Saturday, December 1, 2007

A federal judge dismisses a court case challenging new immigration-related measures in Prince William County, VA.
Engaging in classic horse-race punditry (that is, wildly generalizing from a single incident for the sake of sensationalism): Could Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Obama hurt Edwards--and not Clinton--the most (if it really hurts anyone at all...)? A NYT anecdote (e.a.):

Kate Anderson, 20, a student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, said she loves watching Oprah and that she and her mother “religiously read everything she has to say” in her magazine. She said she likes Mr. Obama and while the endorsement is not the only reason, it is part of the reason.

“I think what Oprah stands for to me is a sense of moving forward and hope, which I think is what Obama has come to stand for,” she said. Ms. Anderson said she was torn between John Edwards and Mr. Obama, “and I still kind of am, but I’m leaning more towards Obama, and that’s because of both Oprah’s support and what I’ve seen of him.”

Sounds ironclad to me! Edwards himself talks a lot about "moving forward"...
The Hill has more on the struggle for Senate Republican Conference Chair. Some rumors: Lott backs Burr but McConnell backs Alexander, maybe? Will Hutchison drop out? Could Thune run for policy chair against Cornyn?
John J. Miller has an interesting interview with Daniel Walker Howe about Howe's latest book, What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Howe offers some interesting comments about politics, technology, religion in nineteenth-century America. For example:
HOWE: Before I wrote this book I had never really grasped how often improvements in material terms fostered improvements in moral terms. The people who encouraged economic diversification and development in many cases also supported more humane laws, wider access to education, a halt to the expansion of slavery, even, sometimes, greater equality for women. The two heroes of my story, John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln, both illustrate this. The economic development that they wanted to promote empowered the average person in all kinds of ways. It brought wider vocational choices and opportunities for personal independence. In today’s third world, improvements in living standards should similarly encourage democracy and respect for human rights. Adams and Lincoln both valued capitalism as a moral as well as material benefit, and they were right to do so. This is the most important thing I learned from the experience of writing the book.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Speaker Pelosi stands behind a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and rejects any talk of a "compromise." Even as a growing number of Democrats are saying the "surge" is working, they are also saying the public attention is turning away from Iraq.
Thune (SD) declares that he will not run for chair of the Senate Republican Conference:

WASHINGTON, DC—Senator John Thune today made the following statement regarding the upcoming race for the Republican Conference Chairmanship:

“As the Chief Deputy Whip, I feel I would serve the Republican conference best by focusing my efforts on helping the Whip organization make a smooth transition and therefore will not be seeking the position of Conference Chairman. There are excellent candidates running for Conference Chairman and our conference will be well served regardless of who wins.”

Currently, Hutchison (TX), Alexander (TN), and Burr (NC) are running for this position.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Horse Race--Huckabee Struggles in Polling: In a recent batch of Survey USA polls, Mike Huckabee lags behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in hypothetical general election matchups in a number of key states--especially compared to how other Republican candidates would fare. These polls have results for hypothetical matchups of Huckabee, McCain, Romney, and Giuliani against Clinton and Obama; in many states, Huckabee does the worst of the four Republican candidates.
In Kansas, Huckabee lags 6 points behind Clinton (43-49). John McCain leads Clinton in that state by 17 points (55-38). Huckabee also lags 6 points behind Obama in Kansas (41-47).
Huckabee falls 14 points behind Clinton in New Mexico (39-53); McCain leads Clinton 48-45 there.
In Kentucky, every Republican candidate leads Obama--except for Huckabee (who trails him 42-44).
In Virginia, Huckabee does the worst of all Republican candidates, falling 10 points behind Clinton (40-50) and 12 points behind Obama (38-50).
Some of the Democratic leadership in Congress say they will continue to insist on a mandatory withdrawal timeline before passing a defense funding bill, but Rep. Murtha (D-PA)--who now thinks that the "surge" is working--wonders if there might be a possible "compromise" on this timetable and other aspects of defense funding.
Drudge and others are right now pushing this new study about the present immigration population put out by the Center for Immigration Studies. There's a fair amount of information in this study. Some key data points:
Immigrants account for one in eight U.S. residents, the highest level in 80 years. In 1970 it was one in 21; in 1980 it was one in 16; and in 1990 it was one in 13.

