Posted by Raphael Sonenshein
From out of the ashes…
Now that the voters have blown up the jury-rigged pack of ballot measures that were supposed to solve the budget crisis, we return you to our regularly scheduled catastrophe. Voters of all stripes, and all regions, combined to throw out Measures A-E and to overwhelmingly support the punitive Measure F. All 58 counties voted no on the first 5, and all 58 voted yes on F. So the good news is that we are united!
The bad news is that we will wake up with a $21 billion hangover. This is the amount that the state must find to close its deficit. If you want to borrow a metaphor, remember “pre 9-11” and “post 9-11” mindsets? Well now we have a pre May 19th and post. Pre, we thought we could put together the governor, the Democrats, a few Republicans, and the voters and close the budget gap. But now the voters have largely opted out. The Republicans have tossed out their Senate and Assembly leaders for trying too hard to reach a budget deal that included tax increases. The Gang of 5, the governor and the leaders, is now a gang of 3, with the two Republican leaders on a different team. in this case, they cannot step in the same river twice. The river has changed.
My guess is that this train wreck is going to help us fix California government once and for all. All the gimmicks that have marked the Schwarzenegger era have now gone belly up. Everybody has to look deep inside, and it’s time to think outside the box. Whether it’s a constitutional convention, new ways to design budgets in the the existing system, or dramatic moves by leaders in either party, it’s time to cut a new path through the forest.
Sacramento runs up against this wall, and Los Angeles closes its budget deficit in a timely and professional manner. Some of the LA officials are veterans of Sacramento. Did they suddenly get wiser when they came to City Hall, or is it the system that creates disaster up there and relatively smooth governance down here?
Sometimes when the old tricks don’t work, the best new ideas emerge. That’s what i am hoping for.
5.20.09 at 7:26 pm | Now that the voters have blown up the jury-rigged. . .
4.28.09 at 2:01 pm | Senator Arlen Specter (PA), has switched parties,. . .
3.17.09 at 10:32 pm | So far, I think Obama has done a tremendous job. . .
3.6.09 at 7:32 pm | The city elections on March 3 turned out to be. . .
11.22.08 at 3:14 pm | Barack Obama has one overriding task: he must. . .
10.28.08 at 2:43 pm | In the campaign's final days, McCain and his. . .
10.28.08 at 2:43 pm | In the campaign's final days, McCain and his. . . (3)
3.17.09 at 10:32 pm | So far, I think Obama has done a tremendous job. . . (3)
5.20.09 at 7:26 pm | Now that the voters have blown up the jury-rigged. . . (3)
April 28, 2009 | 2:01 pm
Posted by Raphael J. Sonenshein
Senator Arlen Specter (PA), has switched parties, announcing that he is now a Democrat. This rocks the political world. With Al Franken likely to be seated in June, the Democrats would have 60 seats in the Senate. Landing right after the 100 day mark in the Obama presidency, it has an additional punch.
I expected Specter to do something dramatic in the next six months given the perilous state of the polling in the Republican primary, which he was losing by more than 20 points to conservative Pat Toomey. I thought he might try to run as an independent, but I imagine his own polling showed that to be a losing strategy. I was surprised that he moved now, but thinking about it, it made sense to move before he was clearly going to lose. And a number of Democrats were already lining up for the race, and if they gained momentum, Specter might have even lost the Democratic primary. Now he enters as the favorite, with the President’s backing.
Some of the background of this story was covered in my last column in the JJ.
This is devastating political news to Republicans. But they should have seen it coming. In reality, they forced Specter’s hand. By making his vote in favor of the Obama stimulus package a litmus test for Specter, they made it impossible for him to win the Republican primary. Having created the party in their own image, the conservatives now have to hear these words from Specter:
“It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.”
Ouch. So much for RNC chair Michael Steele’s threat to subject maverick Republicans to primary challenges.
