The vote on the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court will be a turning point in the history of American governance. The battle over Gorsuch’s nomination has brought the extreme ideological polarization of the American government to dizzying heights, pitting Democrats and Republicans against one another in an epic political showdown. Last year, the Republican-controlled Senate took the unprecedented step of refusing to hold preliminary hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, arguing that the next president should make the nomination. After the election of Donald Trump as President, the Republicans now hold the reigns in appointing the next Supreme Court Justice. Yet, the GOP stands eight party votes short of the supermajority of 60 votes needed to invoke cloture. Meanwhile, a contentious debate has broken out among Democratic over whether or not to filibuster Gorsuch’s appointment. However bitter the pill may be, the Democrats should allow the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

By far the most simple reason for allowing the nomination is that Judge Gorsuch is an eminently qualified candidate. When partisanship is shoved aside, it becomes clear that Gorsuch checks all the boxes as a deserving member of the Supreme Court. His legal education is world-class: he holds a law degree from Harvard and a doctorate in jurisprudence from Oxford. He boasts a laundry list of first-rate experience in the legal world, from his time as a clerk for both Justice Byron White and Justice Anthony Kennedy to his decade-long tenure as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Many Democrats point out that Merrick Garland, a fellow Harvard graduate and the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was as well-qualified a candidate as Gorsuch. However, to use the travesty of the GOP’s treatment of Garland as a sort of “eye for an eye” reason to block Gorsuch would be only succeed in continuing the cycle of polarization.

Once upon a time, Gorsuch’s sparkling pedigree would have all but ensured his appointment to the Supreme Court, regardless of political leanings. Incidentally, it is due to the hyper-partisan spillover into Supreme Court proceedings over the past few decades that Gorsuch’s nomination has been thrown into doubt at all. Supreme Court nominations were once a relatively uncontroversial process, with nominees such as Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsberg being confirmed by large margins. Yet, as the gap between political parties has widened over the years, the process has steadily become fraught with controversy, all the way up to uncivil treatment of Merrick Garland. Ultimately, the Democrats must resist the urge to act in retaliation over the injustice done to Garland, as perpetuating the vacuous “they started it” mentality will only exacerbate the ideological gridlock over court nominations.

What’s more, a Democratic attempt to obstruct Gorsuch’s appointment would be futile and have devastating consequences. Indeed, if the Democrats do try to filibuster Gorsuch, the Republicans will most likely force through his nomination using the so-called “nuclear option.” The nuclear option involves changing the Senate rules so that a nomination only requires 50 votes to be approved, rather than the standard supermajority of 60 votes. If enacted now, this move would essentially destroy the power of the filibuster for nominees, as the majority party would have the power to override opposition with a simple majority. The Republicans have essentially guaranteed that they are prepared to exercise the nuclear option if necessary, with party leaders such as Mitch McConnell and President Trump pushing for it in recent days. A Democratic effort to block the nomination will accomplish nothing but score empty political points. Plus, if the Republicans go through with the nuclear option, the Senate will lose much of its unique protections of minority power.

Already, the damaging effects of removing the filibuster have been seen in the Senate. During 2013, Harry Reid and the Democratic party exercised the nuclear option as it applies to appointing federal judges (below the Supreme Court) and executive office positions. This enabled them to confirm dozens of Obama court nominees and executive branch officials that had been blocked by GOP filibusters for months. Yet, while this move may have paid off for the Democrats four years ago, it came back to haunt them when President Trump was able to fill many of his administration’s positions without achieving a supermajority – including controversial picks such as Jeff Sessions as Attorney General or Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

In these instances, the minority party in the Senate had virtually no say in the appointees, dangerously allowing the ruling party to force through whomever they pleased. The use of nuclear option greatly damages the ideal of a fair and balanced Senate, as the majority party is empowered to ignore the will of the minority. Moreover, while the current GOP plans keep the filibuster for legislation, many fear that killing the legislative filibuster would be the next step. If this becomes the case, no longer would the lesser party have any effect whatsoever on the rules and laws that are passed, as the the ruling party would be able to force through anything with a simple majority.

Another consequence of a Democratic obstruction of Gorsuch is the continued imbalance of the number of Supreme Court justices. Since 1869, the Supreme Court has consisted of one chief justice along with eight associate justices- for a total of nine judges. This odd number of justices directly relates to the court’s capacity to carry out its duty of deciding cases, as it makes it impossible for split decisions to occur. However, since Justice Scalia’s death in early 2016, only eight justices have sat on the court. As the current ideological breakdown of the court splits evenly between liberals and conservatives – albeit with Justice Breyer and Justice Kennedy occasionally voting across the political spectrum – the continued absence of a ninth judge harms the court’s ability to firmly decide cases. As Justice Ginsburg commented at her most recent annual address to the Second Circuit Judicial Conference, “Eight, as you know, is not a good number for a multimember court… I think we need somebody there to do the job now.”

Indeed, since Scalia’s death, several Supreme Court cases have resulted in split decisions. What’s more, multiple cases on the court’s existing docket deal with highly polarizing issues, promising more splits to come if the justice count remains at eight. For example, the recent Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which centered around the ability of public unions to collect fees from non-unionized workers, ended in a 4-4 tie amongst court justices. As a result, the final ruling was left to a lower court, which ultimately upheld the decree that all teachers pay the union fees. While the Democrats may have celebrated this particular outcome, the Supreme Court cannot fulfill its sole duty without a proper number of judges. Several other upcoming, consequential cases that deal with issues such as voting rights and state restrictions on abortion services are likely to also end in ties between the eight judges. These splits only drain the power of the highest court in the land. Consequently, the Democrats must restore the Supreme Court to its full capacity by allowing the appointment of Judge Gorsuch.

Democrats do have incentives to block Gorsuch’s nomination. Leaving the court with only eight justices for the foreseeable future could actually work in their favor, as it keeps an even balance between conservatives and liberals. This leads to split-decisions that may actually result in pro-Democrat outcomes, like with the Friedrichs case. Allowing Gorsuch to take his spot as a justice would not only result in a court that leans to the right, but also add an individual that will firmly vote against liberal ideals for decades to come. Gorsuch’s philosophy of “natural law,” which holds that judges can appeal to moral belief systems to adjudicate a case, signals that he will likely be a staunch opponent of abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and women’s reproductive rights in general. Thus, instead of standing aside for Gorsuch, the Democrats could continue to hold out with eight justices and hope to gain control of the Senate during the 2018 elections. However, these hypotheticals all become irrelevant when considering the GOP’s inevitable use of the nuclear option to force Gorsuch’s appointment.

Ultimately, it is clear that a Democratic attempt to stop the nomination of Judge Gorsuch would not only be fruitless, but would actually lead to increased partisan polarization and further crumbling of integral governmental procedure. Even in the unlikely event that the Democrats do succeed, this would only handicap the Supreme Court’s obligation to come to a majority decision on cases- as well as bring further ideological-driven headache to future nomination processes. On the other hand, the vote on Gorsuch’s appointment represents a chance for Democrats to move the country in a positive direction. It may sound idealistic, but if the Democrats choose to take the high road and cooperate with Republicans in allowing a deserving nominee to move forward, it could be the first step in restoring reason to the Supreme Court nomination votes. This, by extension, could help chip away at the partisan gridlock that has brought acute harm to the American government in recent decades. The slow road back to political cooperation has to start somewhere, and Democrats must now ask themselves: “why not here?”


Throughout history, a foundational divide in American politics has split the federal government. In the early days of the republic, quarreling between the Federalists (represented by John Adams) and Democratic-Republicans (led by Thomas Jefferson) over the size of government resulted in one of the nastiest presidential races in American history. Today, the two major parties still fail to see eye-to-eye on the issue of federal involvement.

The official GOP preamble, taken from their own website, states the following: “The federal government has expanded its size and scope, its borrowing and spending, its debt and deficit.” As a result, the text continues, “federalism is threatened and liberty retreats.” In contrast to the Republican aversion to large-scale federal government, common knowledge is that the Democrats consider themselves to be in favor of so-called “big government,” though there’s no official distinction on their website. This discrepancy is normally considered as the decisive ideology of each party. But when the Democrats and GOP are examined under the magnifying glass, this distinction does not truly define either party anymore.

