Monthly Archives: November 2011

“…What You See in Homs, You’ll See Across Syria.”

The specter of civil war now looms over Syria as much as it did at the time of the Benghazi mutiny in Libya last February.  The difference for this ally of Iran–20 million strong and bordering Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan–is the role that organized violence between neighborhoods of different religious sects could play as government power continues to collapse.

The Arab League has already declared that Syria has failed to comply with its demands that government military forces break off their violent engagement in Homs, a city of 1,267,000 in west-central Syria, north of the capital Damascus and south of the traditionally anti-Assad city of Hama, which was destroyed by the government in response to a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in February 1982.  Failure to desist from large-scale repression there and elsewhere–which has led to about 3,500 civilian deaths since last spring–could prompt the Arab League to impose major economic and diplomatic sanctions on the Assad Regime.

The New York Times reported on all this in a recent article but noted that hatred between the government and Sunni residents of Homs may already have led to symmetric violence between the city’s sects that follows its own dynamic.  We may be witnessing the outbreak of a process in Syria like that which emerged in Iraq in February 2006, when al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on Iraqi Shi’a which had continued unrelentingly for at least 2 years finally came to a head with massive retaliatory violence against Sunni Arabs.  Thousands of Sunni Arab Iraqis were killed by Shi’a militia over the next year-and-a-half in this campaign of retaliation.

That spate of sectarian violence, which had the grotesque but at times confusing episodes as typical of a civil war as anything, wound down in 2007 under the shadow of the US troop “Surge,” which was a strategic success (though civil war violence in Iraq remained relatively heightened until 2009).  No Surge will come in Syria.  If retaliatory sectarian violence spreads through the neighborhoods of its large cities, it could metastasize in the context of the collapse of the government and the factionalism of the military that would normally prevent it as a matter of course.

There are a lot of religious sects in Syria.  The State Department’s 2010 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom estimates that 74% of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, 13% are Alawites, Ibadhis or Shi’a Muslims, 10% are Christians and about 3% are Druze, a small and opaque offshoot of Islam for which adherence is hereditary.  All of these numbers,
the Report notes, are estimates because the Assad Regime has been reticent to measure changes in religious adherence among the sects for fear of the communitarian violence that appears to be breaking out today.  The vast majority of Syria’s Muslims are of the majority Sunni tradition, and most Syrian Christians are Eastern Orthodox, but Shi’a Muslims are a small but very-visible minority of Muslims with a political and cultural power base in Iran and now Iraq; Alawites, Ibadhis, Uniate Christians and Druze are very or even extremely rare, Syria in some cases harboring the largest number of these small religious sects.  Churches of the several Christian sects in Syria are among the earliest Christian churches founded, and some religious minorities in the country actually sought refuge there from violence or persecution elsewhere in the Middle East.  Even modern-day Syria has taken in refugees in this way, with Palestinian refugees arriving decades ago and Christian refugees from Iraq arriving in recent years.  Vulnerable as they were in their war-wracked countries of origin, the Syrian government has found in its refugee communities a grateful ally and a strategically-useful buffer against democracy, as both their prosperity and their very security could conceivably be taken away from them by a government representing the interest of the vast-majority Sunni.

So while we’re witnessing the ill-defined early moments of sectarian violence that could possibly explode into a series of geographical sectarian purges on the scale of Iraq–or worse, Bosnia–this moment and that possibility is not evidence of the inability of certain religious sects to live together, or of Samuel Huntington’s simplistic explanation that “Islam has…bloody innards.”  While the violence is waged between religious sects, neither the timing of it nor the motivation for it is fundamentally religious at all.  This is about the perceived and actual beneficiaries of power, and about those who consider themselves disenfranchised in Syria’s authoritarian, nepotistic, and thus patronage-based political order.  Not all of the opposition in Syria is Sunni Muslim, and not all Alawites (the obscure, vaguely-Islamic sect of the Assad family), Ibadhis, Christians and Druze are beneficiaries of or even well-disposed to the Assad Regime.  But in such an authoritarian state where personal contact confers so much access, the majority-Sunni Muslim religious community inevitably conditions the protest movement as a whole.  Its persecuted members seek protection among their own families and social networks, and eventually as applicable, within their own religious and social institutions.  Those networks among the minority communities will contain more Regime beneficiaries and disciplinarians.  Within one’s family, a circle of friends organized around groups of families, or in one’s mosque or church, it is relatively easy to find-out what’s going on (though as we all know, never easy-enough); between these different sects and the attendant civil services built around them (a vestige of the Ottoman Empire’s parallel religious institutions), mistrust may have set in by a number of ways as the Assad Regime’s brutal crackdown on initially-moderate street protests unfolded without pause or restraint.  We don’t know exactly how these episodes of intercommunal violence got started in Syria’s various larger cities; indeed, 1 of my old professors has argued intriguingly that it is in the nature of episodes of political violence that we don’t really know culpability or even the sequence of escalation.