The rightward tilt of the Republican party and the excitement of the 2008 Democratic primary led hundreds of thousands of moderate Pennsylvania Republicans to cross party lines. Many, if not most, stayed as Democrats. In effect, Specter is not leading his fellow, endangered Republican moderates; he is following them. As sobering as the defection of Specter is, the catastrophe for Republicans is the loss of their moderate electorate.
And so the last of his breed, the moderate Jewish Republican from the Northeast, has made his move. With Norm Coleman of Minnesota on the way out, there will be no Jewish Republican Senators, and only one House member, Eric Cantor, a man of the Right. We will have to see how this affects the complex relationship between Jews and the parties.
March 17, 2009 | 10:32 pm
Posted by Raphael J. Sonenshein
So far, I think Obama has done a tremendous job as president. He has now gotten two hugely important bills through Congress, the stimulus package and the budget, and has made signal efforts to open up stem-cell research and to overturn various ill-advised Bush orders and policies. He is already on track to be the most successful Democratic president in domestic policy since Lyndon Johnson.
But I have to tell you that I do not think he has the banking and credit thing down yet. I am surprised, to tell you the truth, that this very smart guy with his extraordinary staff and deep political base, has lost hold of an issue that could have such a profound impact on his presidency.
Ever since Obama chose Tim Geithner and Larry Summers as economic gurus, and followed their advice instead of his political advisors Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, and his other finance guru, Paul Volcker, he has been at sea. Beginning with Geithner’s evasive and opaque testimony to Congress, it is clear that their priorities are all messed up. Day after day, the Geithner-Summers team has served Obama badly, and it’s up to Obama to either get rid of them or make them do the job.
Fundamentally, they are treating the banking community with kid gloves instead of treating the banking crisis as something that affects us. This has to be flipped around. The government has tons of clout but the inside crew that has Obama’s ear is terrified of insulting the bankers by using it. Instead, they allowed this to become an irrelevant debate about “nationalization.” This is an appalling lapse of both policy and politics.
And we need to get this right, because the next big battle is to take on the credit card crisis. Are we going to let these companies gouge us into a Depression because otherwise they might be unhappy? What chance is there that this team with these marching orders (or lack of orders) is going to keep credit card companies from jacking up interest rates and reducing credit during a recession? Are we going to hear that if we push them too hard, we might (gasp!) lose more of the “best and the brightest” minds in the credit card business, as we have heard about the banks and insurance companies? Whatever Obama does to straighten out his banking team will pay big dividends when the credit card issue reemerges.
Throughout all of American history, the source of populism has often been the banking and credit system. You don’t have to be a demagogue to understand that this is real stuff to average Americans. You just have to think of Harry S Truman, and his feisty attitude that while the special interests have most of Washington, the people only have the president. In every other area of domestic policy, Obama has shown that he understands that we need a bottom-up approach to recovery. The banking issue has been his blind spot.
The AIG scandal on bonuses, with the bipartisan outrage it has generated, gives Obama a precious chance to start again, but to do so will take more than a press conference. He has to either fire his economic team or completely change their marching orders. Obama has indicated his admiration for the FDR approach of experimentation. This is not the time to dig in his heels on a policy that is not working. Now is the time to once again prove his strategic effectiveness by changing course.
March 6, 2009 | 7:32 pm
Posted by Raphael J. Sonenshein
The city elections on March 3 turned out to be more interesting than most of us had expected. There’s a lot to talk about, and I hope to generate some discussion on this site. I want to focus first on one thing I find very illuminating and that’s the role of the fifth council district at the pivot of this election year.
The fifth district, which is a mixture of Westside (think Fairfax) and Valley (think Encino) is also the “Jewish district.” In a city that’s about 6-7% Jewish, the fifth is maybe 35-40 percent Jewish. It’s the best educated district, and one of the most affluent. It has tremendous voter registration and high turnout year after year. The fifth played a pivotal role in the development and dominance of the Tom Bradley coalition, because its voters provided massive support to Bradley and for most of his programs.
