Moms to the House

of Representatives that is.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

As a longtime scholar of “the politics of parenthood,” I couldn’t resist this NYT article about the political symbolism of moms running for office in 2018:

The symbols of motherhood in American political life have long been comforting and predictable: a gauzy family tableau in campaign ads, with smiling kids gathering for a meal. The ads were meant to disarm voters, to show them that women were running for office to take care of people. It wasn’t about personal ambition — it was about serving others, the way a mom would.

That’s not the motherhood of 2018 political ads. Motherhood in this midterm season is not just a credential for public office. It’s a potent weapon.

Several Democratic candidates tell wrenching stories of their sick children, explaining that the prospect of losing their health insurance had prompted the candidates to run for office. At least two women running for governor, in Wisconsin and Maryland, introduced themselves to voters with scenes of them breast-feeding. And Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who on Monday became the first senator to give birth while in officehas been pressing to change a Senate prohibition on bringing children onto the floor, which could impede a breast-feeding mother’s voting…

Several candidates who are mothers cite fears for their children as the root of their support or opposition to gun control. Kelda Roys, who is running in a crowded primary for governor of Wisconsin, described picking up her daughter at preschool and hearing about how she had to hide and be very quiet. Her 3-year-old was describing an active-shooter drill.

Women running for office in both parties have long used their status as mothers to explain their policy stances. Kelly Ayotte, the former Republican senator from New Hampshire, ran an ad that cited her children as a reason to cut wasteful spending, said Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at the Center for American Women and Politics. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican of Washington, who gave birth to three children while in Congress, cited her son’s Down syndrome to object to those who would abort fetuses with the condition.

By and large, though, Republican portraits of motherhood have tended to be more traditional, Ms. Dittmar said.

Also loved this NPR story about a mom running for Congress who is using her campaign funds to pay for childcare:

BRETT KAPPEL: Campaign funds cannot be used for personal use, and the FEC’s regulations define personal use as any expenditure that would exist irrespective of your status as a candidate.

KURTZLEBEN: So for example, a candidate can’t spend campaign funds on her mortgage or groceries – things she was spending on before she ran for office. But since Grechen Shirley says she wasn’t paying for child care before she ran, Kappel’s opinion is that the FEC’s decision should be simple.

KAPPEL: So in this case, the FEC should allow her to use campaign funds to pay for child care expenses she is incurring only because she’s now a candidate.

KURTZLEBEN: In 1995, the FEC ruled that a candidate could spend campaign funds on child care to allow his wife to occasionally attend events with him. But according to Kappel, this is the first time the FEC will issue an opinion on a campaign paying for child care on an ongoing basis.

Seems pretty open and shut to me, but we’ll see.  And the right ruling on this would certainly encourage more women to run.

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Mobster in chief

Earlier this week, I linked to Brian Beutler’s take on the Trump spinning off of Adam Davidson’s “end stage” of the Trump presidency post.  Beutler’s main point, though, was about the “gangersterization” of the Trump presidency.  To wit:

A handful of reporters working on the periphery of the campaign beat in 2015 and 2016 resurfaced Trump’s business ties to known mafiosi, and anyone curious enough to learn knows Trump has been in league with crooks, oligarchs, and money launderers for years. Comey’s epiphany will come as no surprise even to Trump’s staunchest defenders, including Steve Bannon, who rightly sees the special counsel’s investigation as a “Gambino-style roll-up.”

But Comey’s epiphany is timely nevertheless. Trump’s political method mixes mass tribalism with the kind of mob-like conscription of notionally ethical elite individualsthat Comey describes in his book. He used this method to co-opt and compromise Republicans in Congress during the election, and has used it as president to avoid congressional oversight and to discredit law enforcement officers investigating him. Those who resist his recruitment efforts, like Comey and a handful of elected GOP officials, get fired, or attacked, or driven out of political life. And with the rule of law closing in on him from multiple directions now, he will use the same method in an attempt to save his presidency, even if it means permanently corrupting the political system of the United States.

But, damn, what really makes this gangster analogy so apt is Trump’s own defendersChait is on the case (and he makes a damn compelling one):

One of the ways in which the scandals around President Trump have come to resemble a mob movie, other than the nature of the crimes themselves, is that nobody involved is putting up much of a pretense that Trump is innocent. Asked today by Katy Tur if “there’s any chance [Michael Cohen] would end up cooperating, flipping,” Anthony Scaramucci said no, because Cohen ‘is a very loyal person.”