No political realm demonstrates the inaccuracy of this binary better than social policy. Republicans traditionally favor the expansion of government to regulate social behaviors. Throughout the 1990s, thirty-one states added same-sex marriage bans to their state constitutions; of these, Republican politicians spearheaded almost every single effort. Unsatisfied, they clamored for a federal ban on same-sex marriage, a proposal President Bush officially went on the record as supporting. Similarly, Republicans have long supported federal restrictions on abortion. In contrast, Democrats — largely in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage and abortion — advocated preventing and removing any nationwide laws placing limits on either. Given that the basic rule for social issues that implementing a ban on something constitutes government involvement, whereas removing one is effectively non-intervention, clearly the foundational political beliefs of both parties are no longer firmly tethered to their original concepts of big government versus small government. Some candidates still campaign behind this narrative, but their stances on social issues seem to contradict their stated ideals.

The foundational political beliefs of either party are no longer firmly tethered to their original concepts of big government versus small government.

But social policies aren’t the only place where Republicans and Democrats go against the big-little government dichotomy. When it comes to expanding the national military and deciding to intervene in foreign conflicts, establishment Republicans usually support both enthusiastically while the left expresses more reluctance about getting involved beyond humanitarian aid. The conventional Democrat typically advocates for decreased military spending whereas most Republicans want more federal financing for the armed forces. Moreover, most GOP Presidential candidates are, on the whole, much more willing to entertain the idea of sending ground troops to fight ISIL than those running on the Democratic side.

American political ideology has shifted from being rooted in philosophy to basing itself on practicality. Conservatives can no longer be entirely defined by a dedication to states rights and weak federal government; likewise, modern liberals often support a hands-off approach from Washington. Instead of remaining steadfastly dedicated to one side of the debate or the other, members of both parties pick and choose when to be pro-government and when to oppose federal interference. This in itself isn’t a major problem, but when your official party preamble states you believe in one view or the other, it seems odd and even misleading not to maintain consistency on the issue.

None of this is to say the big government/small government split has completely reversed. On the majority of issues, including almost every economic one, these characterizations are intact. There are plenty of hot-button topics — among them gun control, the death penalty, and health care – where most Democrats fight for national regulations and a majority of Republicans stand by states’ rights. Rather, it shows that when parties decided where they fall in regards to certain issues, federal government involvement is nowhere near the main consideration — and is often disregarded completely.

So what does this transformation change? Beyond the fact that politicians often do an about-face and turn their backs on traditional philosophies they swear by, this flip-flopping could cause a shift in power within America’s party structure. A number of voters have noticed the incongruity between the stated philosophies and political actions of the major parties and have already started to peel off into their own factions. The Libertarian Party, which defines itself as a group meant to “challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual,” consistently maintains the stance that the federal government should have as little power as possible. Their support is increasing, seeing an increase in votes in Presidential elections every year since 2000 (including an all-time high in 2012). Last year, a Reuters poll discovered that nearly one in five Americans identify as libertarian. That being said, the same poll found that many self-identifying libertarians also consider themselves Democrats or Republicans. Nevertheless, the increasing number of votes for Libertarians in presidential elections proves an increasing amount of people are abandoning the traditional party structure.

Though more a subset of the Republican Party than an independent faction, the Tea Party also garners strength by advocating small government: one of their “non-negotiable core beliefs” as listed online is the belief that “government must be downsized.” While overall support for the Tea Party has actually decreased recently, they’ve experienced a swift and influential rise in American politics over the last few years. The Freedom Caucus, closely tied to the Tea Party, now claims thirty-six Congressional seats. While it is unlikely that enough people will change allegiances to put a Libertarian or non-GOP, Tea Party candidate in the White House, the votes they do receive could end up splitting conservatives throughout the nation.

A shift away from the philosophical fundamentals of both parties has proliferated to the point where political parties only partially fight for the values that once defined them. Inconsistency has become a major component and criticism of party politics, frustrating those who still prescribe to the basic big government or small government views that helped found the country. The days of big government vs. small government thinking — at least in an absolute sense — are effectively over, as both parties have become more inconsistent in this regard than ever. Until Democrats and Republicans either go back to their old foundations or, more likely, redefine what unites them as a political faction, the stated intentions of each will continue to commonly contradict their actual political actions.


Martin O’Malley’s recent exit from the Democratic primary after a disappointing showing in the Iowa Caucus failed to garner much attention from the national media. In that respect, it matched nicely with the nature of his campaign. In stark contrast to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the former Maryland Governor’s long-shot presidential bid barely registered among primary goers and elites alike. As such, many saw O’Malley’s exit as little more than a blip on the radar for a Democratic primary that has enjoyed tremendous enthusiasm, unprecedented small donations, and decent debate ratings. Yet the former Maryland governor’s failed Presidential bid reveals a massive problem for the Democrats down the road: a severe lack of young leaders and stars in a party self-described as youthful, diverse, and progressive.

The apparent lack of a “party bench” for Democrats in 2016 and beyond began with Barack Obama’s election in 2008. Despite some early victories for the Obama Administration, including the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank among other bills, the Democrats were unable to pass bold, liberal legislation after 2010. The midterm elections that year swept a host of Tea Party conservatives into Congress. This hardline conservative movement continues to stymie President Obama’s agenda today. As a result, congressional Democrats like Steve Israel, once a promising figure on the party stage, are leaving Washington due to how dysfunctional it has become. The conservative barricade faced by Congressional Democrats has blocked most avenues for progressive policy change, which has made it all the more difficult for younger Democrats to break out on the national stage. Without policy achievements to which they can attach themselves, and unable to use Obama’s presidency as a career accelerant, many potentially rising stars have become disillusioned “backbenchers.”

In contrast, the Tea Party has created massive turnover in the GOP. A string of “big government” legislation under the later years of Bush and the early years of the Obama Administration exposed a large swath of the general electorate that felt the country was moving in the wrong direction. The Tea Party’s grassroots response and corresponding devaluation of political experience have allowed the party to generate a substantial amount of new, electable talent. The movement’s dynamic get-out-the-vote and fundraising efforts as well as their embrace of anti-establishment candidates has allowed people like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Tom Cotton to become immensely influential in Tea Party politics. In the past, such clout only came with years of political experience, but now up-and-coming politicians can acquire it in a relatively short amount of time. With over half of Republican voters wanting someone outside of the political establishment, lack of experience is now seen as more of an asset than a liability. The party’s top-down approach in picking candidates has been left in tatters, allowing ambitious new blood to enter. This new generation is adept at setting up robust ground games, getting out the vote, and reaching out to voters – everything that make a candidate competitive in midterm and general election cycles.

While the Democratic bench is currently weak, that doesn’t mean it has no room to grow.

The clout of younger politicians is on the GOP side, in the form of Nikki Haley and Chris Christie to name the foremost examples. By comparison, the DNC’s party elite and national headliners are old establishment figures like the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden. One may argue that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren represent new faces of the party, and while one would be correct in that assumption, it doesn’t negate the fact that these two older politicians will not be in politics all that much longer.

While the Democratic bench is currently weak, that doesn’t mean it has no room to grow. The Democratic Party should be taking advantage of the parts of Obama’s agenda that have relatively recently been embraced by the general public in new majorities, like gun safety legislation, gay rights, and campaign finance reform, to invigorate the base and generate new, young political talent. It should also be noted that young political talent is out there, and as opposed to the current Democratic establishment, the next generation of party leaders will come from a wide range of races, sexual orientations, and genders. Women like Kamala Harris, Christine Quinn, and Kirsten Gillibrand are fresh faces in which the party needs to be investing more time and energy. Men like Corey Booker, Julian Castro, and, of course, Governor Martin O’Malley have been garnering national attention and have the charisma and vision to win national elections. Yet they don’t have the spotlight quite like the Marco Rubios on the other side of the aisle. Moving forward, the Democratic National Committee will have to invest in the national profiles of these candidates and replicate them in larger numbers to compete with the GOP’s greater ranks.

Fortunately for Democrats, the GOP will have to defend over 70 percent of the Senate seats up for reelection in 2016. To their credit, it’s apparent that the DNC and chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz have picked fresh, top-tiered candidates to very likely take back the Senate and make a name for themselves on the national stage. In a Clinton or Sanders Administration, it is highly speculated that aforementioned politicians like Harris, Castro, or Booker would fill high-profile administrative and cabinet positions. This is exactly the type of attention and experience that younger Democrats need to become presidential material and to deepen the party bench.

The Republican Party as a whole was adrift after being routed in the 2008 election cycle. In subsequent years the party has found its stride in young anchors like Rubio, Christie, and Ted Cruz among others. In 2016, it will be up to the Democrats to see if they can find their own party anchors for the future generation; the Clintons will not be at the top of the ticket forever.