Overall, nearly one in three immigrants is an illegal alien. Half of Mexican and Central American immigrants and one-third of South American immigrants are illegal.

Since 2000, 10.3 million immigrants have arrived — the highest seven-year period of immigration in U.S. history. More than half of post-2000 arrivals (5.6 million) are estimated to be illegal aliens.

The proportion of immigrant-headed households using at least one major welfare program is 33 percent, compared to 19 percent for native households.

34 percent of immigrants lack health insurance, compared to 13 percent of natives. Immigrants and their U.S.-born children account for 71 percent of the increase in the uninsured since 1989.

Recent immigration has had no significant impact on the nation’s age structure. Without the 10.3 million post-2000 immigrants, the average age in America would be virtually unchanged at 36.5 years.

One thing that this study demonstrates is the acceleration of "illegal immigration." Of the total number of immigrants in the US, 1/3 are estimated to be "undocumented" but 50% of the post-2000 immigrants are "undocumented"--a significant increase.
According to this study the immigrant population in the US has grown 24% since 2000, and some states have seen massive gains in the percentage of immigration population since 2000. Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama have some of the fastest growing immigration populations, growing 152%, 160%, and 143%, respectively, over the past seven years.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Politico has more info/speculation on the Senate GOP leadership races:

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), clearly has the No. 2 spot vacated by Lott wrapped up without any opposition.

And even the Senate Republican Conference chairmanship may be less of a free-for-all than originally expected. The No. 4 and No. 5 positions within Republican leadership may also be determined without much of an internal struggle.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) is being touted by several Republican offices contacted by Politico as the front-runner for the conference chairmanship, despite the entry of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Alexander's office begs to differ, saying they're getting positive response from many Senate offices.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a conservative upstart, has yet to officially enter the conference chairmanship race and may not place his name on the ballot if he doesn't have a clear shot at winning, according to several GOP aides.
Hot Air has video of the Giuliani-Romney immigration smackdown at tonight's Republican debate.
John Fund has an interesting column up about Speaker Pelosi (D-CA)'s refusal to allow a bill funding the FBI, NASA, and the Justice Department to go to conference because this bill includes an amendment that protects employers who require their workers to speak English on the job from federal lawsuits. In this column, Fund mentions a new group that is forming:
Next month, a new group called Our Pledge will be launched. Counting Jeb Bush and former Clinton Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros among its board members, the organization believes absorbing immigrants is "the Sputnik challenge of our era." It will put forward two mutual pledges. It will ask immigrants to learn English, become self-sufficient and pledge allegiance to the U.S. It will ask Americans to provide immigrants help navigating the American system, the chance to eventually become a citizen and an atmosphere of respect.

This is a big challenge, but Our Pledge points out that the U.S. did it before with the Americanization movement of a century ago. It was government led, but the key players were businesses like the Ford Motor Company and nonprofits such as the YMCA, plus an array of churches and neighborhood groups.

I can't find out much about the organization, but I did find this announcement. It seems as though "Our Pledge" originated from a proposal made by members of the New America Alliance (which bills itself as an "organization of American Latino business leaders committed to leading the process of Latino empowerment and wealth-building")--but its board and membership does not seem confined to the NAA. Plenty of ("legal") immigrants presently have a "chance to eventually become a citizen"; does "Our Pledge" merely wish to reaffirm this principle in the abstract, or does it more concretely back "comprehensive immigration reform" and legalization of the "undocumented" as well?
The Washington Post has a helpful summary about some of the process of the upcoming Senate Republican leadership races.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A coalition of businesses and activist groups are coordinating against administration plans to issue Social Security "no match" letters for the employment of unauthorized individuals.
A (Republican) mayor of a Colorado meat-packing town who spoke out against the federal enforcement of immigration laws is surprised and disappointed to find himself losing his re-election bid.

