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Daily Howler: Dems face an uphill slog this fall. Dan Balz doesn't seem to know why
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WHY DEMS MAY NOT WIN! Dems face an uphill slog this fall. Dan Balz doesn’t seem to know why: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 20, 2006

SPOON FEED THE CHILDREN WELL: Good lord! At long last, a major, famous mainstream pundit is kicking the wax out of Bush and Rove! We highlight some tough, tangy excerpts:
MAJOR, FAMOUS MAINSTREAM PUNDIT (6/18/06): Last week, in the opening salvo of the 2006 congressional elections, Bush and Rove were reminding voters that the choice would be between the Democratic strategy of "cut and run" and the Republican war against Islamic "fascists," as the President called them. It was clear, yet again, that Bush and Rove would surf the complexities of the conflict for their political advantage. "See, Iraq is part of the global war on terror," the President said. "And if we fail in Iraq, it's going to embolden al-Qaeda types." Rove helpfully added in a New Hampshire speech that al-Zarqawi wouldn't have been nailed if we had pulled out of Iraq, as Representative John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, recommended last winter.

Rove's assertion was scurrilous and inaccurate. Al-Zarqawi had been eliminated through terrific intelligence work and air power, neither of which required a substantial U.S. ground presence in Iraq. The President's line of attack was accurate but lethally incomplete. His poorly planned invasion of Iraq created the atmosphere that enabled al-Qaeda—and the local sectarian conflicts—to flourish. Iraq had become, in small part, a war against al-Qaeda; for the most part, it is a local sectarian conflict—because of American incompetence. If the President had not allowed General Tommy Franks to "cut and run"—that is, to close his headquarters and begin drawing down the U.S. military presence on May 1, 2003, the very same day as Bush's first cockpit stunt—the U.S. forces might have had a better chance to contain the insurgency. But those are complicated arguments to make in a political campaign. And even the wildest accusations, like Rove's disgraceful Murtha gambit, will force a candidate onto the defensive.

Ouch! Ouch!! And ouch again! Rove’s statement last week was “scurrilous and inaccurate”—a “disgraceful gambit,” the pundit asserted. And Bush’s own statement was “lethally inaccurate.” Indeed, Bush himself let Tommy Franks “cut and run”—and it was the president’s “poorly planned invasion” which enabled al-Qaeda to flourish. Indeed, in the wake of Bush’s Big Swagger last week, this pundit even reminded his readers of Bush’s “first cockpit stunt.” And for those of you who aren’t keen on nuance, no—the pundit’s use of the word “stunt” is not designed as a compliment. Indeed, as many readers will realize, the use of this phrase implies that Bush was involved in another “stunt” last week, when he boasted of his cockpit ride into the Baghdad airport.

Many readers will understand these things—but apparently, the netroots will not. Who is this major, famous pundit? Who is saying these things about Bush and Rove? The major pundit is Joe Klein—but, because some regard liberal readers as children, liberal readers are being spoon-fed other excerpts from Klein’s column and are being told—“Oh My”—that Klein is kissing Bush’s ring once again. You can see your kind being treated like children at this post, or here, or here. (Or here.) These posts include only the parts of Klein’s column which liberal leaders want you to see. And by the way, can we explain to you what you might have realized if you weren’t being thoroughly juvenilized? When Klein says that Bush was being “frothy” last week, that isn’t meant as a compliment either. Nor is it meant as a reference to blow jobs—the only metaphor in which some “liberals” now seem able to traffic.

It’s sad to see liberals treated like children. But, all through the annals of human history, “leaders” have been happy to please the masses in this manner. They’ll feed you the tidbits they want you to swallow. The babyish spinning of this column by Klein is just the latest example.

Rove was “disgraceful.” Bush pulled a “stunt.” But so what? Our liberal leaders spoon-fed the children quite well.

WHY THE DEMS MAY NOT WIN IN NOVEMBER: As Kevin Drum correctly notes, no one is really predicting that the Dems will win control of the Congress this fall. Indeed, some pundits are already mocking the Dems for failing to win the November elections. Example: In the June 11 Post “Outlook” section, Dan Balz noted how funny it will be if the Democrats “blow it” again::

BALZ (6/11/06): Democrats would be delighted to see Republicans go through their own public agony [after this fall’s elections]. But there are good reasons for party leaders and rank-and-file activists to fret. Maybe Bush will have rebounded significantly by November and will once again spoil their celebration. Maybe there really aren't enough good competitive House districts or attractive challengers to retake control. Maybe the Bush-Rove magic will work again. Or maybe the Democrats will find just one more way to blow it themselves.

If that happens and the Democrats fall short on Nov. 7, they will ask, "If we can't win under these conditions, when can we?" The first panel will convene at 9 a.m. on Nov. 8 at the Press Club. Live on C-SPAN. The topic: "Paradise Lost: How the GOP's Midterm Victories Demonstrate the Enduring Power of the Democratic Message.”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, boy, that was good! To Balz, if the Dems fail to win in November, it will be a sign of their ability to “blow it”—or it will be the latest sign of that famous “Bush-Rove magic.” But this is a very foolish “analysis.” Perhaps it’s time to review the serious structural problem faced by modern Dems.