Winning the fifth district’s council seat is a big achievement, because there are lots of talented ambitious people ready to run and mount effective campaigns. They are prospects for bigger things. Think Roz Wyman, Ed Edelman, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mike Feuer, and now Jack Weiss, who is in the runoff for city attorney.
While the voters in the fifth district are very Democratic and very politically liberal, they can be very unpredictable on one issue and that is growth. When Bradley experienced a lot of political trouble in the 1980s it was over growth and development and traffic and much of this was in the Fifth. The race to succeed Weiss generated six strong candidates who split votes so evenly in the primary that the percentages looked like a box score on a night that the Lakers have balanced scoring, with everybody in double figures. The big issues were development, traffic, and billboards. Weiss has lots of defenders and lots of enemies in his own district on these issues, and he was charged with being too pro-development. The two candidates who made it into the runoff are both critics of development and billboards.
These issues spilled over into the city attorney’s race, and much of the anti-development and anti-city hall sentiment to which it is linked hurt Weiss citywide. He came in first, but with only 36% of the vote. He will face a tough runoff. And because the fifth CD is also going to have a tough runoff, its turnout will likely represent an even more disproportionate share of the vote than usual. Ironically, Weiss’s best chance of winning is to expand the electorate beyond his own council district and draw on organized labor and other communities. The runoff election is scheduled to be held in tandem with a statewide ballot measure on a spending cap negotiated as part of the state budget deal, so labor’s involvement may depend on how they view the spending cap.
November 22, 2008 | 3:14 pm
Posted by Raphael J. Sonenshein
Barack Obama has one overriding task: he must restore the strength and confidence of the American economy, and the sooner the better. But keep your eye on health care.
When FDR came into office in March 1933 after an even longer and even more unnerving transition period than this one, he had one overriding task and he set about it with great energy and creativity. He proved that America could cope with the Great Depression, even though it took years and World War II to find great prosperity.
But the real story of the New Deal was one signature program—Social Security. Passed in 1935 it reframed the crisis of the economy by focusing on the long-term security of the elderly. It has been America’s most successful and popular social program. And retirement security for the elderly helped keep the economy on an even keel through good times and bad.
In 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed the second great pillar of American social policy and created the Medicare program. But the third pillar, universal health care, has languished. Democratic presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton tried and failed to pull the sword from the stone. These three programs are really the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, to turn principles into reality or to defend them once created.
Obama seems to be inclined to get to health care now and not later, although his timing is different than FDR. The economic crisis is so bad now that constraints on spending are likely to be suspended. Only a huge economic stimulus can help the economy now. If Obama can make the connection between the economy and health care, the momentum may become irresistible. I think the most powerful argument, though, is one he made on the campaign trail in talking about his mother’s final days, that she spent her time not coping with her situation but on the phone arguing with health insurance companies. This really hits close to home.
With the appointment of Tom Daeschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Obama has a long time advocate of health care reform. While Sen. Ted Kennedy’s support is to be expected, the entry of Sen. Max Baucus of Montana with a progressive health care plan shows that the politics of health care has expanded the electoral map in the same way that Obama’s campaign did. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s willingness to consider the position of Secretary of State may reflect that there are so many potential parents of a new health care system that her own pioneering efforts ih 1993 may not give her a seat at the head table when the new Senate convenes.
Some Republicans are very worried —- not that Obama will be successful in dealing with the economic crisis—but rather that he will go farther and complete the Democratic grail of social programs. A similar fear led Congressional Republicans to block Clinton’s plan in 1993, a strategy that paid off handsomely in the 1994 congressional elections when they blamed Clinton for the failure of health care. But Obama’s victory was much more imposing than Clinton’s in 1992 ; and he also has the mistakes of the Clinton approach to study.
