Commentary Magazine


Topic: Wisconsin

Why the Angry Left Needs Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s attempts to clear the Democratic field by being everything to everyone is necessitating the kind of seesaw reporting that should come with a coupon for Dramamine. Various portions of the Democratic base are aware that Hillary is contradicting herself (and them) to other groups, but they’re taking a lie-to-the-other-guy comfort in it: it’s me, they keep telling themselves, that Hillary truly loves. And one day we’ll be together. The media coverage of this is dizzying.

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Hillary Clinton’s attempts to clear the Democratic field by being everything to everyone is necessitating the kind of seesaw reporting that should come with a coupon for Dramamine. Various portions of the Democratic base are aware that Hillary is contradicting herself (and them) to other groups, but they’re taking a lie-to-the-other-guy comfort in it: it’s me, they keep telling themselves, that Hillary truly loves. And one day we’ll be together. The media coverage of this is dizzying.

Clinton starts the campaign as not just an ally of the Wall Streeters her party has been demonizing for years, but also as someone whose family foundation has served as a kind of super-PAC allowing foreign governments to pitch in to her campaign-in-waiting. (The campaign is no longer “in waiting,” yet the Clintons are still accepting donations from foreign governments.) So she needed to try to strike a populist tone, and did so.

Yet that necessitated stories gauging Wall Street’s reaction to her populist pose. Politico talked to her Wall Street supporters and found that they fully understood she was playing the Warren Wing of her party like a fiddle, and didn’t mean a word of it. “Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street backers: We get it,” proclaimed the headline.

Of course such stories, paired with the continuing revelations about all of Clinton’s money and privilege, meant she’d have to swing wildly back portside. So she did, with today’s story in the New York Times portraying her as the original Elizabeth Warren. But Clinton only knows extremes, and so her allies offered the following anecdote to boost her populist bona fides:

Mrs. Clinton pointed at the top category and said the economy required a “toppling” of the wealthiest 1 percent, according to several people who were briefed on Mrs. Clinton’s policy discussions but could not discuss private conversations for attribution.

Still, Mrs. Clinton will pitch that “toppling” with a very different style than Ms. Warren, a bankruptcy expert whose populist message has been laser-focused on holding Wall Street accountable. Mrs. Clinton will present proposals for changes in the tax code as a way of also investing in education, infrastructure and communities.

I highly doubt Hillary herself ever used the word “toppling” when discussing what to do about the top one percent’s accumulation of wealth. And if she did use the word, it’s explained in the next paragraph that she was already hedging on whether she really intended to burn America’s financial center to the ground. She was jumping so far to the left she had an almost instinctual spring back to the center in one rhetorical flourish.

As the old Yiddish saying goes, you can’t dance at two weddings with one tuches. Which is why Hillary is further cementing her reputation as someone who believes nothing and so will say anything.

But the more interesting question than whether Hillary really intends to “expropriate the expropriators” is why she says the crazy things she says. Why she has to, in other words, at least pretend to keep her inner Leninist within reach and speak to her party as if it’s a gathering of the mob.

One reason is that the left wing is no longer really so much of a wing, but rather integrated into the body of the Democratic Party: the extremists are mainstream. Another is that the left has totally lost its bearings, and actually sees Hillary’s weaknesses as strengths when set to the right unhinged purposes.

To see what I mean, take this chilling, infuriating story by David French in National Review. It’s a long essay on the way liberal Wisconsin prosecutors launched a secretive assault on supporters of Scott Walker, replete with pre-dawn police raids and the violation of numerous constitutional rights, not to mention the damage to innocent Wisconsinites’ reputations. The whole story in all its horrifying details must be read to be believed, but the reason it was made possible was because the Democratic district attorney abusing his powers was doing so under the rubric of a “John Doe” investigation. French writes:

John Doe investigations alter typical criminal procedure in two important ways: First, they remove grand juries from the investigative process, replacing the ordinary citizens of a grand jury with a supervising judge. Second, they can include strict secrecy requirements not just on the prosecution but also on the targets of the investigation. In practice, this means that, while the prosecution cannot make public comments about the investigation, it can take public actions indicating criminal suspicion (such as raiding businesses and homes in full view of the community) while preventing the targets of the raids from defending against or even discussing the prosecution’s claims.

The left has come completely unglued. And it’s the ends, not the means, that they most care about. This is hinted at in the closing quote of the Times piece on Hillary:

Mrs. Clinton “wakes up asking how she can accomplish real things for families, not who she can attack,” said Gene B. Sperling, an economic adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations. He added, “When she shows that fighting populist edge, it is for a purpose.”

Government coercion for a good cause. It doesn’t get much more dangerous than that in a democracy, but it also doesn’t get much more suited to the Clintons’ skill set. And Hillary’s above-the-law posture is clearly an asset in this quest. Liberals who want to replicate nationwide what they’ve done in Wisconsin might not like all of the Clintons’ politics but they must be giddy at the thought of having the Clintons back in power–as long as they have a seat at the table.

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Biden’s “Blackshirts?” In Wisconsin, They Work for the Unions.

You don’t need to read the polls to know that Democrats are worried about Scott Walker. In recent days, the Obama administration has been concentrating their fire on the governor of Wisconsin with the sort of fervor that is usually reserved for their chief congressional tormentors. Walker signed a right-to-work bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature and both President Obama and Vice President Biden denounced him and the law. But the attention given this event wasn’t primarily motivated by Walker’s current status as a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The Wisconsin law scares the Democrats because it’s yet another blow to the ability of the unions to coerce workers into providing them with the funds to pay for their political campaigns. That’s why their rhetoric against Walker and the law was so extreme. Yet when Biden claimed Republicans were seeking to use “blackshirts” to break unions, that line might better have been applied to his own side in the argument.

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You don’t need to read the polls to know that Democrats are worried about Scott Walker. In recent days, the Obama administration has been concentrating their fire on the governor of Wisconsin with the sort of fervor that is usually reserved for their chief congressional tormentors. Walker signed a right-to-work bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature and both President Obama and Vice President Biden denounced him and the law. But the attention given this event wasn’t primarily motivated by Walker’s current status as a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The Wisconsin law scares the Democrats because it’s yet another blow to the ability of the unions to coerce workers into providing them with the funds to pay for their political campaigns. That’s why their rhetoric against Walker and the law was so extreme. Yet when Biden claimed Republicans were seeking to use “blackshirts” to break unions, that line might better have been applied to his own side in the argument.

