Friday Talking Points [462] -- Speaking Out Causes A Sea-Change In Attitudes

[ Posted Friday, November 17th, 2017 – 18:24 PST ]

America is in the midst of a gigantic sea-change on how accusations of sexual misconduct are viewed. That much seems certain. You could say it began with the Access Hollywood tape during Donald Trump's campaign, or you could argue it began with the end of Harvey Weinstein's Hollywood career. Notably, the "Me Too" movement has actually been around for a decade, but it really caught fire this year in a big way. But no matter the origins of the shift, America now views accusations of sexual misconduct in a much different light than before.

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Moral Relativism Versus The Moral High Road

[ Posted Thursday, November 16th, 2017 – 19:33 PST ]

After writing two columns on sexual misconduct and politics within the past seven days, I never thought I'd be writing about it again so soon. But today's breaking news pretty much precludes any other political discussion, even on a day when the House passed a real stinkeroo of a tax bill. Because on a purely political level, things just got a lot more complicated for Democrats with today's accusation against Senator Al Franken.

Before I get to Franken's case, I'd like to make some wider observations about where we as a country find ourselves right now. The #MeToo movement seems to be spreading like wildfire, which is really going to require us all to decide what sort of rules we should have going forward when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment, sexual attempts at humor, outright sexual misconduct, and clear-cut crimes such as sexual assault or even rape. America is already having this conversation, which really started with the Harvey Weinstein accusations, but sooner or later we're going to have to agree on some basic rules for how such accusations should be considered.

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What Happens If Roy Moore's Vote Is Necessary To Pass GOP Tax Bill?

[ Posted Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 – 18:11 PST ]

There is one emerging scenario (which currently is in no way certain) where the Republican Party might just have to decide to swallow its outrage -- at least temporarily -- and welcome Senator Roy Moore into their ranks on Capitol Hill, no matter what he did with underage women in the past. Because if Moore wins his special election in Alabama while at the same time two Republican senators have publicly announced they'll be voting "no" on the GOP tax bill, then Moore's vote becomes the deciding one. If this comes to pass, the GOP will be faced with the hard choice of ignoring all their previous denunciations of Moore in order to pull off their first legislative win since Donald Trump took office. Call it a striking moral/political dilemma.

Moral decisions can always have a political aspect to them, but when the accused person is a politician this cannot be escaped -- politics is definitely going to influence public opinion in such a case. It depends, to put it bluntly, whether the accused person is from your political team or not. It shouldn't matter, of course, but the public just isn't all that morally consistent when it comes to the political arena. Ethics are supposed to somehow be above crass political considerations, but most of us fail to achieve such consistency across party lines.

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Interpreting GOP Moves On Tax Bill

[ Posted Tuesday, November 14th, 2017 – 17:58 PST ]

The most popular game in Washington right now is trying to figure out where the Republicans are on their tax-cutting plan, and what they're about to do next. This game exists because nobody is really sure what's going to happen, leaving lots of room for rampant speculation. But the moves the Senate is apparently making right now (or, reportedly, at least seriously considering) either show that Republicans are pretty confident of their ability to get the legislation passed or that they're essentially creating excuses for why it isn't going to pass at all this year. Since these positions are so contradictory, it's worth examining the developing GOP politics over the tax bills.

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Freelance Democratic Autopsy Document Released

[ Posted Monday, November 13th, 2017 – 18:12 PST ]

For a long time now, I've been calling on the Democratic Party to go through the same soul-searching exercise that Republicans did in 2013 after losing a presidential election. The GOP, back then, put out an "autopsy" or "post-mortem" document which examined why they lost and offered suggestions for improving the party's chances in the future. Democrats, I thought, would have been well-served by the same sort of self-examination after 2016, but it never actually appeared from the national party. Because it still hasn't appeared from the national party, a group of Democrats have been inspired to create such a document on their own. This new document can be viewed on the site, and it is well worth a read by anyone who cares about the future of the Democratic Party.

Of the four listed authors, three have ties to the Democratic Party apparatus, including a member of the board of the California Democratic Party (and current chair of the California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus), as well as a member of the State Central Democratic Committee member (and ward chair) of New Mexico. One is a founder of, "an online activist group with 1.3 million active supporters," and one is a "communications specialist, researcher and writer who works for an international non-government organization" (N.G.O.). Two of the authors had ties to Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign, but the document is not any sort of "Hillary-bashing" exercise at all. It is not a relitigation of the Bernie Sanders/Hillary Clinton primary battle, although it does examine the flaws of both the party and the candidate in order to draw its conclusions. The document is a sweeping overview of what the authors feel is wrong with the party, and how the party should change to improve these flaws.

In fact, the document even includes a rather remarkable quote from Hillary Clinton's campaign memoir What Happened, one that I had not previously seen. In it, Clinton admits that Bernie's campaign style was worthy of emulation rather than mockery:

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Friday Talking Points [461] -- "Berenstain Bear Democrats" Win The Day

[ Posted Friday, November 10th, 2017 – 18:29 PST ]

Democrats just had the first very good week they've had in an entire year. Tuesday night, they absolutely swept the board in the few elections that were held. Now, granted, this was an off-off-year election, so it's too soon to say whether this presages a Democratic wave (or even a Democratic tsunami) in next year's midterm elections, but that doesn't detract from the gains Democratic candidates made all over the map this week. Michael Murphy, a Republican political strategist, summed up the impact of Tuesday night thusly: "Donald Trump is an anchor for the GOP. We got that message in loud volume in Virginia. The canary in the coal mine didn't just pass out; its head exploded."