The figure of the political outsider has never been hotter in American politics, a trend that predictably corresponds with the longest period of historically low levels of trust in government. According to the Pew Research Center, only 19% of Americans trusted the government “to do what is right always or most of the time” as of November 2015. This large-scale public distrust has undoubtedly rocketed more radical candidates, such as Trump, Sanders, or even Cruz, to increased popularity. Like today’s presidential candidates, these recent social movements re-directed American skepticism and mistrust into calls for fundamental changes to national institutions. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party movement– despite their disparate political leanings– shared the common goal of altering the Washington consensus. Like many American political movements before them, they worked from a source of public distrust in the government to claim that radical change was the only mode of fixing a broken governmental system. While this political strategy has been effective in specific moments in American history, such as the Civil Rights Movement or the New Deal, the legislative action achieved during these periods proves to be more the exception than the rule. In short, the American political system does not readily pay heed to calls for deep institutional changes.

When considering this trend against the founding theory of our government, however, it becomes clear that the American government was not made to respond to calls for radical change. The Founding generation was notoriously fearful of “mob rule,” which they defined as rapid, systematic transformation fueled by public opinion. Perhaps then, polarized radicalization on the left and right produces ineffectual governance when placed within the American governmental system. In essence then, the recent suite of fundamental reforms posed by both Republicans and Democrats, such as those stemming from the Tea Party or Occupy Movements, may not be optimized for our government as the Founders intended. This is not to disparage the goals of these radical movements, but to suggest that their strengths do not include the catalyzing of rapid legislative change.

The Founders characterized mob rule as a passionate, rapid, ill-considered mode of enacting broad change. In the late 1770s, John Adams said, “The law, in all vicissitudes of government, fluctuations of the passions, or flights of enthusiasm, will preserve a steady undeviating course; it will not bend to the uncertain wishes, imaginations, and wanton tempers of men.” Here, Adams expresses a fear of passions, and dismantles any faith in the ordinary citizen to make a swift decision regarding urgent matters of the state. Similarly, James Madison writes in Federalist No. 10 that factions are particularly dangerous when they constitute the majority of the republic, but that government officials must mitigate the impassioned demands of these bodies. In contemporary politics, however, when technology has made accountability to the electorate higher than it was in the 1770s, electors are less able to dilute the demands of their constituents. The political movement may therefore be seen as the quintessential mob, further establishing the point that the American government was not crafted to acquiesce to the goals of the immediate paradigm shifts of the public. Although one could argue that the American Revolution and the Constitution itself stemmed in part from the self-determination of the mob, the nation’s founders continuously demonstrate fear of the huddled masses. While the American pubic is certainly subject to reactive hysteria or irrational behavior, this logic was also employed for elitist, racist, sexist, or generally exclusive purposes, giving the Founders multiple reasons to articulate an improper, destabilizing capacity within the general public. By this logic, they justified our three branches of government as well as our consensual style of government, in which officials must come together to pass legislation.

To return to contemporary politics, Occupy and the Tea Party are particularly illustrative cases of fervent shifts in public opinion as catalyzing calls for major government reform, or what the Founders would have called “mob rule.” Since the Great Recession began in December 2007, public trust in the government “always or most of the time” has not risen above 20%– a drastic decline since highs near 50% during George W. Bush’s tenure. Following this massive financial downturn, activists and ordinary civilians alike flooded New York’s Zuccotti Park in late 2011, calling for punishment to be imposed upon the so-called 1%. While criticized for their lack of a cohesive policy platform, the protesters were united in their expressions of distaste for connections between Washington and Wall Street and their consequent calls for systemic governmental reforms.

In light of this stark contrast between the Founders’ design and the current activist political climate, congressional stagnancy is not surprising.

The comments of protesters highlight the movement’s unabashed mistrust in our current institutions. For example, one protester said, “I’m trying to accomplish a collective screaming voice against the atrocities that we are seeing in our political system. I think there’s a lot of corruption and a lack of integrity. That’s disgusting to me.” Coeval with these comments, in October 2011, a Pew Research Center survey showed that public trust in government was the lowest it has been since Eisenhower’s tenure, with only 15% percent of respondents saying they trusted the government to do the right thing “always or most of the time.” Further corroborating this correlation, Andrew Kohut, then President of Pew, reported that the public and the Occupy movement were unified in their belief that American institutions largely served the super-rich. In many ways, Occupy is a social movement expressing what large swaths of the American public believes about the state of the American politics. Consequently, the public called for massive wealth redistribution, campaign finance reform, adjustments to the balance of power between government and the financial sector, regulations on lobbyists, smaller banks, among other large-scale goals. This was a broad ideological movement that called for deep institutional reforms to the American political system.

In the eyes of many political luminaries, the Occupy Movement galvanized large swaths of the New Left and placed financial reform back on the national political agenda. Bernie Sanders has been dubbed the Occupy candidate by many pundits, and has received endorsement from the movement itself. More than that though, he and his supporters are reflective of the traces of distrust and arguments for fundamental systemic change that have characterized American politics since 2007. In fact, the far-left’s calls for revolution have pushed more moderate candidates to declare a need for institutional reform. Hillary Clinton’s financial policy proposals, for example, are much more disruptive to the financial status quo than those of Democrats past. Although the party disagrees on whether she pushes reform far enough, Clinton’s proposals to impose risk fees on gargantuan banks, more closely regulate the shadow banking sector, and allow bureaucrats to call for banks to simplify or fracture, are certainly more radical than Bill Clinton’s disposal of Glass-Steagall.

Just as the left has navigated cycles of distrust and calls for systematic reform to ideologically realign itself, the right has done the same, galvanized in part by the Tea Party. As was the case with Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party also formulated its mission in the mistrustful wake of the Great Recession. A Tea Partier said in 2010, “I’m sick and tired of them wasting money and doing what our founders never intended to be done with the federal government.” Once again, the quote reveals a lack of faith and a belief that the American political system was not operating as it should have been. Further, the party grew to be highly influential in determining the trajectory of the Republican Party. In fact, the peak of Tea Party support was 32% of Americans in November 2010. The group’s radical principles of balanced budgeting and lessened funding for Social Security and other government programs, were for many the necessary institutional reform that the nation needed. These ideologies rocketed GOP members such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to prominence and allowed the more conservative wing of the GOP to obstruct more moderate Republican legislation as well as Democratic legislation. Significantly, this obstruction, rather than active legislation, became a hallmark of the Tea Party presence in Congress. The movement clearly parallels Occupy, with its ideological roots in widespread distrust of Washington and a desire for large-scale alterations to the political process.

Both of these examples bring to mind the words of the Founders in discussing “mob rule.” In reaction to a significant national event, the Great Recession, the public had an emotional reaction­­—mistrust—and called for fundamental changes to American institutions on the left and right of the political spectrum. In light of this stark contrast, between the Founder’s design and the current activist political climate, congressional stagnancy is not surprising. With these dual movements having heavy influence in both political parties, radicalism seems to be the principal strategy on both sides of the aisle, making an ineffective congress the natural price to pay. Importantly though, the similarity of these movements to an antiquated definition of the “faction” does not de-legitimize them at all. Further, we must adjust our expectations of these movements within the current American political system. As has been shown, the rhetorical powers of these movements have been their strengths. Even when American social movements have been unable to fully enact their suites of policy proposals, they have often changed political framing for decades to come. This discursive influence may reverberate in unquantifiable ways, driving policy towards previously overlooked goals.


In June of 2015, when the Supreme Court finally legalized same-sex marriage, many activists began celebrating the end of the culture wars. But while many view the court’s decision as the death knell to social conservatism, narrowly winning over five justices is a far cry from winning over an entire nation. And the results of this month’s elections may prove that not only is social conservatism alive and well, but it can thrive under the right conditions: low voter turnout and a clear-cut cause around which to rally.

The Democratic Party has increasingly adopted liberal social positions as of late, seizing especially on the issues of same-sex marriage and reproductive rights to cast the GOP as retrograde with phrases like the “War on Women” or the now widespread notion on the left that Democrats have won the culture war. Partly in light of Millennials’ particularly liberal social views and young people’s importance as a an electoral constituency overall, the left has sought to turn cultural positions into wedge issues in their favor, similar to what social conservatives tried to do for the past several decades on the right. In an age of high-profile social progressivism, from Obergefell v. Hodges to a peak in support for legalizing marijuana, Democrats have taken the offensive on social issues in the belief that they enjoy majority support. But when Obama is not on the ballot, the cultural stances of liberals enjoy considerably less success. Democrats may be tempted to dismiss the setbacks experienced this November as the result of low turnout, but this constitutes only a palliative excuse; not every election is presidential, and low turnout renders the outcomes of elections no less impactful.

