McDonnell’s Plan for Felons: Tell Me a Story

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s call for felons to write an essay to gain back their voting rights is a thinly veiled attempt to minimize such requests.  But more important, it gives his administration the chance to deny anyone they want based on the essay.  What possible criteria can he devise for the essay that is not wholly dependent on subjective evaluation?

McDonnell (R) will require the offenders to submit an essay outlining their contributions to society since their release, turning a nearly automatic process into a subjective one that some say may prevent poor, less-educated or minority residents from being allowed to vote.

Virginia is one of only two states that require approval from the governor to restore felons’ rights.  Most states do so automatically once a sentence has been served.

What puzzles me is the Democrats’ response.

"It’s another roadblock," Sen. Yvonne B. Miller (D-Norfolk), a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said when she was told of the change.

(It is surprising that in a story of more than 1,000 words that three-word sentence is the entirety of the Democrats’ viewpoint.  Whether that is the reporter’s fault for not seeking more comment or the Dems fault for not speaking up is unknown.)

We do have this statement by the state’s Democratic Party office (thanks to Blue Virginia):

"Governor McDonnell should immediately remove this costly and burdensome barrier for non-violent offenders to renew their voting and 2nd Amendment rights.  It’s mind-boggling that Governor McDonnell would choose to bury the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office in unnecessary paperwork during a time of belt-tightening and budget cuts. Surely the Secretary’s valuable time could be used in more productive ways than grading essays for Governor McDonnell.

"If Governor McDonnell wants to improve Virginia’s prisoner reentry efforts, he should make it easier for those who have completed their sentence to fully integrate back into society. Instead, he chose to institute an unprecedented roadblock in a Commonwealth with a painful history of blocking voting rights. Given his experience last week, it’s shocking that the Governor would unnecessarily stumble on Virginia’s history yet again.

"Virginia now may have surpassed Kentucky as the state with the most obstacles to reintegration for non-violent offenders who have served their sentence. Virginians should not be subjected to more bureaucracy getting in the way of their rights to vote, hunt, or exercise any other Constitutional rights.

"This is yet another unnecessary side project by Governor McDonnell when Virginia is facing its highest unemployment rate in nearly 30 years. Right now, Virginians have to be wondering, what happened to ‘Bob’s for Jobs?’"

Why lead with how costly and burdensome it might be?  Why focus on administrative “roadblocks” and “bureaucracy”? 

The statement should have been more forthright.  Instead of trying to parse words, the Dems need to be more confrontational.  Something like this:

Just days after the anachronistic “Confederate proclamation,” Gov. McDonnell and the Republican Party have again demonstrated their underlying racial insensitivity with an egregious campaign to limit the vote by requiring the modern day equivalent of the literacy test.

This is a naked attempt to put the McDonnell administration, which is overwhelmingly white, to limit the voting rights of black people.  There is an overrepresentation of African-Americans in Virginia’s prisons, a result in part of biased application of the law.  Far more than half of the prison population in Virginia is African-American.

But whatever the ethnicity of Virginians who have paid their debt to society, Bob McDonnell is instituting a plan to require essays before their rights are restored.  It is a system fraught with subjective determinations that are likely to be used in a partisan way.

Given the recent acts of Virginia’s top lawyer, Attorney-General Ken Cuccinelli, we would likely see a prejudiced system designed to continue to deny rights to people who have paid their debt to society.

This smacks of literacy tests instituted in Virginia and across the South during earlier times in our history.  Those tests were designed to prevent people of color from voting. This appears to be McDonnell’s modern version of the literacy test.

Attack.  Repeat. Attack.  And stop throwing softballs.

Liberals: Letting Facts Get in the Way

As certainly we all can agree by now, conservatives don’t let facts get in the way of a pithy political argument.  However, liberals are so literal.  To wit:

Matt Yglesias, one of the best bloggers out there, succeeds by being prolific and succinct.  But this post illustrates in a way I’m sure he didn’t intend why liberals can’t make a political argument.  First, of course, as was said on a recent episode of “The Good Wife” about a judge, “Liberals love to compromise.”  Or, as E.J. Dionne has worried, that liberals are so open-minded they can’t even take their own side of an argument.  In other words, they lack a good sense of certitude needed to make an case. 

