going to have to borrow money from China to do just that.”
“There’s only one proposal before the Congress that is seriously addressing the debt,” says the Congressman, closing the pitch. “We’re in a whole different ballgame now where we have a lot of global competition. You can’t be the world’s most powerful country, yet be its biggest pan handler at the same time.”
Two weeks ago Herman Cain was a seemingly unstoppable polling juggernaut, reaching new historical heights once seen as unattainable for a Black Republican.
The Cain Train had found itself steaming ahead by 20 full percentage points within one month, a once impossible feat only explained by a combination of luck, Cain charm and the X-Factor dynamics of a “non-politician” candidate who cleverly downplayed his political past.
By last week, that train came to a screeching halt as claims of sexual harassment began dogging the new rising political star as fast as a Kim Kardashian divorce.
But, according to many observers, it’s not so much a matter of the accusations as it is a matter of how Cain’s handled it.
This week was characterized by a series of stumbles, fumbles and persistent contradictions as Cain stammered about looking for a narrative to events that stretched nearly 20 years back.
Once the storm passes, political strategists and crisis management hacks are certain to write studies on the affair as a perfect example of what not to do.
“In the end, the Cain campaign has just shown us once again that they are not ready for primetime with this ‘scandal’,” charges Jason Johnson, Hiram College political scientist.
They’ve been utterly unable to quash a story that happened over 20 years ago and has so many gag orders attached to it that nobody can get out their story except for Cain anyways.”
That said, the real measure of how much the story damages Cain relies on a couple of major factors emerging from one simple fact: it’s a Republican primary.
How much traction the story gets depends on how a primary dominated by White males and seniors over 60 respond to it. While the pundits and maestros of the conventional chattering class all assumed it was Cain’s last week in the running, most forgot that the dynamics in a red meat conservative Republican primary determine how sexual harassment accusations shake out.
While such charges and Cain’s handling of the affair have become his political kryptonite - eliminating him from any future in a general election where the electorate and attitudes are much more diverse — it still doesn’t push him out of temporary contention in a crowded GOP pack that either despises Mitt Romney or watches Rick Perry from a side eye of suspicion.
For now, depending on new allegations or more details arising, Cain is still the flavor of the season, captivating largely white conservative audiences with his toothy grin.
Cain’s largest defense and public relations buffer zone are the polls at the moment. Observers were already raising a brow when Rasmussen Reports, one of the more reliably Republican-leaning polling firms in the country, was showing Cain with an inexplicable 10 point edge over Romney in South Carolina – only two days after the scandal dropped.
How could a Black man, clumsily dodging the worst of Washington allegations, take out a white man by 10 points in a southern state where 36 percent of white Republicans, according to a Winthrop poll, don’t believe President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
Some of the answer lay in many of the statements made a number of conservatives like the thorny Ann Coulter and the even thornier Rush Limbaugh who’ve publicly come out in support of Cain, calling the whole affair a “high tech lynching.”
The parallels to Judge Clarence Thomas’ ugly Supreme Court nomination battle in 1991, in which he bitterly fought off sexual harassment allegations from former colleague Anita Hill, are uncanny.
As with Thomas, Cain still enjoys a coterie of head-patting white ultra conservatives who believe he’s a high profile Black Republican man being targeted by “mainstream, liberal media.”
“Think of all the news stories there have been ... and after five days, there has yet to be a report what he did,” growled Limbaugh on his radio program on Friday, blasting Politico for reporting what amounted to an “empty scandal.”
“I'm saying horrible, angry, feminist women hate conservative Black men because they can't accuse us of racism for supporting, you know pro-life positions, or supporting Herman Cain over Obama,” was Coulter ranting in perpetual book selling mode earlier in the week. “Yeah, coincidentally, the two utterly innocent conservatives who have been falsely accused [Thomas and Cain] are both conservative blacks."
Racial, gender and political dimensions aside, Cain is still climbing in the polls. While some thought the South Carolina poll was an anomaly, the Washington Post/ABC News poll at the end of the week confirmed that Cain wouldn’t be going anywhere away from this race anytime soon.
The national poll found the former businessman “neck-and-neck” at 24 percent against the former Massachusetts governor, with 55 percent of Republican voters saying it was “not a serious matter” and 70 percent of that set saying the allegations would not influence their vote.
Still, nearly 40 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Republican-leaning independents still see the charges as “serious.” Over 30 percent of that group is leaning more towards Romney.
Politic365.com commentator and talk show host Jeneba Ghatt, herself a Republican, sees it getting worse depending on the racial identity of the accusers.
“How will this play out once the race of the women are revealed?” asks Ghatt. Confirmation of Black accusers will spell the death sentence to this story which will then be swept aside by week’s end. It could be one of the chief reasons for Team Cain’s own clumsy response. After all, Clarence Thomas (and most recently Dominique Strauss-Kahn) all escaped scandal fueled by Black women accusers without too much injury. Thomas got his lifetime appointment and Strauss-Kahn’s charges got dropped like a brick.”