The Kentucky election illustrated that when economics fails to appeal to voters, social issues and religion-couched rhetoric can still work to sway an election, especially one with low turnout. While Republican Matt Bevin had pledged to run a campaign based on economic issues after he won the GOP nomination, by the fall it was clear that this wasn’t working. He was lagging just a few points behind his opponent and looked as though he may have lost what should have been an easy pick-up opportunity for the state GOP.

But in the final weeks of the campaign, Bevin seemingly experienced a change of heart on policy priorities and began talking about Kim Davis and liberal judicial overreach rather than the merits of spending and tax cuts. In his own words, “This is what moves people.” And on November third, it certainly did move some socially conservative voters to the polls, as a race that most considered to lean Democratic resulted in an eight point victory for Bevin. Social conservatism certainly wasn’t all that was at play, but in a race where turnout stood at a dismal 30 percent, those votes could make the difference. And when social issues did enter the conversation, they weren’t boosting liberals, no matter what the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage might imply about progressivism in the US.

In these low turnout elections that favor older, more socially conservative voters who show up at the polls even when their young, more socially liberal counterparts don’t, the results are consistent.

An even clearer example came from Houston when voters directly voted down an equal rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination against 15 protected classes, including age, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The measure had the backing of the business community and most of the local government, and was even leading in the polls prior to the vote. Nonetheless, in part due to a conservative coalition that played upon fears of trans people and the notion that the ordinance would allow “perverts” and “the mentally ill” to use the women’s restroom as a location for assault, it failed by a wide margin of nearly 2-1. Just as in Kentucky, a close race in which Democrats and their favored issues were ahead in the polls ultimately went the way of social conservatives by a solid margin. In these low turnout elections that favor older, more socially conservative voters who show up at the polls even when their young, more socially liberal counterparts don’t, the results are consistent. In fairness, the DNC has recently made some progress toward rectifying the disparity between presidential and off-year elections in terms of both turnout and the skewed Republican results, but so far the efforts have been mostly lacking, and the Party appears to still have a long way to go.

As further evidence of this, in Ohio, voters resoundingly rejected an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, an issue that began to gain momentum after voters approved legalization in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. It is worth noting that factors beyond social conservatism affected the outcome at the polls; in particular, the organizational apparatus that Issue 3 would have instituted, bestowing the exclusive right to cultivate marijuana upon a cartel of investors backing the legalization measure, rankled voters. Ohio was asked to jump from prohibition to legalization without passing through the middle ground of medical marijuana, in which the other states to consider legalization have all initiated their progression on marijuana policy. In the words of University of Cincinnati’s David Niven, “We are not California. We’re not the vanguard of hippiedom . . . It’s a leap to go from no legal marijuana to full legal marijuana.” And certainly, Buddie, the initiative’s superhero-like mascot with a head shaped like a marijuana bud, did little to endear Issue 3 to more conservative voters.

But perhaps most importantly, legalization was on the ballot in an off-year election, when every other state to legalize marijuana has capitalized on the higher voter turnout of even-year contests. Facing an older and more conservative electorate than that attracted by high-profile elections, comprised of voters who tend to be far less amenable to legalization, Issue 3 became another casualty of low turnout and the attendant resistance to social liberalism.

Even as abortion remains legal (though not free from attempts at restriction), support for same-sex marriage and legal marijuana remain at all time highs, and the 2016 race seems less centered on social conservatism than some recent election cycles, the nation’s present cultural leanings do not mean that social conservatives have lost power or that their voices won’t be heard. Instead, social conservative activists have learned to play their hand and strike when few are looking, or for that matter, voting. Low turnout elections that the majority of the electorate seems unaware of or uninterested in are opportunities social conservatives have come to take advantage of, rolling back LGBTQ+ rights, fighting marijuana legalization, and pushing back against what they see as a tide of social liberalism forced upon the nation by out-of-touch Democrats. Liberals may be content to rest on their laurels given the current state of play, a world in which same-sex marriage has gone from a toxic issue to political winner in less than a decade and the “War on Women” has become an oft-repeated slogan for beleaguered Democrats in battleground states. But that world is one in which the majorities that support socially liberal issues show up to vote. If they don’t, then liberals may have little to celebrate in the near future.


More children in the United States live in poverty today than did during the Great Recession, according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Roughly 47 million Americans currently live under the poverty line. To put this into perspective, the US’s relative poverty rate is 17.4 percent, compared to an average among OECD countries — considered the United States’ peer countries in level of development — of 11.1 percent. Our child poverty picture is even bleaker, with almost one third of American children living in poverty. Among 41 of the richest countries in the world, the US has the sixth highest child poverty rate according to a 2014 UNICEF Study, in spite of being the fourth wealthiest country within the study by GDP per capita.

One would think that given this crisis, poverty would be the talk of the town in Washington and beyond it, and yet the issue seems to be largely ignored in US political discourse. According to a study by The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, less than 1 percent of the news coverage by 52 major news outlets focused on poverty. When the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting examined the 2012 election coverage of eight major US news outlets, researchers found that just 0.2 percent of coverage dealt with poverty “in a substantive way.” And during the Republicans’ first televised primary debate of 2016 — which ran for almost two hours — the word “poverty” was mentioned 3 times, and the word “poor” was mentioned four more. In the first Democratic debate, while the word “poor” was brought up 13 times, the word “poverty” was brought up only 4 times.

Furthermore, too little has been done at the legislative level about poverty reduction. It is true that in early 2014, then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan came forth with a set of ideas, titled “The Path to Prosperity,” relating to poverty reduction. Though the prospective efficacy of these policies is certainly up for debate, the development was promising in that the issue was at least being addressed. But in practice, no legislation emerged from this focus. For example, in 2012, the only two bills in the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s anti-poverty legislative scorecard that actually passed the Senate were designed to counter emergencies, and the House that year passed a budget that cut into many essential poverty reduction programs.

Even when politicians on both sides of the aisle do address the issues of Americans’ economic struggle, they still miss the mark. Rhetoric often focuses on protecting the “middle class” or reducing rising income inequality (consider rhetoric surrounding the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent). Rarely do politicians talk singularly about the people at the very bottom of the economic ladder — those struggling the most. For example, Florida US Senator Marco Rubio, who proposed several ideas surrounding poverty reduction in early 2014, seems to have shifted his main focus to the middle class since he began his bid for the presidency.

Rhetoric surrounding the “middle class” is much more inclusive and therefore more politically beneficial than addressing the poor head-on.

Many reasons exist to explain politicians’ reluctance to directly address the neediest. For one, rhetoric surrounding the “middle class” is much more inclusive and therefore more politically beneficial than is addressing the poor head-on. Americans not living in poverty are not eager to label themselves as impoverished, while many seem to think that they are a part of the middle class. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, people in every annual income bracket between $30,000 to $100,000 were most likely to identify themselves as “middle income.” Thus, when a politician talks of policies that will benefit the middle class, a huge portion of the electorate will assume that those policies will be of benefit to them; according to a Gallup Poll, about 51 percent of Americans identify as middle or upper middle class.

This phenomenon has shaped the prevailing campaign message House Democrats are expected to use in 2016; Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, Chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee in the House, told Politico that House Democrats were “absolutely unified on three essential messages going forward: It’s middle class, middle class, middle class.” Interestingly enough, it is not clear that House Democrats are “absolutely unified” on this matter. Notably, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have expressed concern over this focused messaging on the middle class, saying the focus should actually be on the nation’s extreme poor. “We cannot forget that so many of our families are not middle class,” Representative G.K. Butterfield, Chairman of the CBC, told Roll Call in response to this new messaging focus.

Looking to the media can also provide answers as to why poverty is ignored to such a troubling extent. The aforementioned report from the Pew Center investigated why the media puts so little emphasis on this issue. The report suggested that media organizations shy away from covering the topic because they feel like they are at risk of alienating the wealthy consumers that they are trying to target who are not interested in that content.

