Non Sequitur on Parties

Another great strip from Wiley Miller. Some people will follow their parties anywhere.

Non Sequitur Comic Strip, August 25, 2012 on GoComics.com.

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Does any believe in the party platforms?

Jeff Greenfield (“Jumping ship: The party platforms no one stands on anymore“) raises an interesting question : Why do party platforms mean so little these days?

The debate has been revived recently by the drafting (and then disavowal by Romney and other Republicans) of a platform plank in the Republican platform that advocates banning abortion with no mention of exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother:

Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.

The nominee has already made clear that this platform is not his platform. He certainly wouldn’t be the first party nominee to distance themselves from their party’s platform. When asked about a similarly controversial part of the 1996 platform Bob Dole (the party nominee that year) said didn’t even plan on reading the thing.

The question is: If it’s not Mitt Romney’s platform–whose is it? Does anyone want to claim this thing?

There seem to be two possible explanations for how this box of unwanted ideas suddenly shows up on Republicans’ doorsteps.

The party platform appears to be so unimportant that it’s not worth Romney’s effort to adjust. That doesn’t say much good about party conventions. After all, our conventions produce rules, a platform, and a nominee. That’s it. There should be some meaning to what it does. Maybe parties have finally outgrown their platform.

Greenfield is right to bemoan the decline of party conventions. The two parties are terrified that a disagreement over ideas will distract voters from the pageant they put on. However, we may have come to the point that there is so little of the actual convention left that it is no longer be an event worthy of “news” coverage and the networks have only a flimsy excuse to give the two major parties big blocks of air time.

Why the presidential race is close

Charlie Cook has put together a pretty good analysis (“It Shouldn’t Be Close – Charlie Cook“) for National Journal about why the race remains close despite a disappointing economy. National Journal is widely ready the important player in the DC and Cook’s analysis is a good example why. Cook is one of the few political analysts I consider worth reading. Most political analysts realize that they will make more money when they parrot partisan rhetoric or make outlandish predictions.

Cook’s explanation for Romney underperforming results from: (1) Romney not being a natural candidate, (2) campaign ad that seem to “studiously avoid trying to establish any bond, any connection, or any level of trust between him and American voters,” and (3)  Romney’s inability to find a middle ground for the Republican Party on the Dream Act.

Cook’s analysis is good. However, I think he’s a little off the mark.

Some of the problem that Romney is basically running on the Bush economic plan He does not seem to be able to distinguish himself from George W. Bush and the economic problems Bush has been blamed for. Further, Romney looks the part of the stereotype of the GOP tax plan (fair or unfair). People expect Republicans to cut taxes for the wealthy and Romney is definitely a wealthy guy. It’s hard to find a guy who is richer and Romney’s car elevator, horses, and other stories have helped keep that image alive.

Romney could have escaped this had he more aggressively defined himself and his policies. Unfortunately, he decided to let his message be crowd-sourced and if there’s something worse than a philosophy written by a committee it’s a philosophy written by a mob. His reluctant to provide leadership has proven costly as weird Republicans talk about legitimate rape, civil war, birth certificates, secret Muslims, etc. Romney has found himself drowned out  by the cacophony of voices that make up his party. The media environment today makes leadership possible and Romney has yet to find a way to provide a message clear and compelling enough to cut through all the noise around him.

Obama is also benefitting from lower expectations. The economy is not doing well but voters are comparing 2012 to the situation in 2008 and that makes it look better. It’s similar to one of the problems that Al Gore had in 2000. The economy was going okay in 2000 but voters expected better after years of very strong economic growth.

A recent poll found that about 6 in 10 Americans doubt that the presidential election will have an impact on the economy. That result makes a lot of sense given the financial troubles in Europe and the slowdown in the Chinese economy. The economic troubles are coming from a lot of different directions and Americans might finally be realizing that all the answers will not be found in presidential politics. The guys at Freakonomics made their case for a limited presidential impact back in March. However, many citizens and reporters prefer to obsess about the presidency. Expecting the president to solve all our problems represents a fundamental misunderstanding of those pesky checks and balances and maybe Americans have stumbled onto the real limits of presidential power that the founders dreamt up centuries ago.