You meant because Trump is innocent, right? Cohen is not going to testify against Trump because Trump did nothing wrong? [emphases mine]

Not all of Trump’s supporters feel so confident that Cohen will respect the omertà. In a conversation with Trump last Friday, Jay Goldberg, one of Trump’s lawyers, warned the president, “Michael will never stand up [for you]” if charged by the government, according to TheWall Street Journal. But why would Trump have anything to worry about, unless … Trump committed a crime that Cohen knows about?

In an interview with the Journal, Goldberg elucidated his concerns about Cohen’s loyalty and the devastating impact it would have if he cooperated with the government. “The mob was broken by Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano caving in out of the prospect of a jail sentence,” Goldberg explained.

Again, this makes a lot of sense as a legal defense strategy for a businessman who has probably done a lot of illegal stuff. But as a public-relations strategy, isn’t Trump’s lawyer supposed to say he believes Cohen is innocent, and would be shocked to learn if he did something wrong, because of course Trump has never engaged in any illegal behavior and would never tolerate it among his employees? He’s probably not supposed to casually liken the president of the United States to the boss of a criminal syndicate…

Politico has more reporting on Trump allies expressing concern that Cohen will flip on Trump. All of the sources implicitly assume both Cohen and Trump are guilty of serious crimes. (Because otherwise, Cohen couldn’t give prosecutors any information damaging to Trump.)

Again, these are Trump’s lawyers and defenders talking like this.  This is how you talk about a mob boss where everybody knows he’s guilty, the question is just whether any of his associates will be willing to say so.

The pharmaceutical companies are evil. And so are anonymous members of Congress

Was alerted to this via Drum (emphasis in original):

In order to earn FDA approval for generic drugs, manufacturers need samples of the name-brand drug to test against. Frequently, however, the name-brand folks refuse to sell their pills for testing. Congress is on the case:

Legislation to ensure access to drug samples for generic drug manufacturers has broad support in Congress, from Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, on the left to Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, on the right. A similar bill in the House also has diverse backers, including Representatives Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, and Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, who is the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Under the bill, a generic drug developer could file a lawsuit, and a federal court could require a brand-name drug maker to provide samples of its product to a generic company “on commercially reasonable, market-based terms.” The court could also award damages if it found that a drug maker had refused to sell samples “without a legitimate business justification.”

….Lawmakers of both parties pushed for the legislation to be included in a far-reaching budget bill signed by Mr. Trump in February, but it was dropped at the last minute.

So this has broad, bipartisan support and would be an indisputably good thing, but somehow—note the passive voice here—“it was dropped” at the last minute. Apparently somebody’s lobbying budget paid off.

Ugh.  Also, the original article really makes the case for what a policy win this legislation would be:

The F.D.A. says it has received more than 150 inquiries from generic drug companies unable to obtain the samples needed to show that a generic product works the same as a brand-name medicine. Some of the disputes over samples involve drugs that are costly to patients and to the Medicare program and that have experienced sharp price increases in recent years.

“Without generic competition, there is no pressure to drive down the costs of these medications,” the food and drug agency said. Under current law, it said, it cannot compel a brand-name drug manufacturer to sell samples to a generic company.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the legislation would save the federal government $3.8 billion over 10 years, mainly because Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs would spend less on prescription drugs. Savings for consumers and private health insurance plans could be much greater.

Well, damn, who is responsible for this last minute “drop”?  Obviously, the lobbyists, but that doesn’t happen without compliant legislators who make this happen.  I’m teaching Interest Groups and I work hard to dispel the notion that interest groups are basically buying the policy they want.  But in some cases, i.e., this one, it is damn hard to argue otherwise.  Of course, this is a buried in the virtual paper story that virtually nobody has paid any attention to, but that, of course, is where lobbying and interest groups can have their most sway, not on highly public, contentious issues like guns, tax policy, etc.  And it’s just damn depressing.

Where’s the liberal Tea Party?