The Democrats’ line of attack against Walker is that he is doing the bidding of big business and seeking to oppress workers. But the debate over right-to-work laws isn’t about protecting the freedom to organize a union; it’s about safeguarding workers against coercion exercised by those who claim to speak in their name. And nowhere is that more true than in Wisconsin.

The essence of the fight about right-to-work legislation is that in states without these provisions unions exercise power disproportionate to their actual membership because they are able to tax non-members to fund their activities. They defend this practice by saying that when unions negotiate contracts with employers, all those who work there benefit from the results. But the problem is that labor unions have a broader agenda than collective bargaining. They also provide political and economic muscle for their Democratic Party allies.

In doing so they divert large sums deducted from the pay of both their members and non-members for use in partisan political battles that have everything to do with the clout of union bosses and little to do with the rights of workers or even their political preferences. When union members are forced to pay for political action they disagree with, that is bad enough. When non-members are similarly fleeced, that is an outrage that needs to be corrected.

Unions have protected this financial goldmine with the help of Democrats who know that what they are doing is feathering their own nests, not defending the needy or the downtrodden. Unions remain the largest source of funds for Democrat Party campaigns. Rather than Obama and Biden seeking to help workers or middle-class taxpayers, by attacking right-to-work legislation they are merely seeking to ensure a steady flow of union money to their party.

For Biden to summon up the image of “blackshirts” attacking workers is reprehensible on a number of levels. Associating Republicans and the governor of Wisconsin with Italian fascists or Nazi SS thugs is a vile slur and represents more proof that liberal complaints about Tea Partiers undermining political civility are pure hypocrisy. But it is particularly ironic for Biden to use that offensive term with respect to Wisconsin and Scott Walker.

Democrats may think Americans have short memories but it’s not so easy to forget the spectacle of union thugs and their Democratic allies attempting to shut down the state legislature in Madison in 2011 in order to prevent it from adopting laws they opposed. While Democrats regularly bloviate about Republicans doing the bidding of the Koch brothers, in Wisconsin, Democrats went all out not to do the bidding of their union funders even if it meant preventing the legislature from operating. In a government shutdown move that somehow did not provoke the same hysteria from the liberal media that GOP efforts in Washington have generated, Democrats didn’t merely try to defeat a measure that the Republican majority had successfully campaigned on, they actually tried to stop it from meeting with mob actions and legislators fleeing the state.

Other union “activists” threatened Republican members of the legislature as well as Walker and his family in a style of politics that may not have been as bloody as the work of the historical blackshirts but was still frightening. Though they failed, union thugs put a chill in democratic discourse that did little to inspire confidence in Wisconsin Democrats who went on to fail in both 2012 and 2014 to oust Walker.

For all of their talk about helping workers, Wisconsin proves that Democrats are barking up the wrong tree when they seek to demonize Walker to please their union friends. Democrats do tend to succeed when they can strike a populist tone, but modern unions are often the antithesis of the traditional image of struggling workers banding together to fight the bosses. The real freedom battle in the workplace today is the one between the union bosses and workers being pressured to pay for political payoffs to Democrats. And the more attention Obama and Biden draw to this, with or without the vice president’s absurd hyperbole, the better it will be for Walker.

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Scott Walker: the GOP’s Elizabeth Warren?

You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

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You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

That’s one takeaway from yesterday’s fascinating Washington Post story on how in Walker’s attempt to fend off the left’s recall, he built the foundations of a national network of donors and connections. The story rings true for anyone with close knowledge of conservative politics. The attempt to recall Walker showed the national GOP that Walker had struck a chord in his reforms, and that for those reforms to have any positive reverberations outside Wisconsin, Republicans would have to hold Madison and solidify their gains.

It also showed conservatives a rabid side of the public unions. Death threats were received not just by Walker and his family but by donors to and supporters of his campaign as well. Conservatives won their battles through democratic politics; the left responded with antidemocratic stunts and even violence. It proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Walker was in the right, and that public unions had to be reined in. A Walker loss would have been a win for thuggish brute force over democratic debate.

Liberals were right, in other words, that there was much at stake. They were just on the wrong side of the issue. And when the recall became a national battle, both large donors and small donors rallied to Walker’s side. Here’s the Post:

Since surviving the recall attempt, Walker has assiduously maintained his relationships with an expanding roster of top party fundraisers and financiers, courting them with regular phone calls, chummy visits and invitations to his inauguration last month.

“The recall provided him with a really interesting opportunity, because he made so many connections nationally with so many donors,” said Chart Westcott, a Dallas-based hedge fund executive, who introduced Walker at the breakfast fundraiser held last month at his parents’ home in Indian Wells. “He already has this base of people who have given him six figures in the past. Not a lot of the other candidates have a national network like that.”

In all, Walker raised almost $83 million for his three statewide races in the past four years — an eye-popping sum for a governor of a modest-size Midwestern state. Of the nearly 300,000 people who gave to his campaigns, three out of four donated $75 or less, according to people familiar with the figures.

“He has a mammoth small-donor list,” rivaled only by libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), said Ron Weiser, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

He has the big-donor network to rival longtime national establishment figures and the small-donor network like the one that fuels the Paul family’s supporters. It’s a tremendous advantage, especially over other Midwestern politicians, and it gives Walker a head start on many of his opponents.

But while many will (rightly) focus on the advantage of having large donors in your corner, the small-donor network is just as important. It shows the extent to which Walker became a grassroots hero on the right. It built a persona, not just a fundraising apparatus.

This is where the comparison to Warren comes in. Warren was supposed to lead the Obama administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a bureaucratic watchdog agency hatched in 2010 and launched in 2011. Republicans blocked her appointment in opposition to the agency. But it didn’t prevent the agency from being formed (and working first without a director, then only with an unconstitutionally appointed apparatchik at the helm).