But the best quote of the week came from a Virginia voter, marketing executive Toren Beasley. Quoted exiting a D.C. suburb's Starbucks, Beasley explained this year's motivation to vote:

It could have been Dr. Seuss or the Berenstain Bears on the ballot and I would have voted for them if they were a Democrat. I might do more analyses in other years. But in this case, no. No one else gets any consideration because what's going on with the Republicans -- I'm talking about Trump and his cast of characters -- is stupid, stupid, stupid. I can't say "stupid" enough times.

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Moore Trouble For Republicans

[ Posted Thursday, November 9th, 2017 – 17:56 PST ]

Before Tuesday's election returns started coming in, I was cautious and wary of getting my expectations up too high. Yesterday, after the scope of the Democratic sweep had sunk in, I was in a much more optimistic mood. Today, with the Washington Post bombshell story on Roy Moore's disgraceful past, it seems like the time for some good old-fashioned wild-eyed speculation. Such has been the rollercoaster of the week for Democrats and progressives everywhere.

Roy Moore now stands accused of sexually molesting a 14-year-old girl, back when he was in his early 30s. Three other women from the same time period also accused him of dating them and kissing them when they were underage teenagers. This is all a continuation of the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein revelations, which has led to a flood of accusations against men in many other sectors of society, including politicians. Victims are increasingly willing to tell their stories, and the public is not nearly as forgiving of such transgressions as they used to be. Moore is merely the most recent in a long list of predators who have been outed since the Weinstein story broke.

If Moore's accusers are telling the truth, then he had a predilection for very young teen girls when he was in his 30s. That's more than a little disturbing. People are already speculating about how many other young girls may have been targeted by Moore, and what other salacious details may be revealed next. But even if nothing else comes to light, the image of a thirtysomething adult engaged in heavy petting (or what the law would call sexual molestation, if not statutory rape) with a 14-year-old is already out there. And in today's unforgiving atmosphere, that's a pretty damning thing to be defined by.

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It's A New Day For Democrats

[ Posted Wednesday, November 8th, 2017 – 18:13 PST ]

For the first time in an entire year, millions of Democrats woke up hopeful today. Rather than the continuing despair over the inescapable fact of "President Donald Trump," Democrats now have solid reason for political optimism. All of this cheerfulness stems from the election results of last night, where Democrats didn't just win and they didn't just win big, they absolutely swept the board. Which has many now predicting the swell of last night is the leading edge of a Democratic wave election, in next year's congressional midterms.

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Fighting For Governors' Offices

[ Posted Tuesday, November 7th, 2017 – 17:19 PST ]

If Democrats are ever going to have an even chance to control the House of Representatives for the next decade, they need to be fighting as hard as possible for control of more governors' offices. Normally these two things are not directly connected, but after the upcoming 2020 Census, they will be. Redistricting is, in most states, a political function of the state government, meaning control of the governor's office often means being able to gerrymander the lines to your party's advantage -- something Republicans proved very adept at doing after the 2010 Census. Democrats are at a decided disadvantage as things stand, so they need to score a number of victories in gubernatorial races in the next few years in order to level the House districting playing field.

I have to point out that I am writing this before the polls close in New Jersey and Virginia, so whatever happens tonight in these two states can't be taken into account by this article. There are only two likely outcomes of these races, either the Democrats win both states or the Republicans pick up Virginia while Democrats pick up New Jersey, which would preserve the status quo politically.

Currently (before the New Jersey and Virginia races are taken into account), Republicans control 34 governors' offices, Democrats hold 15, and one (Alaska) is held by an Independent. That's a pretty lopsided balance of power, and looking at the map shows just how much ground Democrats need to make up to achieve any sort of parity nationwide.

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Tomorrow's Battle Over The 2018 Midterm Narrative

[ Posted Monday, November 6th, 2017 – 17:37 PST ]

Tomorrow is Election Day in certain parts of the country. As usual in odd-numbered years, the handful of major contests to be decided tomorrow night will be seen as a harbinger of what is to come in the 2018 midterm congressional elections. These off-off-year elections always seem to have an outsized effect on the narrative used by the political chattering class, as one party or another once again claims "the wind is at our backs" heading into the midterms. Sometimes these narratives prove to be correct, but other times they are later seen as nothing short of wishful thinking on a national scale. Figuring out the accuracy of the narratives which tomorrow's elections will breed won't be possible for another year, of course, but it won't stop the narratives from spreading in the meantime. Such narratives will certainly have an effect on the midterms, whether correct or not. So even if they prove to be false narratives in the end, they're worth paying attention to for the time being.

The election cycle which takes place one year after the presidential race has two big races that get the most attention: the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. Both of these could produce interesting narratives, but currently most pundits are only paying attention to the Virginia race (which is much closer, therefore much more fun to analyze and predict). This is rather myopic, though, because the New Jersey race could produce an interesting narrative that has some warning signs for both sides of the political divide.

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