But the genesis of sectarian violence can become irrelevant once positive feedback is established and a violent process of “sorting” overtakes Syria’s neighborhoods and cities.  This positive feedback mechanism may not be established, and the recent rash of sectarian riots in Homs may be only that.  We cannot reliably predict a larger scale of internal violence from a smaller one.  I will not claim that I’m “calling” the rash of violence that will cause Syria to devolve into a sectarian civil war or a tempest of religious cleansing.  I’m calling no such thing.  Nor do I think President Obama’s warning, though perhaps overly-deterministic, is wrongheaded, or that this story has been hyped by the media.  What happened in Homs is as clear of a warning as we should need that some components of Syria’s social capital–its historically-dormant sectarian fault lines, large apparatus of oppression, patronage system, and personal feuds–are combustible in the current atmosphere.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, now isolated by the Arab League, can stop this now.  He can abdicate his informal throne.  If he does not, the bloody fracturing of the realm will be his legacy.


This Deficit Panel’s Going Nowhere–and So Might Our Military Be

Get ready to be let down in a big way: The Deficit Reduction Supercommittee faces a deadline of Wednesday, November 23rd–the day before Thanksgiving–and all current signs are inauspicious. There is no evidence that the Supercommittee’s Republicans are really willing to accept new tax increases, their much-publicized proposal to raise a net of $300 billion in income taxes through reforms that close loopholes and lower marginal tax rates aside; likewise there is no evidence that the Supercommittee’s Democrats are prepared to address the skyrocketing liabilities of Medicare and Medicaid, the fastest-growing and already among the largest parts of the Federal budget. Republicans appear to be completely beholden to the fundamentalist anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform, and Democrats appear either sufficiently cowed by or committed to the AARP and advocates defending health care spending for the poor.

Don’t worry, deficit hawks: A mandated minimum of further deficit-reduction will occur if the Supercommittee fails to produce a plan or if Congress subsequently fails to act. These mandatory cuts, which will occur over a decade of future Federal budgets, include $492 billion in cuts to the Defense Department (in addition to $450 billion in cuts to the Defense Department over the course of this decade already committed to in the August debt limit deal, for a grand total of $942 billion in Defense cuts during the ‘Teens); $322 billion in cuts to Federal programs, notably in the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, and to the Drug Enforcement Agency; $47 billion in cuts to mandatory Federal programs, mostly farm subsidies; and $123 billion in cuts to Medicare service providers such as doctors, hospitals and clinics–but not to Medicare benefits.

This amounts to a total of $984 billion in 10-year spending cuts, in addition to $915 billion in 10-year spending cuts specifically agreed-to by Democrats and Republicans in early-August, for a total of $1.899 trillion in spending cuts. Nearly $1 trillion of those spending cuts are to expenses which are traditionally Republican ideological or parochial interests, in the form of cuts to military spending and farm subsidies. If a deficit-reduction plan cannot be reached, Republicans will nonetheless gain nearly $1.9 trillion in spending cuts without any tax increases, but they will accept budget cuts that on balance attack their priorities while not cutting spending on entitlement benefits at all.

Is the Liberal Ironist appraising the Supercommittee’s failure to act in a strictly partisan prism? Well, sorta. Acting to reduce deficits must be a budgetary priority, but it needn’t be an urgent budgetary priority. Frankly, this isn’t a good time to reduce Federal deficits; it is a good thing (in a less strenuous version of the Republican refrain) that taxes are low-enough so that a lot of private money is potentially available as either investment capital or for consumption; likewise it is a good thing that we have thus far moved to confront deficits without threatening the basic Federal social safety net.