It also left Warren with an unfulfilled desire for power. So she ran for Senate in Massachusetts and beat Scott Brown, who had gone into the election with high approval ratings. Thus the GOP handed the Democrats virtually the only candidate they had who could have beaten Brown in that particular election. (They probably would have gotten the seat back at some point in the future, but for the time being it helped Republicans to have an unlikely “extra” Senate seat in the age of Obama, when they needed all the help they could get.)

Republicans, in crucial ways, created Elizabeth Warren–or at least the phenomenon that is Elizabeth Warren, in which legions of devoted liberals are trying to draft Warren to run for president. Democrats may have done something similar here with Walker.

It’s obviously a long way out from the 2016 election, and Walker will face a strong primary field of which he is not even the frontrunner. But the national sensation that is Scott Walker owes much to the governor’s successful attempt to overcome the left’s campaign to destroy him by recalling him. They tried to kill the king, and what didn’t kill him made him stronger.

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Why Scott Walker Doesn’t Need a Landslide

The central contradiction of Scott Walker’s prospective 2016 presidential candidacy is that the case against it is also the case for it. And that theme has been a major component of the coverage of Walker’s close reelection battle against Mary Burke. Walker heads into today’s election clinging to a 2-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average. The two candidates were even in an early October Marquette poll. Since then, Walker has led four of the last five polls, but in only one was that lead more than 2 points. And the narrative has begun to form that with this close a race, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it seems whether he wins.

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The central contradiction of Scott Walker’s prospective 2016 presidential candidacy is that the case against it is also the case for it. And that theme has been a major component of the coverage of Walker’s close reelection battle against Mary Burke. Walker heads into today’s election clinging to a 2-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average. The two candidates were even in an early October Marquette poll. Since then, Walker has led four of the last five polls, but in only one was that lead more than 2 points. And the narrative has begun to form that with this close a race, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it seems whether he wins.

That is, the failure to win a convincing referendum on his tenure as governor is a major red flag for his presidential hopes. The best article making this case from the right (who Walker would have to win over in a primary) comes from Ramesh Ponnuru, writing at Bloomberg View. There are bound to be real obstacles to a Walker bid, and some of them are indeed wrapped up in how Walker has handled–and in some cases, perhaps mishandled–his reelection campaign. That’s one reason the accusations that Chris Christie, as head of the Republican Governors Association, supposedly left Walker high and dry rang hollow. If Walker’s opponent was underestimated, it wasn’t by Christie; it was by Walker.

Here’s the crux of Ponnuru’s argument:

For one thing, Walker’s struggle raises the question of whether a politician can make a credible run for the presidency after barely winning over his own state’s voters. The last two presidents each won their states convincingly before they ran. George W. Bush won 68 percent of the vote to be re-elected governor of Texas in 1998, and Barack Obama won 70 percent of the vote in Illinois to become a senator in 2004.

Walker, assuming he wins, won’t have numbers anywhere close to those. And if he decides to seek the 2016 nomination, he’ll have to make the best of it. The argument he could make to Republicans nationwide is that he took risks to get conservative reforms enacted in a liberal state, and he succeeded. The closeness of his recall campaign and his re-election are a testament, he could say, to his boldness.

There’s another way Walker is different from Bush and Obama. Bush said he would be a “uniter, not a divider,” and Obama said he’d “change the tone” in Washington for the better. A candidate as demonstrably polarizing as Walker — his anti-union reforms sparked huge protests and an occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol — won’t be able to run that kind of campaign.

I think Ponnuru is right on the particulars but wrong on the implications.

It’s true that both Obama and Bush had won resounding statewide victories before running for president. And historically, candidates who lose their home state in a presidential election usually lose the election too. But Walker’s ability to win over Wisconsin’s voters means he’d put the state in play in a presidential election. Unlike Bush and John McCain, whose home states were red, and Mitt Romney, who never had a chance to win Massachusetts, that gives Republicans a chance to expand the map. Walker’s close election means it is precisely the kind of state Republicans have to learn how to win if they want to end their slide in presidential elections.

It’s easy to convince Texas to keep public unions in check, and it’s impressive but arguably irrelevant to convince New Jersey voters to back such a platform, as did Chris Christie. New Jersey is not going red any time soon, so Christie’s success offers an example of how to win over public opinion on union issues, but doesn’t change the Electoral College calculus.

Speaking of Christie, Ponnuru’s second point is also worth delving into in order to make a crucial distinction. Ponnuru writes that Walker can’t make the claim to be some kind of postpartisan uniter. His agenda is divisive. But there’s a difference between a personally divisive candidate and a divisive agenda–and there are also differences between types of divisive agendas.

Christie is an example of someone with a divisive personality. Walker is not. Walker is personable and relatable, not combative. He’s a happy warrior. His agenda is divisive, but that’s for a good reason: it’s an actual governing agenda, and the defenders of the self-enriching status quo will always fight real reform.

Walker’s opponents made the issue divisive because they completely lost their minds. Democratic state senators actually fled the state, like criminals and cowards, rather than participate in the democratic process that would have led to an outcome they didn’t like. His opponents could barely speak a full sentence that didn’t have the word “Hitler” sprinkled generously throughout. I’ve seen the unions threaten the lives of people I know who they discovered supported Walker.

But the fact remains: anti-public union policies are gaining steam and support in blue and purple states, despite the divisiveness caused by union leaders and their most ardent supporters experiencing a psychotic break over sensible reforms. Entrenched interests cannot be given a heckler’s veto.

And the lesson here is that while the Wisconsin electorate is polarized, so is the national electorate. Liberal interest groups and the media (but I repeat myself) will paint any Republican agenda as the end of the world. The vapid Obama campaign managed to make Big Bird a divisive issue, to say nothing of the “war on women” or race-baiting. Any Republican running on anything resembling a conservative agenda will get this apocalyptic treatment from the left. The candidate might as well make it worth the trouble and actually stand for something.

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The Twilight of the Unions

Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

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Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic in the BLS report is union membership broken down by age. Of workers 55-64 years of age, 14.9 percent are union members. For those 16-24, a mere 4.2 percent are unionized. That, to put it mildly, does not bode well for the future of the union movement.

