Did Ashley Judd think running for Senate in Kentucky would be a pleasant experience? If so, that’s an illusion that’s now probably been dispelled. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads "super PAC" has just released a brutal ad that torches Ms. Judd, who’s considering a Bluegrass State bid to unseat Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. It’ll be interesting to see if the spot helps scare her off – or if it lights her competitive fires and draws a response in kind.
The ad starts with a fake trailer listing production information. Its “client” is listed as “Ashley Judd, really?” The “title” is “Vote for me, you hillbillies.” The “date” is posted as, “Whenever Obama tells her to run."
Then an image flashes on screen of flags, sun streaming through a country porch, and so forth, and the fun really starts. “You know what this country really needs? An independent voice ... for Obama,” says the narrator.
An inset image of Judd voicing support for the president appears, over a caption that says, “Obama=brilliant."
Then the voice continues its mock-serious tone, calling Judd “a leader who knows how to follow," and “someone who will never forget where she came from."
That last line is followed by a clip of Judd saying, “and it just clicked: Tennessee is home.” (It’s true that Judd has split time between a Tennessee ranch and a home in Scotland with her soon-to-be-ex-husband, race car driver Dario Franchitti.)
The spot continues from there, mentioning that Judd’s own grandmother has called her a “Hollywood liberal," highlighting her support for Obama’s health-care reforms (“Obamacare has done so much right for us here in Tennessee,” she says in a clip), replaying clips of her saying “hillbilly” and “radical” several times, and so on.
The narrator wraps up with a flourish. “Ashley Judd,” he says, “an Obama-following, radical Hollywood liberal, who’s right home here in Tennessee. I mean Kentucky.”
We’ll note here that it’s unusual to launch campaign ads against people who aren’t actually running. Judd – daughter of country singer Naomi Judd and someone with deep Kentucky roots of her own – has said she’s considering the Senate race, and she’s been flattered to be asked, but so far she hasn’t done anything concrete to indicate she’s actually going to jump in. She hasn’t put together any campaign or money organizations, for instance, or begun to talk about issues in a manner more likely to appeal to voters in Kentucky, a state that’s reliably Republican at the national level.
But maybe the GOP is taking her seriously. After all, a December survey from Public Policy Polling found her to be Senator McConnell’s strongest potential challenger, trailing him by only four points, 43 percent to 47 percent.
In general, McConnell is in a fairly weak position, perhaps due to the time he spends on national as opposed to state concerns. A recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll found that 34 percent of Kentucky voters said they planned to oppose McConnell, while only 17 percent said they would support him. Forty-four percent said they’d wait to see who ran against him before deciding whom to support.
In that context, the Judd ad could be considered as what Jim Geraghty at National Review’s The Corner blog calls “battlespace preparation." It rounds up all her perceived weaknesses in Kentucky and hits voters with them at once. If she does run, she’ll have to redefine herself in terms more likely to appeal to Kentucky’s generally conservative voters.
But Karl Rove is pretty shrewd about state-level politics, and it’s also possible that he’s just doing this as a generic support for McConnell and a way to get some attention in the national media. After all, the group says it’s spending only about $10,000 to push this Web-only spot. That’s a rounding error on American Crossroads’ checkbook. So he’s just saluting it up a flagpole to see who runs. Or something like that.
The Kid President’s motto: “Don’t be in a Party. Be a Party.”
His “Pep Talk” YouTube video (see below) has been taking social media sites by storm for the past week, and the message is simple: “The world needs you to stop being boring…. Boring is easy.”
The adorable boy sending smiles around the world is Robby Novak of Henderson, Tenn., who has been posting videos on the SoulPancake YouTube channel since October with the help of his adult brother-in-law, Bradley Montague, the TodayNews website reports. Novak appeared on the "Today" show Wednesday.
Kid President’s take on that includes this comment from his video: “This is life, people. You got air coming through your nose. You got heartbeat. That means it’s time to do something!”