Finally, the Republican party is much weaker today than then. After Clinton won, conservatives could say that Bush, Sr. messed things up for conservatives by raising taxes. This year, the collapse of the Bush regime has been so total, and the Bush regime was so conservative that the Republicans are at a loss for direction. The logic for moving quickly on health care is also to act before the Republicans get themselves together again.
And so we may be seeing history made again following an historic presidential election—perhaps the most significant change in American social policy since Medicare. The key to its success will be to remember that the best programs are simple and have a clear justification not just for the numbers crunchers but in terms of what is fair and who is deserving. That is one reason that FDR insisted that Social Security be a contributory program, a recognition of the work performed in one’s lifetime. I do not know what the equivalent values are in health care (maybe a mandate that everyone must have coverage) but we do know that it is important to find what they are.
October 28, 2008 | 2:43 pm
Posted by Raphael J. Sonenshein
One of my earliest political memories is the 1960 presidential campaign.
We were an Adlai Stevenson family and as a little boy I rooted for the former Illinois governor and presidential candidate to come from behind to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Stevenson, however, could not overcome a young, dynamic Senator from Massachusetts named Jack Kennedy. And although Stevenson did not win, he left the stage with great dignity and even humor. It was Kennedy’s time and he made the most of it. And as president, Kennedy gave Stevenson the chance for his greatest public moment—his confrontation as U.N. Ambassador with the Soviet envoy over the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I don’t think that anyone will confuse John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign with that of Adlai Stevenson’s final effort.
In the campaign’s final days, McCain and his party have basically fired off all the rockets at the end of the Fourth of July celebration, a collection of vile smears without rhyme or reason except rage at losing to a young, dynamic (not to mention black) candidate.
Much of the dirty work is being farmed out to state Republican parties, but McCain and his odd partner Sarah Palin show no signs of letting up with the attacks. They both placed calls to the young woman who falsely claimed that she had been attacked by a black Obama supporter and her story was spread by the party in Pennsylvania. Also in Pennsylvania, Jewish voters have been warned by the state Republican party not to make the “same mistake” Jews made in the 30s by not seeing the coming Nazi wave. I have no words . . .
And it looks like more and more Jews are moving toward Obama. For months, it appaeared Jewish voters were going to give McCain the highest share of the Jewish vote of any modern Republican. The latest Gallup poll now gives Obama 75 percent of the Jewish vote, comparable to the share received by John Kerry in 2004. This shift must help explain how Obama has gone from well behind to slightly ahead in Florida.
Polls are notoriously shifty, and we have to see many more to know how the Jewish vote will shake out. The exit polls will provide a wealth of data. If such a shift is happening, it will likely have the same explanations as the overall shift to Obama: the economy, the debates, and Sarah Palin. But I think there will also be some elements that are more specific to the Jewish community and its political style.
Another story. When my mother was alive, we often talked by phone across the country. She would have already read the New York Times, listened to All Things Considered, and was waiting for what was then the McNeil-Lehrer Report to come on. (In her spare time she did the Times crossword puzzle.) Her level of political information was staggering.
I can only imagine what she would have thought when Sarah Palin could not name a single source of information about public issues. Or how she would have reacted to the comparison in the debates between a thoughtful, calm, intelligent candidate and an angry often incoherent opponent. These things matter to a community that values public debate and political knowledge.
At a certain point, the scurrilous emails must have lost some of their sting. There has been a lot of communication within the Jewish community to counter these emails. The nastiness of the McCain-Palin campaign must have made it believable that their team would lie and smear Obama. So maybe it did not happen all at once, but as a process something seems to have happened.
There is still a week to go, and who knows which smears will hit home? But it is more than interesting to see how these charges have lost some of their sting as voters look more closely at the ideologies, the capabilities, and the temperaments of the candidates.
Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is the 2008 Fulbright Tocqueville Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the University of Paris VIII.
October 8, 2008 | 5:52 am
Posted by Raphael J. SonensheinMost Jews live in three states, two of which, New York and California, are already in the bank for Sen. Barack Obama.
