Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Eyes on Texas

Adam Serwer of The Atlantic speculates on whether Democrats can have a resurgence in Texas. Facing little pressure from his left in a state that ended up redder than the polls predicted in 2020, Abbott has focused on ensuring that he can’t be outflanked on his right by primary challengers, who currently include Don Huffines and Allen West. He assumes that when the general election comes, he’ll be able to crush whomever the Democrats put up. Because Democrats haven’t won statewide office in Texas since Kurt Cobain was alive, it’s a good bet—but it’s not a sure one. One theory of Democratic resurgence in Texas goes something like this: At some point, the penchant of Texas Republicans to govern so as to please their own primary electorate, rather than the state as a whole, will induce a backlash that results in Texas voters giving the Democrats a chance. The Texas abortion law, which bars the procedure before most women know they are pregnant and deputizes private citizens to seek $10,000 bounties on their fellow Texans, may be too much even for many voters who otherwise consider themselves anti-abortion. The law also contains no exceptions for rape or incest—only 13 percent of Texans favor a ban that strict. In response to a question about the lack of an exception, Abbott recently vowed to “eliminate all rapists,” which is something he probably should have done already if he had the power to do it. The state legislature’s agenda, coming in the aftermath of the February power outage and amid the coronavirus crisis, offers a particularly glaring example of the Texas GOP prioritizing culture-war matters over basic governance. All of which will offer an opportunity to test this theory in real time. Mike Collier, who is running against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in 2022 after losing to him by five points in 2018, literally wrote a book on the subject. On the other hand, Alexa Ura reports for The Texas Tribune that, due to the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, Texas will be able to redraw redistricting maps without federal oversight. The 2021 redistricting cycle will mark the first time in nearly half a century that a Legislature with a lengthy record of discriminating against voters of color will be able to redraw political districts without federal oversight designed to keep harmful maps from immediately going into effect. And now, once those maps are enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that for decades have fought discrimination in the courts may face a federal judiciary less willing to doubt lawmakers’ partisan motivations — even if they come at the expense of Hispanic and Black Texans. “I hate to be an alarmist. I want to look for the silver lining, but I don’t see one,” said Jose Garza, a veteran civil rights attorney who has represented the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus for a decade. ”I think that this is a time of great opportunity for the Republicans.” Shefali Luthra of The 19th News reports that now that the Texas abortion ban is law (for now), abortion clinics in neighboring states are seeing considerably more patients from Texas. The numbers illustrate a pattern that experts predicted well before the Texas ban took into effect. Those who want to end a pregnancy are doing their best to travel beyond the state borders. Some are succeeding. Many are not. “Patients from Texas are traveling sometimes five to eight hours each way to get to a health center in Oklahoma,” per a briefing filed earlier this week by the Department of Justice. Much like at Trust Women, abortions in Planned Parenthood’s Oklahoma clinics are now mostly being booked for Texas-based patients, per the DOJ briefing. Between 50 and 75 percent of appointments at those clinics have been booked by people traveling from Texas for an abortion. Meanwhile, the journey from Texas — whose surface area is almost 270,000 square miles — to other states poses its own challenge. For many, the trip will be impossible. For others, it will be harrowing. Bill Scher of Washington Monthly explains why it is so difficult to get progressive tax reform passed into law. So what is it about this specific tax issue—and tax reform generally—that is so complicated? First, any policy change creates winners and losers. Politicians must worry if those policy losers become lost voters. Even if a policy provides net benefits, and even if the polling is favorable, voters who get the short end will have long memories. They may become loud opponents, driven by a single issue. And if you are a representative from a swing district, a small fraction of newly angered single-issue voters could mean losing office. Fear of galvanizing yet another cadre of angry constituents is why Democrats are willing to create exemptions that would minimize the number of policy losers in the Build Ba

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Eyes on Texas

Adam Serwer of The Atlantic speculates on whether Democrats can have a resurgence in Texas.

Facing little pressure from his left in a state that ended up redder than the polls predicted in 2020, Abbott has focused on ensuring that he can’t be outflanked on his right by primary challengers, who currently include Don Huffines and Allen West. He assumes that when the general election comes, he’ll be able to crush whomever the Democrats put up. Because Democrats haven’t won statewide office in Texas since Kurt Cobain was alive, it’s a good bet—but it’s not a sure one.