Here’s a picture of a Census ad that I think is pretty clever.

census ad


The ad can fill in the second box differently to make a case that filling out the census form is a good thing to do.  Now what’s Yglesias have to say about it?

A number of people have been in touch with me about this in a way that makes me think it’s worth emphasizing that this is not in fact how decisions about how many buses to buy are made.

Who the hell cares!?  If it gets people to turn in their census forms—or vote for your candidate—who cares if it’s literally true!

A Big Idea

Congressional Republicans achieved a goal during yesterday’s healthcare summit. They shed their “party of no” label. They had ideas.

But Obama saw them and raised them one. He framed them as the party of small ideas while Democrats have a big idea. As in, we’re planning to fix healthcare instead of, as Sen. Tom Harkin said of the GOP plan, throw 10 feet of rope to a man drowning 50 feet from the boat—with a promise that at some later point, we’ll throw him a 20 foot rope.

The GOP did their homework well. As is usual the case, they were, in large part, more articulate than many of the Democrats, the president included. They had fire in their bellies and a list of facts and ideological bon mots. Even when they threw hanging curve balls, the Dems took called strikes. When I commented on that in a contemporaneous post yesterday, a friend also in my line of work called incredulous himself. The response to that oft charge of letting the government makes decisions instead of “the American people and their doctors” is, “Oh, if it were only so. Now it’s the insurance exec making millions of dollars a year who now gets to make that decision.”

But the Dems warmed up a little by the late innings, both rhetorically and passionately. The best I heard all day was by Sen. Dick Durbin. After the two Republican doctors lorded their experience over the crowd, Durbin gave them the view from the street. He’s been a good old fashioned—and as the GOP would characterize, “ambulance chasing”—trial lawyer. He’s defended victims of medical malpractice and the doctors that perform it. And showing his summation skills, he spoke in smooth paragraphs.

As any good lawyer would, he eviscerated the “common knowledge.” Both the number and award amounts of medical malpractice have dropped precipitously over the years, not increased, he said. The number of paid malpractice claims decreased 50 percent in the last 20 years, and the amount of awards have dropped the same 50 percent in the last five years. Then, he played the jury’s heart strings by telling the story of a woman who went in to have a mole surgically removed only to have the oxygen ignite, scarring her face for life and submitting her to repeated operations.

“Her life will never be the same. And you are saying that this innocent woman is only entitled to $250,000 in pain and suffering. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Certainly, GOP Chairman Michael Steele could understand that, he who thinks one million dollars, after taxes, “is not a lot of money.” Two hundred fifty thousand isn’t even walking around money for the chairman.

CNN, probably taking a cue from, I believe it was, GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell that Republicans weren’t getting enough hot air time, tracked the minutes party representatives talked.

Democrats spoke for a total of 135 minutes while President Obama spoke for 122 minutes, for a total of 257 minutes. Republicans, meanwhile, spoke for just 111 minutes, about 30 percent of the total speaking time.

The president spent too many of his minutes hemming and hawing as he is wont to do in extemporaneous situations. He often starts off searching for words in bursts of disconnected phrases. But when he warms, he can cut you with a butter knife.

His summation, which started in that same hesitant fashion, got legs. He cut through the GOP apocalyptic rhetoric.

“I know that there’s been a discussion about whether a government should intrude in the insurance market. But it turns out, on things like capping out-of-pocket expenses or making sure that people are able to purchase insurance even if they’ve got a preexisting condition, overwhelmingly, people say the insurance market should be regulated.

And so one thing that I’d ask from my Republican friends is to look at the list of insurance reforms and make sure that those that you have not included in your plans, right now, are ones, in fact, that you don’t think the American people should get.”

