Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Moral Crisis of the Republican Party

The Republican Party is facing a crisis that's not purely political.  The real problem with the party is an ethical and moral one, far more serious than the political missteps that have plagued it in recent years.
            The political problems with the Republican Party are well known.  It lost yet another presidential election and its candidates have secured a majority of the popular vote only once in the last five contests.  The Democrats control the US Senate and while the Republicans retain shrunken hold in the House of Representatives, they failed to capture a majority of the popular vote in that chamber. Were it not for gerrymandering and geography, they would have lost that chamber too. In Minnesota, Republicans were sharply repudiated last November, ousted by constitutional overreach and infighting.
            Republicans know they have a problem.  This past weekend in New Orleans they held a conference seeking to understand their problems.  For some it is that they nominated bad presidential candidates such as John McCain or Mitt Romney.  For others it is not the candidates or the values but the messaging.  Some see it as bad campaign tactics, seeking salvation in borrowing from Obama's campaign.  Similarly, Minnesota and other Republicans this week will meet to discuss the future of their party, no doubt concluding that the problem are the candidates, the messaging, or the tactics.  They are only part of the problem.
            Short term the political crisis of the Republican Party is not an issue.  The 2014 elections will come soon and in general the President’s party does badly in the midterm elections of a second term.  Democrats will need to defend 20 Senate seats compared to 13 for Republicans, and across the country, decreased voter turnout will favor the Republicans. One should not discount the capacity of  Democrats across the country to make political mistakes, either by being overconfident, overreaching, or failing to seize the day.  Obama’s first term was a lesson in looking aside when given the chance to make historical change.  Democrats will make political missteps in 2014 and by 2016 perhaps the American public may be sick of them for failing to deliver, giving the Republicans a political opportunity.
            But were the crisis of the Republican Party merely tactical and just about playing politics that would be simple.  But the problem is more deep seated–it is the moral or ethical crisis of the party that is the problem.
            The problem is with the political morality of the Republican Party.  It is a party dominated by an aging white population hostile to diversity, gay rights, women’s rights, and the use of government resources to promote the public good.  It is a political party increasingly out of step where the future of America is headed.   That future is one less Christian and religious, and more diverse.  Public opinion has shifted and it supports gay marriage and rights.  It supports a woman’s right to choose, and more importantly, birth control.  It does not believe women have natural defenses against real rape, it is less supportive of the death penalty, and it does support some reasonable limits on guns.
            It is an America that sees a role for the government in promoting the public good.  It is a public that wants good schools and affordable colleges.  It is a public that worries about the environment and accepts science.  It does not think vaccinations cause retardation.  It is public worried about the corrosive effect of money in politics and the problems that rising inequality is causing for a next generation whose life prospects may not be as good as the one we enjoy.
            Multiple surveys document these views of the contemporary American public opinion.  This is only part of the ethical crisis of the Republican Party.  It is not only out of step with where current public opinion is, but the demographics are against them.  The values of a new generation of Americans coming up are increasingly at odds where the current Republican Party is.
            The main constituency for the current GOP is old or fringe.  It is a constituency increasingly seen as greedy, intolerant, and lacking compassion.  It is a party in 2011-2 that applauded executions and cheered that some might die if they needed health care but could not afford it.  They are a party that seems indifferent to the suffering of others and seems to have taken the position that I have mine and the rest should do it alone like I did.  Except that they did not do it alone. They benefited from the New Deal state, sucked it dry, and now want to pass the bills on to the next generation.  They are the real takers.  They have benefited from their parents sacrifice and investments and in turn are failing to invest in future generations.  At one time the Republican Party railed against the 60s generation as selfish and greedy.  They are no longer the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, or Ike.  Rockefeller would have no place in their party and it is not even clear that Reagan would fit in. The GOP is now the party of Howard Roark.
            The moral crisis of the Republican Party is one where increasingly their fantasy of an Ozzie and Harriet America is not the one that most Americans currently or are in the future going to live in.  If fact, it is really not even the world they live in.  The America they grew up in was not one of Social Darwinism and untrammeled free market capitalism.  It was–to steal a phrase–a kinder and more gentle nation where the government played a positive role in making life better for all of us.  Yes, it made mistakes, racism and poverty did excluded many, but it also did great things by helping Americans draw upon their talents and create the conditions that made it possible for many of us to succeed.
            The current Republican Party is espousing a constellation of values that deny reality and the dreams of what Americans want.  The soul searching that the Republican Party is presently doing will fail.  It will fail but at core its values are that of either angry greedy old men or adolescent-thinking ideologues who think they owe no one nothing because no one gave them a hand and that they did it all on their own.  It is a party without compassion, a party without a sense of what American’s believe, and what the country looks like now and into the future.  This is the real crisis of the Republican Party.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Four More Years? Obama's Dwindling Prospects in a Second Term

