New Report Outlines Deep Public Distrust of Federal Government

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Debating the debates: Do they even matter?.

“If there’s a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably going to put your children out of the way. . . . Each party has one more — the GOP Dec. 15 in Las Vegas and the Democrats Dec. 19 in Manchester, N.H. — before the 2016 primary season will be in full swing. Republicans scored a big upset in the Kentucky governor’s race and held the state Senate in Virginia by one seat, but Democrats took control of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

While some contend debates are a critical part of the vetting process for the nation’s highest office, others say debates are little more than a highly orchestrated waste of everyone’s time because our system ensures that most presidential elections are decided before candidates face off on a lighted stage. Hopefully they can come and take this dog away and create a safe environment once again.” $100,000 The cost of a ticket for a couple to attend a rock concert hosted by Sting next month benefiting Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 54% Americans who say in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll the United States should not take refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East, even if they are screened for security. Ballot measures throughout the nation were equally mixed as a pro-LGBT initiative failed in Houston, a clean elections referendum passed in Maine, and a flawed marijuana regulatory regime was handily rejected in Ohio.

Americans are fearful of another terrorist attack after what happened in Paris, and they’re largely distrustful of President Obama’s ability to prevent one. Republicans turned the election into a referendum on terrorism. “We are not yet safe,” Vice President Dick Cheney declared. “Threats are still out there. The terrorists are still plotting and planning, trying to find ways to attack the United States.” Democrats accused Republicans of exploiting fear. “A true leader inspires hope and vanquishes fear,” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said. “This administration does neither.

Just 45 percent of Democrats said in that same poll they have only a “fair” or “no” amount of faith in their government to prevent terror attacks at home. Vox’s Matt Yglesias called the loss in Virginia a “disaster.” Molly Ball at the Atlantic declared that Democrats’ efforts on social issues have doomed their electoral chances. Instead, it brings fear.” Last week, President Barack Obama charged that Republicans “have been playing on fear in order to try to score political points or to advance their campaigns.” But the fear is real. The numbers speak to a broader disarray within the Democratic Party about the path forward after Paris: This week, 47 House Democrats rebuffed Obama and joined Republicans to vote for a bill that would severely limit the president’s ability to place 10,000 Syrian refugees in the country next year.

One viral tweet stated that, “Under President Obama, Democrats have lost 900+ state legislature seats, 12 governors, 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats. That’s some legacy.” While not exactly false, it ignores the nationwide wave of Obama’s 2008 campaign, which gave Democrats historic margins in Congress. Debate viewers get to know each candidate a little better, in the way we will know them if they should become president — as a TV personality, for lack of a better term. The fact is, like so many Americans, I rely on the debates to form my opinion about candidates — both in the policies and positions they take and who they are as people. The hyperbole surrounding the results of the 2015 election masks the fact that while Republicans have indeed racked up major gains in practically every level of government under President Obama, it’s only been the result of major progressive change.

And especially when we are talking about primaries, where the candidates have similar political philosophies and policy agendas, as I assess the candidates I’m not solely interested in their policy prescriptions. Furthermore, any alternative scenario where Barack Obama played it safe and didn’t try to reform our healthcare system or otherwise enact his progressive agenda would have likely been deemed a failure by Democratic standards, regardless of electoral outcomes. The candidates say they’re doing their due diligence to keep Americans safe from a new terror threat that has risen from the ashes in war-torn Syria.

Put another way, Democrats under Barack Obama have long faced a choice: either govern modestly and enjoy electoral success, or push the boundaries of progress and suffer the blowback. French President Francois Hollande promised, “France will be merciless against the barbarians of death.” He said his country would fight “without a respite, without a truce… It is not a question of containing but of destroying” Islamic State.

You can bet Democrats are writing down the comments Republican candidates made last week about Muslims and refugees to bring up in the general election next year. To see what the world may have looked like had Obama chosen the more moderate path, just examine the previous Democrat in the Oval Office: Bill Clinton.

In his first two years, President Clinton chose the progressive route, leading a Democratic Congress in raising taxes on the wealthy, passing family medical leave, better regulating gun purchases, banning assault weapons, creating AmeriCorps, and addressing domestic violence through the Violence Against Women Act. The Democratic nominee will have to run on Obama’s record. “Hillary Clinton can’t walk away from President Obama’s failing ISIS strategy because she helped craft it and even praised it,” a spokesman for the Republican National Committee said. Former President Bill Clinton had warned his fellow Democrats, “Strong and wrong beats weak and right.” Nevertheless, there are reasons why it may be different in 2016.

