Monday, October 5, 2020

Last Call For It Just Took A Couple Decades Is All

Quite a bit of garbage has been heaped upon John Judis and Ruy Teixeira's The Emerging Democratic Majority over the years, the 2002 book that predicted "demography as destiny" in Sun Belt states becoming purple, if not outright blue, as they gained more Black and Hispanic voters. What the book failed to predict is that Rust Belt states would become redder at the same time for the opposite reason: more white voters.

But even RealClearPolitics columnist Bill Scher sees the writing on the wall here. Judis and Teixeira were right, just the timeframe was 15-20 years off the mark.
Biden is running a campaign based on de-polarization, treading very lightly on divisive cultural issues and eagerly welcoming support from Republicans tired of Trump. However, Biden’s shift from the last two Democratic campaigns is in tone, not substance. He hasn’t diluted the party’s position on abortion; he just talks about it infrequently. He’s subtly inviting pro-life voters who have soured on Trump to feel more comfortable crossing party lines.

Recently the New York Times interviewed just such a Republican voter. “You’d think I’d be glad to hear that [Trump] nominated a judge who is pro-life,” this voter said. “But I think what we need more than anything else is someone who is broadly pro-life, not just worried about the unborn, but about the living.”

Politico talked to two women at an event for a Michigan Democratic congresswoman who described themselves as longtime Republicans primarily because of their abortion views, but have since rethought their party affiliation. “I’ve had it with this idea that you’re only pro-life if you fight against abortion,” said one. “I can’t be that single-issue Republican anymore.” With Biden turning down the temperature on abortion, even in the face of a hotly contested Supreme Court nomination, some pro-life voters are finding it easier to voice nuanced views and shed any sense of obligation to choose a political team based on one’s abortion position.

Biden can be quite blunt when talking about race, even calling Trump a “racist” to his face in last week’s debate. But he consistently balances his rhetoric on racism with reminders of his own white working-class roots.
During a CNN town hall in Pennsylvania last month, Biden was asked if he benefited from “white privilege.” Biden responded without hesitation, “Sure, I've benefited just because I don't have to go through what my black brothers and sisters have had to go through.” But recognizing that many in the white working class bristle at the notion that they are privileged, Biden quickly added, “Grow up here in Scranton, we're used to guys who look down their nose at us. … We are as good as anybody else. And guys like Trump, who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited, are the people that I've always had a problem with.” Without crudely equating the black and white working-class experiences, Biden is attempting to display understanding of both and close the racial divide.

If Biden’s de-polarization strategy works as intended, and polls show it is, he will win with a geographically broad coalition. In fact, if Biden wins everywhere he is leading in the RealClearPolitics averages as of Saturday, he will win 375 Electoral College votes, 10 more than Obama did in his historic 2008 victory.

A President Biden would certainly have challenges in maintaining a big tent party while being pressed by his left flank to move, and speak, aggressively on a slew of fronts. But if successful, the Republican Electoral College advantage would be no more.

The Republican skew manifested first in 2000, as Al Gore’s environmental and gun control record -- and Bill Clinton’s personal behavior -- eroded gains Clinton had made in the Sunbelt and the Midwest. Even though Gore won the popular vote, with the help of the Supreme Court he lost Florida and the Electoral College.

But Democrats are not without their own Electoral College advantages. In 2004, if 60,000 Ohioans who voted for George W. Bush had voted instead for John Kerry – out of 5.6 million votes cast – Kerry would have become president without a popular vote majority. Democrats have won 20 states, and Washington, D.C., three times in row, totaling 232 electoral votes. Democrats may have “wasted votes” in densely populated states like California, New York and Illinois, but that also gives Democrats a big head start in any election year.

Republicans have won 22 states three times in row, but only get 179 electoral votes out of them. And some of those Republican states — Arizona, Georgia, Texas and South Carolina — have shown signs of shift, with Democratic House or Senate gains in 2018 and surprisingly close margins in presidential or Senate trial heat polling
. If one or more of these states turns firmly blue, while no currently blue states becomes less so, the Republican Party will be at a massive disadvantage, irrespective of the small shift in electoral votes that will come after the 2020 census.

Perhaps American democracy would be better off without the Electoral College, but that day is highly unlikely to ever come, as both parties would have to see the wisdom in abolishment at the same time to enact the necessary constitutional amendment, or adopt any sort of workaround on a state-by-state basis. Fortunately for Democrats, they are perfectly capable of winning the Electoral College this year. And after 2020, if Democrats can continue to avoid the pitfalls of polarization, winning may become even easier.
Right now the most obvious candidate is a Blue Arizona. If Mark Kelly wins and Biden takes the state, the GOP is in real trouble in the future if Democrats can hold the Upper Midwest. 

How big of an "if", well, we'll see.

Actual Pro-Life Catholicism

Pope Francis has officially committed the Catholic Church to ending the death penalty with a new papal encyclical on Sunday.

Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” does something that some Catholics believed could not be done: It ratifies a change in church teaching. In this case, on the death penalty.

In 2018, Pope Francis ordered a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official compendium of church teaching, when he termed the death penalty “inadmissible.” Today the pope placed the full weight of his teaching authority behind this statement: The death penalty is inadmissible, and Catholics should work for its abolition. A papal encyclical is one of the highest of all documents in terms of its authority, removing any lingering doubt about the church’s belief.