    Four more years for Obama.  Now what?  What does Barack Obama do in his second term and what can he accomplish?  Simply put, his options are limited and the prospects for major success quite limited.
    Presidential power is the power to persuade as Richard Neustadt famously stated. Many factors determine presidential power and the ability to influence including personality (as James David Barber one argued), attitude towards power, margin of victory, public support, support in Congress, and one’s sense of narrative or purpose.  Additionally, presidential power is temporal, often greatest when one is first elected, and it is contextual, affected by competing items on an agenda.  All of these factors affect the political power or capital of a president.
     Presidential power also is a finite and generally decreasing product.  The first hundred days in office–so marked forever by FDR’s first 100 in 1933–are usually a honeymoon period where presidents often get what they want.  FDR gets the first new deal, Ronald Reagan gets Kemp-Roth, George Bush in 2001 gets his tax cuts.
    But over time presidents lose political capital.  Presidents get distracted by world and domestic events, they lose support in Congress or among the American public, or they turn into lame ducks.  This is the problem Obama now faces.
    Obama had a lot of political capital when sworn in as president in 2009.  He won a decisive victory for change with strong approval ratings  and had majorities in Congress with eventually a filibuster margin in the Senate when Al Franken finally took office in July.  Obama used his political capital to secure a stimulus bill and then pass the Affordable Care Act.  He eventually got rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and secured many other victories.  But Obama was a lousy salesman and he lost what little control of Congress that he had in the 2010 elections.
    Since then Obama has be stymied in securing his agenda.  Moreover, it is really unclear what his agenda for a second term is.  Mitt Romney was essentially right on when arguing that Obama had not offered a plan for four more years beyond what we saw in the first term.  Whatever successes Obama had in the first term, simply do a replay in the next four years will not work.
    First, Obama faces roughly the same hostile Congress going forward as he did for the last two years.  Do not expect to see the Republicans making it easy for him.  Second, the president’s party generally does badly in the sixth year of his term.  This too will be the case in 2014, especially when Democrats have more seats to defend in the Senate than the GOP.
    Third, the president faces a crowded and difficult agenda.  All the many fiscal cliffs and demands to cut the budget will preoccupy his time and resources, depleting money he would like to spend on new programs.  Obama has already signed on to an austerity budget for his next four years–big an bold is not there.  Fourth, the Newtown massacre and Obama’s call for gun reform places him in conflict with the NRA.  This is a major battle competing with the budget, immigration, Iran, and anything else the president will want to do.
    Finally, the president is already a lame duck and will become more so as his second term progress.
    One could go on but the point should be clear–Obama has diminishing time, resources, support, and opportunity to accomplish anything.  His political capital and presidential influence is waning, challenging him to adopt a minimalist agenda for the future.
    What should Obama?  Among the weaknesses of his first term were inattention to filling federal judicial vacancies.   Judges will survive beyond him and this should be a priority for a second term, as well as preparing for Supreme Court vacancies.  He needs also to think about broader structural reform issues that will outlive his presidency, those especially that he can do with executive order.
    Overall, Obama has some small opportunities to do things in the next four years–but the window is small and will rapidly close.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

