Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Some Constructive Criticism for the GOP in 2016

To: The Republican Party
From: A Liberal Democrat from New York
Subject: Some Constructive Criticism for 2016
As the Grand Ol’ Party is still smarting from last week’s Election Day whipping, trying to figure out just what went so horribly wrong, optimists ought to set their sights on put together a better campaign in 2016. As a rabidly liberal Jewish Democrat from New York, I might be the last person whom the RNC might look to for advice; I am not from a swing state, and I’m the kind of person the RNC has completely written off. But since I respect some conservative principles, and I see some inherent worth in the health of our democracy by having a viable Republican Party, I feel obligated to lend some frank advice. Judging by the extent of Republican losses last week, I might be the best kind of person to listen to.
New York is now taken for granted in the blue column, and Democrats control every statewide office in Albany. This one-party regime is a creation not so much because New York Democrats run a flawless operation - boy, are we flawed – as because the New York Republican Party has, as a whole, proven themselves to be a complete and total joke.
But it wasn’t always that way. For years, New York state politics was dominated by Nelson Rockefeller, the ultimate Establishment Republican, and we elected Peekskill Republican George Pataki to the Governor’s office three times. We sent moderate Republicans like Alfonse D’Amato and Jacob Javits to the Senate, Hamilton Fish and Sherwood Boehlert to the House. Even in New York City, the large majorities voted for Rudy Giuliani twice and Mike Bloomberg thrice. We liked these moderate Republicans because they promised to keep business booming and Wall Street roaring, to maintain law and order and make sure the trains ran on time. College-educated, socially liberal suburbanites felt comfortable pulling the lever for a Republican who would promise to advance civil rights laws, protect our water and air from pollution, and reform government from the taint of corruption. They were conservative – but not reactionary. There's a big difference.
But something went awry in the mid-2000s, when the New York GOP all but conceded statewide races to the Democratic Party. The breaking point came in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial race when New York Republicans were given a choice between Rick Lazio – a telegenic former Congressman from Long Island – and Carl Paladino – a Buffalo-area developer who reminded many people of their inexplicably petulant, kinda racist father-in-law with whom they struggle at every Thanksgiving to make pleasant small talk. Paladino railed against the “Mosque at Ground Zero”, chastised Andrew Cuomo for attending the Gay Pride Parade, proudly brandished his handgun in public and vowed to repeal the assault weapons ban. Paladino was a running punch line to jokes that didn't even need a set-up. But given the choice between Lazio and Paladino, GOP primary voters inexplicably gave their nomination to the right wing clown. Paladino was trounced 34% to Cuomo’s 61%; his showing was so bad that the Democratic candidate even prevailed in almost every Upstate county. The walking, talking fiasco that was Carl Paladino was an omen of the GOP’s nation-wide ills in 2012. You didn't heed it.
So what does that mean for the national Republican Party if they want to have a chance at the White House in 2016? Well, first of all, try fielding a candidate that could actually campaign in states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, and California. It's not that we're self-centered, it's just that we're almost half the population of the United States. So long as you give the Democratic Party 196 electoral votes for granted, you’re putting your party at a monumental disadvantage. Stop fielding such total losers.  
Speaking of total losers, fuhgettabout Paul Ryan. Mitt Romney didn’t lose this election alone – Paul Ryan lost it too. Though subscribers to The National Review might ogle and fantasize at centerfolds of the Ryan Budget Plan, its draconian cuts to popular social programs were anathema to just about each and every swing voter. Ryan was a drag on the ticket even more so because the “legitimate rape” fiasco extended to the Congressman – who had co-sponsored legislation with Todd Akin to narrow the definition of rape to only cases where violent force was used. This was not just a campaign “gotcha!” moment or guilt-by-association. Paul Ryan is a man who wants to deny victims of rape legal protections if their rapist subdued them with Roofies or psychological coercion - but didn't actually use violent force against them - because that wouldn't be a legitimate rape, in his co-sponsors words. Paul Ryan will never be able to disown this. Besides, Ryan went to lose his home state of Wisconsin by 4.6 points. Putting this loser on the top of the ticket in 2016 would be as bone-headed a decision as the Democrats choice to nominate Walter Mondale in 1984 after he and Carter got creamed four years’ prior. Why put yourself through this again?