The basic reason for this now-60-year-long decline, of course, is that unions are economic dinosaurs. They arose in the late 19th century at the same time as unprecedentedly large industrial and transportation corporations came into being. The corporations had enormous economic and political power and the unorganized workers had virtually none. Unions helped to redress the balance.

With the Wagner Act of 1935, which put the power of the federal government behind the union movement, the golden age of unions began. It didn’t last long. Greatly increased educational opportunities after World War II and the digital revolution that began around 1970 have eroded the number of workers who need unions to bargain for them and the number of jobs available to unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

But the laws governing corporate-union relations had their last major overhaul in 1947 with the Taft-Hartley Act in a completely different economic universe. The unions’ power with the Democratic Party (they are the No. 1 funder of the party and its candidates) has prevented any modernization, giving them disproportionate political clout. But even that is fading. The unions were unable to get “card check,” which would have ended secret elections in union organizing drives, through Congress when the Democrats had a lock on both houses of Congress in the first two years of the Obama administration.

So while unions, like dinosaurs, are still very powerful, like dinosaurs, they are going extinct.

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Labor Unions, Violence, and America’s Political Religion

When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

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When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence. Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality and, in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws. This must become America’s “political religion.”

Which brings us to Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder signed a law declaring that workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

National Review offers a summary of the reaction to the new Michigan law: “Democratic legislator Douglas Geiss declared on the floor of the state house: ‘There will be blood. There will be repercussions.’ And indeed there were: Knife-wielding partisans brought down a tent on representatives from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity — women and children among them — and roughed up bystanders. Fox News contributor Steven Crowder was beaten by the same mob, punched repeatedly in the face.” In addition, Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa declared there would be a “civil war” in Michigan. (A video of some of this can be seen here, courtesy of HotAir.com. And on the left, it’s being said that “getting hit in the face is a hazard of inserting yourself in the middle of an argument between billionaire-funded know-nothing ideologues and people whose livelihoods and stability are being threatened by the insatiable greed of the super-rich and the blind extremism of their wooden-headed political allies.”) 

Conservative commentators have pointed out that Michigan is merely the most recent link in a chain of events, from the response to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to end collective bargaining rights for public sector unions (where Walker was often compared to Hitler, Mubarak, and Mussolini) to the Occupy Wall Street protests (which were characterized by sexual assault, arson, and vandalism, among other things).

My point isn’t that what’s happening today is anything like the scale of what Lincoln was referring to (which included murders committed by pro-slavery mobs). But the confrontations and rage, the acts of intimidation and violence we’ve seen in places from Lansing to Zuccotti Park and several other cities are troubling enough.

We all know passions can be inflamed in political disputes. What’s crucial is to respect the rights of others even when we disagree with them. Those who don’t–those who substitute wild and furious passion for cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason–are engaged in something destructive.

We are nowhere close to a pre-civil war situation. We’re even a long distance removed from the violent protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But our divisions are deep enough. And when differences in policies lead to screaming matches, shoving matches, provocations and fist fights, it’s not a sign of civic health. (Liberals might be somewhat more attuned to this point if the actions we’re seeing at union rallies had happened at Tea Party gatherings.)

A “mobocratic spirit” is at odds with America’s political religion. And it would be nice, and perhaps even helpful, if the president reminded his supporters and allies of that from time to time.

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CNN Moves Wisconsin to “Toss Up”

Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:

CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …

With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.

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Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:

CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …

With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.

It’s a great sign for Republicans, who haven’t won Wisconsin in a presidential race since Ronald Reagan. But Nate Silver warns against putting too much stock in CNN’s decision:

Adjust the Rasmussen numbers upward for Mr. Obama, and the CNN poll downward for him, and it looks as though Mr. Obama might win by about two percentage points if an election were held in Wisconsin today. I wouldn’t quite use the term “tossup” to describe the state — particularly if Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are in the midst of a modest but temporary bounce — but it has become much more essential to the electoral math, and now rates as the fourth most important state in our tipping-point calculus, behind Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

Whether it’s a temporary bounce or not, Paul Ryan does have high favorables in Wisconsin and his addition to the ticket puts an important state in play.

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Romney Now Leading in Wisconsin

Some analysts were skeptical that Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan would make much of a difference in Wisconsin, particularly since the state hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. But Romney has actually opened up a small lead in Wisconsin, according to the latest Rasmussen poll:

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Romney with 48% support to President Obama’s 47%. Three percent (3%) prefer some other candidate, and two percent (2%) are undecided.

In late July, it was Obama 49%, Romney 46%. This is the Republican’s largest level of support yet in the Badger State. Prior to this survey, the president has earned 45% to 52% of the vote, while Romney has picked up 41% to 46% of the vote.

A one-point lead isn’t much in a poll with a 4.5 percent margin of error, but Rasmussen’s findings on voter sentiment in the state are a good sign for Republicans:

Ryan, who has been a congressman from Wisconsin since 1999, is viewed favorably by 57% of the state’s voters. This finding includes 39% who view Ryan Very Favorably. Thirty-six percent (36%) share an unfavorable view of Ryan, with 23% who view him Very Unfavorably. Five percent (5%) are not familiar with the congressman.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of Wisconsin voters believe Romney made the right choice in tapping Ryan as his running mate, while 30% disagree. A plurality (46%) says they are more likely to vote for Romney now that Ryan is on the ticket, while 31% are less likely to do so. Twenty-two percent (22%) say the Ryan choice has no impact on their support for Romney.

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Some analysts were skeptical that Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan would make much of a difference in Wisconsin, particularly since the state hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. But Romney has actually opened up a small lead in Wisconsin, according to the latest Rasmussen poll:

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Romney with 48% support to President Obama’s 47%. Three percent (3%) prefer some other candidate, and two percent (2%) are undecided.

In late July, it was Obama 49%, Romney 46%. This is the Republican’s largest level of support yet in the Badger State. Prior to this survey, the president has earned 45% to 52% of the vote, while Romney has picked up 41% to 46% of the vote.

