Reporting on Politics and Policy.

April 24 2014 3:10 PM

The Silver Lining to Our Oligarchy

Does it matter what the poor think about policymaking? Depressingly in American politics, their opinion counts only once every four years—when it’s a presidential election year. That’s the only time policies adopted by the federal government bear any resemblance to those the poor say they prefer. Martin Gilens, a political scientist at Princeton University, came to this conclusion, described in his 2012 essay for Boston Review, looking at data on public opinion surveys from the 1960s to earlier 2000s. Interest groups and affluent Americans—whom Gilens defined as the top 10 percent of income earners—have disproportionate influence on the direction policymaking takes. Policies included on national household opinion surveys have a 1-in-5 chance of passing if they are favored by 20 percent of the rich. If they are favored by 80 percent, the policy passes just under half the time. An average voter’s preferences hardly matter. Even labor unions, civil rights organizations, and the like do little to boost the influence of poor and middle-income Americans.

Gilens and his collaborator Benjamin Page of Northwestern University have just published a study to further explain this relationship. In it, the authors examine four theories for who’s shaping policymaking in the United States—average voters; elite individuals; interest groups representing the wishes of different voter segments; and interest groups advocating for particular policies (e.g., pro-business groups). Most commentators have been startled by its conclusions (some of which were addressed in Gilen’s earlier work). It ends with pessimistic tones: “Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” the authors write. And if “policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans,” as they found, “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

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Has American politics always been so? As the authors point out, plenty of scholars argue that “a chief aim of the framers of the U.S. Constitution was to protect private property”, and this “favor[ed] the economic interests of [the] wealthy … rather than the interests of the then-majority.” Yet populism has had its moments in American politics. Few rich Americans liked the New Deal; most poor and middle-income ones did. FDR was indubitably elected with a popular mandate.

But in the more recent decades Gilens and Page examine, neither party has enacted policy that fulfilled the wishes of average Americans alone. It did not matter whether the majority party was Democrat or Republican—both tend to ignore the median public opinion. This does not necessarily mean the average voter always loses: Just as poor folk in Kansas sometimes favor policies that benefit the rich, affluent individuals and interest groups can favor policies that benefit the poor. Gilens points out in his 2012 essay that LBJ’s landmark Great Society bills enjoyed only slightly less popularity among elites than among low- and middle-income Americans, but were supported by both groups. Warren Buffett saying he ought to pay higher taxes may not be as unusual as it seems. But it is the support of the rich that matter. Policies favored by the average voter are likelier to pass based on the chance that the rich support them.

Over at the New York Times, Ruy Teixeira thinks political inequality aggravates economic inequality; Jelani Cobb thinks we’re letting the oligarchs rule. Paul Krugman’s response from Monday was more hopeful than most others. He writes:

“Obama has in fact significantly raised taxes on very high incomes, largely through special surcharges included in the Affordable Care Act; and what the Act does with the extra revenue is expand Medicaid and provide subsidies on the exchanges, both means-tested programs whose beneficiaries tend to be mainly lower-income adults.”

Indeed, it is worth pointing out that the most recent data analyzed for the paper ends in 2002. While the relative political clout of the rich has probably only increased, it also means that the data predate the clear expansions of welfare since then. Rich whites are more likely to dislike the Affordable Care Act, and yet it is here to stay. So I don’t think we should be unduly dour. Studying the relative fairness of representation between rich and poor and individuals and political groups is only possible in a mature, self-aware democracy with an eye toward self-improvement. Gilens concluded as much two years ago, when he wrote:

“American democracy is imperfect—so much so that its claim to that title is suspect. But our democracy was even more imperfect in earlier eras, lending some hope that, through their hard work, Americans’ attempts to build a more perfect union might not be in vain.”

P.S.— I asked Gilens and Page whether they thought the affluent and interest groups had more clout at local and state levels. Though their data couldn’t predict the answer, they suspect that the rich may be even more influential there.

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April 24 2014 1:43 PM

Why Cliven Bundy’s Gaffe Matters: His Cause Needed a Hero

My colleague Jamelle Bouie is doing a fantastic job slicing through the congealed layers of derp around Cliven Bundy's slavery gaffe. The Nevada rancher is doing himself zero favors, going on friendly radio shows and insisting that the media is lying about what he said. (There's video.) Conservatives are revisiting old nostrums about the Democrats' "double standard" on race. Hey, how come Harry Reid can say the word "negro" but Cliven Bundy can't? And so on. 

