A Slight Constitutional Amendment

Senator Feingold has introduced a constitutional amendment to change the process of replacing Senators from an appointment by the Governor of the State to a special election process. This is a good idea, as evidenced by the current debacles in New York, and Illinois. Constitutional amendments require supermajorities, and I have no idea whether or not this idea is politically feasible, but it is a worthwhile idea.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has much, much more.


Sam Adams: All He Wanted to Do Was Breedlove

A sex scandal has erupted in Portland with hilarious cartoon names. Some of the names involved: Sam Adams, Bob Ball, Mark Merkle, Mark Weiner, and, at it’s center, a (potentially underage at the time) gay paramour Beau Breedlove. You couldn’t have come up with a better name if you tried.

Not This Guy

Not This Guy

I’m not much of a city politics bluff, so I can’t really comment on the specifics of the scandal without doing some more research, but I found this blog post to be a really useful rundown of the arguments for and against the mayor stepping down.

Here is the rundown.

This Guy

This Guy

Israel Defense Force Invades the the Blogosphere

From Haaretz (h/t Internet and Democracy Project):

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday it was setting up an “army of bloggers,” to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in “anti-Zionist blogs” in English, French, Spanish and German.

The program’s first volunteer was Sandrine Pitousi, 31, from Kfar Maimon, situated five kilometers from Gaza. “I heard about the project over the radio and decided to join because I’m living in the middle of the conflict,” she said.

Before hanging up the phone prematurely following a Color Red rocket alert, Pitousi, who immigrated to Israel from France in 1993, said she had some experience with public relations from managing a production company.

“During the war, we looked for a way to contribute to the effort,” the ministry’s director general, Erez Halfon, told Haaretz. “We turned to this enormous reservoir of more than a million people with a second mother tongue.” Other languages in which bloggers are sought include Russian and Portuguese.

There is nothing ethically wrong with these kinds of efforts, but I think it shows the inevitable maturation of the blogosphere into a medium of mass communication as subject to the efforts of government and political spin masters as newspapers or television. Blogs put these grassroots efforts at a more equal footing to compete with these governmental and political efforts, and offer real possibilities to oppositional organizations that didn’t exist offline. However, any claims to the radical political potential of the internet need to be reformed to include the evolving ability of governments to adapt to the new informational environment.

The Limitations of the Cult of Obama

As has been noted elsewhere throughout the blogosphere, and probably in your email box, the Obama campaign made a decision about what to do with the 13 million email addresses they’ve been collecting over the past two years. In this video, Obama announces that Organizing for America will be the next step in the grassroots campaign.

This video makes clear that the Cult of Obama will be folded into the DNC, while maintaining a separate identity. This distinction will split the difference between those who called for a full incorporation within the DNC and those who thought independent and new voters would be turned off by any partisan affiliation. I think this arrangement demonstrates the limitations of candidate based organizations in the US system. Democracy for America – the second incarnation of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign – faced a similar challenge in attempting to pivot grassroots momentum into a post campaign environment, as have Ron Paul supporters. These groups inevitably lose a large percentage of their organization (measured in donations, membership, hours volunteered) depending on the degree to which the campaign can be translated into an issue agenda. Said differently, post-campaign organizations maintain momentum to the degree that the campaign was based on a clear ideological program.

The problem with OfA is that Obama distanced himself from his ideological and partisan affiliation throughout the campaign and it’s unclear the extent to which Obama voters share an ideological viewpoint. To be successful in presidential politics you must assemble a broad coalition of voters and voters tend not to be nearly as ideological coherent as political scientists would like them to be. This motivates presidential campaigns to obscure as much as possible – the most partisan voters have little reason to vote for anyone else and the least partisan voters are likely to be turned off from what they see and don’t like. Presidential candidates thus have an incentive to reveal as little as possible of their policy preferences to the public, all else being equal. Unfortunately, this same incentive cuts directly against the political organization of interest groups and social movements, which are based around stances on a chosen range of policy questions. The American political system is uniquely personality based, compared to most other advanced democracies, which makes it more difficult for out of party organizations to rally behind official programs.