September 27, 2008 | 6:17 pm
Posted by Raphael J. Sonenshein
Ever since the quick burst of celebrity that accompanied her surprise selection for the vice president numination, it’s been all downhill for Palin.
Her public approval has been dropping steadily in recent weeks, and perhaps even more damaging has been the general sense in the political world that she is not remotely up for the job. Her two television interviews, with Charles Gibson and then with Katie Couric, were beyond awful. They were close to unwatchable.
And she’s become a light-night TV comedy staple.
I am a pretty solid softball player, and occasionally have dreamed of playing center field for the New York Yankees. But I imagine that if I faced a major league pitcher throwing a fastball, I’d look about like Palin did.
The problem is that McCain gave almost no thought to his vice presidential selection. Like many of things he has done in this campaign, it seems to have been done on impulse with the goal of shaking things up. Now that the bloom has come off the rose, what does he do next? He has until Thursday’s vice presidential debate to think of something, or to hope for a crisis that can require her to avoid the debate. (Perhaps Alaska has to go on alert in case Russian President Putin flies over. See what I mean about comedy?)
In the meantime, I can see where this is heading. After the first presidential debate, Obama’s vice presidential choice Joe Biden was all over the news talking about the event. Palin was nowhere to be seen. She turned down interview requests. But in recent days it hasn’t been hard to find Mitt Romney on the talk circuit supporting McCain. Now of course lots of people thought that even though McCain apparently can’t stand Romney, that he would have been a better choice if anybody could have predicted the Wall Street meltdown. Romney is big on economic stuff.
My sense is that the short term strategy will be to keep Palin in hiding as much as possible, and turn the functional role of vice presidential candidate over to Romney. That way, the Republican base that loves Palin (although not as much as originally) won’t be mad and McCain can seem like he has a real running mate.
The implication will be that McCain and Romney will run things if McCain is elected, so don’t you worry your pretty little self about Palin. Voters who are worried that she might become president will still worry. The odds are that other key Republicans will fall in line to provide that support in Palin’s absence.
Now I don’t know how long this can work, especially if the Thursday debate is actually held, and if it is a catastrophe for Palin. And if she does well, McCain can’t really hide her for the rest of the campaign. There’s a lot at stake for Palin on Thursday, but expectations are so low that she might manage to get through it in better fashion than we think.
Another alternative that I think is at least possible is Palin’s exit from the ticket. Easy come, easy go. A non-vetted selection, no investment by the candidate.
So far, McCain’s campaign has been marked by wild roundhouse punches thrown in the late rounds looking for a “change of chemistry.” Some work, some don’t.
The latest one, the attempt to get out of the first debate, was a dud. But I could see him thinking that if Palin leaves (on her own accord, of course, to deal with a family issue) then the media will be fascinated by who takes her place.
The replacement can’t be a pro choice moderate because the base will go nuts and might even spawn a third-party writein campaign. It has to be somebody that the base will accept, and that is probably Romney. This move can’t be made unless Romney agrees in advance to join the ticket. He might even challenge Biden to a do-over of the vice presidential debate, or if it happens before Thursday, who knows?
There would have to be a lot of talk on the Republican right about this, comparable to the discussions that alerted McCain that he had better not choose a pro-choice running mate.
Don’t ask me if any of this makes sense, because trying to predict what McCain will do next is not only baffling to me, but probably to his own staff as well.
But I do think it’s a reasonable possibility that if Palin continues to head downhill that McCain will do something dramatic to get out of that situation.
The last presidential candidate with this kind of problem was George H.W. Bush and his vice president, Dan Quayle. Bush took fierce criticism but hung on, and won handily even though later surveys found that Quayle did cost him votes. But that was a traditional Republican campaign, businesslike and tough, and Bush simply decided to bear the cost of Quayle.
We’ll see if that is the model adopted by McCain or if we are due for another Hail Mary.
Raphael J Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is spending the semester as the Fulbright Tocqueville Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the University of Paris VIII.