One theory of Democratic resurgence in Texas goes something like this: At some point, the penchant of Texas Republicans to govern so as to please their own primary electorate, rather than the state as a whole, will induce a backlash that results in Texas voters giving the Democrats a chance. The Texas abortion law, which bars the procedure before most women know they are pregnant and deputizes private citizens to seek $10,000 bounties on their fellow Texans, may be too much even for many voters who otherwise consider themselves anti-abortion. The law also contains no exceptions for rape or incest—only 13 percent of Texans favor a ban that strict. In response to a question about the lack of an exception, Abbott recently vowed to “eliminate all rapists,” which is something he probably should have done already if he had the power to do it. The state legislature’s agenda, coming in the aftermath of the February power outage and amid the coronavirus crisis, offers a particularly glaring example of the Texas GOP prioritizing culture-war matters over basic governance.

All of which will offer an opportunity to test this theory in real time. Mike Collier, who is running against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in 2022 after losing to him by five points in 2018, literally wrote a book on the subject.

On the other hand, Alexa Ura reports for The Texas Tribune that, due to the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, Texas will be able to redraw redistricting maps without federal oversight.

The 2021 redistricting cycle will mark the first time in nearly half a century that a Legislature with a lengthy record of discriminating against voters of color will be able to redraw political districts without federal oversight designed to keep harmful maps from immediately going into effect.

And now, once those maps are enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that for decades have fought discrimination in the courts may face a federal judiciary less willing to doubt lawmakers’ partisan motivations — even if they come at the expense of Hispanic and Black Texans.

“I hate to be an alarmist. I want to look for the silver lining, but I don’t see one,” said Jose Garza, a veteran civil rights attorney who has represented the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus for a decade. ”I think that this is a time of great opportunity for the Republicans.”

Shefali Luthra of The 19th News reports that now that the Texas abortion ban is law (for now), abortion clinics in neighboring states are seeing considerably more patients from Texas.

The numbers illustrate a pattern that experts predicted well before the Texas ban took into effect. Those who want to end a pregnancy are doing their best to travel beyond the state borders. Some are succeeding. Many are not.

“Patients from Texas are traveling sometimes five to eight hours each way to get to a health center in Oklahoma,” per a briefing filed earlier this week by the Department of Justice.

Much like at Trust Women, abortions in Planned Parenthood’s Oklahoma clinics are now mostly being booked for Texas-based patients, per the DOJ briefing. Between 50 and 75 percent of appointments at those clinics have been booked by people traveling from Texas for an abortion.

Meanwhile, the journey from Texas — whose surface area is almost 270,000 square miles — to other states poses its own challenge. For many, the trip will be impossible. For others, it will be harrowing.

Bill Scher of Washington Monthly explains why it is so difficult to get progressive tax reform passed into law.

So what is it about this specific tax issue—and tax reform generally—that is so complicated?

First, any policy change creates winners and losers. Politicians must worry if those policy losers become lost voters. Even if a policy provides net benefits, and even if the polling is favorable, voters who get the short end will have long memories. They may become loud opponents, driven by a single issue. And if you are a representative from a swing district, a small fraction of newly angered single-issue voters could mean losing office.

Fear of galvanizing yet another cadre of angry constituents is why Democrats are willing to create exemptions that would minimize the number of policy losers in the Build Back Better bill. But there’s a second obstacle: Tax laws are easily changed—they are eligible for filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bills—and voters rarely trust that, in the future, tax laws will change in their favor. While Democrats can pass a law today that says the first $5 million of inherited property is exempt, they can’t promise that exemption won’t get lowered or eliminated tomorrow.

Jerusalem Demsas of Vox digs into the data of new polling where urban residents say that the housing crisis is the top priority.

“It’s not surprising that housing affordability was the top issue in America,” said Michael Hendrix, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank. “What surprised me was the intensity, the priority that housing affordability and generally cost of living for people that ranks in these fast-growing metros. It wasn’t just a San Francisco or New York issue, it’s becoming more widespread.”

In attractive metropolitan areas, the situation is even more dire. According to Redfin data, Phoenix saw a 24.1 percent median sales price increase over the last year. Housing supply declined by 44.9 percent in San Francisco in the same time frame. And residents are noticing. In the Manhattan Institute’s poll, 64 percent of people in fast-growing urban areas said they were extremely or very concerned about the cost of housing. The poll has a sampling margin of error of plus/minus 2.3 percentage points and includes some respondents in less dense communities within the metro areas.

[...]

American cities have seen such a steep rise in housing unaffordability largely due to a dangerously low supply of homes, in particular affordable homes. One major reason is that state and local governments have artificially constrained the supply of housing through zoning ordinances and through a local government process that results in costly delays. By requiring things like minimum lot sizes or holding public meetings where developers are forced to defend building multi-family housing, these laws often make it illegal or unprofitable to build small starter homes or multi-family homes that would be more affordable relative to the large homes that get built in their stead.

Brett Chase and Dan Gearino report for Inside Climate News on the new climate law in Illinois that some are calling the “most equitable” climate legislation passed in American history.