Nowhere.  Because, as is one of my favorite themes, America’s political parties are decidedly not symmetrical.  Political scientists David Hopkins and Matt Grossman have done great work on this (in a book titled Asymmetric Politics) and they summarize their key insights for the current political context in the NYT:

As the 2018 nomination season gets underway, analysts anticipate a network of insurgent candidates and activists to seek a liberal purification of the Democratic Party, in the same way that Tea Party members took aim at a detested Republican “establishment” via a series of formidable primary challenges and congressional leadership battles. Yet there has been no evidence of a national, ideologically motivated rebellion among Democratic primary voters, interest groups or donors.

The lack of a “liberal Tea Party” reflects a fundamental and longstanding asymmetry between Republicans and Democrats. The Republican Party is the agent of an ideological movement; most Republican politicians, activists and voters view their party as existing to advance the conservative cause.

Because their goals of reducing the scope of government and reversing cultural change are difficult to achieve in practice, Republican officeholders are vulnerable to accusations of failing to uphold principles. They risk becoming targets of interest groups, media outlets and rival politicians who see their role as enforcing symbolic commitment to conservative orthodoxy.

The Democratic Party, by contrast, is organized as a coalition of social groups. Democratic voters tend to view politics as an arena of intergroup competition rather than a battlefield for opposing philosophies, and the party is dominated by an array of discrete interests that choose candidates on the basis of demographic representation and capacity to deliver policy. [emphasis mine] Tensions within the party coalition have eased over time — to the benefit of Democratic leaders, who are now better able to satisfy the various demands of their members and avoid facing a mutiny from within…

This year, Democratic candidates remain focused on challenging vulnerable Republican-held seats more than purging ideologically impure incumbents. Unlike Republican debates over philosophical fidelity, Democratic primaries produce arguments about who will do a better job addressing the real-world priorities of key constituencies as well as competition to secure endorsements from party-aligned interest groups. Liberals have dutifully mobilized behind Democrats (often centrist) who fit their districts, leading to special-election victories like Conor Lamb’s recent capture of a Republican-leaning seat in Pennsylvania.

Liberal candidates and activists can succeed in pushing the Democratic Party to the left on specific issues. But they will do so by appealing to the interests and loyalties of social groups rather than engaging in broader ideological debates.

The Republicans had a great year in 2010.  It would have been even better for them if not for the Tea Party costing them at least two Senate seats.  Whatever happens in November, it is highly unlikely that far-left Democrats will undermine electoral success in the same way.

My Mueller report prediction

I was discussing this with a friend yesterday and even though I’m not particularly good at political predictions, I figured I ought to make it here so that if I am right, I can say, “see, I predicted this way back in April!” :-).

Okay, so here’s my thinking…

1) Mueller is a stand-up guy and in uncovering all he is surely uncovering about Trump, must surely have come to the conclusion that Trump should not be president.

2) Mueller knows it’s really not his place to recommend criminal charges or, probably, even impeachment, but just to present the facts of what he found out.

3) Mueller is a smart guy and knows, therefore, that the best chance of any meaningful accountability for Trump starts with a Democratically-controlled house of Congress.  It is, sadly, clear as day we’re not getting any accountability from GOP “leaders.”

4) Therefore, if Mueller truly wants accountability for Trump (which he almost surely does), the best way to bring that about his to help bring about a Democratic House come 2019.

5) Best way to do that is to release his report which will surely be harmful, and possibly much worse, for Republican electoral fortunes at the moment of greatest political impact.

6) That’s not late October 2018 because that’s too obviously political.  So, my prediction is that he releases his report as late as possible (early September?) that it will still clearly have a midterm election impact, but that it is far enough away that he can plausibly argue that it was not timed to have an electoral impact.

Obviously, odds are that I’m wrong about this.  But, even if this is not what Mueller does, I think there’s a pretty good case that it is what he should do.

Less power to the people

Nice column on the importance of strong political parties (and the dangers of weak ones) in Yahoo.  Shared on FB by a friend that also teaches political parties:

Most people think of political parties as powerful, when in fact they have been losing power for 50 years.

Populism is popular these days, and many Americans like Goodman want to make the political system more fair. They want to empower the average voter and reduce the influence of the wealthiest. But it’s become increasingly clear to many that anti-party reforms have gone too far and are now having a multitude of negative impacts on our politics, even as idealists push for still more reductions of party power.

“We like to believe that the fate of a government lies in the hands of its citizens. If the people hold democratic values, democracy will be safe,” write Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of the recent book, “How Democracies Die.”