American Politics in the Age of Ignorance: Why Lawmakers Choose Belief Over Evidence

Please note:  I am pleased to announce formally the publication of my new book, American Politics in the Age of Ignorance: Why Lawmakers Choose Belief Over Evidence, which was just published by Palgrave-MacMillan.  The book describes how lawmakers often ignore evidence when making law, are guided by political myths, and  enact policies that are known in advance to fail.  I try to explain why legislators often enacted failed policies and are guided by political myths.  I also provide a catalog of about a dozen of the most frequently enacted failed policies and political myths.

Below you shall find a short essay describing the book followed by the official Hamline press release for the book.

I hope all of you read the book, especially at a time when Congress and state legislatures across the country have come back into session.

American Politics in the Age of Ignorance

Elections portend opportunities for change.  Change often involves both people and policy. As a nation we face critical questions about taxes, debt, and stimulating the economy and producing jobs.  Similar problems confront Minnesota legislators as they tackle a $1 billion plus debt.
    Unfortunately, despite the changes in people, many of the policies proposed, adopted, and implemented are not new and they will fail.  This will be true in 2013 both in Washington, D.C. and in Minnesota where nearly a quarter of the legislators will be new.
    This is not for lack of knowledge about their likely impact.  Instead, often ideas or public policies are proposed despite the fact that the best evidence indicates that they will be unsuccessful and ultimately fail.  Unmasking some of these proven failures and explaining why American politics seems condemned to enact them is the topic of my new book, American Politics in the Age of Ignorance: Why Lawmakers Choose Belief Over Evidence (MacMillan-Palgrave, December 2012).
    Hope is great when it comes to miracles. Belief is terrific when it comes to the Tooth Fairy. But neither hope nor belief should guide the making of public policy to solve our nation’s or Minnesota’s pressing problems, especially now. The making of good laws and government programs should be driven by facts and good evidence regarding what does work, otherwise taxpayer dollars maybe wasted.  Unfortunately, often that is not the case.
    Elected officials often enact failed laws and are captured by political myths. There is a pack mentality among legislators who often turn to trendy and often untested ideas and the  need for quick fixes to make it look like they are doing something as elections approach or to  appease an impatient electorate.  Many elected officials are part time, with limited knowledge, expertise, and ability to gather critical information necessary to make good decisions.  Additionally, the power of money in politics, partisanship, special interest pressures, and sometimes simply ideology or even blindness to the facts–often willful–all contribute to situations where so called new ideas are really recycled old ones already proven to have failed.
    In almost every aspect of our lives we are taught to act upon the best available evidence at hand.  Successful  businesses are guided by data.  Sound medical diagnosis demands it.   Victorious military commanders need intelligence.  Public administrators are taught to use best practices when managing.  The public wants government to be successful and do what works at the most efficient price possible.  But there is a knowledge gap in American politics.  Social science and scientific research, as well as experimentation and past successes and government failures provide significant  evidence regarding what works or not, yet public officials often ignore this information when making policy.
    Neither of the two major political parties seems exempt from ignoring facts when making policy.  Republicans currently  seem particularly prone to make these mistakes.  Governor John Huntsmann, perhaps captured it well at the September, 2011 Reagan Library presidential debate: “Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I'm saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can't run from science.”   Republicans seem convinced, despite the best evidence, that tax cuts are the solution to almost any economic ill there is.  Or that immigrants are an economic drain on the economy.  Or that voter fraud is rampant, corrupting the integrity of U.S. elections.
    Yet Democrats are not innocent.  Despite the best evidence that taxes incentives are hugely  inefficient in terms of affecting business relocation decisions, they often support them.  Or despite overwhelming data that public subsidies for professional sports stadiums or conventions are bad economic investments, Democrats embrace them as tools of job production and revitalization.  Democrats have also joined Republicans in believing that “three strikes and you are out” criminal  penalty laws for repeat offenders deter crime, when again the best evidence contradicts this. 
    Faith, hope, or simply myth and ignorance often describe what the art of politics has become these days.  Evidence-based policy making is what the legislative process  should be about.  This is why legislators hold hearings–they are supposed to be gathering information to help make better policy.  Instead, the hearings are often charades, with policy makers having already made up their minds and the outcome of the proceedings already predetermined from the onset.
    Clearly  no one has all the answers.  Decisions are often made with limited knowledge, and experimentation  is a good idea and way to improve decision making.  Yet all this is different from the current practice of simply ignoring what the evidence says.  And the evidence does speak loudly.  American Politics in the Age of Ignorance documents  a dozen of the most frequent failed policies and political myths that are repeatedly repackaged and enacted.  They include:
*    Tax incentives are a good way to affect business relocation decisions.
*    High taxes serve as deterrent to work or business activity.
*    Enterprise zones are an efficient means to encourage economic development.
*    Public subsidies for sports stadia are a good economic development tool.
*    The building of convention and other entertainment centers are successful tools for economic development.
*    Welfare recipients migrate from state to state simply to seek higher benefits.
*    Three strikes laws and mandatory minimums are effective deterrents to crime.
*    Sex education causes teenagers to engage in sexual activity.
*    Legalization of drugs leads to increased drug usage.
*    Immigration and immigrants take jobs away from Americans and serve as a drain on the economy.
*    Voter photo identification is needed to address widespread election fraud in the United States.
*    Legislative term limits will dismantle incumbent advantages, break ties to special interests, and discourage career politicians.