The video, in which Robby is dressed in a dark suit and red tie, weaves together humor, music, pithy philosophical comments, cute dance moves, poetry, and gentle reprimands to grownups.
After quoting from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” he says, if there really were two paths, “I want to be on the one that leads to awesome.”
The video has had more than 6.4 million hits so far.
Students in Heather England’s class won the “If We Were President” contest by education-servinces company Pearson with a video of a song they wrote, “Vote Me Maybe,” inspired by the election season.
The Kid President’s video was “great” because it sends the message that “it doesn’t matter who you are,… it’s what’s inside that counts,” says Davis, one of the third-graders, in a phone interview.
“It encourages you and motivates you to do the right things,” adds his classmate Jada. “God made us for a reason … not just to sit around,” she said.
Robby reminds the students of Martin Luther King Jr., because he encourages people to work together, Ms. England says.
Robby’s video raises the question of what would happen if Michael Jordan had given up, and that really resonated with her students, she says. “They talked about, ‘On a test, what if I had given up? Last time I made a ‘B’ and I didn’t get upset, and now I have an ‘A’,” she says.
The school shows an inspirational video each morning, and England was surprised this one hadn’t been shown schoolwide yet. The videos generate conversations and help students and adults alike stay motivated, she says.
“I wish more adults … had the mindset of kids,” England says.
She recently reinstated a practice she and her students did regularly in the month of November – starting the class by writing down what they are grateful for. “I don’t know who needs it more, me or the kids,” she says.
Robby has been praised by marketing experts for his savvy use of social media. But it doesn’t appear he’s angling to sell anything but encouragement (he does have one simple T-shirt for sale on his website, which is sponsored by his mom). At the end of the "Pep Talk" video he dedicates it to a young friend who is fighting cancer.
“Who encourages you?” he asks – urging viewers pass the video along to them to let them know.
As we wrote Thursday, veteran broadcast journalist Geraldo Rivera is “truly contemplating” (his words) campaigning for a US Senate seat from New Jersey in 2014. He says he’d run as a Republican against either incumbent Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg, or Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who’d likely win the Democratic primary if Lautenberg decides to retire.
Is he serious about this? After all, when non-politician celebrities talk about running for office, often they’re just looking for more attention, or have an ancillary product to sell.
But we must say that right now Geraldo seems like he’s really enthusiastic about a possible foray into politics. He’s already outlined some of his views on issues in an op-ed for Fox News, which is more than Ashley Judd has done after weeks of contemplating a Senate run in Kentucky. On a “Fox and Friends” appearance on Friday, Rivera elaborated on his ideology, saying that he’s a moderate Republican looking to revitalize the GOP.
Of course, with Geraldo it is hard to distinguish between genuine enthusiasm and sheer volume. The sound level on his butterscotch broadcast voice always seems to be set to “stun.”
But here’s another question: is he really a Republican?
However, he attempts to dodge this by saying that he endorsed Mitt Romney’s economic platform. He decries the Democrats’ inaction on the federal deficit, and says the nation’s big entitlement programs need reform.
“Unfettered, theirs is a recipe for generational catastrophe,” Rivera writes.
He is a registered Republican, by the way. He signed up with the GOP in 2009, after previously been registered as unaffiliated with any party, according to a Newark Star Ledger story.
In the end River pulled the lever for Obama because of social issues. He’s (mostly) pro-abortion, as well as pro-gay marriage and pro-immigration reform. Also, he wants to normalize relations with Cuba and Venezuela. None of those are things that made their way into the 2012 Republican platform.
However, on the other side, he’s a law-and-order guy who wants New York City’s “Stop and Frisk” policing style imported to the Garden State. He says his political heroes have been moderate Northeast Republicans, from New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman and current Gov. Chris Christie.
“Democrats have a huge ... registration advantage in New Jersey,” Rivera said on "Fox and Friends." “But I really do believe, as a moderate Republican, there is a point of view that is unrepresented in states like New Jersey.”
OK, Democrats do lead Republican registrations in New Jersey by about 13 percentage points.
