Third Way Perspectives
Archive for the ‘Social Policy & Politics Program’ Category
February 7th, 2013
Last November, Bob and Evelyn Driscoll waited 90 minutes in line to vote. Standing in a cold drizzle, neither of them were in love with either of the presidential candidates or their congressional representatives. But they were eager to vote because they knew the country faced immense challenges.
They believed the economy was better but still just inching along. Their take-home pay had been basically flat for the past 10 years. They worried that the deficit was standing in the way of America returning to greatness. They wondered whether Social Security and Medicare would be there for their kids — or themselves — when they needed it. And they hoped they had saved enough for retirement and for the ever-increasing cost of college for both of their children.
They stood in the cold until it was their turn to vote. They pulled the lever for the president, and for Democrats in the House and Senate. And if they were able to deliver a short message to each as we cross the threshold into Barack Obama’s second term, it would be this: “Fix it. Work together and fix it.”
The Driscolls aren’t just among a tiny slice of swing voters — they represent millions of moderate and independent voters across Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and throughout America. Most important for the president and Democrats in Congress, they represent the base of the Democratic Party.
February 4th, 2013
Two tough issues — immigration reform and gun control. “It won’t be easy,” President Barack Obama said about gun control in December, “but that’s no excuse not to try.” Tuesday, he said about immigration reform: “The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become.”
Which does he stand a better chance of winning? Answer: immigration. On immigration, Obama has Democrats strongly behind him. Republicans are divided — and freaked out by the issue. On guns, he’s got Republicans strongly against him. Democrats are divided — and freaked out by the issue.
On both issues, the president has the public solidly behind him. That’s his biggest asset. “There’s already a growing consensus for us to build from,” he said on Dec. 19, five days after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons.’’ On Jan. 29, when he went to Las Vegas to speak about immigration reform, he said, “A broad consensus is emerging and … a call for action can be heard coming from all across America.”
Even more important, the president’s popularity is soaring. He has a 60 percent favorable rating in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, the highest since his first year in office.
The president intends to use the bully pulpit to rally public opinion behind both causes. He also intends to use his 2012 campaign organization, which has morphed from Obama for America to Organizing for Action, to browbeat Congress into action. Welcome to real the permanent campaign.
January 31st, 2013
This piece was originally published in The Hill.
The phone rings in the house of an undocumented immigrant who has lived here for decades. The person on the line offers her a deal. If she registers with the US government, goes through a criminal background check, and pays a fine, she will be forever allowed to work, travel, and conduct her affairs in America without fear of deportation. For her children, even better — they will be given a fast-track path to citizenship. And down the line, once more is done to secure the border, she can get in the back of the line and eventually earn her citizenship as well.
Is there any chance she would say no?
On Monday, a bipartisan group of 8 Senators released an immigration reform proposal that would offer exactly that scenario to undocumented immigrants. Yet many reform advocates reacted warily to the plan, and even the Administration offered a few pointed criticisms in its otherwise favorable statement. In particular, they argued that using a “trigger” of border security to determine when some immigrants can move from a provisional legal status to a permanent one with a path to citizenship is unacceptable.
January 25th, 2013
“Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”
With that bloodless, analytical sentence from his second inaugural address, President Obama set off a firestorm of protest among conservatives. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the speech “unabashedly far-left-of-center.” House Speaker John Boehner said the President’s mission was to “annihilate the Republican Party.”
“Good grief,” Charlie Brown would say.
What Obama was doing was responding to the Reagan Revolution. The rallying cry of that revolution, delivered in President Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address, was this: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” That has been the reigning principle of American politics for 32 years. Even President Clinton reaffirmed it when he said in 1996, “The era of big government is over.”
President Obama wasn’t saying the era of big government is back. He was saying that Republicans have gone too far. They have been taken over by the Tea Party, which challenges the most consensual functions of government: providing security and ensuring opportunity. That requires–the President dared to say–”collective action.” The term “collective action” gives Republicans a nosebleed. It sounds like collectivism. That’s socialism!
Actually, it’s the most basic function of government. This country has been debating strong government versus weak government for more than 200 years. The bias has always been in favor of weak government. Most people came here seeking economic freedom or religious freedom. They associated government with excessive power (King George III). The country’s first governing document, the Articles of Confederation (1781), set up a central government that was so weak it was unworkable. It had to be thrown out and replaced by the Constitution in 1789.
January 23rd, 2013
There’s a reason why President Barack Obama has chosen to put gun control at the top of his second-term agenda. No issue draws as bright a line between the Old America and the New America as the gun issue. It will keep his coalition mobilized – the New America coalition that delivered for him in the election: working women, single mothers, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jewish and Muslim voters, young people, gays and educated professionals.
Obama paid tribute to the New America in his second Inaugural Address on Monday. “We possess all the qualities,” Obama declared, “that this world without boundaries demands, youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”
Obama insisted “our journey is not complete” until the country finds a “better way to welcome striving hopeful immigrants,” until “our wives, mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” until “our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law” and until all our children – including those on “the quiet lanes of Newtown” – know that they are “always safe from harm.”
According to the January Washington Post-ABC News poll, 68 percent of Democrats do not have a gun in their household. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans do. Among Democrats, 53 percent say passing stricter gun control laws should be given the highest priority; only 19 percent of Republicans feel the same way.
January 4th, 2013
This piece was originally published in The Washington Post.
The collapse of John Boehner’s effort to get his party to rally behind a plan to raise taxes reveals the disarray and disagreement among Republicans. Democrats are urging them to forget about the hard-liners and go back to the negotiating table.
That’s good advice for Democrats as well.
If Democrats play their cards right, a combination of political and demographic forces, and dangerous precipitating events, could create a tipping-point moment, when they can advance their priorities not just on taxes, but also on guns, marriage for gays and lesbians, immigration, and even climate change.