Republicans are famous for giving their presidential nominations to the candidate who has waited patiently for his turn, usually the Vice President of two-term Republican administration (Nixon, Bush I) or the runner-up in the last primary campaign (McCain, Romney). According to that standard, the GOP’s 2016 nominee would be... (drumroll please)... Rick Santorum. Chew on that for a moment.
If you thought that this election was a disappointment, imagine how bad this day will be four years from now with Rick Santorum – or Rick Perry, or Newt Gingrich, or Michele Bachmann at the top of the ticket. It would be a 20-point washout. Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden would win Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, maybe even make competitive races in Alabama and Utah, Democrats down the ticket would win filibuster proof supermajorities in the Senate and House that would reign for a generation. If the GOP nominates any of 2012’s fire-breathing runners-up, they would be committing hari-kari and might as well just declare their retirement from electoral politics. Republicans had a real chance to win the White House and the Senate, and this band of nincompoops, through their own humiliatingly stupid, piggish conduct and - I'm sorry - their kooky beliefs about penises and vaginas, just cost you a perfectly winnable election. You do not owe them anything.
If the 2012 elections stand for anything, it is that Republicans who espouse retrograde views on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation are now forever doomed – even in Bible Belt states like Indiana and Missouri. If they have ever tried to minimize the pain and suffering of victims of rape, they're done. Toast. If the GOP puts up a “fresh face” like John Thune or Bob “transvaginal ultrasound” McDonnell, it will make little to no difference. Most swing voters, especially in Colorado, Nevada, and New Hampshire, are thoroughly libertarian on social issues. The Chamber of Commerce, laissez faire wing of the Republican Party needs to acknowledge that the Christian Right’s influence over a GOP candidate is now a veritable kiss of death in these pivotal states and that the nominating committees ought to heed the Scriptural admonition about putting new wine in old bottles.
It’s a good thing that smart conservatives were able to acknowledge that Romney ticket lost so badly in no small part because they had an abjectly awful showing amongst Hispanics, Asians, and – no surprise here – African-Americans. Take this moment to approach the Birthers and the Minutemen and Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other racists hiding in plain view and promptly throw them under the bus. The enormous turnout among racial minorities for Obama was not just because they were enamored with the first biracial President – it’s because they were also thoroughly turned off by the Romney campaign’s blatantly race-baiting tactics and much of the Republican platform. Seriously, for your own good, cut it out.
However, fielding a token member of a racial minority group such as Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, or Susana Martinez is no silver bullet to the Republican Party’s gaping, festering sore on matters of race. Some of the most hateful, bigoted comments in the 2012 campaign season came from none other than Herman Cain. People aren’t stupid, and we understand that for the RNC to go search for a dark-skinned candidate committed to spewing derogatory bile on illegal immigrants and food stamp recipients is just playing a game of tokenism. Voters can see through this charade. See, e.g., the electoral fate of Allen West, Mia Love. See, also, Alberto Gonzalez.
So if the Republican Party ever wants to see the inside of the White House again, they have to elect a moderate-to-libertarian conservative who promises competence, strong leadership, and greater fealty to working across party lines to solve America’s problems than to Tea Party ideology. A successful candidate must have some experience working in foreign policy or at least demonstrate enough interest in global affairs so as to go toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden for the title of Commander in Chief. A successful candidate pitching to professionals anywhere within commuting distance of a metropolitan area must be able to express genuine interest in improving public transit and not bash those who use it as some "subway-riding elite." He or she must be able to relate with families who are working their butts off to send their kids through college or young professionals struggling to pay off their student loans without deriding us as "snobs." It would help if that candidate hails from a fairly cosmopolitan state or at least has experience working together with racial minorities and immigrant communities with cultures unlike his or her own. It would help if that candidate is able to negotiate with union groups in a decidedly non-antagonistic manner, or at least show some sensitivity to working class concerns. The candidate must acknowledge that global warming is quite real, that it is man-made, that it is a threat to national security and that America needs to drastically overhaul our energy infrastructure to mitigate the threat of future Sandys and Katrinas. Unless the GOP can mature enough to satisfy the above, they will slowly atrophy into a regional minority party that can only win elections in the former Confederacy, the Mormon West, and the depopulating Great Plains.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