But we see what Rivera is thinking here. It doesn’t matter whether he voted for Obama or not in a state that went for Obama by a big margin. New Jersey will not elect a Republican who could pass muster with the House GOP caucus. They will vote – and have – for somebody like Chris Christie. So Rivera’s main hope is to attach himself to Governor Christie’s hip.
And you know what? That plan is so crazy it just might work. Christie is almost the most popular governor in the country. A recent Quinnipiac poll found his in-state approval rating to be an astounding 74 percent. A majority of New Jersey Democrats like the job their Republican governor is doing.
That’s the advantage Geraldo Rivera would have if he makes a Senate bid. His positions mirror Christie’s. He could campaign with Christie. Basically, he’d probably attempt to get voters to see him as Christie’s first cousin. You know – the one with the big moustache, the Harley, and the radio and TV gigs he’d have to give up if he runs.
“I mention this only briefly ... fasten your seatbelt,” he said Thursday on his mid-day radio program. “I am and have been in touch with some people in the Republican Party in New Jersey. I am truly contemplating running for Senate against Frank Lautenberg or Cory Booker in New Jersey.”
Seatbelt fastened! We must say that Geraldo on the stump in the Garden State would be a journalist’s dream. Can you imagine the campaign appearances? The bombast, the flags, the moustache! (True story: after the Beyoncé lip-synching scandal broke, Mr. Rivera tweeted “Shocking-Sad what can we believe in, what’s next … my mustache exposed as a prosthetic?”)
Most of all we are dreaming of joint rallies with GOP nominee Rivera and current New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie. The level of self-assuredness on a podium occupied by that pair would surpass any level ever measured by the EPA.
But we digress. The real purpose here is to warn Geraldo off. Going into trackless deserts to catch terrorists with your bare hands is one thing. Winning that 2014 Senate seat is another.
New Jersey is a pretty blue state, Governor Christie notwithstanding. President Obama won New Jersey by 18 points. According to the Cook Political Report, the upcoming 2014 Senate race is solid Democratic.
Are those “some people in the Republican Party” Geraldo’s talking to just looking for a rich person to carry the flag and perhaps self-fund a campaign that others are turning down because it’s a sure loser?
To be fair, there is a scenario where the GOP might win. It involves a primary fight between the incumbent Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has already filed papers to run for the seat.
Senator Lautenberg is 89, and many state Democrats figure it is time for him to retire. But Lautenberg has given little indication he’s going to step down, and every indication is that he’s irritated by what he considers to be Mr. Booker’s presumption.
Booker may need a “spanking” for being “disrespectful,” said Lautenberg in a brief interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer last week.
Polls show Booker ahead at the moment. A divisive primary between the two could alienate numbers of Democratic voters and perhaps send them to the arms of a Republican candidate who can present him or herself as a moderate.
It is possible Geraldo could be that person. He’s a self-described NRA member who also supports some gun-control measures. (Here’s another actual Rivera tweet: “The angry personal attacks following my gun control proposals demonstrate brutish blind rigid unreasonable 2nd Amendment radical orthodoxy.”)
He’s a pro law-and-order guy, but also sounds like he might support immigration reform. And so on – you get a real mix with him, as anyone who’s listened to his radio show or seen him on Fox knows.
But we’re guessing long before 2014 the Democrats will get their candidate situation straightened out. Geraldo might not match up well against Booker in particular, since Booker is just as much a person-of-action as is the action journalist. In 2012 Booker personally saved a woman from a house fire, after all.
Booker has even cut a commercial with Christie spoofing this image. In the short the Newark mayor tells Christie “I got this” as he fixes the governor’s flat tire, helps Bruce Springsteen deal with a missing guitar, and then catches a baby dropped from a state Capitol balcony.
Still, Rivera, a longtime New Jersey resident, does sound serious about this whole affair. Maybe it’s just something he’s always wanted to do.
“I figure at my age, if I’m gonna do it, I gotta do it,” he said Thursday on his show.