How Dewhurst got burned

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has found some reasons why his defeat wasn’t his fault. It turns out it was Washington’s fault (Dewhurst: Texans’ anger at Washington misdirected at Texas Capitol). So, the Lt. Governor believes that Washington politics is much worse than the Austin politics that he presides and that Republican primary voters are just too stupid to tell the difference. Dewhurst is like a child who plays with matches and gets burned. Now he’s looking around frantically for someone else to blame”

There are a lot of Texans who are so mad and angry at Washington — and I’m mad and angry at Washington, too — (they) have a hard time understanding how any other form of government, such as state government, could actually cut taxes, which we did, and cut spending, which we did.

Consider this: “Washington” has actually cut taxes. The stimulus program included a lots of tax cuts and those helped bring the tax rate down to a level we hadn’t seen in about 50 years. So, David Dewhurst worked very hard to put Congress in a bad light. That seems like Washington politics as usual. The fact that he now feels victimized by someone putting what he did in the worst possible light is ironic and the fact that he feels primary voters can’t distinguish between his record and those of the Washington politicians tells us more about him than the voters.

There are other ways in which the politics of Austin are just the politics in Washington. The state has spending programs that are very similar to federal programs. The state has pumped millions of dollars into funds to create jobs in Texas just like the federal “stimulus” program that Dewhurst derided. Obama prefers “green jobs” while Perry and Dewhurst preferred “emerging technology.” No so much difference there.

Up a tree

Perry and Dewhurst have decided to follow the base of their party rather than lead them. They refuse to take risks or attempt to persuade voters to do anything except assume the worst about people they don’t like.

Dewhurst lost in part because he didn’t consistently make the case for what he had done. You can’t spend over a decade constructing coalitions and brokering compromises and then run as a purist. That kind of record can never match the rhetoric of the base. If GOP voters weren’t tuned into reality it’s because Dewhurst kept pointing them elsewhere. Dewhurst had a decent record. He should have run on it rather than run away from it. Even if he would have lost he would have left the stage having defended his record and fought the good fight.

Washington has become a universal scapegoat for any candidate not able to run on their record. Too many candidates banked their campaign on the anger they stirred up rather than their vision for the state. In the end, some of them played with fire and got burned.

Pockets of democracy

Despite the best efforts of political elites in the state, pockets of democracy still exist in the state of Texas. A very nice interactive feature on the Texas Tribune website (Interactive Map: The 2012 General Election Races) illustrates how hard it is to find competitive races in Texas.

Map of competitive House districts in Texas

You can look over the map or list of races for the U.S. House, Texas House, or Texas Senate.

The situation is the worst in the Texas House where 98 out of 150 districts have only one candidate from a major party (and many of these districts do not even have a Libertarian or Green Party candidate in the race). The problem is not just the weakness of the Democratic party in Texas because while there are 64 races without a Democratic candidate there are another 34 races where there is no Republican candidate.

I don’t discount the competition within the parties but the low turnout in our party primaries tell me that those contests are not doing a good job representing the citizens of the state.

I’m amazed that we have constructed a political system where the party that dominates statewide elections can not even field a candidate in 22% of the House races. I’m disappointed that our political leaders treat this as normal.

Some of the problem originates with citizens. A recent study by the Pew Center (“The Rise of Residential Segregation by Income“) demonstrates are increasingly living in economically segregated communities making it less and less likely that we’ll come face-to-face with the real lives of others. We compound this by letting social pressures and the desire to fit in lead us away from asking the tough questions that might lead us to change our minds and disagree with the people around us.

The fact that citizens make it easier is no excuse and the sorry state of democracy in Texas is an indictment of the political leaders of the state. Voters in two-thirds of the state’s House districts will not have a viable alternative in 2012 and we can only hope that more competition will be encouraged in the future.

The Case Against the Sales Tax Holiday

The Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning group, has a report (“Sales Tax Holidays: Politically Expedient but Poor Tax Policy“) making the case against sales tax holidays like the one expected to save Texans about $65 million this weekend.

The report is worth a look because you will not see very many politicians willing to take on such a politically popular notion. Governor Perry has been out reminding citizens about the tax holiday and State Senator Rodney Ellis, an author of the original 1999 bill that created the holiday, was at Macy’s urging that the holiday should be protected. Ellis defends the holiday because the cost to the state is a small compared to the tax breaks to energy companies.  Of course, we could consider getting rid of both sets of tax breaks. And, maybe a three-day shopping orgy isn’t the only way to help make going back-to-school more affordable for working families. In any case, it’s a popular tax break that isn’t likely to go away.

Rick Perry at WalMart
Texas Senator Rodney Ellis as Macys

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Under pressure

There are two sources of pressure causing earthquakes in Texas this year.