The new law promises thousands of new jobs in clean energy, with an emphasis on hiring people of color. It sets priorities for closing sources of pollution in so-called environmental justice communities. And it gives almost $700 million over five years to subsidize three Northern Illinois nuclear power plants owned by Exelon.

The law was pushed through by a coalition of environmental, community and religious activists who held more than 100 community meetings over the last three years with thousands of people around the state. That process was in sharp contrast to what happened five years ago, when utility companies dominated the writing of the state’s last major energy law.

The result is what proponents call the “most equitable” climate bill passed to date in the United States.

[...]

The bill’s signing follows long delays and difficult negotiations in which the bill almost failed to pass. The delays meant that rooftop solar installers went through most of the year with no funding for the main state incentive program for their industry, leading to a drop in projects and the need to lay off workers. That program’s funding is now restored and expanded.

Margaret Talev of Axios reports that people of color are more likely to report that they live with poor air and water quality in their neighborhoods than white people.

More than seven in 10 people of color and half of white respondents said they would support the creation of a national fund to pay health care costs for people suffering from pollution-related illnesses.

  • But there's no mandate across any racial or ethnic group to raise most people's income taxes to pay for better air and water quality, or to raise gasoline taxes to expand renewable energy or electric vehicles.
  • Seven in 10 Americans — including 65% of white respondents — said they do favor raising taxes on corporations or the very wealthy to improve the environment.

By the numbers: 70% of white respondents described the air quality in their neighborhoods as almost always good or mostly good.

  • That compares with 48% for Black respondents, 44% for Hispanic respondents and 50% of Asian American respondents.
  • There were comparable gaps across the other measures: 70% of white respondents, 61% of Asian American respondents, and just 48% of Hispanic respondents and 43% of Black respondents said their tap water quality is good.

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe writes about the illusion and realities of Boston, now that the city will elect its first mayor who is also a woman of color.

In her 1980 novel, “The Salt Eaters,” Toni Cade Bambara ponders the fate of the Old Testament woman that God turned into a pillar of salt. “Wasn’t that what happened to Lot’s wife? A loyalty to old things, a fear of the new, a fear to change, to look ahead?”

Now Boston looks ahead to an election that could be transformative not just for the city but for its national image. Narratives are quickly taking shape about the two women vying to be mayor. Wu is viewed as a progressive who proposes broad changes such as a city-level Green New Deal to combat climate change and tackling systemic racism “as foundational to our pandemic recovery and every action we take as a city.”

Essaibi George, a Walsh acolyte, is seen as a pro-police, pro-business moderate. In a tweet after her Tuesday win, she wrote, “It’ll take all of us to move this city forward. Real progress comes with hard work.” Intentional or not, she echoed the name of Real Progress Boston, a super PAC founded by New Balance chairman and longtime Republican donor Jim Davis, which gave Essaibi George’s campaign $495,000.

That Essaibi George is being boosted by a billionaire Donald Trump supporter doesn’t inspire belief that she’s the person to break Boston’s old, exclusionary ways. Not surprisingly, she rejects the progressive vs. moderate framing, although her base skews older, whiter, and more conservative.

Georgia State University psychology professor Sierra Carter writes for The Conversation about a new study that shows the traumatic effects of racism on Black women.

We found that Black women who reported more experiences of racial discrimination had more response activity in brain regions that are associated with vigilance and watching out for threat – that is, the middle occipital cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Their reactions were above and beyond the response caused by traumatic experiences not related to racism. Our research suggests that racism had a traumalike effect on Black women’s health; being regularly attuned to the threat of racism can tax important body-regulation tools and worsen brain health.

Other trauma research shows that this kind of continuous response to threat can increase the risk of mental health disorders and additional future brain health problems.

[...]

There is a large and well-established history of research connecting traumatic experiences, such as childhood maltreatment, physical assault and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, to changes in brain functioning that lead to negative health outcomes. Our study is one of the first to consider how the brain might respond to experiences of racial discrimination above and beyond other traumatic stressors.

Osita Nwanevu pens a wide-ranging analysis for Columbia Journalism Review about the utility of political writing in this age of online publications and punditry.

We political writers are fond of telling ourselves that our readers matter more than most—they often include policymakers, base voters, and political activists uniquely placed to effect political change. But how reliably has that really made a difference? Day in and day out, readers from the center to the left are offered the same arguments about the state of the Republican Party and what Democrats ought to be doing, without much discernible impact. Many journalists in my particular corner of the political landscape have persistently high hopes for what progressive writing can do, and those hopes are grounded in some real accomplishments. It’s probably fair to assume that bold and strident left-wing punditry has intertwined with other factors—including on-the-ground work by activists and organizers and the socioeconomic realities facing key Democratic constituencies—to bring about some of the policy and electoral victories progressives have seen in recent years on issues such as criminal justice reform and drug policy, particularly at the state and local levels.