Why does any of this matter? Because Bundy had the potential to become a galvanizing figure for a cause that's hard to get people excited about. For a very long time, conservatives have been campaigning to take back federal lands, give them to the states, and let businesses or farms—or whatever—develop them. Having spent many hours inside the air-conditioned ballrooms of conservative conferences like AFP's "Defending the American Dream Summit," I've seen presentations about the government's choke-hold on usable land. Other reporters, who've tracked legislation in Western states, have watched Arizona and Utah pass bills demanding the feds turn over tens of millions of acres to the states.

The problem, as Jessica Goad and Tom Kenworthy noted, was that Western voters didn't care.* By at least a 2–1 margin in a recent Colorado College State of the Rockies survey, they did not think "having too much public land" was a problem. Enter Cliven Bundy. His years-long battle with the feds came to a head last month, and conservatives from Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to likely next governor of Texas Greg Abbott rallied to him. As liberal Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva noted in a letter to the Department of the Interior, it had been just one year since Bundy testified in favor of a Nevada land bill. The state, said Bundy, had "a moral claim upon the public land." No one cared then, but all of a sudden, Bundy had allies. Even GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who does not pick losers, was stirring the pot.

Note the wording—"American land," the feds taking something away from Americans by claiming it for the public. Progressives like Grijalva worried that conservatives were fomenting a "new Sagebrush rebellion," a successor to the 1970s rebellion against the Department of the Interior.

And then Bundy popped off about slavery. Paul has already denounced his comments; other conservatives are debating publicly whether to stand with Bundy against the smear-happy MSM, or to bail on him. If you're one of those legislators who saw, finally, a populist moment coming for your land soveriegnty bill, you may have just lost your most visible champion.

*Correction, April 24, 2014: This post originally misspelled Jessica Goad's last name.

April 24 2014 12:33 PM

The South, White/Black Voting, and Gerrymandering, in Two Maps

Nate Cohn is out with an interesting, map-filled look at the Southern and Western white vote, and how in some places (Mississippi, Alabama) it's grown as reliably Republican as the black vote has grown reliable Democratic. That's not entirely new. Ever since Richard Nixon's 1972 landslide, and especially since Ronald Reagan's 1980 win, Deep South whites have been voting monolithically Republican. When George W. Bush ran for re-election against the last white Democratic candidate, he scored 80 percent of the white vote in Alabama and 85 percent in Mississippi. In 2012 Mitt Romney only improved on those numbers by 4 points, about as much as Obama improved on Kerry's share of the black vote. Cohn's point is that the first black president's ability to bring out nonwhite voters has obscured some of the Democrats' losses. That's true. Kerry won 40 percent of the vote in Mississippi and 37 percent in Alabama; eight years later, Obama won 44 percent and 38 percent in those states.

Cohn frames this as a challenge for the legendary "emerging Democratic majority." I'd like to take the opportunity to revisit my running argument with Cohn, that gerrymandering is giving us a more conservative Congress and preventing Democrats from taking more turf. In the spirit of Data Journalism, let me demonstrate this with two maps from Dave Leip's invaluable Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. (In Leip's maps the Democrats are red and Republicans are blue, which is the color coding used for left/right parties all over the world, but is rare enough here to be worth explaining.) 

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Here's how Texas voted in the 1988 presidential election between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. Spoiler: Dukakis lost, with only 43.35 percent of the vote in Bush's adopted home state. 

And here's what Texas looked like in 2008, when Barack Obama lost the state to John McCain.

Now, if you're just eyeballing that map, you're likely to assume that Obama did worse in Texas than Dukakis did. Right? Wrong. Obama won 43.63 percent of the Texas vote that year, marginally better than Dukakis, despite winning far less land area. The old "yellow dog" Democratic vote in east Texas had long become Republican; this is the part of the country that sends Louie Gohmert and Steve Stockman to Congress. But the cities had abandoned the GOP. See that little island of Obama red in North Texas? That's Dallas County. In 1988 Dukakis lost it to George H.W. Bush by 17 points and more than 100,000 votes. In 2008 Obama crushed McCain in the county by 15 points and more than 100,000 votes. That district hugging Galveston Bay is Harris County, i.e., Houston and the sprawl. Bush won it by 15 points; Obama won it in a squeaker. Obama was actually the first nominee to win Dallas and Harris counties since LBJ—and he did it twice. 