Actress Ashley Judd and her husband, race car driver Dario Franchitti, are getting divorced after 11 years of marriage. We’re sure this is sad for both of them, but we’re going to jump ahead to the question every bored aide in the Hart Senate Office Building asked themselves Wednesday when they read the news: Does this mean she’s going to run for Senate in Kentucky?
[Editor's note: The original version of this story gave the wrong first name for Mr. Franchitti.]
Maybe you didn’t know that was a possibility. But it’s true: Some Kentucky Democrats are talking up Ms. Judd, an eighth-generation Kentucky native, as an ideal candidate to run against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014.
Judd was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention this summer and is something of a political activist, so it’s not exactly like this is a wacky idea. Plus she’s been noncommittal in an encouraging kind of way when asked if she’s interested.
“I am incredibly honored and frankly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support – that the people of Kentucky are interested in having me represent them is the greatest honor of my life so far and I am certainly taking a close look at it,” said Judd before the Kentucky Society of Washington’s Bluegrass Ball in Washington on Jan. 19, according to a report in Politico.
OK, then. Does her impending divorce indicate she’s more likely to do this, or less?
Over at The Atlantic, Michael Catalini thinks it means Judd will take a pass.
“Given this development, there’s a chance Judd won’t want to jump into a messy political campaign,” he writes.
Catalini adds that this is “bad news” for Senator McConnell, since Judd would be politically weaker than other Democrats he might face. After all, Kentucky is a conservative state, and Judd’s own grandmother called her a “Hollywood liberal.” Plus, while she was a DNC delegate, she didn’t represent Kentucky. She represented Tennessee – the state she and Franchitti called home.
For the sake of argument we’ll take the other side. We believe the impending divorce means it’s more likely she’ll try electoral politics, not less. Her husband is Scottish, which might not exactly have won her votes, and the couple also lived part-time in Scotland, which is inconvenient if you’ve got to campaign in Lexington on Tuesday next. Now she can bill herself as making a clean sweep of things, including her non-Kentucky residencies, and say she’s coming home to the place she belongs.
(Yes, that’s a John Denver reference. Please keep reading anyway.)
After all, it isn’t like McConnell’s a steamroller. His recent polls numbers have been so-so, which is either surprising in light of his national status, or the result of it, depending on which expert you ask.
A recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll found that 17 percent of voters said they would vote for McConnell, while 34 percent said they would vote against him. Forty-four percent said they would wait to see who McConnell runs against before deciding.
Tea party supporters in the state remain angry over McConnell’s role in the recent fiscal agreement with the Obama administration that kept the nation from plunging off the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Some Democratic donors have even discussed teaming up with tea party groups to fund a primary challenge to McConnell from the right.
Why? Because Democrats think someone to McConnell’s right would be a weaker statewide candidate, that’s why.
But Judd is going to have to stop acting coy and make her intentions plain fairly soon is she’s really going to run. Some state Democrats think her statements against mountaintop coal mining – a big issue in a state depending on coal jobs – would drag her down in a Senate race. Yet by toying with a run she’s blocking other, possibly more viable candidates from getting in themselves.
From the website that gave us the idea of every state seceding from the Union in protest against President Obama's reelection comes a petition that the whole nation can get behind.
Last year, the White House website became the forum for Americans peeved by the prospect of four more years of Mr. Obama. Now, it is being marshaled for the altogether more glorious purpose of getting Vice President Joe Biden his own reality show on C-SPAN.
Mr. Biden, it seems, is having his "Hillary Clinton" moment.
For parts of the past four years, some pundits have suggested that Obama should have cast off his plain-talking, gaffe-prone vice president for Ms. Clinton, who has become the most popular member of the Obama administration in her four years as secretary of State. Clinton's sunglasses and Blackberry even launched a popular Internet meme.
But Biden is suddenly, overwhelmingly hip.
First, he rescues America from the fiscal cliff. Then he hits on senators' mothers during the Senate's mock swearing-in ceremony for the new Congress Thursday.
