Opinion

The Great Debate

What’s the 2014 election really about? Religious vs. women’s rights

Demonstrators gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for the "Not My Boss's Business" rally for women's health and rights in Washington

Religious rights versus women’s rights. That’s about as fundamental a clash as you can get in U.S. politics. It’s now at the core of the 2014 election campaign, with both parties girding for battle.

What generated the showdown was last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The decision instantly became a rallying cry for activists on both the right and left. Congressional Democrats are already proposing a law to nullify the decision. “It’s shameful that a woman’s access to contraception is even up for debate in 2014,” Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said.   Conservative blogger Erick Erickson crowed, “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer-subsidized, consequence-free sex.”

How did the issue become so big so fast? Because it touches some extremely sensitive nerves in the body politic.

Members of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood attend a service in Ketchum, IdahoThe question that best predicts a person’s politics today is not about income or education. It’s religion: How often do you go to church? Regular churchgoers — including fundamentalist Protestants, observant Catholics, even many Orthodox Jews — vote Republican. Voters who rarely or never go to church vote Democratic.

President Ronald Reagan brought the religious right into the Republican coalition. The Reagan coalition is the Old America — and religious rights are a touchstone issue.

How Uber can help the GOP gain control of the cities

Taxi drivers protest against transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft along with Assembly Bill 2293 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California

Republicans occupy the governor’s mansion in a majority of states and control both chambers of state legislatures where a majority of Americans live. In a country that is becoming more urban, however, Democrats have a major advantage: Their party runs most big U.S. cities. Of the 15 largest U.S. cities, only two — San Diego and Indianapolis — have Republican mayors, and 13 of the 15 have Democratic-controlled city councils.

Yet despite the Democrats’ urban dominance, cities may soon be up for grabs. For the party’s refusal to embrace the innovative technology and disruptive businesses that have greatly improved city life presents a challenge to Democrats — and an opportunity for Republicans.

Democrats are facing a tough choice. A big part of their base is the unions now facing off against such disruptive innovations as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and charter schools. Do Democrats support the regulations pushed by taxi and other unions that help to protect the status quo but can also stifle competition? Or do they embrace innovative technologies and businesses that expand transportation options, create jobs and are increasingly welcomed by another key Democratic constituency: urban dwellers, particularly young urban dwellers?

One more reason the Democrats may be toast this fall

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington

Democrats are apprehensive about this year’s midterm elections.

They should be.

Every indicator points to Republican gains in Congress. Two reasons are well known: President Barack Obama’s unpopularity and the historical record of midterm elections, when the president’s party almost always loses seats.

The third major reason is the two-four-six rule. Those are the different base years for different offices: two years for the House of Representatives, four years for most governors, six years for the Senate. These base years dictate how vulnerable each party is.

Here’s how it works: House members last faced the voters two years ago, in 2012, when Obama won re-election. With Obama’s strong voter turn-out, Democrats gained eight House seats. In the 2014 midterms, however, with their expected older and whiter electorate and Obama’s low poll numbers, Democrats are facing a tough November.

Obama’s ultimate indignity: Bush seen as more competent

bush-obama

Agreement is not enough.  Performance matters more.

That’s why the outlook for Democrats this November looks bleak.  More and more Americans now agree with Democrats on the issues.  But they are increasingly dismayed by President Barack Obama’s inability to get results.

The Gallup poll reports that, ideologically, Americans are moving to the left on both social and economic issues. Though more Americans continue to identify as conservatives than as liberals, the conservative advantage is shrinking.

In 2010, for example, which saw a huge backlash against Obama, self-described economic conservatives outnumbered economic liberals by 36 points. Every year since, the conservative lead has gotten smaller. It’s now 21 points.

Is Michelle running for the Senate?

michelle walking in

First Lady Michelle Obama is everywhere. She’s traveling to China. She’s raising money for Democrats. She’s issuing plaintive tweets seeking the rescue of the kidnapped Nigerian girls.