What does this have to do with gerrymandering? As Cohn often argues, doesn't the geographic coherence of the Democratic and Republican votes suggest that "it's difficult to draw competitive districts in a deeply polarized country"? Not really—as ever, it's up to the mapmaker. More human beings live in urban and suburban areas than in the rural areas that stopped being competitive for Democrats. Humans vote, not land. It shouldn't be hard to draw competitive seats in this new scatter.

Ah, but if you zoom in to Texas' cities and urban sprawl, you'll notice that the cities have been carved up into safe Democratic seats and safe Republican seats. Harris County (Houston) was decided by fewer than 1,000 votes in the 2012 presidential election. Mapmakers have carved up the Houston area so that Rep. John Culberson gets an area that gave 60 percent of the vote to Romney, Rep. Ted Poe gets suburbs that gave 63 percent of the vote to Romney, and Rep. Steve Stockman gets a sprawl that gave 73 percent of the vote to Romney. Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Gene Green, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and Rep. Al Green get the liberal parts of Houston, districts that gave, respectively, 66, 76, and 78 percent of the vote to Obama. The Voting Right Act plays a big role here—Lee and Green, both black, represent majority-minority seats as required by that law. But it wouldn't be very hard to draw coherent, competitive seats, even as the vote becomes more polarized racially and coagulated geographically. Gerrymander-ers have chosen to exacerbate the trends.

April 24 2014 10:36 AM

What Cliven Bundy Knows About “The Negro”

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is still a cause célèbre for the right-wing, drawing praise from Tea Party activists, Republican politicians, and conservative media outlets. Kevin Williamson of National Review called him a “dissident” like Mohandas Gandhi or Henry David Thoreau, Nevada Senator Dean Heller hailed him as a “patriot,” and Sean Hannity has praised him as somebody that’s “willing to fight.”

This was bad enough as an instance of conservative recklessness when Bundy was just a lawless rancher backed by armed militamen. It’s even worse now that we know that Bundy is full of racist bones. Here’s he is, as quoted by the New York Times, speaking to a public gathering of supporters:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

April 23 2014 3:20 PM

Proof the Supreme Court Doesn’t Understand Racism at All

If you haven’t, you should read my colleague Emily Bazelon on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Michigan’s ban on affirmative action if you want to understand the ruling and its implications. For this post, however, I want to look at a single passage from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion that illustrates a flawed thinking on racism that has huge currency on the Right.

After rejecting the appeals court’s argument that Michigan’s affirmative action ban violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Kennedy questioned the foundation of affirmative action policies writ large, wondering if—by sticking to race consciousness—we’re overmedicating the patient:

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In a society in which those lines are becoming more blurred, the attempt to define race based categories also raises serious questions of its own. Government action that classifies individuals on the basis of race is inherently suspect and carries the danger of perpetuating the very racial divisions the polity seeks to transcend.

Each sentence packs a huge claim, and each one is off-the-mark. While Americans like to imagine a future of mixed-race mutts—see this National Geographic cover—the reality will be more complicated. For as much as there are increasing rates of intermarriage between all groups, it’s also true that segregation remains the rule for low-income African Americans, Latinos, and many low-income whites. Huge numbers of minorities live in hyper-segregated neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, isolated from the mainstream of American life. In this world—where integration is stagnant—it’s a stretch to say that the “lines” are blurring.

More egregious is the idea that racial classification—and race consciousness—is the true danger to racial harmony. In fairness to Kennedy, it stems from the common view that “skin color” is the locus for racism and discrimination. Hence, colorblindness: If we ignore skin color—if we disregard race—then we’ll deal with the problem of racial division.

But “race” isn’t responsible for Jim Crow, any more than brown skin is the reason for an unfair police stop, or a “black name” the cause of an unfair evaluation. Those actions—the institutions that support them, and the ideas that justify them—are a product of racism, the system of violence and disenfranchisement that marks the whole of the American experiment.

Likewise, it’s racism that causes our racial divisions, not race. Race, by contrast, is what delineates the divisions established by racism. Or, as the late Edmund Morgan describes in American Slavery, American Freedom, Africans weren’t enslaved because they were black, they became “black”—as a distinct class—after they were enslaved.

