Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Reading

One Year Later — Leonard Pitts, Jr. has reason to be optimistic.

One year later.

One year after that icy Washington day when Aretha Franklin sang and John Roberts muffed his lines and Barack Obama raised his hand and swore the oath that made him president of the United States, it turns out something fundamental has changed.

It is not the economy, which still struggles toward daylight.

It is not the partisan divide, which still gapes like canyons.

It is not the wars, which grind ceaselessly on.

No, what has changed is us — specifically, the African-American cohort of us. According to a new poll conducted late last year by the Pew Research Center, hope is on the rise in black communities. Thirty-nine percent of blacks say blacks are better off now than they were five years ago. That’s nearly double the 20 percent who felt that way just two years before. And a majority — 53 percent — believe their lives will be better still in the future, up nine percentage points since 2007.

For the last year, people have been asking me whether I thought the election of Barack Obama would materially change things in African America, whether it would inspire a renaissance of achievement and hope. I was always dubious. I always said it was a little simplistic to believe that. I always said he was only one man and that his election, as singular an event as it was, had limited power to re-shape cynicism as deep-rooted and intransigent as that which grips black people.

And apparently, I was wrong. The proof is in the numbers, especially when they are viewed in context.

After all, blacks are still much more likely than whites to see and decry discrimination against them, still much more likely than whites to say the country needs to do more to fulfill its founding promise of equality and justice for all, still much more likely than whites to view law enforcement with deep and abiding cynicism. And yet, on measure after measure — standard of living, satisfaction with their own communities, assessment of relations between blacks and whites — Pew finds the numbers spiking since the rise of Obama.

He has changed our assessment of the possible. For the first time in a long time, optimism grows among us.

More below the fold.

Frank Rich — The Tea Party Scam.

[RNC Chairman Michael] Steele is representative of a fascinating but little noted development on the right: the rise of buckrakers who are exploiting the party’s anarchic confusion and divisions to cash in for their own private gain. In this cause, Steele is emulating no one if not Sarah Palin, whose hunger for celebrity and money outstrips even his own. As many suspected at the time, her 2008 campaign wardrobe, like the doomed campaign itself, was just a preview of coming attractions: she would surely dump the bother of serving as Alaska’s besieged governor for a lucrative star turn on Fox News. Last week she made it official.

Both Steele and Palin claim to be devotees of the tea party movement. “I’m a tea partier, I’m a town-haller, I’m a grass-roots-er” is how Steele put it in a recent radio interview, wet-kissing a market he hopes will buy his book. Palin has far more grandiose ambitions. She recently signed on as a speaker for the first Tea Party Convention, scheduled next month in Nashville — even though she had turned down a speaking invitation from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the traditional meet-and-greet for the right. The conservative conference doesn’t pay. The Tea Party Convention does. A blogger at Nashville Scene reported that Palin’s price for the event was $120,000.

The entire Tea Party Convention is a profit-seeking affair charging $560 a ticket — plus the cost of a room at the Opryland Hotel. Among the convention’s eight listed sponsors is Tea Party Emporium, which gives as its contact address 444 Madison Avenue in New York, also home to the high-fashion brand Burberry. This emporium’s Web site offers a bejeweled tea bag at $89.99 for those furious at “a government hell bent on the largest redistribution of wealth in history.” This is almost as shameless as Glenn Beck, whose own tea party profiteering has included hawking gold coins merchandised by a sponsor of his radio show.

Last week a prominent right-wing blogger, Erick Erickson of RedState.com, finally figured out that the Tea Party Convention “smells scammy,” likening it to one of those Nigerian e-mails promising untold millions.

Gee, no kidding?

Calm Down — Nancy L. Cohen at the Los Angeles Times debunks the parallels between 1994 and 2010.

It cannot be denied that 1994 holds uncanny parallels to today. Then, as now, a young, ambitious Democratic president faced an obstructionist Republican opposition and a divided party. Then, as now, a Democratic president took office in the midst of an economic crisis and staked his presidency on the promise to provide universal healthcare, a goal that had eluded Democrats for four decades. Then, as now, some Americans responded with free-floating rage.

Yet it’s essential to get history right, and what was most important about 1994 politically won’t make or break the 2010 elections. Congress changed hands in 1994 because the Christian right recruited new voters and white Southerners shifted en masse to the GOP.

Neither evangelicals nor white Southerners can swing this year’s election, because they are the Republican Party.

In November, the GOP needs to pick up 40 seats in the House and 11 in the Senate to win control of Congress. It needs to broaden its constituency significantly but nothing suggests there are sufficient numbers of additional voters who can be recruited to its cause.

But what about the “tea party” movement? Can’t it mobilize enough voters to enable the GOP to win control of Congress? Some much-touted polling seems to suggest so, but digging deeper into these surveys argues for skepticism. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showing the tea-party movement with a 41% favorability rating also tells us that 71% of those surveyed knew nothing at all, very little or just some about the tea-party movement. A Rasmussen poll showing that a tea-party candidate would come out ahead of a GOP candidate in a hypothetical three-way congressional race also tells us that the proportion of undecided voters equals tea-party supporters, and that the Democratic candidate tops a tea-party candidate by 13%.

Tea-party activists do share the ideological intensity of some GOP voters of 1994. But they are neither new voters, like 1994’s evangelicals, nor are they party switchers, like 1994’s white Southerners. There is no good evidence — in surveys or reporting — that they are anything other than disaffected conservatives who have previously voted Republican. At this moment, the odds are better that they’ll split the GOP than that they’ll sweep the Democrats out of power.

Historical patterns will allow the GOP to pick up seats this year. The out-of-power “base” will be more enthusiastic. The demographics of traditionally low-turnout midterms will favor the GOP. Democrats must defend more seats and will be held responsible for any problems in the country come election day. In 2010, Democrats will lose some seats, as have all but three incumbent parties in midterm elections since the New Deal. But the demographics are clear: 1994 won’t repeat itself.

It’s time to calm down.

Doonesbury: Sarah’s directions.