In addition, low-income Americans simply vote at lower rates than does the rest of the country. This makes them less important to politicians than are the rest of the electorate. The voter turnout rate in 2012 for Americans making $10,000 yearly or less was under 50 percent, compared to a national voter turnout rate of 62.3 percent. Thinking cynically, this makes these voters less valuable to American politicians than are the rest of the electorate, making their prime issue of poverty even less important.

And even when poverty is discussed, the chatter often emphasizes urban poverty and fails to recognize that the poverty rate for rural Americans is three percentage points higher than the corresponding statistic for urban Americans. Multiple reasons exist as explanations, but one of particular interest surrounds our perceptions of those who live in rural areas. Americans harbor particularly negative views of the rural poor — especially in regions like the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains — giving them labels such as “hillbilly”. According to Lisa Pruitt, a Professor of Law at UC Davis, Americans label rural Americans as “uncouth,” “racist,” and “unsavory,” partly explaining why the very real issue of rural poverty is too rarely discussed.

There are opportunities for those in Washington to act if they would like stop ignoring this pressing issue. For example, in 2014, President Obama and Paul Ryan put forth proposals to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) introduced legislation to expand the EITC in 2015. Swift action is required on issues like this in order to put poverty back into the spotlight.

Looking back to how (if at all) the issue has been used in past elections, North Carolina Senator John Edwards made poverty the central issue in his 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, and he was able to employ the issue to create enthusiasm for both of his campaigns before his future prospects as a politician came to a halt in the midst of a well-known scandal. Perhaps at some point another high-profile candidate will help bring the issue back — unhindered by a need to focus on the “middle class” for political expediency, but until then, the strategic benefits of avoiding talking about poverty will continue to keep it out of political discourse.


When Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, threw his hat into the presidential race, he was widely expected to be to the left of Hillary Clinton on every issue. But Sanders, like many other populist, rural, progressives, holds one position that poses an existential threat to his liberal credentials. It is a conviction that might be expected of a senator from the agrarian, white state of Vermont, but not from a national Democratic presidential candidate from the most liberal wing of the party. Sanders, according to some, is a “gun nut.” To put it more realistically, the senator is perhaps a gun moderate. And while this may be shocking to some of his liberal supporters, it should come as no surprise when contextualized within the broader history of gun politics in the Democratic Party: Progressives aren’t always progressive on guns, and moderates are actually often the most in favor of stringent gun control and the least in the pocket of the NRA.

The modern history of gun control can be traced back to the 1960s, when numerous assassinations of public officials, including JFK, RFK, and MLK, prompted Congress to intervene and pass the Gun Control Act of 1968. The legislation restricted the sale of guns and who could buy them. It stands as one of the last major bipartisan efforts toward gun control, and it provided a glimpse of an uneasy détente between those who wished to keep their guns and those who wished to keep them out of the hands of criminals. It did not last.

By the late 1970s and the Carter administration, gun control had all but disappeared from the Democratic Party’s platform. Carter was certainly no liberal. But the fact that gun control wasn’t even nominally a part of his agenda was a sign of things to come. After the Democrats’ devastating loss in 1980, the common political narrative is that Democrats were lost in the wilderness as they nominated liberal after liberal, until they finally wised up and nominated moderate Bill Clinton in 1992.

But while the Democratic nominees in 1984 and 1988, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis respectively, could perhaps be considered farther left-of-center than Clinton, their views on guns were not so. Or at the very least, were not vocally so. The Democratic Party platform (essentially the campaign platforms for Mondale and Dukakis) in both elections contained no reference to guns, instead focusing on the economic and social components of a progressive agenda.

This remained true until the election of Clinton in 1992 and the subsequent passage of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. For many Democrats, the restrictions did not go over well. Southern and border state Democrats were hit hard in the 1994 elections, as were rural state representatives, in part due to the gun policies of this era and the legislation that followed. A federal assault weapons ban that might have played well in Chicago did not do the same in Cheyenne.

These politicians chose to prioritize issues that matter more to them, like healthcare, taxes, or immigration, over issues like gun control, an issue that maintains a sizeable intensity gap between supporters and opponents.

But centrist, Third Way Democrats under Clinton were not about to view this as a defeat in an effort to appease gun enthusiasts turning against the party. Instead, in 1996, the Party’s platform celebrated Clinton’s passing of gun control and his ability to “defy the gun lobby . . . to make Americans safer.” Clinton, the moderate, was happy to show off his record as gun controller-in-chief, in contrast to the more conventionally liberal members of his party who had not seemed to care one way or the other about passing this kind of legislation. It was a moderate who made gun control a priority, while the liberals were more than happy to mollify their stances towards guns in the interest of larger left-of-center goals.

The pattern continued with Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 devising similarly moderate platforms on gun control in their respective elections, even as neither was particularly to the right of Clinton on any other issue that they proposed. Gun control remained the strange liberal outlier that set moderates farther to the left than their progressive counterparts.

Contemporary politics have proved no exception. While Sanders is now well known as being a moderate on guns, he is one in a long line of recent populists embraced by progressives who lean a bit to the right on this particular issue. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer was at one point a progressive favorite despite a relatively conservative stance on gun control and perennial liberal champion Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin also brandished a mixed record on the issue of guns during his time in office. Even Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, boasts a mostly liberal record with the notable exception of gun control; a stance which shifted leftward once he became Majority Leader.

But none of this is to say that these Democrats aren’t true progressives or sellouts to the gun lobby. Indeed, the case usually becomes one of practicality: as a result of standing to the right of the national party on gun rights, these Democrats are able to get elected running on relatively liberal platforms in red or at least purple states. While Schweitzer showed off his rifles, he touts the benefits of single payer healthcare. And a nationally known Democrat like Reid was able to win in part by sticking to his guns on heartland social issues even as he became a target of right-wing electoral efforts.

These politicians chose to prioritize issues that matter more to them, like healthcare, taxes, or immigration, over issues like gun control, an issue that maintains a sizable intensity gap between supporters and opponents. They’ve made the calculation, however accurate, that in the give and take of politics, it is smarter to essentially abandon what they consider at the very least a distraction or at most, a lost battle, in order to get other work done.

And now, back in the full swing of a presidential election, the story is repeating itself. A populist progressive is advertising his solidly liberal record in comparison to his centrist opponent’s on every major issue except one. And while some liberals may be surprised at Sander’s viewpoint on gun control and his relatively high rating from the NRA, they shouldn’t.

A progressive on economics doesn’t make a progressive on guns, and the party and its activist base doesn’t seem to care too much. Few think that this might actually derail Sanders’s chances of winning more than an odd gaffe or an unrealistic policy objective would. But some progressive politicians, like Sanders, do seem to be out of step with the liberal voters they must attract. Unless these voters change their priorities at some point in the near future, Sanders may remain a “gun nut,” and serious gun control may only be possible if championed by a moderate president.


The Democratic National Committee (DNC) decided to sponsor only six Democratic Primary debates this election cycle, as opposed to the 17 that took place in 2008 and 10 that the Republican National Committee (RNC) has scheduled this year. Most suspect that the DNC decided to lessen the number of debates this year because Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other party leaders seek to protect Clinton’s status as frontrunner to strengthen her position for the general election.

Other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination have spoken out in complaint, as have DNC Vice Chairs Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Of the small number of debates, the two wrote, “It limits the ability of the American people to benefit from a strong, transparent, vigorous debate between our Presidential candidates.”

Yet while the dominant media narrative has centered around how the dearth has damaged the primary of Clinton’s primary opponents — namely, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley — there is a more significant consequence to the lack of debates: The eventual Democratic nominee will have less of a chance to engage with voters and stir excitement leading up to the general election.

The past two Republican debates have kept Democrats largely out of the spotlight. Though some Republican candidates did embarrass the GOP, such as Donald Trump in his exchange with Megyn Kelly, the debates give Republicans an early start to reach out to voters. Research for the European Institute for Communication and Culture suggests that televised debates can galvanize voters and increase voter turnout. This would be extremely helpful for a party trying to engage voters for the General Election. And, in comparison to campaign advertisements, this exposure comes for free.

Democrats are missing out on this opportunity. Former DNC official Simon Rosenberg, who has criticized the current debate schedule as insufficient, noted that this level of engagement is crucial to building the base of small donors and volunteers helpful in winning a general election. Rosenberg even estimated that the Republican debate schedule could “easily reach 50 to 100 million more eyeballs than the current Democratic schedule.” These are voters that the Democrats could have begun to excite for the general election.

In reducing the amount of debates scheduled this season, the DNC misses out on a critical opportunity to engage with voters and stir excitement leading up to the general election.