To confuse “race” with “racism” is to fall into confusion, where any action that references race is verboten, and there is no distinction between discrimination to further racism, and discrimination to ameliorate it. This is the core of Kenndy’s mistake. To him—and the conservative majority on the Court—affirmative action is suspect because, like Jim Crow, it “classifies on the basis of race.”

But the evil of American apartheid was its oppression, not its classification. And we deal with that evil by trying to level the playing field for its targets and their descendants. To draw a moral equivalence—or to suggest, as Chief Justice John Roberts does, that anti-racism causes prejudice—is to fall into ahistorical gobbledygook. Which, it turns out, is what happened.

April 22 2014 8:44 PM

The Second Amendment and Felons: Your Brand-New GOP Wedge Issue

If you want a clear picture of the Tea Party's lasting victory, look to North Carolina and the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. It can be viewed as a clash of factions—social conservatives represented by Mark Harris, libertarians represented by Dr. Greg Brannon, the establishment represented by Thom Tillis, the state speaker of the House. But as Ashley Parker wrote in a profile of the race, Tillis is perfectly right-wing, and presided over what he calls a "conservative revolution" of legislation to roll back some voting rights, block Medicaid expansion, end the earned income tax credit, and end long-term unemployment insurance.

Yet Tillis can't break out of the pack. He's consistently ahead of his opponents, but only just, and it's likely that one of them—probably Brannon—will force him into a runoff. What can distinguish him from the field? We got an answer in tonight's (largely rote) televised primary debate, after a voter asked the candidates whether they'd stand for the Second Amendment rights of felons or the mentally ill.

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The question went first to Heather Grant, an Army nurse and first-time candidate. She drew the line at restoring rights for felons, but: "When you talk about mentally ill, you need to look at the definition. Some people are using that definition to talk about our PTSD experenced veterans, and those are not people we should be telling don't have the right to own a weapon."

Brannon was next, and he started with a short recapitulation of his strict constructionist views. The feds, generally, needed to stay away from these sorts of issues; they were up to the states. But there were risks. "I give a lovely lady some medicine for postpartum depression, like our troops coming back home," he said. "We're having the federal government decide that that one-week episode of her life will stop her from a God-given natural right to self-defense? That's why it's important to understand the federal role, the state role, and the local role."

Tillis went next, and for the first time in the 60-minute debate, he criticized Brannon from the left. "Violent felons and people with mental health problems need to be rehabilitated, and they need help," he said. "You can't put a gun in the hand of someone who represents a danger to themself or to society. I understand the concept Dr. Brannon said in his words about the Second Amendment, but folks, this is about being practical."

How does that play in a Republican primary?

April 22 2014 8:12 PM

The Tea Party and Rand Paul Win a Congressional Primary; Sarah Palin Loses It

Just three months after Rep. Trey Radel resigned his safe Republican seat in southwest Florida, Republican voters have chosen his likely successor: Curt Clawson. He won the election the old-fashioned way, by making a ton of money in the private sector and then splattering the airwaves with TV ads.

In the process, Clawson rolled up endorsements from local Tea Party leaders and from the Tea Party Express, and from Sen. Rand Paul. It wasn't that he was particularly conservative—he had no prior political record, and had even donated to Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. It was enough, according to the Tea Party Express, that he had never been a politician. He had no compromises on his resume, and was thus preferable to the state legislators and former state legislator running against him.

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Among the vanquished: state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto. She'd been endorsed by Sarah Palin, who flew into the district to raise funds for her. She'd been endorsed by Jeb Bush, who'd cut an ad for her in 2012 (though stayed out this time). And she'd attacked Clawson for accepting an "Obamacare bailout," without anyone who edited that ad realizing that they were accusing the guy of taking a bailout in 2009 from a law passed in 2010.

It backfired. Clawson ended up winning 38 percent of the vote, exactly what pollsters had predicted. It's a sort of victory for Tea Party groups; in two weeks, in Nebraska's U.S. Senate primary, the conservative base and its campaign organs have another chance to determine the winner of an open primary.

(UPDATE: Jeb Bush endorsed Benacquisto in her 2012 race, and the ad including his support remained online—but he did not endorse in this race.)