“There can be no stepping back from this position,” says Francis, referring to the opposition to capital punishment expressed by St. John Paul II. “Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”

Helen Prejean, C.S.J., author of Dead Man Walking and a long-time opponent of capital punishment, whose work helped to alter the catechism, praised today’s news.

I rejoice in Pope Francis’s ringing proclamation of the inviolable dignity of all human life, even the life of murderers, and I am heartened by the church’s unequivocal opposition to governments’ use of the death penalty in all instances. In killing chambers, I’ve seen close-up the torture and suffering of human beings, rendered defenseless and killed by the state, their lives stripped of all dignity. I rejoice that now this clarity of church teaching will help end this unspeakable suffering and spark the Gospel of Jesus to be lived in its fullness: restoration of human life, not humiliation, torture and execution.

In past centuries, the church was generally accepting of the death penalty. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas declared it licit not only for the sake of punishment, but also as a way for the state to protect itself, ideas that took hold in the church and influenced civil society. In the Roman Catechism, written after the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the church supported the death penalty for those two reasons: “Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent.”

As recently as the 1990s, the Catechism of the Catholic Church said that the state could still use capital punishment to protect people from violent criminals: “The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.”

In 1995, however, in his encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," St. John Paul II tightened the restrictions, saying that the times that the state needed to use capital punishment to protect other citizens were “very rare, if not practically non-existent.” Four years later, he called for its abolition. So did Pope Benedict XVI, in 2011. The door to the death penalty was gradually closing. Today it was shut. It is a clear example of the development of doctrine over the centuries.

In his new encyclical, Francis also traces a lesser known counternarrative, showing a theological thread that has always been against the death penalty: “From the earliest centuries of the Church, some were clearly opposed to capital punishment,” he writes and includes commentary from St. Augustine, who argued for mercy in the case of two assassins.

In “Fratelli Tutti,” the pope grounds his opposition to capital punishment not only in mercy, perhaps his most characteristic spiritual theme, but also in opposition to revenge. “Fear and resentment can easily lead to viewing punishment in a vindictive and even cruel way, rather than as part of a process of healing and reintegration into society,” he writes
This is, as both Zandardad and Joe Biden would put it, a Big Effing Deal.
Zandardad introduced me to the works of Sister Helen Prejean long ago, and it's how he got involved with the Southern Poverty Law Center. I know the Catholic Church has been in real trouble over the last couple of decades (centuries?) but there are still good liberal, actual, merciful, "teachings of Jesus" Catholics out there and my parents (and Joe Biden) are some of them, and to see that Pope Francis is doing the right thing here reminds me that just for a millisecond, not all Church officials are bad all the time.
Some still have faith in a better world, driven by people making a difference, one life at a time, even if I'm not really one of them. 

Maybe that's okay.


The Blue Tsunami's Future

Even should the Democrats perform beyond my wildest dreams in the Senate this year, and they run the table on all the GOP seats in play (NC, SC, IA, MT, ME, AZ, CO and both GA seats) and Doug Jones keeps his seat in Alabama? The Dems would be up 56-44 in the Senate, still a long way from a 60-seat majority in 2008, and probably less so as we'd have quite a few folks lining up to be mavericks like Kyrsten Sinema, America's favorite Democratic Senator who sided with Trump more often than not in her first four years in office.

Having said that, 2022 does present another map where Republicans are on the defensive in the Senate, and one of the big fights will be for Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey's seat, because Toomey apparently won't be there to defend it.

Sen. Pat Toomey has decided not to run for reelection or for governor of Pennsylvania in 2022, according to two people familiar with his plans, a surprise decision by the Republican with significant implications for the state’s next elections.

He will serve out his current Senate term but won’t run for either of those offices, seemingly ending his career in elected office, at least for now. A formal announcement is expected Monday.

Toomey’s office on Sunday neither confirmed nor denied the senator’s plans. The people familiar with his plans spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

As the only Republican now holding statewide office other than judges, Toomey was widely seen as the likely Republican favorite for governor in 2022. His decision not to run for that office or for Senate could create two wide open contests on the Republican side, while depriving the party of running its most established current political figure in Pennsylvania.
It will also open a prime Senate target for national Democrats, regardless of who controls the chamber after this year’s election.

Most political insiders had expected that Toomey, 58, would wait until after the 2020 election to decide his political future. It was not immediately clear why he had decided to make an announcement now, weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Toomey’s surprise decision comes at an already tumultuous and perilous time for Republicans in Washington. President Donald Trump is hospitalized with the coronavirus. Three GOP senators have also contracted the virus, which could hamper the party’s push to install Judge Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court. And Trump and fellow Republicans face increasingly dire poll numbers, threatening their holds on both the White House and Senate.

“It’s incredibly surprising,” said Charlie Gerow, a Republican consultant in Harrisburg. “It throws dozens of wild cards into the mix.”
As I said,  Republicans will have at least 20 out of 34 seats to defend, including Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Richard Burr, Roy Blunt, Todd Young, and Toomey, all winnable seats. Dems on the other hand will have to defend tough races in Nevada (Catherine Cortez Masto), New Hampshire (Maggie Hassan), and Colorado (Michael Bennet).

Toomey's impending retirement could be very important two years from now.

We'll see.



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