As vice president, Biden is president of the Senate, which gives him certain official duties, such as presiding over some ceremonies. Those duties did not include confessing to the mother of Sen. Deb Fischer (R) of Nebraska, “You’ve got beautiful eyes, mom.” Or counseling a member of the family of Sen. Tim Scott (R) of South Carolina, “If you ever need any help on your pecs, let me know.”
And yet he did, and the videos went viral.
Actually, Biden has had a bit of a cult following for years now. Perhaps that's not surprising for a man who was once caught by a live mike telling Obama before an official address that passage of health-care reform was "a big [expletive] deal."
Among his greatest fans has been the satirical news website, The Onion, which has published lampoon articles including, "Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am in White House Driveway" and "Eloquent Biden Brings Entire Audience to Tears in Debate Stunner," complete with photoshopped images. Biden also singlehandedly made "malarkey" one of the most looked-up words of 2012 by using it in a vice presidential debate.
The petition on the White House website states:
"Vice President Joe Biden has a demonstrated ability to bring people together, whether at the negotiating table or at the neighborhood diner. We, therefore, urge the Obama Administration to authorize the production of a recurring C-SPAN television program featuring the daily activities and interactions of the Vice President with elected officials, foreign dignitaries and everyday American families. Such a program would educate the American public about the duties and responsibilities of their Vice President, while providing a glimpse of the lighthearted side of politics even in the midst of contentious and divisive national debates."
Who needs Kim Kardashian, anyway?
The campaign is over, but when President Obama stepped on stage Monday to make a statement on fiscal cliff negotiations, it felt more like a pep rally than a sober policy update on an issue of global import.
The White House had packed the room, the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with some 200 “middle-class taxpayers” – and rather rambunctious ones, at that. A handful stood behind Mr. Obama, the rest filled the auditorium’s seats.
It was a veritable security blanket of middle-class taxpayers, there as a visual show of force for the president as he seeks to reach a deal with the Republicans to avert the tax hikes and deep spending cuts that automatically go into effect at midnight Monday. One said she was invited after she had “answered some questions” on the White House’s My2K web page – named for the $2,000 that each middle-class household would save by not having its taxes go up.
Clearly, this event had been days in the making, and it was reminiscent of other middle-class focused events and travels Obama has had since he won reelection Nov. 6.
“Thank you for having us!” one attendee shouted after Obama welcomed the group.
The middle-class taxpayers cheered and stood when the president took the stage, called out to him as he spoke, and gave him another standing ovation when he finished. The event was mildly newsworthy: The president announced that a deal was “within sight, but it’s not done.”
“So as of this point, it looks like I'm going to be spending New Year's here in DC,” he said. “You all are going to be hanging out in DC, too.”
At that point, someone in the crowd invited the president over for New Year’s Eve.
“I can come to your house? Is that what you said?” Obama said. “I don't want to spoil the party.”
“You are the party!” the attendee shouted back, to laughter from the crowd.
Obama then sought to turn the event back to its central purpose: to focus on the middle class and how a return to Clinton-era tax rates for all but the wealthiest 2 percent would be painful.
“The people who are with me here today, the people who are watching at home, they need our leaders in Congress to succeed,” Obama said.
Later in the afternoon, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor and echoed Obama’s statement: “We are very, very close,” he said. But soon after, the news broke that the House would not vote on New Year’s Eve, meaning the United States will go over the edge of the cliff, at least temporarily. The hope, as of this writing, was that House and Senate leaders could gather enough votes to pass a deal early in 2013, and have it go into effect retroactively to Jan. 1.
And what about those middle-class taxpayers? Perhaps Obama is keeping them near at hand, just in case.
When the machinery of US politics isn't working quite the way anyone would like, sometimes it's helpful to step back and for some perspective. And sometimes music helps us do that.
With the Rolling Stones on a US tour, and with the future of US taxes and federal spending in doubt, here's a primer on the perilous political landscape known as the "fiscal cliff": Why the nation is in this mess, and how it might be solved.