The question of identity is what’s rattling Washington this past week as inquiring minds are pressed to know exactly who made the accusations. Few details are being leaked, with only one accuser providing a statement to denounce Cain’s version of events. Still, the anonymous accuser’s lawyer Joel P. Bennett seemed to drop an interesting clue. “She has a life to live and a career, and she doesn’t want to become another Anita Hill.”
While President Obama’s re-election campaign can boast multiple demographic pathways to victory on November 6, strategists on both campaigns are looking intently at the white vote. 2012, of course, is more diverse than 2008, and 2010 U.S. Census Bureau numbers prove the American population is browning rapidly. Whether or not Barack Obama can keep himself from the becoming the first one-term Black president hinges on the turnout of white voters — despite all the platitudes about minority turnout.
Both campaigns spent time hammering through the Olympic Games’ clutter. In the attempt, both camps threw signals into the election atmosphere to see which one would stick — and how much middle-class, white voters would pay attention.
“If President Obama gets 40 percent of the white vote, he has a chance to win re-election,” writes BuzzFeed’s politics blogger John Ellis. “If President Obama gets 35 percent of the white vote, he's finished.”
According to the most recent YouGov numbers, that’s a tough hill to climb. In total, only 37 percent of white voters approve of the president — compared to 56 percent who disapprove. In terms of voter preference, it’s the same as 53 percent of white voters identify themselves at Mitt Romney supporters.
In 2008, then-candidate Obama won 43 percent of the white vote. The last Democratic presidential nominee to do that was Bill Clinton in 1996.
This was the reasoning some observers pointed to in rationalizing the Republican nominee’s recent gaffe-ridden trip to Europe. Republican strategists were not too keen on admitting it, either on or off record, but there were a number of reasons why Romney would want to visit England and Poland. The kick-off of Team Romney’s aggressive courting for white votes was unapologetic as one senior campaign aide bragged about the “special” Anglo-Saxon ties between Britain and the United States that the current president — being as Black as he is — didn’t “appreciate.”
But, those controversial comments provided more indication that Republicans believe they also have multiple pathways to victory. The only dilemma is they are all white. That’s problematic when going up against an incumbent who can rely on cobbling together a number of diverse cultural outlets: Blacks, Hispanics, LGBTs, women, etc. … and at least some of the white vote, too.
Based on President Obama’s approval ratings among whites, that won’t stop the Romney campaign from nibbling away at ethnic Caucasian enclaves and voters in key states. The visit to Poland is an example of this strategy. Polish-American voters account for nearly 10 percent of the overall electorate. That number include places like Pennsylvania, a very critical battleground state, where the Polish population is near 8 percent and is one of the Top 6 “ethnic” demographics in the state.
Still, the majority of Polish-Americans identify themselves as Democrats. “It is not unreasonable to conclude that many Polish-American Democrats tend to be in the more conservative wing of the party,” was the conclusion of the non-partisan Piast Institute, a group which studies such trends.
The foreign policy benefits are a bit limited, but Romney probably represents — minus the election — the first in what will later become a very public wave of U.S. support for a strong buffer country against Russia. As it turns out, Poland is ranked 22nd globally in military expenditures. Noted geopolitical analyst George Friedman predicts Poland will become a world power by the middle of the century.
There’s more to it, however, than just Polish vote perks and a likely partner in the quiet post-Cold War against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Nearly 90 percent of the Polish population is devoutly Roman Catholic, another blatant play the GOP is making for Catholic votes — from the contraceptives controversy to continuing flaps over abortion and the much-hyped “War on Women.”
But, it’s the Jewish element to Romney’s European trip that had Team Obama strategists worried, even as the president’s surrogates openly mocked and clowned the tour as amateur hour. The Republican candidate made back-to-back jumps from Israel to Poland, from the Jewish homeland to a country ranked among the Top 20 countries with significant Jewish populations. That Romney would make stops in both is a formidable acknowledgement of Jewish history. Poland holds a very deep and heartfelt place in the Jewish Diaspora’s heart since it contained one of the largest and most active pockets of European Jews before their tragic near-extermination during the Holocaust.
While poking fun at Romney’s overseas gaffes, cautious Democratic observers were playing careful attention to the Republican candidate’s overtures to Jewish voters. And Democrats have had problems wooing Jewish donors as the perception of an unfriendly President Obama who chides Israel in favor of Palestinian interests is growing.
Romney’s European tour may have been one of many brazen shots in the war for ethnic white votes. “Now it’s a smaller percentage of the population — of the voting population — than it used to be, but white voters are still much more Republican than any other group in the electorate,” opined NPR political analyst Cokie Roberts. “They went for McCain in 2008 by 55 percent. And I think that getting those ethnic voters excited is really what Romney has in mind here.”