She’s wading uncharacteristically deep into the Washington political mud pit to defend her school lunch program against Republicans, assailing them last Tuesday for opting to “play politics with our kids’ health.” She struck a similar tone in a New York Times op-ed two days later, accusing Republicans of trying to “override science” and suggesting they join parents and “put our children’s interests first.”

So what’s with the bolder profile?

Sure,  Obama cares strongly about the things she is doing. That she does care in fact begs another question: Is caring all that’s going on here? Does she have political ambitions that would allow her to pursue an agenda while working to cement her husband’s legacy?

Elites focus on inequality; real people just want growth

kochs & warrenThe economic debate is now sharply focused on the issue of income inequality. That may not be the debate Democrats want to have, however. It’s negative and divisive. Democrats would be better off talking about growth — a hopeful and unifying agenda.

Democrats believe income inequality is a populist cause. But it may be less of a populist issue than an issue promoted by the cultural elite: well-educated professionals who are economically comfortable but not rich. There’s new evidence that ordinary voters care more about growth.

Growth and inequality are not separate issues. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote, “Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena when they are in fact intertwined.  Inequality restrains and holds back our economic growth

Boehner: The fight to hold the party line

U.S. House Speaker Boehner holds a news conference at the Republican National Committee offices in Washington

In his latest attempt to impose discipline on his famously disorderly Republican caucus, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) chose the soft power of public mockery over the more militant promise of private retribution. Speaking at an event in his home state, Boehner lashed out at fellow Republicans who have stymied immigration reform. “Here’s the attitude,” Boehner said of his recalcitrant colleagues. ‘Oooh, don’t make me do this. Oooh, this is too hard.’ ”

He spoke not in his usual solemn tones but with a high, child-like pitch, suggesting that his tormentors were in need of adult supervision.

Back to Baker

Boehner is hardly the first legislative leader to reach that conclusion. Howard Baker, the Tennessee Republican who served as Senate majority leader in the early 1980s, famously said that rounding up votes was like “herding kittens.” But during Boehner’s three-plus years as speaker, he has been notably unable to prod his colleagues in a productive direction. Earlier this year, Boehner was forced to withdraw his own debt-ceiling bill after realizing that, despite being speaker of the House of Representatives and commander in chief of his fellow House Republicans,  he didn’t have enough GOP votes.

Liberals are winning the language war

Are conservatives linguistically challenged? Or are they just naïve enough to think they can win the battle of ideas with — ideas?

Okay, and money.

Conservatives, like liberals, will spend huge amounts of money this year to get their ideas across to voters. But what they fail to do is bundle their thoughts into a bright, shiny linguistic package that explodes in the face of their enemies when opened.

The left has assembled a rich lexicon of phrases that serve either as stilettos that can be turned again and again in the guts of their opponents, or shields that obscure their true intentions.

Democrats: Beware the Ides of March

For Democrats, the Ides of March came early this year.

On March 11, to be precise, in a special election in a swing congressional district in Florida. A mostly unknown Republican knocked off a much better known Democrat, just like Roman conspirators knocked off Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Caesar’s killers used a knife. The Republicans’ deadly weapon? Obamacare. Three-quarters of Republican TV spots mentioned Obamacare.

Democrats need to practice saying, “Just wait until next time.” Because while 2014 is looking worse and worse for Democrats, 2016 is looking better and better.

Midterm elections like 2014 are not about choosing a leader. They’re about sending a message.

The first woman president is not about the past

Want to know the latest meme in U.S. politics? Here it is: Hillary Clinton is a candidate of the past.

It’s been spreading through the political press. Now Republicans are beginning to echo it.

“Elections are almost always about the future,” says the Washington Post, “and Clinton is, for better and worse, a candidate of the past.” The woman who ran for president most recently, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), contrasts Clinton with President Barack Obama. Obama, she told Politico, was “new and different,” while Clinton is an old-timer less likely to excite voters.

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