But at the federal level, where most of our energy and attention is spent, national political commentators have succeeded mostly in encouraging an impressive share of Democratic political elites, activists, and policy professionals to engage with important policy ideas— Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, the addition of new states, the expansion of the Supreme Court, and so on—that are unlikely to pass Congress. And the successes progressives have seen so far during the Biden administration—including the size and scope of the recovery and infrastructure packages, a new commitment to aggressive antitrust enforcement, and other policy pushes—can probably be credited less to posts and tweets than to the work of progressive policy researchers, academics, and advocacy groups, which policymakers can access directly, without journalists and their explainers as intermediaries.

I agree with the first paragraph of the excerpt here, not so much with the second paragraph.

John Nichols of The Nation writes about a new GQP disorder: Blinken Derangement Syndrome.

When Blinken met Tuesday with the esteemed members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he stepped through the looking glass and found himself dealing with politicians who had abandoned any pretense of realism.

What was expected to be a spirited discussion of the difficult US withdrawal from Afghanistan turned into a circus, as Republican senators competed with one another to display their venomous disdain for Blinken in particular, the Biden administration in general, and anything akin to the truth. It was as if the Benghazi hearings never ended.

No accusation was out of bounds. No conspiracy theory was unreasonable. No threat was left unstated.

[...]

While Democrats on the committee such as Connecticut’s Chris Murphy—along with responsible Republicans such as Utah Senator Mitt Romney—asked tough questions and pressed Blinken in appropriate ways, the ad hominem attacks from the vast majority of Republicans owed everything to the Donald Trump School of Political Engagement. Florida’s Marco Rubio asked a 1,140-word invective-rich “question” that didn’t actually include an inquiry. Texas Senator Ted Cruz accused Blinken and his aides of “ideological naïveté” and “manifest incompetence,” and claimed decision-making with regard to the withdrawal “a hundred years from now will be studied at war colleges as a colossal strategic mistake.” When Blinken attempted to explain that Cruz’s accusations were “flat-out wrong,” the senator interrupted him and said, “I’d just like a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

David E. Sanger of The New York Times looks at the secret talks behind the Aukus alliance that infuriated France to the extent that France has recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia.

The Australians, by all accounts, never made clear to the French that they were preparing to cancel the deal, which had taken years to negotiate. And in meeting after meeting with their French counterparts — some including Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken — the Americans did not give France a heads-up about their plans to step in with their own designs, the officials said, asking for anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy. It was a classic case of diplomatic avoidance.

Mr. Biden’s top aides finally discussed the issue with the French hours before it was publicly announced at the White House in a virtual meeting with Mr. Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia.

The result was a blowup that has now led to a vivid breach of trust with one of America’s oldest allies.

In the end, Mr. Biden’s decision was the result of a brutal calculus that nations sometimes make in which one ally is determined to be more strategically vital than another — something national leaders and diplomats never like to admit to in public. And it was a sign that as Mr. Biden begins to execute what the Obama administration, 12 years ago, called the “pivot to Asia,” there is the risk of stepping on political land mines as old, traditional allies in Europe feel left behind.

Finally today, Lukas Eberle, Christoph Hickman, and Veit Medick write for Der Speigel about the impending collapse of the Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU) in Germany.

Germany, in the late summer of 2021, has been witness to a surprising political drama: The high-speed erosion of perhaps the country’s last remaining big-tent party. Despite having occupied the Chancellery for the last 16 years, the CDU commands a mere 22 percent support in public opinion surveys with just two weeks to go before the election. And Laschet, the party’s candidate – a man who has long been seen as a capable politician, if not particularly charismatic – has been completely unable to gather any momentum. Indeed, in an Infratest dimap survey of 1,500 people following Sunday’s debate regarding which candidate was the most "likeable," Laschet was chosen by just 18 percent, far behind Baerbock (39 percent) and Scholz (34 percent). [...]

The Union – shorthand for the center-right alliance between the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) – is facing a disaster. And the reasons for that have to do both with the two parties themselves and with Laschet. With Merkel’s two-decade-long dominance of the party and with Laschets’s background and approach to politics.

[...]

The consequences for Germany and the country’s political party system would be significant. Much has changed in recent years, with the center-left SPD shrinking from a big-tent party to a lost-in-the-woods niche group, the Greens becoming a force to be reckoned with and the right-wing radical Alternative for Germany (AfD) party developing to the right of the CDU. Through it all, though, the Union remained a bastion of stability.

Everyone have a great day!