Monthly Archives: December 2013

The year in derp

About every week I go on Take Action News with Karl Frisch, a nationally syndicated radio show, to talk about the dumbest things Texas Republicans said in the previous week. For the year-end show, Karl and I counted down the dumbest things Republicans said across the country. As per usual, Texans were over represented. My segment starts at 1:07.

Texas Democrats need to embrace their inner underdog for 2014

Here we are, Texas Democrats. We’ve got a rock star candidate, a long-term organizing program and a strain of optimism that seems to have infected donors, insiders and activists alike. But all that means is that we’ve accomplished the equivalent of getting an expensive new treadmill and fancy running shoes for Christmas. The real work of changing our mindset is ahead of us. If Texas Democrats are going to have a happy new year in 2014, we need to resolve to stop campaigning like fake frontrunners and start running like the underdogs we are.

It might be easier to get into that pair of pants that haven’t fit you since George W. Bush’s first term as president than it will be to get Sen. Wendy Davis into the governor’s mansion. But that just means Davis is an underdog. If the favorites always won, Gov. Clayton Williams would have spent four years fighting Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower. Instead, Ann Richards overcame a double-digit deficit — and so did Rick Perry.

Instead of worrying about Davis’ long odds, Texas Democrats need to embrace our underdog status. George Washington? Underdog. King George? Favorite. Gen. Sam Houston? Underdog. Santa Anna? He was, as Texas Monthly’s Jake Silverstein described Greg Abbott, the “prohibitive favorite’s prohibitive favorite.” Vince Young’s Texas Longhorns? Underdogs. Reggie Bush’s Trojans? Favorites. Calling yourself an underdog, as Texas Democrats most assuredly are, isn’t an admission of defeat but a sign of sanity and a promise of glorious victory. People root for the underdog. (See, also: Rocky, Rudy and the Average Joe’s dodge ball team.)

Too often, Texas Democrats eschew the underdog label and embrace their share of the status quo. Our representatives brag about subcommittee assignments in the Legislature. We criticize mismanagement and remain relatively silent on the radical changes Republicans have instituted, such as tuition deregulation. We talk as if we’re about to come back into power after spending a few years as a minority party that has played a constructive role in governance. Instead of storming the castle, we camp outside, convinced we’re about to be allowed back in.

Running like an underdog doesn’t mean the usual rules of engagement don’t exist, just that they might no longer apply. An underdog is free to experiment with unproven methods, flouting the gospel of “That’s not the way things work around here.” Texas Democrats have lost more than 100 statewide races in a row. Nothing works around here.

Running like an underdog allows us to take advantage of the opportunities that Texas Republicans pile at our feet. In other states, they call these “Todd Akin moments.” In Texas, we call them “Tuesday.” Republicans are running so far to the right in several statewide primaries that the winners might end up in the Gulf of Mexico. An underdog wouldn’t care that not a single insider thinks Democrats are competitive in these elections. An underdog would wake voters up to the fact that the Texas Republican Party has come to represent some of the finest political thinking of the 19th century.

And running as an underdog might give us the courage we need to talk to voters unaccustomed to the virtues of casting donkey ballots — i.e., white voters. Yes, they overwhelmingly voted for Mitt Romney, but they also will comprise 65 percent of our electorate in 2014 and don’t like underfunded schools, unpaved state roads or business-as-usual corruption in state government any more than Democrats do.

To be sure, getting Republicans and independents who believe in the spherical nature of our planet to vote for Democrats requires careful planning and judicious tactics. We won’t win statewide elections by shouting louder, campaigning everywhere, or worshipping at the church of “I’m right and you’re wrong.” But no one ever won a revolution on a conference call, and an opinion poll is no substitute for daring and conviction.

New Year’s resolutions are best when they are specific and achievable. To resolve to embrace our underdog role is admittedly vague, but it is certainly doable. To have a happy new year, Texas Democrats face long odds and determined foes, but it will be a lot easier — if not more fun and interesting — to embrace our underdog status and campaign like we’ve got nothing to lose, because in truth, we don’t.

The Austin American-Statesman published this column on its website on Dec. 29, 2013 and in its paper the following day.

Heckuva rebranding there, Republicans

marxHeckuva job with that rebranding, Republicans. They started 2013 hoping to rejoin modern America but ended it once again on the wrong side of history. By embracing Phil Robertson’s prejudice against gays and blacks and rebuffing Pope Francis’ call for economic justice, Republicans have made it clear that they would rather hold onto unchristian religious views than make the changes needed to win national elections again.

Almost a year ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal smacked his own party upside the head.

“We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults,” he said at the Republican National Committee’s winter convention. “We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”

Republicans quickly made it clear that they had not had enough of that. Apparently expressing views abhorrent to most Americans has become a bedrock Republican value. Jindal has since walked the “stupid party” comments back. He’s walked so far back, in fact, that he has reached a time when open expressions of prejudice were not considered socially unacceptable.

In his interview with GQ, Robertson debated the comparative sexual merits of different orifices, called homosexuality a sin, and predicted that equality for homosexuality will lead directly to a broader acceptance of bestiality. That, and he remembered all the happy black folks picking cotton during segregation.