This is all a round about way of saying that any Obama affiliated organization will struggle to transform a personality based organization into a policy/issue organization. Organizing for America has the benefit of starting from a huge base, which allows for a lot of attrition, while still maintaining giant membership. If only 1 in 100 people who contributed to Obama for America contribute to Organizing for America, you’re still talking about one of the biggest organizations in American politics. If the group puts boots on the ground, as some have suggested they are going to do, you’re talking about a truly unique organization in American political history – nothing of this type has really been tried before. It’s unprecedented to have a post-campaign organization with that level of resources.

However, the limitations won’t be due to a lack of resources, but on the lack of flexibility based on a lack of independence. Will Organizing for America really be able to pressure recalcitrant democrats into line using the resources of a DNC affiliated organization? If, say, Blanche Lincoln the Democratic senator from Arkansas who is the most conservative member of the Democratic caucus, is making noises that she won’t vote to override a Republican filibuster on the controversial Employee Free Choice Act, will Organizing for America’s field op in Arkansas really be able to enlist Obama for America volunteers to make calls that pressure her into supporting the bill? I don’t think it’s likely, because those volunteers are probably not willing to make calls against their democratic senator, and the President won’t want to risk alienating the conservative and moderate voters that elected Lincoln in the first place.

Obama wouldn’t want to risk offending Lincoln over the long term by having a Democratic organization take political action against him. The lack of independence between OfA and Obama limits it’s potential to act as an enforcer for progressive ideological goals. Obama wouldn’t want to be seen as publicly breaking with Democratic lawmakers on votes that require party loyalty to override Republican vetoes, such as the Employee Free Choice Act. Of course, the new organization could be helpful in pressuring moderate republican in states that Obama won into supporting broadly popular legislation (OH, ME, NV, PA, NH, IN) , which I suppose is the model they are going for. The organization will be useful in pressuring these potentially moderate Republicans and shouldn’t be discounted for this reason.

However, I think that progressives should concern themselves with the lack of institutional firepower independent of the party that can act as a magnet to pull the pendulum towards the left. Even with large majorities in both houses and the presidency, the American political system is exceptionally resistant to change and the unique political opportunity of the current moment could pass without bold action if the Democrats aren’t held accountable. The Democrats have a singular opportunity to significantly alter the structure of the American economy, reform the contract between citizens and their government, and revitalize our infrastructure for the 21st century. They are going to need someone to hold down their left flank, and give them cover for taking bold policy stances. The pressure must come from outside the party, because party officials, including Obama, are limited in their ability to publicly disagree with their fellow party members.

The problem is that try as they might, political parties can’t incorporate many aspects of social movements, and this organization will run-up against those limitations. The act of governance requires a much tighter adherence to the script than social movements and the vague promises of participatory engagement made to the Obama “movement” will be difficult to allow once in power.

UPDATE: Check out this video from the Onion if you don’t yet see what I mean.
Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

On the Perfidity of Progressive Hacks

Please see Nate Silver on why David Sirota is a hack. (Read the whole thing, as they say).

I am concerned that the progressive infrastructure, that I argued yesterday only partially exists, will not be useful during Obama’s administration because they (/we) won’t pick the right fights or fight the right way. To the extent that the infrastructure of the left does exist, as a movement in the way the conservative movement exists, it exists through online political organizations, such as Moveon, and the progressive blogs. These organizations drive a lot of the activism and political discourse around progressive issues. Unfortunately, these organizations, borne of opposition, have never lived through in an era of progressive ascendancy and so perhaps lack the political sophistication to navigate the more treacherous waters of governing.

The Wall Street bailout provides a stark example of this dynamic, because it is unquestionable that the government needs to take action to save the banking sector. The netroots could – should – have a role to play in pushing for useful changes to how this intervention occurs: namely, I think all empirical evidence points to nationalization as the least worst option available to policymakers. No Zombie banks: everyone needs to know which banks are safe and which ones are fucked. Even short of advocating temporary nationalization, there are tons of accountability measures that progressives should pressure congress into placing on the disbursement of the additonal TARP funds.

Unfortunately, some on the left are using the complicated issue of voting for the second tranche of the TARP funds as an excuse for demagoging and playing the gadfly. These kinds of empty gestures are fine for building political support for a budding progressive movement, but they don’t acknowledge the responsibilities of government and they don’t advance a progressive agenda.