April 22 2014 12:05 PM

Not Every Weatherman Is Bill Ayers

Republican operatives have started passing around this hit on Alan Webber, one of the Democrats vying for the (pretty thankless) job of challenging New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez for re-election. Headline: "Radical group's founder helps Dem candidate." The founder in question is Mark Rudd, who endorsed Webber in an email and hosted a campaign event in his home. Yes—this is the Mark Rudd who co-founded the Weather Underground, and KRQE helpfully explains that this may be controversial.

The Weather Underground’s past has played a role in politics in recent years. Both Hillary Clinton and the McCain campaign criticized then-candidate Barack Obama’s ties to another Weather Underground founder, Bill Ayers, during the 2008 race.
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The TV version of the report is even rougher—Rudd is introduced as a "well-known American terrorist." But all Weather Underground members are not Bill Ayers. KRQE blithely notes that Rudd had criticized the group "in recent years." He'd been doing that since 1990, at least. Rudd has long been the most apologetic of the Weather Underground's leaders, a fact not lost on his peers (Bill Ayers doesn't even mention him in his memoir, Fugitive Days) or on historians of the faction. In 2002, when Bill Siegel and Sam Green filmed their Oscar-nominated documentary about the Weathermen, they made Rudd one of the narrative linchpins—the anti-Ayers, the guy who was filled with "shame."* As Rudd wrote on his website after the movie tour**:

People will express that I am some kind of hero for having taken on the U.S. government. I say, “No, no, the Weather Underground was a huge fuck-up! We did the work of the FBI by destroying SDS. We accidentally killed three of our own people. We split and undermined the larger anti-war movement.” Often these arguments have become heated and people have screamed at me that I’m too hard on myself and on my former comrades. It’s an unexpected kind of turn-around. I try to use the discussions to advocate non-violent strategy and tactics because “violence doesn’t work.” In the end I leave it open to the audience, especially the young people, to decide for themselves about the significance of the Weather Underground.
Several times I’ve done joint Q and A’s with Sam Green, the director of the movie, and each time we reenacted what I call “The Sam and Mark Show,” wherein he tells audiences that the message of the movie is that there once were a group of young people so committed to stopping the Vietnam war and the system behind that war that they were willing to risk their lives. I respond by taking the opposite view, that the importance of the Weather Underground was that it was a terrible disaster. “Don’t try this at home,” I say. I also downplay the courage involved since courage, it seems to me, is spread out evenly across the political spectrum. I tell people it takes courage for American soldiers, no matter how misguided, to face resistance fighters in Iraq, for example.

This is just a night-and-day difference with Ayers, who has said he'd only apologize for what he did if he were joined by Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney. Rudd's now a standard-issue Chomskyite left-winger who simply never defends what the Weather Underground did. It's a bit ridiculous, in 2014, to accuse a politician of palling around with terrorists if the "terrorist" is Mark Rudd. If I may hyperbolize, it's like attacking the apostle Matthew for what he did as a tax collector.

UPDATE: Republican strategist Danny Diaz e-mails to dispute my characterization of Rudd. "Dude is calling for blockades of military installations to keep the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our freedom from “murder[ing]” people," he writes. And he provides some links, to Rudd saying American troops were "murdering" people in Iraq and encouraging people to blockade the entrance to an air base.

Fair enough (and quick oppo), though none of this is exactly "terrorism" as we know it. It's rhetoric. 

*Correction, April 22, 2014: This post originally misspelled Bill Siegel's name and referred to the apostle Paul instead of the apostle Matthew.

**I first saw the movie at a 2003 screening in New York, attended by Rudd, who was visibly shaken, and spent the Q&A portion apologizing for how stupid he'd been in the 1970s.

April 21 2014 5:21 PM

The Ku Klux Klan Can’t Change Its Image, but It’s Useful to Know They’re Trying

Can the Ku Klux Klan rebrand?

On Sunday, CNN asked the question, apropos of the “Imperial Wizard”—Frank Ancona, leader of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—who condemned the shooting rampage of 73-year-old Frazier Glenn Cross, a white supremacist and former Klan leader.

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The internet response, and specifically Twitter, was somewhere between mockery and outrage. Here is a quick sampling:

The answer, obviously, is no. After more than a century of racial terrorism, the Klan has built a sturdy reputation for itself, with a strong visual language. Anyone who sees a white, pointed hood—or a burning cross—knows exactly what it refers to.