He reminded our representatives that they should be willing to let the American people have the same insurance coverage they have. He deftly framed his solutions as market driven as Sam Walton. His comparison of a wide open insurance market left to the states with what happened in the credit card market was one people could easily understand. He cited new statistics demonstrating how Americans already have chosen the government as their main source of insurance because companies can’t offer it anymore. And he used a little humor to undercut GOP criticism of the bill’s length and make the point that small ideas won’t work.

“I did not propose and I don’t think any of the Democrats proposed something complicated just for the sake of being complicated. We’d love to have a five-page bill. It would save an awful lot of work.

The reason we didn’t do it is because it turns out that baby steps don’t get you to the place where people need to go. They need help right now. And so a step-by-step approach sounds good in theory, but the problem is, for example, we can’t solve the preexisting problem if we don’t do something about coverage.”

By this time, Obama has found his voice. He’s talking smoothly and minimizing the “hums” and “uhs.”

He then made the observation that I would have put a little differently, though his way sufficed. The Republicans think compromise is first, Dems put their ideas out there. Then Republicans put theirs. And then we all accept the GOP plan—lock, stock and barrel. Voila, bi-partisanship!

Finally, in music to the ears of those who thought he has no soul or fight in him,

“We cannot have another year-long debate about this. So the question that I’m going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month’s time or a few weeks’ time or six weeks’ time we could actually resolve something?

And if we can’t, then I think we’ve got to go ahead and some make decisions, and then that’s what elections are for. We have honest disagreements about — about the vision for the country and we’ll go ahead and test those out over the next several months till November. All right?”

Yes, Mr. President, that’s all right.

Decide First, Research Later

The Democrats legal infrastructure must be congenitally flawed.  Everyone thought Indiana Democrats and Evan Bayh were so smart to time his announcement so that only the party apparatchik could coalesce quickly around the Democratic nominee.  Not so fast.

Parker had hoped to call a meeting of the Democratic Party’s state central committee’s 32 voting members as early as next week. But after party attorneys researched state law, they discovered they could not fill the ballot vacancy until after the primary.

Only after they decide on a strategy do the Dems research to see if it’s legal.

‘Open, Honest’ Debate

From today’s Post story about the administration new communications strategy I was struck by this quote…

One thing for sure that people want is for us to have honest, open debate," said senior adviser David Axelrod.

..mostly because it echoed something I wrote in a letter to my local state representatives after many of my neighbors went apoplectic about the lack of snow removal around here after last week’s big storms.

I urge you to have honest and frank discussions with your constituents about how your vision for our communities informs your decisions, the cost of services and how the tax structure can be used to address our needs.

I’d like to see just one Democrat have the guts to have an honest discussion with folks about what a new tax structure could mean for our standard of living.  The party is petrified of the subject.

The full letter is here.

Demand Question Time

A bi-partisan group has started a campaign to make the president’s unscripted conversation with Republican legislators last week in Baltimore a regular thing.  It’s not a bad idea, though I fear it will become one if it becomes a regular thing.  Both sides will try to game it and therefore de-nude it of any value, though I have confidence that Republicans will figure out a way to do that better than Democrats will.  Though the president seems to have gained the upper hand at the session, GOPers will not continue to do it if they feel they’re losing the PR battle, especially if the Administration thinks they don’t have to prepare for it.  If it continues, you can be sure that Republicans will look to ask questions that are designed more to embarrass the president than to discuss ideas.

The site is slow at the time of this posting.  I had a hard time getting to the petition, and once I signed it I got an internal error.  Let’s hope it’s because many people are trying to sign the petition.

Dems: What? Plan the Message!?

Presidential advisor David Axelrod tells Mike Allen of Politico that the give and take between the President and GOP lawmakers last week was not scripted from the President’s point of view.

“There was not one minute of prep here — I guarantee it. He left here for Baltimore on the helicopter, and we didn’t have any discussion about Q & A. It was thoroughly spontaneous, at least from our end.”