¡Viva la Estadidad de Puerto Rico!

            Now that the long, drawn out 2012 campaign season has come and gone, we partisans have taken down our lawn signs and recovered from our Election Night hangovers, it’s time for the members of our democratic government to come together and implement the expressed will of the people.
First order of business: Puerto Rico. Yes, Puerto Rico.
 On Election Day, Puerto Rican voters addressed a two-part referendum on the unincorporated territory’s relationship with the United States government. On the first question, the voters first voted as to whether to keep the current status as an unincorporated U.S. territory, and then in the second question, whether to retain their status as a territory of the U.S., whether to declare independence, or to join the Union as a full-fledged state. It appears that more than 937,955, or 54 percent of the voters said “No” on the first question – indicating that they were discontent with the present territory status. Almost 500,000 voters chose to leave the second question blank, but of those who did vote, 805,155, or 61 percent of the electorate, chose statehood. For comparison’s sake, President Obama won 50 percent of the popular vote in the presidential election, and this has been interpreted as a broad electoral mandate. So 54 percent of the Puerto Rican electorate voting against the status quo, and 61 percent voting for statehood should be interpreted as nothing less than an unambiguous mandate for change.
Likewise, the voting returns showed another unambiguous mandate for change: Latino voters showed that they are abandoning the Republican Party in droves, not the least because they are alienated by the GOP’s increasingly vocal disdain for Latino voters. In the past three election cycles, the GOP standard-bearers have suffered in the past two presidential elections as their share of the Latino vote dropped from 40% for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31% for John McCain and 27% for Mitt Romney – all the while the Latino share of the electorate has soared. This cannot be explained away because law-and-order Republicans want to enforce immigration laws. Over the past few years, Republican demagoguery on this issue has taken a turn for the shrill and patently offensive; i.e. Arizona’s racial-profiling SB1070, even worse copycat statutes in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, English-Only resolutions, calls for a Constitutional amendment to end birthright citizenship, “anchor babies”, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's prominent role at the Republican National Convention, etc. Latino alienation extended to GOP standad bearer Mitt Romney because he unabashedly pandered to these xenophobic forces to win his party's nomination. Exit polling data evinces that the GOP's alienation of Latino voters has not just been a phenomenon confined to immigrant communities; this trend has led thoroughly-assimilated Latino-Americans, and even Puerto Ricans – who are unquestionably U.S. citizens – to by and large reject the Republican brand.
Enter Puerto Rico. What with the Grand Ol’ Party’s post mortem soul searching, the Puerto Rican statehood plebiscite offers an opportunity for President Obama to work together with the Party of Lincoln on a major issue in what could be a rare moment of bipartisanship, and perhaps set a reconciliatory tone for a productive second term. The GOP ought to jump at the chance, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because supporting Puerto Rican statehood is the least that Republicans can do to set the record straight and demonstrate that they do support at least one Latino community’s quest to expand their rights as U.S. citizens.

            This is where all of the rest of us Americans come in. In order for Puerto Rico to join the Union and become the 51st state, the other 50 have to agree to that – not as individual states, but as a nation. According to Article IV of the Constitution, Congress has the power to admit new states the Union; Congress doesn’t have to admit states to the Union. It can, and it has rarely declined. Though America hasn’t admitted a new state to the Union since the admission of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959, the framework for doing so would be the Enabling Act of 1802, by which Ohio became a state. In order to admit a new state, Congress would likewise pass an Enabling Act which authorizes the people of a given territory to frame a constitution. There would also be some requirements for a successful candidate for admission: the people of the would-be state have to hold a constitutional convention to decide by majority whether to form a state constitution and a state government, and the state constitution must be republican (lower case R) in nature. Upon Congress’ acceptance of that constitution, the territory would be admitted to the Union as a new state, and its residents would gain all of the rights and responsibilities that his newfound status entails.

            Upon the official certification of the results of the Puerto Rican referendum, the ball will be in Congress’ court. This should really be a no-brainer. Congress ought to pass an Enabling Act immediately and unanimously. There is no question about population; with roughly 3,706,690 permanent residents, Puerto Rico would be the 29th-most populous state – with more people than Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi or Connecticut. Unlike statehood for the District of Columbia, there is no suggestion that statehood would thwart the intent of the Founding Fathers. There is no question of loyalty; Puerto Ricans are already American citizens, they already serve in the military, and they vote in primary elections. Most importantly, a clear majority of Puerto Ricans have now exercised their franchise to signify that they want to be full-fledged members of the American experience.