It's probably unrealistic to expect that Mick Jagger will come to the rescue of Washington (emotionally or otherwise). But some of the music that he and his colleagues have made can at least offer a hummable sound track, and perhaps some practical insights, for the fiscal mess.
"I was born in a cross-fire hurricane" (from "Jumpin' Jack Flash," 1968)
How did this fiscal cliff originate, anyway? Basically, in a gathering storm of partisan disagreement. For years, Republicans in Congress have resisted the idea of tax hikes as a way to close federal deficits. And Democrats have resisted Republican ideas on reducing the size of government by curbing some types of federal spending.
Things came to a head in 2011, as politicians sought to grapple with their differences amid a climate of fast-rising national debt. They failed to reach a compromise, other than to agree that automatic spending cuts would kick in at the beginning of 2013. That, coupled with the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts at the same time, sets the stage for the current reckoning – the pressure to enact a better fiscal plan.
"Who could hang a name on you?" (from "Ruby Tuesday," 1967)
The predicament didn't have to be called fiscal cliff. In fact, that phrase had been bandied about on occasion, prior to this year, in a wholly different context. Some conservatives had used it to conjure up the image that rising federal debt would plunge the nation into economic ruin.
But over the past 12 months, the term has been adopted for a different meaning: the notion that if the scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts happen, the economy could be plunged into recession by the sudden hit to consumer spending. Ordinary households would have less money in their paychecks, and the federal government would be playing a smaller role as a consumer of goods and services.
Some conservatives hung a different name on the problem: "taxmageddon." Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was one of the ones who helped popularize the cliff phraseology, which has the virtue of encompassing the spending as well as the tax side of the challenge.
"They can't say we never tried" (from "Angie," 1973)
With the day of reckoning near, the good news is that the political parties are talking – trying to cut a fiscal bargain that would avert a sudden shock to the economy while at the same time reducing federal deficits. The lead actors in this drama are President Obama on the Democratic side and House Speaker John Boehner for the Republicans. They aren't smiling much on camera. But they keep holding meetings. Neither side wants to go down as the one that didn't try hard enough to reach a deal.
"Now I need you more than ever" (from "Let's Spend the Night Together," 1967)
The president and Speaker Boehner can't do this all by themselves. They need to rally votes withing their party ranks. With power divided between a Democratic president, a Republican-controlled House, and a Senate that's closely divided (with a Democratic majority), this is tricky. A deal that's acceptable to enough senators may not be one that all House Republicans are eager to rally behind. In the end, some lawmakers in both parties may vote "no." What counts is whether a majority in each house of Congress can vote "yes."
"I don't have much time" (from "Wild Horses," 1971)
Ideally for the economy, this all would have been settled long ago. It's not a good for the job market when employers have a major (and man-made) reason to be unsure what the economy will look like next year. With the Christmas holiday fast approaching, the window for reaching a deal before year end is fast closing. An 11th-hour compromise could be reached. If it isn't, negotiations would continue in the new year – with politicians feeling added pressure because as spending cuts and tax hikes start to appear as realities in the lives of voters.
"You can't always get what you want" (song title and lyric, 1969)
Earth to Washington: Mick's dose of realism here is helpful to keep in mind. Given the division of power in Washington, any solution will call for some sacrifice on both sides.
And from taxpayers, too. Many budget experts predict that lawmakers will ultimately need to expand tax revenue and restrain entitlement spending, even though neither of those things wins popularity contests with voters. That's because the path of current policies, if continued, is projected to bring an ever-higher debt burden, which could dim the economy's vibrancy and threaten a loss of investor confidence. The steps are unlikely to occur all at once in a "grand bargain of 2013," but the cliff talks may chart part of the path.
"This town's full of money grabbers" (from "Shattered," 1978)
OK, that song was about New York, not Washington. But the lyric can serve as a reminder that money plays a significant role in federal politics. A fair amount of it flows to politicians from Wall Street. But the broader point is that as lawmakers consider various fiscal reforms, just about every federal program or tax break has a constituency that is fighting for its importance. Here's hoping that what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" will guide the decisionmaking in the national interest.