Fred Thompson and the Limits of Power

Fred Thompson’s At that Point in Time, the memoir of his time serving as the minority counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee, reveals an interesting portrait of a man taking a first step into high politics and of the high-temperature politics of the early 1970s. Thompson’s involvement in Watergate is a very broad subject (one too broad to cover in a single blog post), and his memoir itself raises all sorts of questions of fact and motivation that are not fully answered (probably true of most–if not all–books on Watergate). Despite and perhaps because of this breadth of this work, I think it might be helpful to look at a single theme of At That Point in Time: Thompson’s approach toward limitation and power in the final chapter of this work.

Salon’s Walter Shapiro (a veteran of the Carter administration and hardly a hard-right hack) has praised Thompson’s memoir for having an honest uncertainty in dealing with the Watergate investigation and its implications for presidential power. In this memoir, Thompson chronicles–sometimes with surprising immediacy–the increasingly carnival-like atmosphere of Watergate: the public spectacle of the committee hearings (complete with a scornful laugh track and applause lines), the frenzy of reporters, the peddling and publishing of various half-truths and sly innuendos, the fervor behind the scenes. Finding himself in this civic hothouse, Thompson often returns to consider his own partisan tendencies, sometimes turning to this partisanship in a mood of aporia, sometimes turning to procedure as a way of anchoring himself in this flurry of partisan controversies, sometimes wondering how much his own political loyalties may have interfered with his pursuit of truth.

Even though Shapiro finds in Thompson’s narrative an “unflappable self-confidence,” I think that we can also see in this narrative a concern with the limitations of power and the implicit assumption of the potential for corruption in even the noblest political enterprise–that is, we can also see in this work limits on the confidence in power. This theme of limitation can be particularly seen in the final chapter, “The End of the Affair.”

In the wake of Watergate and the resignation of Nixon, Thompson does not assert a radical end to evil but instead reflects on the seeming persistence of evil:
It occurred to me that after such a national ordeal tribute would be paid to the boundless spirit of man and to the triumph of good over evil. But these were not my thoughts. More than anything else, I concluded, the experience taught me not that we had eradicated evil from the face of the earth, but that some things never seem to change. Lord Acton’s admonition about the corrupting nature of power is as valid today as it was when he said it, and as it has been for centuries before. The admonition does not apply to presidents alone; when the most powerful elements of the news media, the Congress, the intellectual community, and the judiciary unite in a holy crusade, some individual rights are inevitably sacrificed. Concern for fairness too often depends on whose ox is being gored.
It is often said that Vice-President Cheney gained a mission after Watergate: to restore further power and authority to the executive branch. Whatever the truth of this claim about Cheney, it seems that Watergate brought a very different principle to light for Thompson: the value of a diffusion of power.* For Thompson (and, no doubt, for many others), Watergate was a crisis of checks-and-balances for the country, but where Thompson may differ from some is in his insistence on how deeply and widely Watergate evidenced a breakdown in checks-and-balances–that not only the presidency could overthrow a diffusing balance but also Congress and the media. Moreover, he asserts the potential dangers to individual rights that might accrue in this unitary “crusade.” The dangers of unitary power may not be concentrated, then, in only the executive branch for Thompson; power, whether in the hands of a president or a legislative majority, can present its own corrupting temptation.

There is partly a tragic theme to Thompson’s memoir, studded as it is with the falls of various men–from White House staffers to Nixon to a member of the Watergate Committee itself (Senator Edward J. Gurney of Florida, who, within months of Nixon’s resignation, resigned from office due to a criminal indictment; Gurney was later found not guilty but was unable to revive his political career). This sense of the tragic informs Thompson’s skepticism about the value of unitary power: the seeming pervasiveness of the capacity for corruption can mean that any human power, even the strongest, could turn awry. As Thompson writes later:
There was little to rejoice about, I thought as I flew home, at least not without a quiet realization that human frailties seem to manifest themselves as much when men attempt to eradicate evil as when that evil itself is being inflicted.
Our right aims may not absolve us of our mortal frailties; even our strenuous efforts to undo wrongs, to right injustices, and to fight for the good might reveal some of our own limitations.

