Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Myth" of the independent voter

Registered membership in both Democratic and Republican parties has been on the decline, while registered Independent voters have increased. For a while the conventional wisdom had been that these independent voters were the ones who would decide close elections. This political theory led to both parties tending to track toward the middle for the general election.

However, more recently there has been talk of this actually being a myth -- independent voters, individually, tend to be pretty consistent in voting either Democratic or Republican for president. They are not more persuadable than registered voters; they just don't want to identify with the party.

Emory political scientist Alan Abromowitz studies voting patterns. He has found that: In the three elections since 1972 that were decided by a margin of less than 5%, the candidate backed by the independent voters lost. This includes 2004, when George Bush was backed by independent voters but lost the popular vote. He won the election, however, thanks to SCOTUS and then the electoral college. So that seems a bit of an outlier.

But at the least, you could say that in 2 of those 3 elections, the independent voters backed the loser.

Whatever . . . it seems to demolish the importance of the Independent Voters as a group to be courted. And it may explain why campaigns are putting more emphasis on firing up their bases rather than appealing to the independents. You can certainly say that's what the Repubs are doing. And there's some beginning evidence that Obama's campaign is aiming to shore up its liberal base.

But -- consider this -- in an election year, when one party is clearly chasing its base even further to the right, wouldn't that be a good time for the other party to pick off the middle?

I'd say the Dems should go for both the middle and the left. In fact, everything to the left of Barry Goldwater looks to be low hanging fruit at this point. Except for the economy, stupid.

It's worth watching how they handle it.


Monday, January 9, 2012


I'll be taking a few days away from ShrinkRap. Enjoy the silence of no political rantings. Not even about the New Hampshire primary.


GOP debates de jour

Two debates last weekend, not just one !!! In the first, the second tier fought each other rather than front-runner Romney. Then in the second, there were fireworks going off among several competitive combinations. Most blows directed at Romney.

The most interesting zinger of Saturday night was Ron Paul's. He and Gingrich were squabbling about who was the more patriotic for his military service (Paul) or for his father's service and his own consultative and teaching services for the military (Gingrich).

In response to Paul's chiding him for getting "4 or 5" draft deferments instead of going to war, Gingrich said, "I was married with a child at the time." Paul shot back: "I was opposed to the war; but when the call to serve my country came, I went. And I was also married and had two children at the time."

This left Newt sputtering as the moderators went on to other things. He was trying to say, as has been said before, that he actually was not eligible for the draft because of physical defects (flat feet, I think). But he wasn't heard above the clamoring. On the other hand, using that excuse means portraying himself as "unfit" to serve. Not such a good idea, which is probably why he didn't use it in the first place.

Then in the second debate on Sunday morning, the best line was from Huntsman. In response to Romney's attacking him for serving as ambassador to China under Obama, and carrying out the policies of a Democratic president, Huntsman said:
"I was criticized last night by Gov. Romney for putting my country first. He criticized me -- while he was out raising money -- for serving my country in China, yes under a Democrat. Like my two sons are doing in the U.S. Navy - they're not asking what political affiliation the president is. . . .I will always put my country first."

Romney responded: "I think we serve our country first by standing for people that believe in conservative principles. I just think... the person that should represent our party running against President Obama is not someone who called him a remarkable leader and went to be his ambassador in China."

And then Huntsman: "This nation is divided . . . because of attitudes like that. The American people are tired of the partisan division, they have had enough. There is no trust left among the American people and the institutions of power and among the American people and our elected officials."
There was enthusiastic applause in response to Huntsman's rather impassioned comeback: "This nation is divided because of attitudes like that. The American people are tired of the partisan division, they have had enough."

Huntsman's turn to surge has finally come. In New Hampshire he is now solidly in third place, ahead of Santorum and Gingrich -- and he's closing fast on Paul for second. But it may be too late for him to mount a serious challenge to Romney nationally -- unless the others coalesce behind him (unlikely) as the anti-Romney candidate. In many ways Huntsman is more of a moderate than Romney.


Gay marriage coming to Washington state?

Democratic governor Christine Gregoire has announced that next week she will introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Washington. She said, ". . . it’s time, it’s the right thing to do, and I will introduce a bill to do it.”

Both legislative houses have strong Democratic majorities: Senate 38 to 18, House 65 to 33 -- although that does not guarantee passage.

Meanwhile, we await the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the lower court's declaration that Prop8 is unconstitutional, which could add California to the ranks of places gay people can marry: Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticutt, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and the District of Columbia. In addition, it is legal in two Indian Tribe jurisdictions in the Pacific Northwest.

And in Maryland, things are looking up. A gay marriage bill passed the state Senate last term but was put on hold in the House when it appeared there were not enough votes to pass it. However, since then, it has picked up momentum again with the passage of a similar bill in New York, and it now has the support of the Maryland governor.

Voters in Maine have gathered enough signatures to put a same-sex marriage bill on the ballot for November. But North Carolina and Minnesota are currently considering state constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage, and in New Hampshire there is a move to repeal their marriage equality law.

And, lastly, you have the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which the Obama administration will no longer defend in the courts -- but John Boehner and his Repubs in the House are using half a million in tax money to defend it. Apparently it's legal, but deplorable IMHO.

That's where we stand at the start of 2012.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

U. S. Supreme Court and ethics of recusal

There are very practical consequences to whether Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan recuse themselves from the Court's decision about the constitutionality of the health care reform bill.

To me, it seems pretty clear cut that Thomas should recuse himself, because his wife has not only been a leading spokesperson in opposition to the whole concept, but she headed a non-profit group formed to oppose it -- and she drew a six-figure salary until the ethical questions for her husband were aired in the media. Thomas has not yet said whether he would step aside.

The Republicans' objection to Kagan is that she was Obama's Solicitor General and may have worked on the case. I don't know how much she had to do with it and whether it should be grounds for recusal.

Justice Stephen Breyer -- one of the liberal group -- made a cogent point that I had not considered before. While there are pretty strict guidelines for other federal judge to decide when to recuse, there are none for SCOTUS. Each Justice is left to decide for him/herself.

Well, of course, I've been thinking, the rules should be at least as strict for SCOTUS. But Breyer's point is that on the lower courts, if one judge recuses -- there are other judges to take his place. That is not true of the Supreme Court. If one recuses, then the decision is made by the other eight. And so the outcome is foremost in everyone's mind when the question is considered.

Breyer was not saying never recuse, then. He was saying that it's a much more significant decision and the justification has to be that much more carefully thought through.

If both Thomas and Kagan recuse, it probably won't change the outcome. In fact, that is probably why Republicans are insisting that Kagan do so -- to counter the greater probability that Thomas either will, or should.