Unlike the rabble rousing of the GOP primary, the Democratic primary race has featured extremely few attacks between Democrats. Sanders has repeatedly refused to attack Clinton, telling Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, “Time after time I am being asked to criticize Hillary Clinton. That’s the sport that you guys like. The reason this campaign is doing well is we’re talking about the issues that impact the American people.” O’Malley has also largely resisted attacking Clinton directly, possibly to remain a viable running mate for Clinton. This should make for a more civil debate for Clinton, thus — if the DNC is looking to act in her interest — reducing the need to cut back on the number of debates.

This was evident during the first Democratic debate, in which Sanders tried to avoid directly attacking her. For example, when asked directly if he was tougher on climate change than Clinton, Sanders responded by simply listing his accomplishments on the issue and chastising Republicans for “deny[ing] the realities of climate change.” Nowhere in his response did he even mention Clinton. At one point, Sanders may have even helped the former secretary of state by dismissing her email scandal as unworthy of the national spotlight.

O’Malley and former Senator Lincoln Chafee were more quick to attack Clinton. Even so, these relatively minor candidates received significantly less speaking time than did Clinton and Sanders, and such attacks did not prevent Clinton from coming out of the debate favorably.

Given the bickering Trump has inspired during the last two RNC debates, more Democratic debates could encourage the party to differentiate itself on the quality of its candidates and discourse. Since the Democratic primary contest has yet to suffer from major personal attacks between contenders, debates are more likely to focus on policy issues in contrast to those of the Republicans, which have been full of political theater. The first Democratic debate was notably policy-oriented, giving Clinton the platform to differentiate her party in preparation for the general election. I think what you did see is that, in this debate, we tried to deal with some of the very tough issues facing our country,” she stated towards the end of the program. “That’s in stark contrast to the Republicans who are currently running for president.”

It is true that the televised debates could increase infighting between Democratic hopefuls (mostly through moderator questions that pit candidates against each other), but there is good reason to believe that these potential quarrels will not be nearly as heated as those of the Republicans; before the Republican debates even began, candidates were quick to attack each other head-on (notable examples include a well-publicized spat between Scott Walker and Jeb Bush over the Iran deal, as well as Rick Perry’s attacks on Donald Trump).

Presuming Clinton becomes the eventual nominee, DNC leaders are reasonably concerned that facing off with noted progressives Sanders and O’Malley will pressure Clinton to take policy positions too liberal for the general electorate. However, it is important to note that laying out progressive policies (albeit sensible ones) could actually end up helping Clinton in the general election; she has and will use her progressive stances on gun control and immigration to gain enthusiasm from voters who support the more liberal agenda of Bernie Sanders, who has mixed records on both issues. When Clinton attacked Sanders for his past votes against the Brady Bill, a prominent piece of gun safety legislation in the first Democratic debate, the audience reacted with applause. Her increasingly progressive position could help fill the enthusiasm gap Democrats face going into 2016, energizing the base and increasing Democratic turnout in the general election.

Hosting more debates could aid the party in voter engagement and interest going into the general election. The probability of the DNC actually altering the debate schedule seems unlikely at this point, which should come to the dismay of those who plan to support the party in the general. 

Photo: Lord Mariser

In today’s game of politics, it’s hard to keep score — especially for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Although it is tasked with providing nonpartisan analyses of budget acts, the CBO has found itself at the heart of partisan bickering. In two of the first substantive moves by the new Republican Congress, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to instruct the CBO to increase its use of “dynamic scoring,” and the Republican leadership chose to replace the CBO’s esteemed director, Doug Elmendorf, with the more conservative Keith Hall.

Since it concerns only the minutiae of economic calculations, it might seem odd that dynamic scoring has become such a thorny point in partisan politics. However, the moves of the new Republican majority to influence the CBO, though relatively unnoticed outside the Washington bubble, reflect much more than an erudite debate over the ins and outs of economic modeling. Rather, the dynamic scoring debate — and the partisan climate surrounding it — demonstrate that Washington’s mechanisms for nonpartisan policy analysis are miserably inadequate.

The battle over dynamic scoring may seem like a half-hearted effort to make budget analysis seem exciting, but it’s an important and substantial change. Generally, the CBO uses static scoring to analyze bills, meaning they assume that a given bill won’t have a macroeconomic impact. Dynamic scoring, on the other hand, attempts to account for the broader economic impacts of policies while analyzing budget proposals. Conceptually, the idea isn’t that complicated. Say a bill proposes to decrease all taxes by 20 percent; static scoring would simply measure the impact on revenue based on the economy’s current performance. But in reality, that type of change in tax policy would have significant effects on GDP and economic growth. So dynamic scoring measures how a given proposal affects the entire economy and then adjusts estimations accordingly. The CBO has historically used dynamic scoring for major legislative proposals, and the new House rule simply expands upon that precedent, ordering the CBO to dynamically score all tax proposals that would affect at least 0.25 percent of the economy and to do so only “to the extent practicable.”

If that were the whole story, the push for dynamic scoring wouldn’t be terribly controversial. Most economists and journalists agree that dynamic scoring, when done correctly, is a much better way to measure a bill’s effect. But most people agree that clairvoyance would be great, too. The problem with dynamic scoring doesn’t lie in the theory behind it — it’s in the execution. And Bruce Bartlett, a former economic advisor to President Reagan, aptly sums it up when he says that dynamic scoring uses “smoke and mirrors to institutionalize Republican ideology into the budget process.”

The Republican decision to encourage dynamic scoring has less to do with a desire for accurate budget analysis than it does with conservative economic theory. The centerpiece of the Republican economic platform is that tax cuts lead to growth. However, statically scored CBO budget estimates consistently showed tax cuts ballooning the federal deficit, which poses a problem for the GOP. Though CBO estimates haven’t painted the whole picture — because they weren’t trying to — unflattering nonpartisan estimates became easy fodder with which Democrats could bludgeon Republicans. A cursory glance at CBO estimates would seem to make the party of fiscal responsibility look more like the party of cut-and-run economics. But in new, dynamically scored estimates, the CBO will account for growth caused by tax cuts in its estimates, providing Republican proposals with an optical boost.

The problem is that estimating the future of the economy is an arduous affair, and it requires economists to make assumptions about complex and unpredictable factors. Consider the tax proposal from earlier. For the CBO to accurately estimate the effect of a 20 percent tax decrease on the economy, there are a number of questions concerning both long- and short-term behavior that analysts would have to take into account. How do high-, low- and middle-income consumers respond to tax decreases? How would across-the-board cuts affect consumer confidence? What about business confidence? These are quite complex questions, and for this reason, dynamic scoring is much more expensive and time-consuming than static scoring. More importantly, economists’ answers to these questions are frequently incorrect, and they oftentimes end up boiling down to fundamental differences in ideology. Unsurprisingly, there’s no economic consensus on how people respond to tax cuts or what the multiplier effect from government spending is. To be fair, static scoring also includes problematic assumptions, but it has more of an ability to nail down the fundamentals of a bill — without wading out into unclear estimates on the heavier questions.

And that brings up another a huge problem with dynamic scoring: Economists aren’t fortunetellers. Pointedly, not a single dynamic score from the CBO prior to 2007 foresaw the Great Recession, rendering just about every dynamic score from the early 2000s horribly inaccurate. It’s not just recessions that the CBO can’t predict; the agency also can’t foresee congressional behavior or the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy. These factors are particularly important because evidence suggests that the effect of tax cuts depends entirely on whether they are eventually paid for with spending cuts or future tax hikes. None of this information will be reflected in CBO dynamic scores, though. They’ll just show tax cuts leading to smaller deficits and higher growth.

Other moves from the GOP further indicate that their changes to the CBO extend beyond a commitment to truth-seeking. In March, the leaders from the Senate and House Budget Committees chose not to reconfirm Doug Elmendorf, the CBO director for the previous six years, and instead to replace him with Keith Hall, who was formerly a top economic advisor to the Bush administration. Since the CBO currently has discretion in exactly how it uses dynamic scoring, the director will have a heavy influence on the outcomes of CBO scores. It’s conceivable that Hall will implement dynamic scoring in a way that is as favorable as possible to the conservative platform. And if he does, Democrats would have almost no recourse except for public vilification of the CBO, an action that would gravely undermine the organization’s credibility.