"I sit and watch as tears go by" (from "As Tears Go By," 1965)
American voters may be forgiven if they feel a little frustrated as they watch all the fiscal saga unfold. But they're players in the process, too. The approval ratings of Congress are at epic lows, but each member of the House or Senate is there because he or she won a vote, often with high approval from constituents. So it may not be fair to gripe that you can't get satisfaction, politically. There's the opportunity to write a letter to your representative, to rethink your preferences each time an election rolls around, and to weigh changes such as the district-drawing reforms that some states have undertaken.
"Paint It Black" (Song title, 1966)
The fiscal dream come true for deficit hawks would be a plan that ultimately brings black ink back onto the federal ledger. Remember when, for a time, the fiscal debate was about what to do with surpluses instead of deficits? What seems realistic for that ledger in the near term, however, is just a plan to let it bleed a little less red ink. And maybe to give us some shelter from the risk of a tax-induced recession in the near term.
Last year Wisconsin was a battleground for union rights, as Republican Gov. Scott Walker pushed through a law limiting collective bargaining for many public-sector unions and then survived a recall election. This year organized labor’s focus has turned to Michigan, where a Republican-controlled legislature looks set to pass a so-called “right-to-work” law banning compulsory union fees.
Which of these might end up a worse defeat for US unions? We’d say Michigan, without question.
Michigan is the birthplace and stronghold of the United Auto Workers and a state steeped in union history. In Michigan they still remember 1937’s “Battle of the Overpass,” where Ford guards beat UAW officials near Dearborn’s Rouge plant in a pyrrhic victory that led to the union’s rise.
President Obama beat Mitt Romney in Michigan by 10 percentage points despite the fact that Mr. Romney grew up there. If Republicans can enact laws limiting union power in Michigan, where might they turn next?
“In political terms this really does seem like the tipping point ... if right-to-work can pass in Michigan, then why shouldn’t Republicans press for it in Wisconsin or Ohio or Pennsylvania?” writes Slate’s Moneybox columnist Matthew Yglesias.
Some liberals are bitter about this looming defeat. They say that while 24 states currently have right-to-work laws, the right’s push to spread such legislation had stalled – until now.
“If their win in Michigan sticks, the hoary, Dixie-fried Right-To-Work cause will shake off the dust of the political graveyard and become the hot new thing across the industrial Midwest. It’s sad but true,” writes Ed Kilgore in the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog.
But in some ways labor’s possible loss in Michigan shouldn’t be surprising.
First, it’s not as Democratic a state as you might think. Or rather, it’s a state where the Democratic vote is concentrated in Detroit, Ann Arbor, and a few other cities, while Republicans are spread out in a large geographic area. The GOP controls both Michigan’s House and Senate, after all.
Michigan has 15 congressional districts. Nine of them lean Republican, according to the partisan voting index of Charlie Cook’s Political Report. Six are Democratic, some by huge margins.
Second, labor recently made a large tactical error. It pushed for a proposed amendment to the Michigan constitution that would enshrine collective bargaining rights. The point was to head off the changes pushed through by the Republicans across Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. That measure was on the ballot in November and lost badly. It ended up as an advertisement for labor’s weakness instead of its strength.
Third, the UAW isn’t what it once was. In the 1970s it boasted more than 1.5 million members. Now UAW membership is fewer than 400,000 and declining. GM and Chrysler have been through managed bankruptcies, and workers throughout the state are wary of further disruptions.
On Tuesday the Michigan House approved a version of the contentious right-to-work law despite union protests outside the state Capitol in Lansing. Gov. Rick Snyder has said he’ll sign final versions of the bill for both public and private unions as early as Wednesday.
By the numbers, it would seem that Election 2012 didn't change much, with the White House and Congress remaining in the same hands. But Monday’s Capitol Hill goings-on hinted at just how much Washington’s terrain is shifting
The conservative wing of the GOP, which propelled the party to historic success in 2010, is being marginalized – leading to open calls for rebellion in some quarters.