A one-point lead isn’t much in a poll with a 4.5 percent margin of error, but Rasmussen’s findings on voter sentiment in the state are a good sign for Republicans:

Ryan, who has been a congressman from Wisconsin since 1999, is viewed favorably by 57% of the state’s voters. This finding includes 39% who view Ryan Very Favorably. Thirty-six percent (36%) share an unfavorable view of Ryan, with 23% who view him Very Unfavorably. Five percent (5%) are not familiar with the congressman.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of Wisconsin voters believe Romney made the right choice in tapping Ryan as his running mate, while 30% disagree. A plurality (46%) says they are more likely to vote for Romney now that Ryan is on the ticket, while 31% are less likely to do so. Twenty-two percent (22%) say the Ryan choice has no impact on their support for Romney.

Those numbers are actually far more positive for Ryan than the previous favorable/unfavorable ratings in Wisconsin that we’ve seen from polls like PPP (which could be partially due to the fact that Rasmussen polls likely voters, not registered voters).

Obama still leads Romney in the RealClearPolitics Wisconsin polling average, but this is the first poll since Paul Ryan joined the ticket, and it shows encouraging momentum for the Romney campaign.

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GOP’s in a Wisconsin State of Mind

When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

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When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

Paul Ryan has taken the reins on budget issues for the GOP, but his public persona is inextricably tied to his proposed entitlement reforms, especially Medicare. Ryan’s ideas became the Republican Party’s budget. He became a standard-bearer at a level usually reserved for presidential nominees. (When Gingrich slammed Ryan’s proposal as “right-wing social engineering,” he was practically booed and hissed out of the race.) Ryan’s reforms became their own litmus test to see if conservative presidential candidates were “serious” about the country’s fiscal future.

And no one will soon forget the liberal reaction to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public union reforms–the deepest in the country. To avoid even voting on legislation, Democratic members of the state’s Senate fled Wisconsin to live in a hotel in Illinois. It didn’t exactly do wonders for the Democratic Party’s credibility, but neither did the DNC-organized protests; the nicest protesters compared Walker to Hosni Mubarak, the less generous compared him to–who else–Hitler. In fact, Walker’s reforms were tough but smart, and have provided a much-needed boost to the state’s economy. Fearing the effect of fiscal restraint on their taxpayer-financed largesse, the unions helped organize recall elections for state senators and Walker himself. The GOP survived, and so did the reforms.

And today at National Review Online, Katrina Trinko profiles Reince Priebus, the first-term Republican National Committee chair who has improved the party’s fundraising, kept a lower profile, and stayed more on-message than his predecessor. Priebus is also from Wisconsin.

So what is it about the Badger State? At first glance, Wisconsin might seem an unlikely laboratory for conservative reforms. It hasn’t thrown its electoral votes into the Republican column since 1984–though George W. Bush nearly nabbed the state in 2004. And though it has become more competitive in recent years, that should only make it less given to producing politicians willing to take the political risks Ryan and Walker have. Washington, D.C., isn’t exactly famous for political courage, so reformers take the risk of being demagogued into the ground–having their voters and their caucus scared off. But Wisconsin’s voters aren’t so easily bullied by unions either.

Wisconsin, then, is a peculiar kind of potential swing state. Wisconsin’s conservatives are not only enacting serious reforms, but are encouraging the national party to follow suit. (Compare this with Florida, where politicians walk a very careful line with regard to entitlement reform in an election year.) Is creative conservative reform the path to a Wisconsinite’s heart? Perhaps its liberal leanings have helped. Thompson’s reforms came just as the state was beginning to vote Democratic in presidential elections, and voters seemed to seek some kind of balance–the state hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since Thompson became governor, but it has also only had one Democratic governor in that same time (Walker’s predecessor).

Whatever the reason, the success of Wisconsin’s reform-minded politicians suggests the country isn’t as resigned to a welfare state future as many fear. Even without a candidate in a presidential election year, the state remains at the center–and often sets the terms–of the debate.

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Romney Now Leading Obama in Wisconsin

That was fast. Exit polling from last week’s Wisconsin recall election had already showed the state shifting from Obama’s column into toss-up territory, and now Rasmussen’s latest poll actually has Romney with a slight lead:

Mitt Romney now leads President Obama for the first time in Wisconsin where the president’s support has fallen to its lowest level to date.

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Romney with 47 percent of the vote to Obama’s 44 percent. Five percent prefer some other candidate, and four percent are undecided.

That lead is still within the poll’s 4.5 percent margin of error, but it is the latest sign that Wisconsin — a must-win state for Obama — is in play for November.

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That was fast. Exit polling from last week’s Wisconsin recall election had already showed the state shifting from Obama’s column into toss-up territory, and now Rasmussen’s latest poll actually has Romney with a slight lead:

Mitt Romney now leads President Obama for the first time in Wisconsin where the president’s support has fallen to its lowest level to date.

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Romney with 47 percent of the vote to Obama’s 44 percent. Five percent prefer some other candidate, and four percent are undecided.

That lead is still within the poll’s 4.5 percent margin of error, but it is the latest sign that Wisconsin — a must-win state for Obama — is in play for November.

At the National Journal, Josh Kraushaar paints a gloomy electoral picture for the Obama campaign if it loses the Rust Belt. The campaign’s focus on winning the Hispanic vote was designed with Florida and the southwest states in mind. But that strategy assumed that Obama would hold on to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania:

For much of the presidential campaign, President Obama’s top strategists have outlined their numerous paths to 270 electoral votes: win Florida, sweep the Southwest, or pick off a Southern state or two. But they didn’t prepare for the possibility that working-class white voters in the Rust Belt could abandon the president en masse, throwing his well-laid plans into disarray.

With the economy struggling to pick up steam, three must-win “blue-wall” states are looking increasingly winnable for the Romney campaign: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Both election results (from the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall) and reputable polling show that all three states are shaping up to be highly competitive, and that both campaigns will be devoting significant resources there.

Now that the campaign will have to devote more resources to the Rust Belt, that limits the impact it can have in Florida and the southwest. The Obama campaign increasingly looks like the crew on a sinking boat, trying to patch one leak as two more spring up behind their backs.