It’s also unclear why Elmendorf, a Democrat widely hailed for his nonpartisanship, needed to go in the first place. During a recent celebration of the CBO’s 40th anniversary, Alice Rivlin, the first director of the CBO, suggested that future CBO directors should strive to “be as much like Doug Elmendorf as [they] can,” a statement that caused the CBO employees in attendance to erupt in applause. Gregory Mankiw, a top advisor to President Bush and a senior advisor to former Governor Mitt Romney, also lamented Elmendorf’s departure, writing in a New York Times editorial that he had done a “remarkable job.” Nor is Mankiw the only conservative who has come to Elmendorf’s aid; Mankiw’s position is shared by the director of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, among others. Elmendorf’s only real opponents were hyper-conservative groups like Heritage Action and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. And although it’s not uncommon for the party in power to promote one of its own to run the CBO, the partisan minefield surrounding dynamic scoring and the overwhelming support that Elmendorf already had makes the Republican Party’s choice of Hall a particularly dubious move.

The dynamic scoring episode demonstrates the enormous structural barriers to the CBO’s ability to act as a nonpartisan referee. Some of this may have to do with the fact that the CBO’s modern role differs from the one for which it was originally designed. When the CBO was founded in 1974, it was supposed to be a bulwark against presidential impoundment, since at the time, only the Office of Management and Budget would produce budget scores for legislation. Over time, the CBO evolved into something more — a tried and true source of economic data. But it’s becoming apparent that the CBO may not be equipped to keep producing credible research as partisanship continues to ramp up.

Republicans have continued to defend their changes as a way to provide more information to the public. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), for instance, argued that the CBO should produce both static and dynamic scores on the grounds that “it’s stupid to do the one and not do the other.” But here Hatch and his comrades miss the point. The CBO is nonpartisan and credible in the eyes of the public — that’s why politicians care so much about the contents of its reports. However, if the CBO produces multiple studies and some are filled with inaccurate and partisan assumptions, then each party, for obvious reasons, will cite only the politically favorable one.

There are some fixes that could help the CBO remain neutral. To begin with, it’s unwise to entrust a nonpartisan organization to a director primarily responsible to the party that elected him or her. If politicians are indeed committed to having the CBO serve the role of neutral arbiter, they should have the organization feature equal representation for major factions. In addition, the CBO should increase transparency in its modeling so that other organizations and politicians can more easily critique reports when they disagree with their outcomes. These moves almost certainly won’t happen in the next couple of years. But perhaps in the next Congress, both sides may come together to realize that an overactive and partisan CBO is a pox on both houses.

Art by Soraya Ferdman.

The phrase “American accent” is a paradox. There are over 20 recognized dialects of “American English” alone, and there are nearly infinite permutations and mixtures of these vocal melodies, from the banshee squeal of lower Appalachia to the elongated moan of Baltimore. But there is also a very separate category of “populist speak.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren represents the great northern liberal bastion of Massachusetts, yet her consonant tone, which resembles that of an Oklahoma woman from the plains, betrays her childhood home. Former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina speaks with the slow Southern drawl to prove he is a native. Even former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer speaks with just a slight western twang. But beyond being from regions of the country that are associated with the rural intonation of the American voice, they are also all successful (if scandal plagued) populists.

They all sound like they know what they’re talking about when discussing poverty in the South or farmers starving in the heartland. This is in part because listening to them speak can feel like standing by and watching a single mother of four scramble for pennies in the Ozarks. They have, in a sense, the people’s tongue, or at least what many want to believe the people’s tongue is. Edwards can drop his “g’s” like a pro. Warren can craft a folksy simile about financial regulation faster than George Bush can mispronounce “nuclear” (himself another expert at this electoral vernacular). And Governor Schweitzer used his big moment on the national stage at the 2012 DNC to shout, “That dog don’t hunt!” which garnered thunderous applause and a few genuine hollers from the crowd.

Regardless of how much of this vocal genuflection is just an act is irrelevant as to how often it is now applied. The regional dialect of the South or rural plains can often be stereotyped as a synonym for conservatism. Even outside of politics, modern entertainment has conditioned us to associate the character with the drawl as at least old fashioned and a bit conservative, if not outright stupid or “back woodsy”. But at the present moment, the Democratic Party’s populists seem to be making a go at this accented appeal themselves.

Warren, Edwards, and Schweitzer are certainly not alone as members of the populist wing: the Congressional Progressive Caucus claims 69 members in the 114th Congress, or just over a third of the entire House Democratic Caucus. Yet out of dozens of members of congress and leaders of government who would embrace the progressive populist brand, only a few ever really pull ahead to the national spotlight – mostly those who use an appropriate “twang”. There emerges a crucial dichotomy between populists: Those who can twang and those who can’t.

In the 2016 Democratic primaries, the competition for the title of the populist candidate is being waged in a bit of a roundabout fashion. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an actively declared democratic socialist with a thick Brooklyn accent, has repeatedly hinted at his interest in running for president, yet his poll numbers are still significantly behind Warren, with her hard scramble and folksy intonation, who capped off her last statement against running for president by saying, “Want me to put an exclamation point at the end?” Warren isn’t running for the Presidency, and yet her drawl has garnered more support than a twang-less candidate who is actually interested in holding the office.

But beyond the primary, Democrats still need to win the general election. And that usually becomes the major pitfall of populists: what plays well among the party faithful may not jive as much with the electorate at large. And many of those who are most drawn by populism come from a more rural, less educated background in the prairie or Southeast that usually predisposes them towards Republicans.

There emerges a crucial dichotomy between populists: Those who can twang and those who can’t.

Therein lies the inherent challenge for the Democratic Party: winning the populist vote despite the fact that the modern, average Democratic voter is younger, more likely to live on the coast, and usually in a highly concentrated urban area outside of the South and Midwest. The latte-drinking liberal from a New York borough is certainly not a stereotype that has helped the Democrats, nor one they seem likely to encourage. After all, many of the primary beneficiaries of Democratic policies, like food stamps, live in red states full of elongated vowels and “y’alls” galore.

But the desire to shake that image does in turn accentuate one crucial advantage Warren and her dialectic kin provide: They give the progressive movement a sort of Americana sheen that can gloss over the “anti-American leftist” mold that has been used to vilify Democrats for decades. The twanging populists are a crucial guard against the Democrats’ cultural Achilles heel. Their accent can defend against the attacks of “liberal elitism” that would certainly otherwise be launched against a former Harvard professor like Warren, just as they are against any other left-leaning populist. Warren’s twang may give her charm, but it also acts as a powerful defensive weapon. Latte liberals don’t say “y’all.”

This draw to the drawl consequently marks a sharp turn in strategy for the party and its left flank. A Southern accent for a Southern based party, as the Democrats once were, is no advantage. But for a party that is shifting its base to the Northeast and Pacific Coast, a folksy idiom or two will certainly not hurt, and could act as insulation against potential attacks. Perhaps therein lies the growing success of the Warrens and the Schweitzers of the Democratic Party against other less vocally notable leaders like Sanders. With a Warren or a Schweitzer on the ticket, perhaps the blue-collar worker in Ohio will be convinced that, regardless of ideology, this candidate cares about them. Southern twangs and folksy idioms were the party’s message once before; with Warren or Schweitzer holding the reigns, as progressives wish, perhaps they will be again.

Photo credit to Tim Pierce

Long lines, shoddy preparations and incomprehensible rules: The US voting process is marred by these well-documented problems. But these barriers are just the beginning for minority groups like the blind and visually impaired. Individuals with visual impairments often find typical ballots — electronic or otherwise — inaccessible. For these citizens, exercising their right to vote remains difficult, if not impossible. In some cases, even the way they are given assistance compromises confidentiality. Worse, the American public largely neglects these issues.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees all disabled voters the right to arrive at the ballot box with relative ease, as well as access to specialized voting machines — but this alone is not enough. Al Jazeera recently reported on serious shortfalls in existing measures: Machines that verbalize voters’ choices are sometimes unintelligible or confusing, and officials at polling places are often not trained to operate them properly. Having officials assist differently abled voters in filling out their ballot compromises the secrecy of their choices. Often the only other option, besides going to underequipped polling places, is to vote by mail, which may require the help of visually abled friends or family members. These inherent inadequacies in the available choices mean a visually impaired voter will likely encounter critical barriers.