For the most part, all of these ideas are false based upon significant evidence.  In many cases, enactment or support for these ideas has produced the exact opposite effect from what was intended.
    Be warned–look to see many of these ideas again recycled, proposed, and reenacted again this year in Minnesota and across the country.  But the persistence of this failed policies and myths should not be read as a wholesale indictment of government or of democracy.  Government in America has accomplished a significant amount, ranging from putting a man on the Moon, winning several world wars and the cold war, helping find a cure for polio, and so much more.  The list is impressive and often overlooked.  The Marshall Plan, the building of the interstate highway system, clean water, sewers, fluoridation, Head Start, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and countless other famous and mundane activities demonstrate the capacity of governments to be successful and make meaningful differences in the lives of Americans.  Yet despite these accomplishments, government can still improve.  It can execute better if simply if does what seems to make sense—learn from the past and from the evidence to make future choices better informed.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                                         CONTACT:
January 10, 2013                                                                                            Gail Nosek: 651-523-2511


ST. PAUL, Minn. (January 10, 2013) – Hamline University professor David Schultz, noted expert on elections, politics, and public policy, has released his latest book. In American Politics in the Age of Ignorance: Why Lawmakers Choose Belief Over Evidence, Schultz explains why he believes elected officials are frequently captured by political myths and enact laws that are known to fail.

"There is a pack mentality among legislators who often turn to trendy and untested ideas and the need for quick fixes.” Schultz said. “The power of money in politics, partisanship, special interest pressures, and sometimes simply ideology or even blindness to the facts all contribute to situations where so-called new ideas are really recycled old ones already proven to have failed."

In American Politics in the Age of Ignorance, Schultz speaks to a knowledge gap. He argues that social science, scientific research, experimentation, past successes, and government failures provide significant evidence regarding what works and what doesn’t, yet public officials often ignore this information.

In addition to explaining why policy makers often ignore good research, American Politics in the Age of Ignorance also documents a dozen of the most frequent failed policies and political myths that are repeatedly repackaged and enacted. Among the myths and failed policies examined are: the role of taxes in economic develop, public subsidies for sports stadiums, illegal immigration, voter fraud, and abstinence-only sex education. The book can be found at, though the publisher, and other bookstores.