President Clinton oversaw a tremendous economic boom and managed foreign policy so deftly that in 1998—even in the midst of being impeached—the Democrats actually gained seats in the House, a historical rarity for midterm elections. The latest Reuters poll of Republican voters nationwide shows Trump surging into the lead for the 2016 Republican nomination, with nearly 40 percent of the vote. If congressional Republicans are unable to block Obama’s plan to admit Syrian refugees, conservatives may erupt in fury at GOP leaders and rally to Trump’s support. Ronald Reagan was as popular as they come, but he lost big time in the 1982 midterms as voters soured on his budget cuts and perceived poor handling of the economy. All the polls for the past month show a majority of Americans with an unfavorable opinion of Trump (the average is 55 percent unfavorable to 37 percent favorable).

That’s just a fancy way of saying that voters form opinions about complicated issues — like who to support for president — in part based on cues from trusted political actors, media, or just more engaged friends and family. When presidents aren’t on the ballot themselves, it’s much easier for the opposition to motivate their voters to turn out relative to that president’s supporters.

Obviously, this is only Congress, and Democratic losses in governorships and state legislatures throughout the country are devastating in their own right. In the end, debates are an opportunity to engage voters, to reframe the issues and to shape voters’ views on both policy ideas and political actors. They provide us with an important window into the strengths and weaknesses of our prospective political leaders, so viewers and candidates are wise to take them seriously.

Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., seemed to hint at this alternative when he said in a 2014 speech: “After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem–health care reform.” Feel free to disagree, but Schumer is simply articulating the nature of the tradeoff Democrats made in 2010.

Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) has argued that Obama’s refugee plan aims to counter low fertility rates of native-born Americans and “fill America up in a fashion that has kicked sideways . . . assimilation into the American dream, American civilization.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), along with other Republican contenders, has criticized Hillary Clinton for refusing to condemn Islamic terrorism by name. “This is a clash of civilizations,” Rubio said. “There is no middle ground.” Governor John Kasich (R-Ohio) raised the idea of creating a new federal agency to promote “Judeo-Christian values.” The refugee issue has become fodder in the ongoing culture war. It’s the most interesting time in politics for hearing about real differences involving foreign policy, economic policies and more narrow concerns that often are ignored in general elections. If you believe that elections need to be won to maintain majorities and hold important offices, then the Barack Obama era could easily be labeled a failure. Under our antiquated voting rules, Americans’ diversity of political thought gets channeled into two “viable” choices: Republicans and Democrats.

Healthcare reform, the stimulus, the automotive industry bailouts, the first reining in of Wall Street since the Great Depression, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” major regulation of air and water pollution, the rejection of Keystone XL, executive orders on immigration, the opening of Cuba, an Iranian nuclear deal—the list goes on and on. And like every other time in modern history that Democratic presidents have flexed their activist muscles, it has mobilized opposition voters much more than the president’s supporters.

Candidates’ character and issue positions are secondary to whether they’re on “team blue” or “team red.” Take presidential elections, where we vote in 51 state boxes, counting the District of Columbia. Luckily for progressives, President Obama and his team recognize that because regulation, legislation and international deals are so difficult to unwind, the effects of these accomplishments will likely be felt for generations. No matter how much money is spent and how well a candidate debates, we already can project winners in the 35 states that have been absolutely ignored for three straight elections due to predictability. You can disagree with that strategy all you want, but when faced with the choice, I imagine most Democrats would cut the same deal as President Obama did.

After studying all presidential election polls between 1952 and 2008, political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien concluded “the best prediction from the debates is the initial verdict before the debates.” Most congressional elections are also locked down. There are real benefits to holding power, if only to stop the other side from enacting their agenda, but most voters want beneficial changes to be made in society. Last year, FairVote’s Monopoly Politics projected final winners in nearly 9 in 10 House races in 2016 using a methodology that missed only one of its last 700 projections.

After all, you don’t see many candidates of either party running for office saying, “Let’s keep America the same way it is today!” Electoral victories come and go, but what you do with them echoes in eternity. It’s been enacted in nearly a dozen states and can be in place by 2020, allowing every American to experience a close presidential election as one where their vote matters.

Modeled in a dozen cities, ranked choice voting allows third parties and independents to contest elections without being “spoilers.” Maine voters will have the chance to enact it next year for Congress and state elections.

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