About the same time, Pope Francis criticized the “idolatry of money” and called “trickle-down” economics an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, [that] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”

If you think that your religion teaches you that homosexuality leads to bestiality, I question your relationship to your God and to your horse. And I don’t have time to teach remedial economics to those who still believe cutting taxes for the wealthy leads to greater tax revenue, job growth, and shrinking income disparity. Homophobia and supply-side economics are political faiths with no basis in science or the Bible I studied in Sunday school.

Republicans think otherwise. Noted moral exemplar Rush Limbaugh called the Pope’s views “pure Marxism.” Sarah Palin, whose Nobel Prize for Economics got lost in the mail again this year, said the Pope’s analysis was “kind of liberal.” And Rep. Paul Ryan, who was raised on Social Security survivor benefits before he proposed turning Medicare into Groupon for Grandmas, condescendingly said, “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina.” Yes, he called the Pope “the guy.”

Republicans have to attack the Pope’s views lest anyone notice that they have just cut off long-term unemployment insurance when there are three applicants for every job. What would you rather do? Call the Pope names, or explain why you cut food stamps for 47 million Americans—that’s 1 out of every 7 of us—during the worst long-term unemployment crisis since World War II?

Instead of taking a clue from a recognized churchman, Republicans treated Robertson’s anatomical analysis as if it were an expression of religious doctrine. When A&E briefly suspended Robertson, Republicans treated L’Affaire Duck as if U.N. troops had barricaded church doors. They compared him to Rosa Parks and hailed Robertson “as a hero for courageously revealing his self-truth and Christian ideals.”

“If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson,” said Sen. Ted Cruz on his Facebook page.

And Jindal, the oracle who inveighed against stupidity at the beginning of this year that celebrated it, completed his redemption when he said, “The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with.”

Robertson can say whatever he wants, and Republicans are free to say that a reality TV star — and a fried chicken franchise, for that matter — represent their religious views better than the Catholic Church. But Republicans will never rebrand their party until they become more like Pope Francis and less like Phil Robertson.

On Dec. 30, 2013, Cagle Cartoons syndicated this column. 

Update: I love the smell of derp in the morning. It smells like… syndication.

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What do 2016 polls tell us?

Today KVUE’s Mark Wiggins asked for my take on the 2016 polls showing Hillary Clinton a prohibitive favorite for the nomination and a clear favorite against most of the Republican field, tying only New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“She is the heir apparent,” said Democratic strategist Jason Stanford. Clinton according to a Fox News poll released Friday, Clinton is favored by 68 percent of Democratic voters for the party nomination in 2016. The next potential candidate, vice president Joe Biden, stands at just twelve percent. The only question for Clinton, says Stanford, “Does she have the energy and the fire in the belly to do this?” Stanford attributed Christie’s popularity among independent voters to the his seeming break from the GOP party line on issues such as climate change and willingness to work with the Democratic president in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. “This is interesting. The way for Republicans to appeal to the rest of America is to not act like Republicans,” said Stanford, who said Christie’s shine will fade once subjected to the harsh spotlight of a national presidential campaign. “As people start to learn more about him they’ll realize why Mitt Romney was not about to put him on the ticket,” Stanford said. “There are some big problems with his record that aren’t widely known right now. Right now, he’s dealing with a pretty big scandal about why he shut down a bridge to Manhattan to punish a Democratic mayor who was against him. All of these are little window dressings on the fact that Chris Christie’s a bully.” … The bottom line? “I think what they clearly show is what we can all tell,” said Stanford. “That Democrats are completely united behind Hillary Clinton and the Republicans are not united behind any of these candidates right now. That’s the biggest point that no one’s talking about.”

So thaaaat’s why it autocorrects to “duck”

Screen Shot 2013-12-26 at 10.04.55 AMThe scary thing about the Duck Dynasty scandal isn’t that Phil Robertson’s First Amendment rights were squelched. They weren’t. He had his say in a national magazine, an expression of his right to free speech. The problem as I see it is that so many Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, ex-Gov. Sarah Palin, and Gov. Bobby Jindal, as well as around half the Republicans running for statewide office here in Texas, see what Robertson said as an expression of their religious values. As I said on MSNBC on Christmas Eve, I grew up in a fundamentalist Bible church, and I don’t remember ever reading where Jesus linked homosexuality to bestiality. Click on the picture to see the whole segment.

POLITICO: “Stockman can’t lose”

Christopher Hooks has a long piece in POLITICO’s magazine entitled “Steve Stockman Can’t Lose” but makes the case that he can’t win. I think this will be a good test case for the Republican Party.

Jason Stanford, a Texas Democratic political consultant, sees the race as a useful way to unravel one of the central mysteries about Stockman—one that’s been asked many times throughout his career: Is he serious? “It’s embarrassing to admit to the outside world, but there are a lot of people in Texas who think like Steve Stockman. He has a significant constituency,” Stanford says. “There’s a tendency among insiders here to give Tea Party people credit for not really believing what they say. Stockman’s candidacy will test the proposition.” …

Is he serious, though? Does he think he can win? Says Stanford, the state Democratic consultant: “I think it’s likelier that he thinks he can win than that he’s exercising rational judgement.”