            So far, the cause of Puerto Rican statehood has been most publicly championed by liberal Democrats like President Obama, and some of the very most populist members of the House: Bronx Representatives José Serrano and Nydia Velázquez, and Chicago Congressman Luis Gutíerrez. The onus is now on the Party of Lincoln to follow suite. When the House of Representatives voted on Serrano’s Puerto Rico Democracy Act in the 110th Congress – essentially a symbolic resolution which supported the holding of the Puerto Rican plebiscite, it passed 223 to 189, with Democrats voting 184 “yeas” and 40 “nays”, and Republicans voting almost inversely, 39 “yeas”  and 129 “nays.” This was a grave mistake, and it ought not be repeated. This time, with Puertorriqueños awaiting an Enabling Act so that they can hold a statehood convention, the whole world is watching.            

The second island state could even be a fertile ground for Republican voters. Much of the predominantly Catholic population holds traditional views on marriage, sexuality, and abortion, and one of the main reasons why Puerto Ricans oppose statehood is that they do not want to pay federal income taxes. For the past four years, the office of gobernador was held by Luis Fortuño – a Scott Walker-type conservative who cut government spending, privatized public employee pensions, slashed personal income taxes by a half and corporate income taxes by a third, and joined Republican governors in calling for the repeal of Obamacare. Puerto Rico could be a real swing state – that is, so long as Congressional Republicans join their Democratic colleagues in passing an Enabling Act. If there is any meaningful GOP opposition to any votes on Puerto Rican statehood, expect it to create an indelible memory in Puerto Rican politics for generations.

What with the explicitly non-partisan nature of Puerto Rican statehood, this is truly Republican’s opportunity to lose. Unlike Serrano’s bill – which was really just a non-binding resolution – an Enabling Act in this next session of Congress would in fact pave the way for Puerto Rico to embark on the road to statehood. This is a roll call vote which will be watched very closely; it might very well be one of the most consequential votes for the political future of individual lawmakers’ careers but also for the viability of the Republican Party among Latino voters.

There simply is no viable rationale for any U.S. lawmaker to defy the express will of the Puerto Rican electorate. Even if lawmakers condition their support for statehood on the adoption of English as the official language, they indicate their latent prejudice against the Spanish-speaking population as being somehow un-American. See, e.g., Rick Santorum's ill-advised reservation that Puerto Rico “should comply with this and every other federal law – and that is that English must be the main language"; Rep. Dan Burton's insertion of language into the Puerto Rico Democracy Act expressing that “any official language requirements of the Federal Government shall apply to Puerto Rico”. Such insistence that Puerto Ricans speak English indicates these lawmakers’ ignorance of the fact that Puerto Ricans study English in every grade of public school. It also indicates such politicians' ignorance of the law; there is no official language of the United States, let alone a linguistic prerequisite for states’ admission to the Union. Louisiana became the 18th state in the Union as a bilingual Anglophone-Francophone state, and Hawaii became the 50th with English and Hawaiian as official state languages.

Any other argument for suppressing the will of this Election Day’s referendum would simply be grasping at straws. Because Puerto Ricans are already American citizens through and through, there is no question whatsoever about illegal immigration. Many Puerto Rican residents do not want to have to pay federal income taxes – but a clear majority of voters have expressed their consent to do so. With the next wave of reapportionment in 2022, some states will lose House seats and electoral votes to make way for Puerto Rico’s Congressional delegation – but those states would already be losing House seats and electoral votes to other states with faster-growing populations. Some mainland Americans have even expressed concern with violating the present symmetry of the 50 stars on the American flag – such a lame rationale for denying 3 million U.S. citizens their civil rights isn’t even worth a serious response.

So when the referendum votes are officially certified, and President Obama and Senate leader Harry Reid call for a Puerto Rican Statehood Enabling Act – and you can bet that Democratic Congressmen will be tripping over each other trying to be the original sponsor of this bill – the Republican Caucus in the House and Senate ought to follow suite. The GOP has to support Puerto Rican statehood not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it might be the first best opportunity for Republican officeholders to demonstrate that they are for expanding the rights of citizenship to a rapidly-growing Latino constituency. And once that door is open, perhaps the open-minded members of the Party of Lincoln might put bipartisanship and compromise back in their vocabulary and realize just how great it feels to be on the right side of progress on civil rights. This could be the harbinger of even greater legislative efforts to come. Maybe, just maybe, working together on Puerto Rican statehood might inspire enough Republicans to reach across the aisle and work with the President to pass an immigration reform bill that allows another huge swath of Latinos living and working in our country to realize their full potential as American citizens.