Thompson proposes a system of checks and balances as a way of coping with the temptation of vice. Though politicians often decry partisanship (even as they themselves make use of it for their own ends), Thompson now figures partisanship itself as playing a role for balance in government: seemed to me that the partisanship was itself part of the system of checks and balances–a system that will work, no matter how hard the fight, as long as certain rules are followed.
Rather than encouraging a unitary system that allows for an unlimited use of power (hopefully in the “right” way), Thompson seems more sympathetic here to a system that allows for diversity of the rancors of partisanship, that can incorporate various tensions and conflicts without itself collapsing. He does want “certain rules”–some scale or set of measures to balance these various competing parties–but he allows for play within these rules. Thompson does not propose ending partisanship or creating a politics based on the dissolution of parties; he is in favor of productively channeling this partisanship, of setting grounds for these debates between parties that will allow these debates to be most helpful to the nation as a whole. Put another way, we might see Thompson proposing a system not to eliminate conflicts–but to organize these conflicts. He asserts that “[c]oncern for fairness too often depends on whose ox is being gored,” but this political partiality need not nullify the concern for fairness, and this partiality need not render this concern for fairness without utility for the public good: each side can try its best, and some of the interests of the nation as a whole may be served by this jousting conglomeration of individual interests.

This belief in the persistence and utility of some political divisions can facilitate principles of politeness. In the condition of divided politics, you hope you can get along with your political opponents–because they’ll always be there! Perhaps shockingly for some activists out there, compromise and negotiation can also be effective tools to get what you want. Thompson’s mentor, Senator Howard Baker, seems to have understood the value of negotiation, and Thompson, at certain points in his memoir (see, for example, page 49), praises Baker for his attempts to conciliate in the committee, and the effectiveness of his “diplomatic negotiation that avoided confrontation.” Those who see the value in divided power might also be more inclined to be respectful of some of their civic opponents because these opponents play a crucial role of opposition; you can’t, after all, have a conflict without at least two sides. Instead of seeing their opponents monochromatically as opponents of “progress,” believers in a heterogeneous body politic can see their opponents as playing a necessary procedural role.

As is commonly acknowledged, this process of checks and balances in the US government does not play out only between the various branches of the federal government but also between the federal government and state governments (and between state and local governments and federal and local governments). Thompson has recently defended his “federalism” as offering these fifty states as laboratories for policy and statecraft. This diversity of states can help us find better ways of doing things and avoid being locked into “bad” ways through forced federal order. (Though, of course, the states could do some pretty bad things themselves, so there’s a role for federal action and justice as well.) Thompson’s interest in channeling rather than dissolving conflicting interests itself has a long intellectual American heritage. Of the Founders, Madison is perhaps the best-known proponent of the liberal utility of the role of conflicting interests; his Federalist No. 51 asserts the value of conflicting interests both within the federal government and between the federal and state governments.

The closing reflections of At That Point in Time suggest that Thompson’s interest in divided power–and federalism–may not be mere opportunism or cheap sloganeering but an abiding theme of his approach toward politics. A lot can change in 30 years, and political ambition can cause men and women to embrace policies in one moment that they abjure in another, but, at that point in time, Thompson seemed sympathetic to limited and fractured power. Whatever value this analysis of this older book has (and I at least think that this work may be at least as revealing as Richard Nixon’s opinion of Thompson in 1973), this memoir perhaps suggests something of Thompson’s temper and reveals something of the intellectual pedigree of his “federalism.”