But, as absurd as it sounds, I don’t think CNN was wrong to ask the question, nor was it out of bounds to reach out to historians and marketing experts to answer it. Yes, by broaching the topic, you run the risk of trivialization; for as much as today’s Klan is disorganized and anemic, the Klan of the early 20th century was a major American institution, with huge reach (at one point, it claimed 4 million members) and substantial political influence. In 1924, Indiana voters elected a Klansman to the governor’s mansion, and in 1926, Alabama voters sent another, Hugo Black, to the U.S. Senate, where he would serve until his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1937.

The Klan’s vigilante terror—which targeted Catholics, Jews and other ethnic whites, as well as blacks—sparked a huge backlash, which was stoked by groups like the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League, which worked to expose Klan members and activities. After reaching its peak in the middle of the 1920s, where it made strides as a seemingly innocuous fraternal organization, Klan membership declined sharply, and never recovered. The current incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan (the third, after the Reconstruction-era Klan and the 20s-era Klan) formed in response to the civil rights movement, and devoted itself to a reign of terror against civil rights workers, with bombings, murders, and assassinations.

At each point in its history, the Klan has rebranded, expanding its definition of “real” Americans to attract more members. If the KKK of the 1870s was strictly anti-black, then the KKK of the 1920s was also anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant, to attract the support of “traditional” white Americans who were indifferent to blacks, but fearful of rapid European immigration. By the 1950s and 60s, the Klan welcomed all whites in the fight for Jim Crow. Other organizations have taken a similar route. The “White Citizens Councils” of mid-century became “Councils of Conservative Citizens” in the 1980s, and more than a few white supremacists made their way into mainstream politics by way of right-wing causes and organizations.

Over the last five years, beginning with the Great Recession and the election of Barack Obama, there’s been an explosion of white supremacist groups, including new chapters of the Klan. And while some have held on to the old iconography, others have tried to broaden their appeal beyond the downscale and isolated whites they’re typically associated with.In Pennsylvania,” observed USA Today in 2008, “the Keystone State Skinheads is changing its name to Keystone United to attract members.” Likewise, in an attempt to cast a wider net, “white nationalist” forums like Stormfront have rebranded themselves as homes for an almost-innocent “white pride.” “We are White Nationalists who support true diversity and a homeland for all peoples,” notes the welcome message at the top of the website, “Thousands of organizations promote the interests, values and heritage of non-White minorities. We promote ours.”

All of this is to say that while I understand the backlash against CNN for asking the question, I think it’s misplaced. Brands apply to more than just products, and the network did a useful service in revealing the Klan’s attempt to “rebrand,” and showing its futility. Simply put, white supremacist groups are part of the American landscape, and like most organizations, they work to recruit new members. If we can shine light on their brand management, then we can do real damage to their plans for expansion.

April 18 2014 4:49 PM

We Won’t Get a Final Decision on Keystone XL Until After the Midterm Elections

The Obama administration is extending its five-year-long-and-counting review of the Keystone XL indefinitely, the State Department announced this afternoon, saying the delay will allow more time for government agencies to weigh in on the project and allow an ongoing court Nebraska case involving the proposed pipeline's route to play out.

While the White House isn't saying how long all that will take, it's a safe bet that the delay almost certainly means that the pipeline's fate will remain undecided until at least after November's mid-term elections. (Nebraska officials don't expect a final ruling on their case until late this year at the earliest, according to the Los Angeles Times.)

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In the meantime, that allows everyone to carry on with life as usual on the campaign trail. Republicans can keep blasting the president for keeping the project in limbo (Mitch McConnell: "Here's the single greatest shovel-ready project in America—one that could create thousands of jobs right away—but the president simply isn't interested."); vulnerable Democrats who have supported the project can continue to appeal to more conservative constituencies by hyping their break with the White House (Mary Landrieu: "Today's decision by the administration amounts to nothing short of an indefinite delay of the Keystone Pipeline."); and environmentalists can continue to use each additional hold-up as evidence that the project is ultimately doomed (League of Conservation Voters: The delay "makes us even more confident that the harmful Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will ultimately be rejected").

This isn't the first time that a delay in the process has pushed a decision to the safe side of Election Day for the administration. Back in November 2011, the White House announced that it planned to explore a new route for the pipeline, in effect pushing off a final decision on the controversial project past the 2012 election. Two years later and we're still waiting.

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