We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom about why the Supercommittee has thus far failed to produce a plan to reduce the deficit: Special interest groups have either intimidated or dominated the thinking of Democrats and Republicans alike, leaving thoughtless politicians to make confrontational gestures that will please their base or confer temporary partisan advantage (if, indeed, these should be conceived of as separate effects at all) rather than to serve the will of the people.

But what is that will of the people? Majority opinions sum to contradictory concerns: Americans overwhelmingly say that the issue that most-concerns them right now is the national economy, particularly in the context of jobs. A majority of them has also said they are worried about our government’s large deficits. In most polls, majorities of Americans oppose both raising taxes and cutting spending on entitlements–both the largest and most-complex drivers of Federal Government spending liabilities. This doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle-room. It leaves Defense spending–which is massive and suspected of an unspecified and ultimately somewhat-subjective amount of pork–wide-open for deep cuts, which it has received already and which it appears shall soon be doubled.

The will of the people has, in fact, been done.

No, really: If most Americans wanted deficit reduction without broad tax increases or cuts to Federal entitlement benefits, a half-complete deficit reduction package that savaged military spending and arrived at through a back door after probing but fraught and inconclusive debates over the budget was 1 of the more-likely outcomes. Many–perhaps most–of us political junkies may be unhappy with the results as the media narrative tells us we should be, and the process itself hasn’t left anyone singing in a major key, but “we” actually got what “we” asked for. If the projected savings given Supercommittee deadlock–$1.899 trillion–are about 1/2 of what the President’s Deficit Commission called for last December or what the Gang of 6 called for when they aired their deficit-reduction outline this summer, well, 2 things warrant mention on that count: 1) Most of the public isn’t as concerned about deficit reduction as they are about the qualification they put on deficit reduction; and 2) As I’ve said before, this isn’t a good time for us to concern ourselves with deficit reduction anyway. You don’t have to be a strict Keynesian to think so: Cutting Federal Government spending cuts jobs–good jobs. That’s an odd thing to do when the public expresses overriding concern with high unemployment and US debt–high though it admittedly is–remains historically cheap to finance.

So, is the Liberal Ironist happy with the extorted, fitful, endlessly-debated, half-automated and only half-completed deficit-reduction plan the President, a small-majority-Democratic Senate and Republican House has left us? I would be, were it not for the deep cuts in military spending.

I don’t want the Department of Defense to be forced by a politically-driven, suboptimal negotiated outcome to cut $942 billion from its budget over the next 10 years. Congress already received warnings from Defense officials, including the responsible and diligent former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, that cuts to defense spending beyond the $450 billion initially accepted between Congress and the President would amount to more than just a “flesh wound,” and would cut more than just pork and wish-list items. Right now our Defense Department budgets in preparation for the possibility of conventional war with 1 superpower and 2 regional powers. This may sound grandiose or even delusional, but critics of our large Defense posture just don’t take stock of the strategic challenges the United States faces.

The People’s Republic of China is about to undergo a leadership transition, and the next generation of Chinese leaders appears to be more-ideological. (On that note, the already-ideological generals of the People’s Liberation Army have become increasingly-strident in their criticism of US power projection in East Asia in recent years. Many of China’s near neighbors, most-notably Japan, Vietnam, and the Republic of Korea, have eagerly solicited a closer military relationship with the United States in response to Chinese indications that it leadership aspire to regional hegemony. A closer alliance with these countries now could be profitable in policy terms; conversely, failure to provide security guarantees to these countries now could result in their folding in front of Chinese pressure on a host of issues–or in the case of Vietnam, it could even lead to war over existing territorial disputes.)

The Islamic Republic of Iran is very close to the development of a nuclear weapons capability. The United States remains non-committal–as it was under President George W. Bush–over whether to use military force to destroy Iran’s bomb-making capacity. In order for all options to remain on the table (as we are often informed they are), we need not only the capacity to fly many planes over Iran to strike bomb-making facilities but some slack in our military strength, including our ground forces, to address possible Iranian reprisals, either through its Revolutionary Guard corps or through foreign terrorist proxies such as Hizballah.

North Korea and Pakistan both hover near the point of collapse. At 5.7 million strong including reserves, the Korean People’s Liberation Army is actually the largest in the World. This increasingly cash-strapped military force may attack South Korea simply out of a desperate attempt by its generals to extort money. Pakistan, home to about 170 million people, probably has at least 90 nuclear weapons and has a long history of state sponsorship and sheltering of terrorists. (Terrorist overlord Osama bin Laden was of course killed in Abbottabad, a Pakistani garrison city close to the capital.) This is an exemplary case of a country where anything could happen; should the unthinkable occur and the United States is compelled to intervene in this country in some way, we will face a great and painful undertaking with a drastically-reduced military force.