Gee, I’d been shocked if Democrats ever gave a thought to message prep.  I guess they think they’re smart enough to wing it.  You think?  No, I don’t either.

Taxes & Reconciliation

The headline on an AP story yesterday blares:  Obama budget would impose host of tax increases.  The stories initial paragraphs outline the scenario:

The budget proposal released Monday would extend Obama’s signature Making Work Pay tax credit — $400 for individuals, $800 for a couple filing jointly — through 2011. But it would also impose nearly $1 trillion in higher taxes on couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000 by not renewing tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush. Obama would extend Bush-era tax cuts for families and individuals making less.

…In all, Obama would increase taxes on some businesses and wealthy individuals by a total of about $1.4 trillion over the next decade, while cutting taxes for middle-class workers and other businesses by about $330 billion. The bottom line: Tax receipts would increase by about $1.1 trillion over the next decade.

I wonder if the Dems are smart enough to repeat this mantra:

We are following the intent of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which were designed by George Bush and the Republican majority in Congress to expire next year.  We are simply following their wishes, except that we are extending the tax cuts for middle income Americans.

Oh, and by the way, these tax cuts were passed through a budget reconciliation process that Republicans are now decrying as undemocratic.

Dems, repeat and repeat and repeat.

I’m a Republican…and I’m a Mac

Humor can be most effective in political advertisements, especially when it’s used to ridicule your opponent.  I think it can be most effective when used against the right-wing extremists and when there is intentional misinformation.  But just a simple spoof of the Apple vs. PC commercials is catchy, too.  Note that they use a woman as the Democrat and a smarmy white guy as the Republican. (Thanks to Political Wire.)

Bulletin! Bulletin! Nobody Likes Congress!

Pelosi’s Numbers in the Toilet!

The Field Research Corporation has a new poll out that has some shocking numbers.  Congress is not popular and Pelosi couldn’t even win a “Best Grandma With Too Much Make-Up” award.  Truly shocking!

The perception that California voters have of the job that the U.S. Congress is doing now matches its lowest approval levels of the past two decades.

Voters in this state also now view Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi more negatively than positively, but not to the same extent as the overall Congress.

So what does that tell you?:  That Republicans don’t like her for what she is doing and Democrats don’t like her because she isn’t doing it fast enough.  For policy guidance these kind of “how is Congress doing?” polls are useless, except as catnip for third-party activists.  Somewhere a George Wallace-Ross Perot-Jesse Ventura wannabe is taking heart.  Now if he only had some money.

During the 1990s California voters had a largely dim view of the job that Congress was doing. For the most part sizeable pluralities or majorities disapproved of the performance by the nation’s lawmakers.

This long standing negative perception of the Congress became more favorable during the early part of this decade, with more voters offering a positive than negative assessment on the order of five to four or five to three.

However, more recently voter perceptions of the Congress have turned downward to a point where those holding an unfavorable view of the Congress has included sizeable majorities in most Field Poll surveys conducted over the past three years.

The latest Field Poll completed earlier this month produced a measurement on par with its lowest rating in thirty separate measurements conducted over the past two decades. At present, just 23% approve while 66% disapprove of the job the Congress is doing.

Democrats and non-partisans hold the Congress in disfavor by roughly two to one margins, while a huge 83% of Republicans disapprove and just 9% approve.

All this tells me is that there are some California Democrats who have low standards.

Pelosi does a little better.

Voter assessments of her were initially much more positive than negative when she became Speaker, but became more divided in subsequent surveys conducted in mid-2007 and 2008. Earlier this year, following the election of Barack Obama as President, 48% viewed her favorably and 35% unfavorably.

The current poll finds that more Californians are now rating Pelosi more negatively than positively, with 34% approving and 44% disapproving of the job she is doing. The Speaker is still viewed positively by Democrats, 51% to 23%. However, California Republicans overwhelmingly see her in a negative light – 79% disapprove and 7% approve. Non-partisans are about evenly split.

So everyone is dissatisfied with Congress and its leader.  Shocking!