Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DC Statehood and Party Strategies

One of this blog's hobbyhorses, D.C. Statehood, is back in the news today, thanks to an NYT op-ed from historian Kate Masur. Jamelle Bouie has more. Both of them blame race and partisanship for the failure to secure meaningful democracy for the District.

If I recall correctly, my old posts on this consisted mainly of wondering, without any answer, about why Democrats in the historic 111th Congress didn't press the issue -- especially during the brief window of 60 Democrats in the Senate. But I think, now, that I have the answer, although I'll admit that it's speculative. It's not race or partisanship, per se, although both obviously set the stage for it.

No, I think perhaps the reason is that for whatever reason, in recent years Republicans have tended to use their best legislative and executive chances to secure long-term electoral advantages, while Democrats have tended to use theirs to enact substantive policy. (see my previous post on this here, Kevin Drum here, and me again here). As I said, I'm very reluctant to assert that there are long-term strategic differences between the parties, but this sure seems to be one.

Remember, the point here isn't that the Democrats are especially spineless (or that Republicans are especially ruthless) -- it's that they (may) think about, and use, power differently. On the whole, I tend to think that Democrats have the better strategy...there was no conservative policy triumph equivalent to ACA during the Bush years, in my view. Using majorities to "consolidate" power is, I think, futile. But others disagree.

Speaking of which...this also explains another of this blog's hobbyhorses, the GOP certainty that Democrats are going to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine in order to shut down Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio hosts. If it's true that conservatives do think as Drum and I have speculated, then their belief is explained because they know that that's what they would do if they were in a similar situation. And guess what? As soon as they gained a majority in the House (at least this time around), conservatives moved quickly to defund NPR, which they see as the liberal alternative to conservative talk radio.

I do want to caution that this is only speculative, and I can think of several counterexamples. Still, there does appear to be a pattern here. And it does help explain what I think is otherwise a very puzzling lack of interest by national Democrats in DC statehood in 2009.


  1. I'd say that the "war on terrorism" appears to be as big a conservative policy triumph as ACA. Hence Libya, the continued operation of Guantanamo, the failure to try terrorist suspects in civilian courts, etc.

    As for DC statehoood, maybe they knew it had no prayer of overcoming a filibuster in the Senate so they didn't bother? It certainly sounds like the type of thing I'd imagine Lieberman, Bayh, Nelson, and the other usual suspects would have joined Republicans to oppose.

  2. Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. We're talking billions of dollar, funded for 10 years, to Republican oriented contractors. I don't see any attempts to cut it down to rational size.

    But otherwise an insightful model. I really don't get the scare tactics on the fairness doctrine. There is a reason the FCC is set up as a independent agency.

    The various proposals would give DC 1 seat in the House. Probably not worth fighting over.

  3. Surely the equivalent of the fairness doctrine would be a law requiring NPR to hire equal amounts of republicans and democrats, not merely defunding?

  4. Anon,

    You would think, but no. The conservative position is that since liberal talk radio isn't economically viable, the FD is in reality a ban on conservative talk radio.


    The House seat was the proposal in the last few years, and wouldn't be a big deal nationally -- but statehood, with two solid Dem Senators, would be.

  5. I'm going to argue against the War of Terror as being a conservative policy triumph in the same sense that the ACA was for liberals. Someform of universal healthcare legislation has been part of the Democratic platform since the Truman administration and a desire of American liberals since before WWI. ACA was a policy triumph because most Democrats wanted some form of universal healthcare legislation for decades. The War on Terror was an ad hoc response to 9/11 but not something desired for conservatives for a long time. They failed to achieve their long term desire of privatizing social security, which existed ever since social security was created.

  6. So if Democrats were to flex their "long-term electoral advantages" muscles, what should they enact? Some possibilities:

    *DC Statehood---As mentioned above, 2 reliably liberal and Democratic Senate votes.

    *Puerto Rican Statehood---Same reason as DC Statehood.

    *Employee Free Choice Act---Unions are a major source of people and money for Democratic and liberal candidates and ideas. Union members are more likely to vote Democratic than their non-union peers.

    *Constitutional Amendment overturning "Citizens United" and allowing limits on corporate money in elections---Has anyone drafted a proposed amendment?

    *Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing a right to equal access to quality education---Strengthens a traditionally Democratic sector, allows for the reversal of "Milliken v. Bradley" and "San Antonio v. Rodriguez" and the current wave of school resegregation.

    *Senate Rules Reform---On the theory that it will be easier to enact liberal priorities, and that those priorities will be harder to erase once enacted than conservative priorities.

    Other ideas?

  7. Jonathan Bernstein:

    The conservative position is that since liberal talk radio isn't economically viable, the FD is in reality a ban on conservative talk radio.

    Every now and then I hear a liberal point to the emergence of Limbaugh, or conservative talk radio in general, as evidence that the Fairness Doctrine was a good thing and shouldn't have been abandoned. They are impressively honest about thinking it was good for suppressing ideas they disagree with, rather than its nominal purpose of promoting diversity.

  8. I'm still perfectly willing to ascribe evil to their actions.


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