Then there is the enduring potential, in a number of the World’s more-vulnerable countries with war-weary and paranoid leadership, of genocide. President Obama’s Libyan intervention ultimately cost the United States only $1 billion–a bargain in light of the removal of 1 of the World’s most-vicious dictators and the prospect of the transfer of government of Africa’s most-affluent countries to its own people–but a future intervention to prevent large-scale government violence against civilians may be even more in the national interest yet more-expensive and protracted. This could open an unwelcome controversy about whether the United States has the means to intervene in foreign theaters even of direct relevance to us.

So our stunted, chaotic, back-door compromise at deficit-reduction has managed to trade-off a lot of domestic policy pain in favor of real foreign-policy vulnerability. I hope a future Congress will roll up its sleeves and restore half of the likely cuts to military spending, then finally get around to making us all suffer equitably at home.

For the sake of keeping the peace abroad, we should all be willing to take some bitter medicine. Let’s rise to the occasion–if not by Thanksgiving, then soon.

Lessons From the 2011 Elections

In case you didn’t notice (and many of you may live in jurisdictions where you wouldn’t), there were elections last night–for municipalities in New York; for State legislatures in New Jersey, Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi; for referendums in Ohio; and special elections in Iowa and Arizona.  Kentucky and Mississippi both had gubernatorial elections.  There were a few upsets; outside of Virginia, the good news was generally for the Democrats.  The Liberal Ironist would like to read the tea leaves coming out of a quiet but portentious odd-year election.

Voters Aren’t Letting (Republican) Bullies Get Their Way

Scott Walker, John Kasich and Chris Christie have all received pointed messages in the past few months.  All 3 Governors have gone on the attack against public employee unions: In Wisconsin Governor Walker passed a bill restricting State public employee unions from being able to collectively bargain for anything more than cost-of-living adjustments to their income; in Ohio Governor Kasich passed an even more-radical elimination of public employee unions’ collective bargaining power, restricting collective bargaining solely to salaries, workplace conditions and hours and requiring State employees to contribute at least 10% of their salaries to their pensions and at least 15% of their salaries to their health benefits.  And in New Jersey, Governor Christie–who had to face-down a recently-enlarged Democratic majority in the State Legislature to do this–managed to require State employees to contribute larger shares of their salaries to their pension and health benefits.  From late last winter through this summer, these measures were taken as a harbinger of public employee unions on the defensive, just another chapter in the long decline of union power and protections in the United States.  Since August, however, they look more like episodes of Republican hubris, their relatively favorable circumstances notwithstanding.

Back in early-August Wisconsin Republicans barely preserved their majority in the State Senate, 17-16, following recall elections for 6 Republican Senate seats.  (Democrats won 2 of the 6 contests, reducing a 19-14 Republican Senate majority but suffering visible demoralization in the process.)  This was taken by many Republicans and pundits as evidence of the party’s resilience, even as a sign that Governor Walker didn’t have to worry about his impending recall next year.  This conclusion is premature at best; only State Senators who have been in office for at least 1 year are eligible for recall under Wisconsin law; this means the 6 Republican State Senators on the ballot for recall in August won elections in 2008, the year in which Senator Barack Obama beat Senator John McCain for the Presidency by a large margin in Wisconsin.  In other words, 2 out of 6 Wisconsin State Senate districts that voted Republican in their low-ebb year of 2008 voted for Democrats in response to Governor Walker’s crackdown on collective bargaining rights in that State.  Scott Walker only won the Governorship in Wisconsin a year ago by 52.3%-46.5%–not a squeaker, but still a competitive race and not a margin that should have suggested to Walker that he had a very-elastic mandate.  Progressivism has deep roots in Wisconsin in spite of some of its noteworthy Conservatives–Governor Walker himself, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan…uh, and late Senator Joe McCarthy.  Wisconsin Republicans’ somewhat-surprising maintenance of their State Senate majority has give Governor Walker a reprieve of about half a year.  Prudence would suggest he should use that time to mend fences and build a record of pragmatic problem-solving and championing of causes partial to Liberals; if he continues to govern from the right in this political environment the Liberal Ironist expects him to be removed from office–along with a few more Republican State Senators–early next year.  I frankly doubt he will show the political sense required to make that change.