“This view is wrong,” the Harvard government professors write. “What matters more is whether political elites, and especially parties, serve as filters. Put simply, political parties are democracy’s gatekeepers.”… [emphases mine]

Parties are the best vehicle to sustain a set of beliefs. They outlast individuals, and they are built to perpetuate a general political point of view through the work of everyday people. “They are the only long-standing, durable actors in American politics. Individuals, politicians, movements all come and go, but the parties stay with us, and that’s what institutions do when they work is they transmit values from generation to generation,” said Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

People don’t believe in parties partly because the whole notion of establishment, hierarchical authority has been discredited. Anti-establishment thinking has been one of the most constant and dominant trends of the last half-century. Seismic failures like the Vietnam War and Watergate, then the Iraq War, the Catholic church scandal and the 2008 economic collapse have created cynicism and anger…

Institutions can protect us from the abuse of power by giving us a structure to work through, and to appeal to, when there are abuses. They are supposed to prevent authority from being concentrated too narrowly. Conversely, they also protect us from chaos by preventing authority from being dispersed too broadly.

Institutions can propel us to do and accomplish things we could never do on our own. They enable people to come together and act in a cohesive and coherent way. This kind of collective accomplishment does require lines of authority and for some people’s opinions to ultimately matter more than others. But it’s a balance between the extremes of everyone having an equal say (think Occupy Wall Street) and one person deciding everything (think dictatorship)…

Parties make it possible for politicians to deliver on the promises they make during campaigns. But they also can shape those promises and keep them from getting out of touch with reality. Trump’s promise to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it would have been one of the countless things a strong party would have pointed to as evidence Trump was not a serious candidate for president. But now that he is in office, his supporters are likely to be even more disillusioned and angry if the promise isn’t fulfilled.

But Trump, or any politician who doesn’t fulfill an outlandish promise, can always blame “the establishment,” and many voters will eagerly agree…

Rauch argues that a less directly democratic system, with stronger parties, would represent more people rather than less.

“The paradox of populism [is] if you have an election, not everyone turns up, and the factions that do turn up are gonna be the most motivated, or they’re gonna be the elites, or they’re gonna be the people who know how to manipulate the system,” Rauch said. “And so what’s really gonna happen is you’re gonna get narrow factions which are going to predominate.”

“You have to have a hybrid system. Yes, you have to have elections and direct participation. That’s essential to provide a check on government and a reality test. But you also need people who are there for the long term. You need experts and professionals, career politicians who will be around, who will be able to look at all this, and look around and say OK, who is not represented in that primary election?” he said…

A system in which parties put presidential hopefuls through a rigorous process, where party insiders with political expertise were given a significant place of influence, would be a way for a party to then submit a candidate to the whole nation.

“Party leaders will always have vastly more information about candidates — their strengths and flaws, their ability to govern and work with Congress, their backing among various interest groups and coalitions — than voters and caucus goers do,” Seth Masket, chair of the political science department at the University of Denver, wrote in the New York Times recently. “That information is useful, even vital, to the task of picking a good nominee.”

Masket’s study of political reforms in a number of states has shown that reforms that have weakened parties and given voters more input have counterintuitively made politics more opaque and less democratic.

Good and important stuff.  Though, maybe just “shouting into the void” as my friend suggested.  Well, I know at least 24 people this semester who have a better understanding of the importance of political parties in democracy.  Baby steps :-).

What do Americans think of feminism?

I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism lately, especially because of some interesting takes at the recent political science conference and because I plan to do some upcoming research on the matter.  I think one of the most interesting things about feminism is how it means so many different things to different people.  As I might have mentioned before, among my favorite paper assignments is this for my Gender & Politics class:

Informally discuss the meaning of feminism with at least five people. Make sure to ask them if they are a feminist, why or why not, and what do they think of when they hear the term. How did people respond? Why do you think that people reacted as they did? What did these conversations help you learn about perceptions and reality of feminism in America?

You get people clearly committed to women’s equality who won’t admit to being a feminist where others will say, “sure I am a feminist; women should have equal rights, but they should also understand their role in the home” or something like that.

Anyway, somehow I had missed that way back in January 2016, the Post and Kaiser did a joint poll on Feminism in America.  I’m definitely going to be looking more at this.  For now, here’s some of their more interesting charts:

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