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Wisconsin’s Reforms Are Working

The bruising battle in Wisconsin a year ago to curb the powers of public service unions was finally won by Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature. But, as a result, a judge of the Wisconsin Supreme Court faced a determined attempt to oust him from his seat (he survived), six state senators faced recall elections (four survived and the two losers had issues that would probably have cost them their seats regardless) and, this year, the governor himself faces a recall election.

I wouldn’t bet against him. The reforms have kicked in and the results are dramatic.

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The bruising battle in Wisconsin a year ago to curb the powers of public service unions was finally won by Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature. But, as a result, a judge of the Wisconsin Supreme Court faced a determined attempt to oust him from his seat (he survived), six state senators faced recall elections (four survived and the two losers had issues that would probably have cost them their seats regardless) and, this year, the governor himself faces a recall election.

I wouldn’t bet against him. The reforms have kicked in and the results are dramatic.

The reforms did a number of things. They ended the automatic collection of union dues by the state, causing an immediate drop in union income and the laying off of numerous union employees. They required that state employees kick in 5.8 percent of their salaries towards their own pensions and to pick up 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums, bringing public employees more in line with private employee realities. Most important, it limited collective bargaining to salaries (and even that bargaining is limited by the rate of inflation).

For the first time in decades, school administrations are now actually able to administer their districts without union interference, and the savings have been huge. The MacIver Institute, a Wisconsin think tank, reports that of the 108 school districts that completed contracts with employees, 74 of them, with 319,000 students, have reported savings of no less than $162 million. If this is extrapolated out to all districts, it would amount to savings of nearly $448 million.

The biggest area of savings have been in health insurance. The teachers union insisted that districts use the union’s own health insurance company to provide coverage. No longer forced to use a monopoly provider, districts have either switched providers or used the threat of switching to force the union health insurance company to dramatically lower premiums. Savings have averaged $730,000 in districts that have switched providers or forced competitive bidding.

As a result of these dramatic savings, districts that have been able to benefit immediately from the reforms (some districts are locked into long-term contracts and cannot) have been able to avoid laying off teachers despite a significant drop in state aid and to avoid raising school taxes. Indeed, school tax bills that went out last December had an average increase of only 0.3 percent.

It is hard to imagine that with results like this, Governor Walker has anything to worry about.

 

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GOP Has Lessons to Learn from its “Victory” in Wisconsin

The results of last night’s recall elections in Wisconsin left the Republican governing authority intact, but the fact remains the GOP immediately lost two seats and came within a few thousand votes from losing its majority, while the Republican governor’s approval ratings continue to tank. The rallying cry of “hey–it could have been (and almost was) much worse” is not the best justification to celebrate.

That the state GOP was not completely steamrolled in recall elections is good for the party’s fight against public unions. But if this is celebrated as an unqualified “win,” the national Republican party will fail to learn important lessons from the public’s response to Scott Walker’s policies.

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The results of last night’s recall elections in Wisconsin left the Republican governing authority intact, but the fact remains the GOP immediately lost two seats and came within a few thousand votes from losing its majority, while the Republican governor’s approval ratings continue to tank. The rallying cry of “hey–it could have been (and almost was) much worse” is not the best justification to celebrate.

That the state GOP was not completely steamrolled in recall elections is good for the party’s fight against public unions. But if this is celebrated as an unqualified “win,” the national Republican party will fail to learn important lessons from the public’s response to Scott Walker’s policies.

It’s absolutely true if the results stand, Republicans in Wisconsin will have survived a ferocious union ground game and a challenge to their governing power. And it’s possible, as Alana suggests, Walker’s plans will gain popularity as time marches on. But so far that isn’t the case. Alana quotes a Washington Post report in which Republicans defend their losses last night: “Republicans acknowledge that they were essentially caught flat-footed by the whole thing.” That’s their defense? Republican state officials admit they were caught off-guard by the recall efforts Democrats had promised. So who will be fired over this? Someone surely ought to be. This issue has been on the national political radar for months, and the Wisconsin GOP leadership admits they took a nap at the wheel.

But the most important takeaway here is one the GOP seems utterly unwilling to process. It wasn’t all about the demand public employees pay into their benefit accounts. Sure, the unions didn’t like it, but it wasn’t what enraged them and made them think they were in a battle for their survival. It was the proposed limits to their collective-bargaining abilities that both Walker and the unions saw as essential to eroding the unions’ true source of power.

In New Jersey–a bluer state than Wisconsin–Chris Christie passed similar legislation that forced employees to pay into their very generous benefits, but left untouched the collective-bargaining facet of the unions’ power. And Christie had a compelling explanation for why he didn’t seek to limit the collective-bargaining process, even though the practice has destroyed so much of the state’s municipal balance sheets:

I love collective bargaining…. I’ve said let’s get rid of civil service and let everything be collectively bargained, as long as collective bargaining is fair, tough, adversarial and there’s someone in that room representing you.

Christie, in other words, won the public relations battle by showing he truly represents the taxpayers. It was such a landslide PR victory, in fact, that the state’s heavily Democratic legislature went along with the bills. Last night, the Wisconsin GOP barely held on. If they don’t learn the right lessons from this battle, they might not be so lucky next time.

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LIVE BLOG: Paul Ryan

The Republican response — indeed, the opposition-party response — to the State of the Union is usually the graveyard of upward ambitions. Not tonight. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, is giving what is certainly the best such response in memory, and will — and should — spark serious talk about him as the Republican nominee next year. He has said flatly he’s not running. Maybe it would be wiser for a 41-year-old like Ryan to wait until 2016. But this speech reminds us that the deep bench of younger politicians — with Ryan and Marco Rubio and Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, among many others — really belongs to the GOP.

The Republican response — indeed, the opposition-party response — to the State of the Union is usually the graveyard of upward ambitions. Not tonight. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, is giving what is certainly the best such response in memory, and will — and should — spark serious talk about him as the Republican nominee next year. He has said flatly he’s not running. Maybe it would be wiser for a 41-year-old like Ryan to wait until 2016. But this speech reminds us that the deep bench of younger politicians — with Ryan and Marco Rubio and Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, among many others — really belongs to the GOP.