Schultz is a professor of public administration and government ethics at Hamline University School of Business. He has taught classes on American government and election law for more than 25 years. Schultz is the author and editor of 25 books and 90 articles on American politics and law and is a frequently quoted political analyst in the local, national, and international media.  Schultz drew on these experiences, plus him time working in government and on political campaigns, to write American Politics in the Age of Ignorance.

Hamline University attracts a diverse group of 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students who develop their passions working alongside professors invested in their success. Challenged to create and apply knowledge in local and global contexts, students develop an ethic of inclusive leadership and service, civic responsibility, and social justice. Hamline students are transformed in and out of the classroom to discover truths that shape the way they see and are able to change the world.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

10 Reasons Why the Fiscal Cliff Deal is Bad for America

    Repeatedly one hears the definition of “compromise” as one where no one gets all that they want.  Perhaps this is true in some cases, but generally compromises also mean that the deal struck is beneficial in some ways.  If that is the case, this did not happen here.
    First, did the deal raise taxes on the top two percent of the population?  In theory it did raise taxes on some, but with the new tax beginning at family incomes of $400,000 and individual incomes of $200,000 it is closer to the top one percent.  But that is in theory.  Wait for the dust to settle to reveal that with deductions and loopholes even this new tax on the top one percent is less than meets the idea.
    Second, did the deal really raise much in terms of revenue?  Except for the Social Security  payroll tax, not really.  There is very little new revenue generated here that will do anything substantial to help with the deficit.
    Third, Congress did nothing to address the budget deficit.  They kicked the can down the road for two months by delaying the automatic spending cuts.  This solved nothing.
    Fourth, did the deal do anything to ease the tax burden on the poor and middle class?  Not really.  While the Bush era tax cuts were preserved for many, the Social Security payroll tax goes up by 2%.  Best estimates are that most Americans will be paying more taxes this year than last because of this.  Middle class America will see average incomes fall by about 1.5%. Expect to see smaller paychecks except for the rich.  Remember, Social Security taxes cap out at approximately $110,000.   For the rich, anything above this number is not taxed. 
    Fifth, if the goal of the deal was to stimulate the economy, that it will not do.  The deal had no fiscal stimulus and the tax increases for Americans will potentially affect GDP growth (According to the Tax Analysts Blog) by about .6 of the GDP.  In effect, the deal hurts the economy.
    Sixth, the deal failed to deal with the debt ceiling and that issue will come due soon.
    Seventh, since the deal is short term uncertainty regarding the future has not been addressed and it will continue to hurt the economy in terms of business investment and consumer confidence.
    Eighth, The deal to avert the fiscal cliff neither produced much in terms of short term  benefits nor long term solutions.
    Ninth,   The deal revealed the face of what we may expect in a second Obama administration. Obama yet again demonstrates an inability to negotiate.  He had more political leverage now than ever yet he got very little.  Come January 20, he is a lame duck.
    Tenth, overall, the deal was horrible and failed to secure any of the stated objectives.  Commentators will turn to the complaints by both the conservatives and liberals as a sign that this must be a good deal.  This is the wrong approach for two reasons.  First, both sides are correct that the deal is bad.  As noted above, it does nothing to address any of the pressing problems the Fiscal Cliff represented.  Second, the issue is not whether Democrats or Republicans liked the deal.  Unlike private parties whose negotiations are supposed to be of benefit to them, here the two parties are working for the people.  The public or the public interest is the third party beneficiary or victim of their deal.  Here the public loses. 
    What Congress and the president have failed to understand is that  what they do in Washington is not about what benefits or makes the two parties happy and upon which they can agree.  It is about serving the public.  Somewhere along the line Congress and the president have confused what they can agree to with what is good for the American public.  Agreement for the sake of agreement is not good policy.  This is goal displacement.  We have now reached a sad point where we think simply getting a deal or appeasing the two parties is what the purpose of legislating is about.