Governor Kasich in Ohio was dealt a rather serious blow last night.  Much more-obviously than Governor Walker in Wisconsin, he has awakened a “sleeping giant” in the public employees unions.  Though not all precincts have reported in as of the most-recent available reports, the early lead for the referendum vote to repeal Ohio’s anti-collective-bargaining measure was 62%-38%.  A defeat by such a margin is large-enough to call many Ohio Republicans’ 2012 election prospects into question.  Unless both the Governor and majorities in both chambers of the Ohio Legislature are politically-suicidal, this measure is effectively dead.  Actually, Governor Kasich may be a lame duck already and politically-dead in the long-term anyway.  Ohio doesn’t have a recall law (just as Wisconsin doesn’t allow new State laws to be put to the vote by petition), but the State Legislature comes up for re-election in 2012, and Governor Kasich (who won’t face re-election until 2014) is polling in the low-’30s, making him one of the least-popular Governors in the country.  Both the $30 million raised to defeat this measure (something Conservatives who favor private financing of elections have to respect, ironically) and the margin by which the measure was defeated (customarily a defeat by 60% or greater is considered a landslide) ought to lead the Ohio Governor and his large Republican legislative majority a few moments of introspection.  They have misread the character of the State they’re governing, and even moreso than Republicans in Wisconsin, they need to consider the way their policies could impact Republicans’ electoral prospects in 2012, when Ohio will wield 118 Electoral votes and have possibly-decisive say in choosing the President.  “If you don’t win and the people speak . . . you have to pay attention to what they’re saying,”  Governor Kasich said in response to this well-earned political embarrassment.  It sounds like the wheels are already turning in his head; unlike Walker he has 3 years to reinvent his administration.

Governor Chris Christie is known as a hard-charging, even bellicose reformer, but he has also at times spoken circumspectly on account of his State’s Democratic legislative majority.  That majority actually grew slightly in 2009, the year of his upset win over Democratic Governor Jon Corzine.  Though he had surprising success in prevailing over a fairly-Liberal Democratic State Legislature in achieving restrictions on public employees’ salaries and benefits, these policy achievements have done nothing to help him build his party in New Jersey.  Last night this much was proven as Republicans actually lost 1 seat each in the State Assembly and the State Senate, bringing the Democratic margin of control in those chambers to 48-32 and 25-15, respectively.  While his personal polling (in the mid-40s) isn’t necessarily indicative of trouble if he manages to stay on-message and attract business to the State without alienating the State’s many Liberals, that and Christie’s political disappointment last night nonetheless should be instructive: If the Governor of New Jersey was under any illusion that he was regarded as a hard-charging reformer who needed help to clear-out all the cobwebs in State government, many parts of the State clearly don’t agree at all.  2 years in, New Jersey voters seem satisfied that Christie is done “right-sizing” the State.

A ballot measure in Mississippi called the “Personhood Amendment,” which would have declared a fetus a human being (thus making all forms of abortion and certain forms of contraception murder under Mississippi law), was defeated 58%-42%.  One of the most-Conservative States in the country defeated a pro-life constitutional by referendum because the public considered it extremist.  I should immediately give the twist: The State Legislature in Mississippi is controlled by Democrats.  Democrats hold a large 72-50 majority in the State House and a minimal 26-25 majority in the State Senate.  Outgoing Republican Governor Haley Barbour (who once spoke wistfully of Segregation, making a complete fool of himself) also supported the legislation; still, in what may have been a frenetic attempt to save themselves from a nationwide Conservative trend in last night’s elections, many Democratic legisators in Mississippi voted for a law that would classify a woman who went through with an abortion or late-stage contraception–for any reason including rape or endangerment–as a 1st-degree murderer.

A special election to replace a Democratic State Senator appointed by the Republican Governor to a State office has resulted in a Democrat retaining that seat.  Republicans made a push to take this seat, as it would leave them just 1 vote shy of taking a voting plurality in the State Senate, which would allow them to overturn Iowa’s court-mandated sanction of same-sex marriage through legislation.  Though the district in question doesn’t necessarily have the Republican proclivities they were looking for, this result outside of the normal election cycle (meaning insurgent Republicans had a better-than-usual opportunity to turn social Conservatives out and achieve an upset) raises questions about the rallying power of the cause of fighting same-sex marriage rights already instituted.