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Morning Commentary

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

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Students Launch Public Relations Campaign for North Korea

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website. Read More

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website.

“The DMZ was my favorite. Mass Games, local restaurants were wonderful, Mt Myohyang was beautiful, USS Pueblo, Korean War Museum, Metro. All of it was fantastic. I commend the two of you for putting together such an action-packed, well-rounded program,” wrote Amy C., a 2009 Fulbright scholar.

Another participant was apparently honored to have been given a museum tour by the same woman who guided President Kim Il-Sung. “[W]e went to an agricultural museum where both leaders had been to several times, and were guided by the same lady that guided President Kim II Sung; on the very same night when we were back to our hotel, we turned on the TV and the TV was showing President Kim II Sung visiting the exact same museum guided by the lady we just saw in in afternoon. What de ja vu!” wrote Ji G.

And in a ringing endorsement, Neil E., a Bowling Green State University professor, wrote that the “highlights” of his trip were “the kids playing in the street in front of the Children’s Palace, followed by the glitzy, absolutely perfect performance inside, the crowd streaming out of the Kaesong rally interrupted by a fight, the audiences clapping in unison. I would definitely recommend the experience to others — in fact, I already have.”

Well, I suppose we can at least we can be thankful that the unpleasant sight of emaciated North Koreans didn’t get in the way of their thrilling vacation.

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Waiting for Cream to Rise to the Top

Fred Barnes writes:

Why do the potential Republican presidential candidates (with one exception) seem so old, dull, and uninteresting? There are a few simple answers. Most of the candidates are a generation older than most of the new Republican luminaries, compared with whom they are indeed duller and less interesting. At the moment they’re not where the political action is either. They’re not quite irrelevant, but close.

He argues, quite correctly, that at least for the next few months, all eyes will be on Congress:

At this time four years ago, the presidential race was about to take off. But the center of gravity in politics and government has shifted. The big play is now in Congress with Republicans in control of the House and in the statehouses with governors like Jindal, Christie, Perry, and a slew of newcomers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Rick Scott in Florida. The presidential contest will have to wait.

But implicit in his analysis is the conclusion that the likely contenders don’t match up all that well against the non-candidate Republicans. Part of the issue is generational, as Barnes points out. But there are other problems with the batch of commonly mentioned candidates.

For one thing, they all seem to have been around forever. Yes, in most cases, they’ve been on the national stage for only a couple of years. Mickey Kaus has called it the Feiler Faster Thesis — the omnipresence of media has sped up the pace of coverage and the pace of politics. A year on the national stage is now like five years in the 1990s. We’ve seen so much of many of the likely contenders (e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee) that they seem tired and old hat. Is there anything either of them could say that would surprise us? Most likely, only a gaffe.

And of course, each of the likely contenders has not simply small flaws but jumbo problems. Republicans are far more self-aware than the mainstream media give them credit for being. A majority of Republican activists and primary voters know that RomneyCare is quite possibly a debilitating issue for Romney. Many Republicans — Tea Partiers included — understand that Sarah Palin has serious issues with independents and is increasingly obsessed with how the media cover her. (One dig against John McCain was that he was thin-skinned; Palin is quickly developing the same reputation.)

The focus of the country will turn both to Congress and to a slew of new governors. And after a few months, Republicans might discover that one or more of the congressional standouts or one of the governors seems fresher and more capable than the retreads currently mulling a race. So I’d suggest that you ignore the likely candidates and watch the performance of people like Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — the best of the lot may wind up at the top of the presidential contender list.

Fred Barnes writes:

Why do the potential Republican presidential candidates (with one exception) seem so old, dull, and uninteresting? There are a few simple answers. Most of the candidates are a generation older than most of the new Republican luminaries, compared with whom they are indeed duller and less interesting. At the moment they’re not where the political action is either. They’re not quite irrelevant, but close.

He argues, quite correctly, that at least for the next few months, all eyes will be on Congress:

At this time four years ago, the presidential race was about to take off. But the center of gravity in politics and government has shifted. The big play is now in Congress with Republicans in control of the House and in the statehouses with governors like Jindal, Christie, Perry, and a slew of newcomers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Rick Scott in Florida. The presidential contest will have to wait.

But implicit in his analysis is the conclusion that the likely contenders don’t match up all that well against the non-candidate Republicans. Part of the issue is generational, as Barnes points out. But there are other problems with the batch of commonly mentioned candidates.

For one thing, they all seem to have been around forever. Yes, in most cases, they’ve been on the national stage for only a couple of years. Mickey Kaus has called it the Feiler Faster Thesis — the omnipresence of media has sped up the pace of coverage and the pace of politics. A year on the national stage is now like five years in the 1990s. We’ve seen so much of many of the likely contenders (e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee) that they seem tired and old hat. Is there anything either of them could say that would surprise us? Most likely, only a gaffe.

And of course, each of the likely contenders has not simply small flaws but jumbo problems. Republicans are far more self-aware than the mainstream media give them credit for being. A majority of Republican activists and primary voters know that RomneyCare is quite possibly a debilitating issue for Romney. Many Republicans — Tea Partiers included — understand that Sarah Palin has serious issues with independents and is increasingly obsessed with how the media cover her. (One dig against John McCain was that he was thin-skinned; Palin is quickly developing the same reputation.)

The focus of the country will turn both to Congress and to a slew of new governors. And after a few months, Republicans might discover that one or more of the congressional standouts or one of the governors seems fresher and more capable than the retreads currently mulling a race. So I’d suggest that you ignore the likely candidates and watch the performance of people like Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — the best of the lot may wind up at the top of the presidential contender list.

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Could 2012 Be Worse?

As we’ve noted, 2012 may be another perilous outing for Democratic incumbent congressmen and senators. The number of Democratic senators on the ballot in the next cycle (23, including the two independents who caucus with the Dems) and their location in many Red States that in a presidential year will likely have some help from the top of the ticket suggests some opportunities for the GOP. Public Policy Polling zeroes in on one example:

One of the most interesting findings on our Montana poll was Max Baucus’ extremely low level of popularity in the state. Only 38% of voters expressed support for his job performance while 53% disapproved. At this point pretty much all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him and although his numbers with Democrats aren’t bad at 70/21, they’re not nearly as strong as Jon Tester’s which are 87/6.

Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end.

That is a nice way of saying that while they posed as “moderate” Democrats, they voted like liberals. Baucus isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but there are a batch like him who face the voters in 2012: Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Sherrod Brown, and Kent Conrad, for starters. That’s a total of seven Democrats who voted for (were all the 60th vote for) ObamaCare, supported the stimulus plan, and come from states (Montana, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and North Dakota) that are quite likely to vote for a Republican for president. And the way things are going, you might add Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Herb Kohl (Wisconsin), who may have gone too far left in their states.

That’s an awful lot of states in the mix. The most immediate impact of this may be a higher degree of independence from the White House and the Obama agenda than these Democrats demonstrated in the first two years of Obama’s term. That suggests some openings for bipartisan action by the Republicans and the vulnerable Democrats. Bush tax cuts? Spending restraint? Yes, these issues and much more.

As we’ve noted, 2012 may be another perilous outing for Democratic incumbent congressmen and senators. The number of Democratic senators on the ballot in the next cycle (23, including the two independents who caucus with the Dems) and their location in many Red States that in a presidential year will likely have some help from the top of the ticket suggests some opportunities for the GOP. Public Policy Polling zeroes in on one example:

One of the most interesting findings on our Montana poll was Max Baucus’ extremely low level of popularity in the state. Only 38% of voters expressed support for his job performance while 53% disapproved. At this point pretty much all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him and although his numbers with Democrats aren’t bad at 70/21, they’re not nearly as strong as Jon Tester’s which are 87/6.

Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end.

That is a nice way of saying that while they posed as “moderate” Democrats, they voted like liberals. Baucus isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but there are a batch like him who face the voters in 2012: Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Sherrod Brown, and Kent Conrad, for starters. That’s a total of seven Democrats who voted for (were all the 60th vote for) ObamaCare, supported the stimulus plan, and come from states (Montana, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and North Dakota) that are quite likely to vote for a Republican for president. And the way things are going, you might add Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Herb Kohl (Wisconsin), who may have gone too far left in their states.

That’s an awful lot of states in the mix. The most immediate impact of this may be a higher degree of independence from the White House and the Obama agenda than these Democrats demonstrated in the first two years of Obama’s term. That suggests some openings for bipartisan action by the Republicans and the vulnerable Democrats. Bush tax cuts? Spending restraint? Yes, these issues and much more.

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Follow the States, But Only the Right Ones

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

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The 2010 Midterm Election in Perspective

In shifting through the fine analysis that emerged in the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, a few data points are particularly noteworthy:

  • Republicans picked up more House seats than in any election since 1938. Republicans now control the most House seats, and Democrats now have the smallest number of House seats, since 1946.
  • Fifty incumbent Democratic congressmen were defeated, while only two incumbent House Republicans lost.
  • Independents comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by a margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a 36-point turnaround from the last midterm election, in 2006, when independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. In addition, independents trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats by a margin of 23 points on jobs and employment, 23 points on the economy, 27 points on government spending, and 31 points on taxes.
  • Voters support repealing/replacing ObamaCare by 51 to 42 percent. Democrats oppose repeal by 80 to 16 percent — but both independents (by 57 to 31 percent) and Republicans (by 87 to 7 percent) want to repeal and replace it.
  • Sixty-five percent of voters said that the stimulus bill either hurt the economy or did no good — and those voters overwhelmingly favored the GOP.
  • Fifty-four percent of those voting said they were dissatisfied with the performance of Barack Obama — and they broke 85-11 for the Republicans. Read More

In shifting through the fine analysis that emerged in the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, a few data points are particularly noteworthy:

  • Republicans picked up more House seats than in any election since 1938. Republicans now control the most House seats, and Democrats now have the smallest number of House seats, since 1946.
  • Fifty incumbent Democratic congressmen were defeated, while only two incumbent House Republicans lost.
  • Independents comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by a margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a 36-point turnaround from the last midterm election, in 2006, when independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. In addition, independents trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats by a margin of 23 points on jobs and employment, 23 points on the economy, 27 points on government spending, and 31 points on taxes.
  • Voters support repealing/replacing ObamaCare by 51 to 42 percent. Democrats oppose repeal by 80 to 16 percent — but both independents (by 57 to 31 percent) and Republicans (by 87 to 7 percent) want to repeal and replace it.
  • Sixty-five percent of voters said that the stimulus bill either hurt the economy or did no good — and those voters overwhelmingly favored the GOP.
  • Fifty-four percent of those voting said they were dissatisfied with the performance of Barack Obama — and they broke 85-11 for the Republicans.
  • Republicans have captured the seats in at least 57 of the 83 Democratic-held districts in which Obama won less than 55 percent of the vote.
  • Democrats hold a majority of the congressional delegation in only three states — Iowa, New Mexico, and Vermont — that don’t directly touch an ocean. Republicans similarly routed Democrats in gubernatorial races across the Midwest and the border states, from Ohio and Tennessee to Wisconsin and Iowa.
  • Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislatures, the most in the modern era. In the 1994 GOP wave, Republicans picked up 472 seats. The previous record was in the post-Watergate election of 1974, when Democrats picked up 628 seats. The GOP gained majorities in at least 19 state house chambers. They now have unified control — meaning both chambers — of 26 state legislatures. And across the country, Republicans now control 55 chambers, Democrats have 38, and two are tied. (The Nebraska legislature is unicameral.)
  • Republicans have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s.
  • Voters who identified as ideologically conservative accounted for 41 percent of the turnout, an increase from the 34 percent figure in 2008 and the highest level recorded for any election since 1976.

Politico called the midterm elections a “bloodbath of a night for Democrats.” National Journal’s Ron Brownstein wrote, “If the U.S. genuinely used a parliamentary system, Tuesday’s result … would have represented a vote of no confidence in the president and the governing party.” And the Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone says that “you could argue that this is the best Republican showing ever.”

Apart from all that, it was a splendid midterm election for President Obama and his party.

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Thanks, but I’d Rather Not

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

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