First, there’s a Republican moderation on taxes – accepting new revenues that are anathema to the tea party credo that gave Republicans control of the House two years ago. But more quietly, House leaders stripped plum committee assignments from three deeply conservative freshman lawmakers – assignments doled out with much fanfare in 2010 to show that party leadership would listen to its vocal and conservative bloc of freshman members.
Together, the two moves are evidence of the stresses within a Republican Party trying to reorient itself after an electoral drubbing in November
On Monday, House Republican leaders signed on to a plan that would raise $800 billion in taxes over a decade as part of a $2.2 trillion proposal to avert the impending "fiscal cliff." The plan did not raise tax rates but vowed to close tax loopholes, providing money that the federal government could use to pay down the deficit.
In the summer of 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio reportedly offered a similar amount of revenue in debt-reduction negotiations with President Obama. But House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin called such use of tax revenues everything short of political apostasy. This year, however, they put their signatures on the offer to the president on Monday.
Representative Cantor noted the change the election wrought even before the House GOP made its offer.
“The speaker put new revenues on the table just after the election and said: 'We get it. The president won his reelection; we won our reelection. We have to now come together,' ” he told reporters on Friday. Offering more tax revenue “is our proposal to the president that we were unwilling to give a year and a half ago during the debt-ceiling talks."
The groups that powered the conservative surge in 2010 treated the plan with icy disdain.
“The president's proposal and Speaker Boehner's counteroffer fail to seriously deal with the reality of the problems facing the nation,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, an arch-conservative advocacy group backed by a pair of conservative billionaires. “Conservatives are looking for a leader to fight against tax increases, to push back against wasteful government spending, and address the fiscal challenges in a bold way. Sadly, this plan leaves conservatives wanting."
An e-mail sent to supporters of Heritage Action, the political advocacy arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, added: “Republicans retained control of the U.S. House of Representatives to serve as a check to President Obama's big-government agenda, not to find creative ways to fund it.”
Beneath the news of the Republican party’s fiscal cliff rejoinder, there’s also a bitter twist in the frequently contentious relationship between some of the GOP’s most conservative freshman lawmakers and the party’s House leadership.
Rep. Justin Amash (R) of Michigan and Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) of Kansas were dropped from the House Budget Committee. Representative Huelskamp was also punted from the House Agriculture Committee. In addition, freshman Rep. Dave Schweikert (R) of Arizona, who won a brutal member-versus-member primary against establishment favorite Rep. Ben Quayle (R) in a race affected by redistricting, was dropped from the Financial Services Committee.
Representative Amash’s office declined to comment because the congressman has yet to receive his future committee assignments. But Representatives Schweikert and Huelskamp pegged their departure from the committees as political payback for not following the GOP leadership on issues like the debt-ceiling increase of 2011.
"This morning Congressman Schweikert learned there was a price to be paid for voting based on principle,” said Rachel Semmel, a Schweikert spokesperson, in an e-mail. “That price was the removal from the House Financial Services Committee.”
Huelskamp was even more direct.
“It is little wonder why Congress has a 16 percent approval rating: Americans send principled representatives to change Washington and get punished in return,” he said. “The GOP leadership might think they have silenced conservatives, but removing me and others from key committees only confirms our conservative convictions. This is clearly a vindictive move, and a sure sign that the GOP establishment cannot handle disagreement.”
Of more than 70 freshmen from the class of 2010, only three lost a committee assignment. Still, several conservative political groups rallied to the lawmakers side.
“Is there room in the House Republican Conference for legislators who believe that Washington is spending too much money it does not have? Based on this remarkably hostile act by leadership, the answer may be no,” said Matt Kibbe, the director of tea party group FreedomWorks. “This is establishment thinking, circling the wagons around yes-men and punishing anyone that dares to take a stand for good public policy.”
“Congressmen Schweikert, Huelskamp, and Amash are now free of the last remnants of establishment leverage against them,” he said. “We expect that these three defenders of economic freedom will become even bolder in their efforts to defend the taxpayers against the big spenders in both parties.”