Why do Dems have trouble winning elections? In fact, Democrats haven’t had massive problems winning recent White House elections; in the last four races (1992 through 2004), Democratic candidates have out-polled their Republican counterparts by an average of three percentage points. (Each party has “won” two times.) But at present, Democrats face a structural problem when it comes to House and Senate elections. Paul Krugman explained this obvious problem in April (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/24/06). But, since pundits like Balz don’t seem to have heard, let’s run through the basics again.

Why do Dems have trouble winning the House and the Senate? Krugman explained each part of the structural problem, perhaps a bit too briefly:

KRUGMAN (4/21/06): So what's left of the conservative agenda? Not much.

That's not a prediction for the midterm elections. The Democrats will almost surely make gains, but the electoral system is rigged against them. The fewer than eight million residents of [Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska] are represented by eight U.S. senators; the more than eight million residents of New York City have to share two senators with the rest of New York State.

Meanwhile, a combination of accident and design has left likely Democratic voters bunched together—I'm tempted to say ghettoized—in a minority of Congressional districts, while likely Republican voters are more widely spread out. As a result, Democrats would need a landslide in the popular vote—something like an advantage of 8 to 10 percentage points over Republicans—to take control of the House of Representatives.

Why do Dems have trouble winning the House and the Senate? The system is “rigged” against them, Krugman said. In the face of so many silly discussions, let’s spell out what he meant.

Why Dems have trouble winning the Senate: Why do Dems have trouble winning the Senate? The answer here is fairly obvious. At present, small rural states are mostly Republican. But they get two senators each, just like more populous states—states which are mostly Democratic. Little Wyoming (R) gets two Senate seats—just like giant California (D). Little Idaho offsets Illinois; empty Alaska checks New York. In terms of the Senate, this is what Krugman means when he says that “the electoral system” is currently “rigged against Democrats.” If we want to understand our politics, we have to understand how this works.

The best way to understand this problem is to look at Election 2000. In that race, Gore narrowly won the national popular vote—but only won 20 states in the process. Bush, who lost the popular vote, won 30 states as he did. What did that election show? Just this: When the nation is basically 50-50, the Senate tilts 60-40 Republican! This is a quirk of our constitutional system—and at present, it “rigs” the system against Democrats. Simply put, to win a majority of seats in the Senate, Democrats have to win 10-12 seats in “red” states—in states which tend to vote Republican. This represents a tough uphill climb for the Dems. And by the way—unless we don’t care who controls the Senate, it makes it hard for Dems to adopt a national message on high-profile issues like Iraq.

As long as small rural states vote Republican, the system will be “rigged” against Dems. A different problem obtains in the House—and Krugman explained that one too.

Why Dems have trouble winning the House: The “rigging” here is less obvious—and less extreme. But according to Krugman, Democrats suffer from too many districts with overwhelming Democratic majorities. For example, in districts which tilt 70-30 Democratic, many excess Dem votes are “wasted.” And Democrats have more of these unbalanced districts, Krugman says. Republican voters “are more widely spread out.”

According to Krugman, this problem is so extreme that Dems would have to win the national vote by 8 to 10 points to take control of the House. Presumably, Krugman uses the term “ghettoized” here because many of these unbalanced, Dem-heavy districts are minority districts—districts which may have been crafted to insure minority representation. (According to Krugman, these unbalanced districts have resulted from “a combination of accident and design.”)

So no, it doesn’t take “Bush-Rove magic” for Republicans to win the House and the Senate—and we’re amazed to see someone as smart as Balz make such a silly presentation. But then, the obvious situation which Krugman described almost never gets mentioned these days, even by mainstream and liberal journalists. In that June 11 Post “Outlook” section, for example, Balz was one of many writers opining about the problems Dems face. What must Dems do to win the Congress? A long string of savants stated their views. Amazingly, no one mentioned the structural problem Democrats face in these races.

So yes, Dems will have trouble winning the House or the Senate this fall—in part, because the system is “rigged” against them. And this “rigging” helps explain why it’s hard for Dems to craft a national message. This isn’t a failure of Democratic leadership; it’s a structural quirk of our electoral system. As long as our small rural states remain red, this “rigging” will continue to work against Dems—and will invite the silly constructions which even Dan Balz has now offered.

WHITE HOUSE TOO: In White House elections, the electoral college is slightly “rigged” against Democrats too, because the small rural states get a slightly disproportionate number of electors. As long as the small rural states vote Republican, every part of the electoral system will be structurally “rigged” against Dems. These facts are basic to our current politics. It’s surprising when pundits deep-six them.

NUMBERS PLEASE: How odd is our Senate system? Here are the state-by-state totals from Election 2000. Note the vast difference in votes cast—in states which all get two Senate seats.

LET’S PLAY SOFT BALZ: The June 11 piece is far below the normal Balz standard. “The Democrats have become too good at losing,” Balz began—and then, he failed to explain the situation limned by Krugman back in April. Alas! In the current journalistic environment, even Balz seems to prefer tomfoolery to simple explanation. Bottom line? In a Senate structure which tilts 60-40 Republican, it hardly takes some sort of “Rove magic” to keep the chamber in Republican hands. Our question: What makes an intelligent person like Balz engage in such piffle and puffery?