*A pedantic aside: Yes, strengthening the executive branch could be part of an attempt to strengthen the effectiveness of our Constitutional checks and balances; an absurdly weak executive branch (vis-a-vis the legislative and judicial branches) would not be able to check properly the other two branches. But still, Thompson’s memoir does not end on the note of the need to strengthen the presidency to restore a system of checks and balances but in considering the value of this system and the potential threats to it demonstrated in Watergate.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Martin Kady has a helpful roundup of names for various positions in the Senate Republican leadership race:
Minority Leader: Mitch McConnell (Ky.) – unchallenged

Minority Whip:

Current: Trent Lott (Miss.)
Potential candidates: Jon Kyl (Ariz) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)*

Senate Republican Conference Chairman:

Current: Kyl
Potential candidates: Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Richard Burr (North Carolina), John Thune (South Dakota) , Jim DeMint (South Carolina)**, Alexander

Senate Policy Chairman:

Current: Hutchison.
Potential candidates: DeMint, John Cornyn (Texas)

Senate Conference Vice Chairman:
Current: Cornyn
Potential candidate: Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

* Alexander's spokesman said he is considering both the whip and conference job.

** Burr and DeMint, both first term conservatives, could pair off as a ticket for the conference and policy jobs.

UPDATE: Alexander has declared that he will support Kyl for whip; Alexander will run for Conference Chair.
The Washington Post recently did an interesting set of polls on the attitudes of voters in Maryland and Virginia toward immigration. While almost seventy percent of those polled believe that the federal government is not doing enough to deal with "illegal" immigration, there are also interesting and complicating divisions in some of these poll results:

In Virginia, where immigration emerged as a top issue in last week's General Assembly elections, almost two-thirds of respondents want local police to get involved in immigration enforcement by checking the immigration status of people they suspect of a crime and think may be undocumented, even if that meant fewer illegal immigrants would cooperate with authorities.

More generally, 48 percent of Virginians think immigrants, not just illegal immigrants, strengthen the country and 46 percent call them a burden. In Maryland, a bare majority, 51 percent, said immigrants are good for the country, while 42 percent said they are a burden.

The polls find the biggest differences in attitudes are within, not between, the two states.

In Northern Virginia, 63 percent of respondents said immigrants strengthen the United States, while far fewer, 41 percent, of those in the rest of the state said so. And even within Northern Virginia, where the influx of new immigrants has been steepest, there are widely divergent views. Almost seven in 10 in Fairfax County said immigrants help the country, but the number saying so in Prince William County was 49 percent.

There is a similar divide in Maryland. Half of Montgomery County residents said new immigrants have made their community better, far more than said so in Prince George's (32 percent) or Anne Arundel (29 percent) counties.

Other interesting statistics:

Among white Democrats, almost six in 10 said immigrants strengthen the country, while African Americans are evenly divided. White Democrats are also more likely than black Democrats in both states to say new immigrants have made their communities better places to live. Conversely, black Democrats are more likely to want their state and local governments to pass measures to address illegal immigration.

In Virginia, where more than half of all respondents reported having "a great deal" or a "moderate" amount of contact with new immigrants, 13 percent called immigration either the state's top or second-most important issue. Only 5 percent of Marylanders said the same.

Virginians in regular personal contact with recent immigrants were more likely to cite immigration as a major concern. And in certain areas that have experienced large influxes of immigrants in recent years, such as Prince William County, attitudes are particularly negative.

Some struggles over agricultural "guest worker" regulations:
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) sent a strongly worded letter earlier this week to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, objecting to an administrative attempt to loosen rules on companies that hire guest workers. The Department of Labor rejected Miller’s assertion that its interpretation is illegal.

At issue is whether agricultural employers can hire foreign guest workers without first doing multistate recruiting of U.S. citizens or other legal residents. Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, argues that the law is clear and that the agency must require recruiting. The Labor Department says not necessarily.

Immigration reform proved too difficult an issue for Congress to deal with this session; the squabble over the relatively small guest-worker program — known as H-2A — shows how tough comprehensive reform will be.