Finally, a recall election in Arizona seems to have unseated Russell Pearce, President of the State Senate, an Republican ally of Governor Jan Brewer and the author of that State’s controversial law requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain whom they suspect is in the country illegally.  (This provision was overturned by a Federal Court and will soon be before the Supreme Court.)  Preliminary results show Pearce losing to a Republican challenger who accused the Arizona Senate leader of damaging the State’s reputation and pursuing a divisive policy when it should be working on comprehensive immigration reform with the Federal Government.

Discouraging Results Elsewhere Aside, the Republican Party is Doing Fine Where It Hasn’t Had the Chance to Embarrass Itself

Last night wasn’t entirely discouraging for Republicans.  They did very well for themselves in Virginia, suggesting that that State’s flirtation with the Democratic Party may have ended in a bad break-up.  Republicans have converted their 59-39-2 majority in the House of Delegates and 18-22 minority in the Senate of Virginia to a 67-32-1 majority in the House of Delegates and a 20-20 plurality in the Senate of Virginia, with the Lieutenant Governor able to break tie votes in the Senate.  This is a big win for social Conservatives, who count Governor Bob McDonnell as 1 of their own, and whose representatives among Republicans in the legislature intend to carry much of the legislation recently-proposed in the House through the Senate.

The Republican candidate for Governor, current Lieutenant-Governor Phil Bryant, has replaced Haley Barbour in Mississippi, defeating Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, who would have been the State’s 1st black governor.  Republicans picked up 4 seats in the State House–though they are still far from controlling that chamber.  As Democrats still control the lower house of the State Legislature, Republican power is limited, thus preventing what could be provocative flattery of the party’s traditional interest groups.  If Republicans had been solely-responsible for the bizarre and cruel “Personhood Amendment,” the proposed law probably would have received more publicity, allowing Democrats to rally money and voters and possibly even treat Mississippi as a “counterattack State” as Wisconsin and Ohio have become.

Republicans had big wins on some ballot initiatives last night.  In Ohio, voters that overwhelmingly junked Governor Kasich’s restrictions on union rights also voted by a large margin against the individual mandate to buy health insurance in President Obama’s March 2010 Health Care Reform.  In Mississippi, while voters defeated the “Personhood Amendment” by a large margin they also supported a law requiring voters to present photo IDs at polling stations, a measure widely suspected by Democrats as a means of discouraging possibly-unprepared students, immigrants, and poorer citizens from voting.

Far from representing a simple victory for Liberals and social justice, the 2011 elections provided a warning for Republicans whose policies are too radical–and a strategy for Democrats to win elections in places that now seem like foreign terrain for the party.

Democrats Are Winning by Tailoring Their Traditional Message Based on a Broad, Popular Constituency…and by Contrasting Themselves with the President

Democrats aren’t just winning in base States like New Jersey or staging comebacks in Rust Belt States with contracting cities like Ohio and Wisconsin; they are also winning elections in places with which they cannot be conventionally associated.  Democratic Governor Steve Beshear just won re-election easily, Democrats picked up a seat in the State House, and the only statewide elected office held by a Republican (and there are many statewide elected offices in Kentucky) is that of the Agriculture Commissioner.  Democrats also picked up a seat in the State Senate, which they already control.  Democrats did well for themselves here last night, but they did it by contrasting themselves with President Obama.  This worked well for Governor Joe Manchin III when he ran for the US Senate in 2010, and for Earl Ray Tomblin when he ran to succeed him as Governor of that very-Democratic yet very-Conservative State.  Democrats continue to do well in States like West Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi when they are able to champion local issues that…clash directly with the Democratic Party’s national agenda.  When Joe Manchin ran for the Senate in 2010, he ran an ad in which he literally shot a copy of President Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade emissions control legislation with a rifle, “because it’s bad for West Virginia.”

In summary, Democrats do seem to have found a way out of their disastrous 2010 low point–but that way forward so far seems to consist in taking up popular causes that harmonize with their traditional narrative of government power applied in the public interest.  This means candidates are often better-off talking local issues and sporting a very-contextual track record, and in some places casting “Washington” or even President Obama as the heavy.