With the standard of a safe and confidential vote insufficiently protected, many organizations are seeking to expand voting options for the visually impaired. Some advocates have resorted to legal action. In National Federation of the Blind (NFB) v. Maryland State Board of Elections, a federal court ruled in favor of the NFB, concluding that the state must permit disabled individuals to use an online tool that makes it easier to vote. With this system, voters can mark ballots at home, without the assistance that would compromise privacy, and then send their ballot to the local election office. For Mark Riccobono, president of the NFB, the federal court decision in Maryland is a victory for civil rights and protects “the right to equal access and to a secret ballot” that could soon extend to the rest of the country. Since the case was tried in a federal court, Maryland will set an important precedent that could potentially lead to a national change in voter laws.

But success is not guaranteed. In fact, the Maryland affair shows that both Democrats and Republicans are hesitant to expand the use of electronic voting systems, even for the disabled. Democrats concerned with computer security and Republicans advocating for stricter voting laws have joined in opposition, their convictions aided by reports from security experts concerned that hackers could compromise the system. The NFB claims that such fears are unfounded and points to the fact that most states already permit members of the armed forces serving abroad to vote electronically. In addition, Alaska and Delaware already use similar online voting systems for visually impaired individuals, and neither measure has proved vulnerable to voter fraud, as security experts fear.

Here, civil rights have been pitted against security concerns — a theme that also permeates political debates about voter identification laws across the United States. In these instances, concerns over voting fraud are the antagonist to legal flexibility for voters. Politicians scrutinize whether the hardships of voting for certain minorities are the result of burdensome laws or inevitable social factors. Those who suggest that the difficulties are inevitable default to tighter voting laws and anti-fraud measures. Conversations surrounding voter identification laws show the racialized nature of the debate. As a result, there is an ongoing backlash against stricter voting laws that are seen as disproportionally affecting people of color, making it clear that perpetuating racist outcomes is unacceptable.

However, the similarly lopsided debate on the rights of the visually impaired is hidden from the public view. This hints at the distinct presence of ableism — structural forces and ingrained patterns of thought that entrench systemic obstacles for disabled individuals. Ableism is evident in the perception that because the visually impaired often rely on others for assistance in daily living, so too should they rely on assistance when voting. After Maryland’s Board of Elections initially rejected the online system, the director of the University of Maryland School of Law’s Center for Health and Homeland Security even said that “sanity prevailed” in the vote. The ableist undertones in this debate have scarcely been a topic of national conversation, much less a source of mobilization. A resolution to the debate over electronic voting for the visually impaired clearly lies in more than just the contention between civil rights and security — it requires changing attitudes towards the disabled community.

Politics will ultimately play an important hand in normalizing electronic voting procedures for the visually impaired. These procedures will likely be used in elections across the country and may transform larger attitudes within the voter accessibility debate. Maryland’s developments, both in the political and judicial spheres, not only illustrate a dispute between security and civil rights, but also shed light on how American society perceives the rights and privileges of people with disabilities. The issue of ableism has not yet received the attention it deserves. As the United States takes its voting system into the 21st century, its citizens must also modernize their views on civil rights.

Art By Emily Reif.

The Republican Party is like a bunch of awkward guys on dates — trying very hard, but having trouble winning over women. With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, Republicans and Democrats have ramped up their efforts to woo women voters to varying levels of success. The Democratic strategy of emphasizing women’s issues is hardly new, and their broad goal this election cycle has been to reestablish this historical partnership. Republicans, on the other hand, have begun to run the bases on women’s issues as well, as moderate red candidates tout equal pay and reproductive rights as top priorities. This platform shift is a big — and somewhat surprising — change. And it may be working. Numerous high profile polls have shown the GOP gaining ground with women voters, and Democratic operatives are beginning to get nervous. Despite the changes in rhetoric, there’s little evidence that Republicans will carry the thread of women’s issues through to the 114th Congress. It may talk the talk, but the Republican Party is hardly the champion of women it now claims to be.

Democrats have a more substantial track record on reproductive rights and gender equity far more than the Republican Party. A significant landmark in this equilibrium is in 1980, when the Republican Party failed to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) at its national convention. Not only did the Democratic Party endorse the ERA, it also pledged to only support candidates who supported the amendment. In fact, since the 1980 presidential elections, women have consistently supported Democratic candidates more than their male counterparts. Today, an overwhelming majority of women favor Democrats over Republicans, regardless of age, marital status, racial identity, or ethnicity — 41 percent identify as Democrats, compared to 25 percent as Republicans. This trend held strongly in the last election cycle, when Democrats won women voters by 12 percentage points.

Democrats are trying to hold onto this edge, as their party’s prospects all but depend on it. If women don’t turn out to vote in the midterms (a time when female turnout has dropped off in the past), then Democrats are facing a guaranteed shellacking. In the House of Representatives, where the Democrats are scrambling to take back the majority, the party’s campaign platform is heavily geared towards addressing women’s issues including affordable childcare and economic mobility. Nancy Pelosi has travelled all across the country repeating the Democratic mantra: “When women succeed, America succeeds.” Congressional Democrats have also thrown their weight into professing their distaste for Hobby Lobby v. Burwell and other Supreme Court decisions restricting women’s reproductive rights.

Republicans are looking to change the tide with women voters in 2014. The National Republican Congressional Committee has urged candidates to integrate traditional Republican ideology with distinct outreach to women. Republican candidates have begun to publicly back the sale of over-the-counter birth control and to stress the importance and priority of pay equity. And given a history of questionable comments about gender equality and reproductive rights — Todd Akin comes to mind — the Republican caucus has been holding strategy sessions to determine the best way to approach these issues. To better connect with female constituents, some moderate Republicans have started what they call “Women2Women,” town-hall-type meetings designed to give Republicans a chance to reconnect with women and hear their thoughts. All of these actions are unprecedented, and to some extent, the efforts have paid off. The advantage Democrats have traditionally held with the female demographic is shrinking. A poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC showed that Republicans halved their deficit among women voters from 14 percent to 7 percent. A 7 percent deficit isn’t stellar, of course, but it’s remarkable progress.

Nevertheless, the Republican Party has a long way to go if it wants to hold onto its gains with female voters. First of all, its candidates have to actually follow through on the rhetoric. Simply adopting new stances does not change one’s voting records. Rep. Steve Southerland, for example, is campaigning this year on advocating for pro-women legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act. But Southerland had already joined the majority of House Republicans in voting against that Act when it was on the House floor. Since these issues have a lot to do with personal ideology, flip-flopping wins few points with constituents. Voters don’t necessarily believe that so-called conscience issues can be party to public opinion, and it is hard to believe that someone who has been staunchly opposed to expanding reproductive rights can be swayed so easily to change their mind

The second reason for women’s skepticism to the new GOP outreach is that the decision to emphasize women’s issues was a top-down mandate, not one that stemmed from the individual candidates. Instead of relying on personal epiphany, the Republican caucus explicitly told candidates that the female demographic was essential and required an ideological shift. It’s unsurprising, then, that recent efforts to woo women to vote Republican appear to some as forced and unconvincing.

Over the summer, many Republican candidates fed fodder to the theory that their new platforms may not be trustworthy or reliable. Despite their claims that they are now joining Democratic lawmakers in working to expand women’s access to their reproductive rights, Republicans fiercely challenged Democratic efforts to reverse Hobby Lobby, which severely limited the access many women have to birth control. In a similar vein, it is hard to believe that the same Republican Party that shamed Texas State Senator Wendy Davis for exercising her reproductive rights can assert that it will be working to expand those same rights. Granted, a great many Republican candidates don’t behave in this manner towards women, but the actions of a small few reflect badly on the intentions and commitment of the party as a whole.

This cycle has made clear a disturbing truth: Republicans are not as supportive of women’s rights as they want us to believe. While it is clear that both parties are trying to put women first by prioritizing issues that matter to them, the Republican Party has gotten ahead of itself. Each party wants women on its side, not just because women need better representation of their issues in politics, but also because they are essential in the voting booth. But rhetoric and action are two different things, and voters have enough history to see the difference.

There is certainly a silver lining to all this, however; regardless of whether the GOP platform actually falls in line with women’s interests. As a result of this consistent focus on women voters, there can be no doubt that women’s political power is increasing by the day. In the 100 years since gaining the right to vote, women have gone from afterthought to key political constituency. The overall broadening of attention on women’s rights across the board can only be a good thing, too. With both sides of the aisle claiming to support similar agenda items, we can be hopeful, if not confident, that our legislature will begin to take larger strides in promoting gender equality. Even if it’s at a glacial pace, progress is on its way—it’s just a matter of when. But it’s not a bad bet to think that the Grand Old Party will continue to revert to back its old ways.

Art by Anisa Holmes.