Saturday, April 10, 2010

On the President's Poll Numbers, The Catholic Church, The RNC Chairman and The Supreme Court

Presidential Approval -- DId Health Care Matter?
The statistical evidence to date would indicate that in the short-term at least, the passage and signing of health care legislation did not have a significant impact on the President's numbers either way. Democrats were hoping for a poll bounce, the GOP was hoping that their cries for "repeal and replace" would unify Independents wary of big government against the President. Neither appears to have happened.

The President's short-term polling appears to be more or less a flat line, as illustrated below in our aggregation of all non-partisan polling for the past few weeks.

The President's monthly numbers continue to show the same trend of him being just above the zero line, that is having just slightly more voters in the country that approve of his performance than disapprove. The trend, which has to be worrisome for the administration and the DEMs in general, of him losing ground slowly but surely every month, also appears to be continuing as he finished the month of March off 0.4% versus February and appears on pace to lose another 0.4% in March. These are not huge swings, but it is a statistical fact that if you never have a positive month, you are going to be in big trouble long-term.

The one thing the DEMs can take heart in is that the pace of the President's decline has been arrested somewhat. Looking back on his Presidency to date in terms of 3-month periods, his 3-month loss in approve minus disapprove spread for the first 5 quarters of his administration is as follows:
January 2009 - March 2009: -17.5%
April 2009 - June 2009: -10.9%
July 2009 - Sept 2009: -8.3%
Oct 2009 - Dec 2009: -7.3%
Jan 2009 - Mar 2009: -2.4%

All negative, but getting progressively less negative.

So can the President finally post a positive month? We'll see.

Catholic Disgrace
I have generally refrained from commenting on scandals within the Catholic Church, but as someone who was raised in the Church, I feel compelled to speak out about recent events involving the sex abuse scandal that has implicated Pope Benedict in his complicity.

Full disclosure first: I am a lapsed Catholic. I was brought up in a religious Catholic family, was an altar boy for several years and was active in church youth groups and activities up until about the age of 15 or 16, when I started to stray from the Church. My departure had a lot to do with my political and moral views becoming more progressive. The Catholic Church's views on homosexuality disturbed me greatly as did its rigid position on contraception. The Catholic Church and I have now long parted ways, but there were things that I always continued to respect about the Church.

One thing that always impressed me about the Church in the past was its willingness to hold consistent moral stands, regardless of the politics. The Church would infuriate the left with its views on abortion and gays. But the Church was not a vehicle of the right either. It supported universal health care. It opposed the Iraq war. In short, it had a very cohesive philosophy that was derived from traditional moral pillars and the value of human life above all else.

But that respect has been full-scale flung out the window. The sex scandal in the Catholic Church would be an utterly immoral disgrace for any institution, but even more pronounced for an institution which purports to be a beacon of unwavering moral certitude in changing times. The sexual abuse of young boys in one of the most disgusting crimes that I can imagine. That the church, throughout the globe, was aware of systematic abuse by Priests and not only did nothing to actively weed and prosecute those responsible, but, in fact, actively participated in a cover-up and maintained these heartless thugs in their positions of authority, undermines any claim to virtue that the Church has. You cannot condemn with certainty acts of consensual homosexuality while your leaders are practicing non-consensual homosexuality on the most vulnerable without consequence.

In short, I'm disgusted. The Catholic Church is bitterly in need of reform. But reform appears it will be slow. Pope Benedict should resign, as would be demanded of the leader of any other institution in a similar circumstance. But I did very much that he will. Which means the Church will be led by the same flawed principles, possibly for decades.

What a shame. The world still needs moral guidance. And the billion plus faithful in the Church deserve better than a gang of pedophiles, rapists and their enablers running the show.

Michael Steele, Embattled and Fighting for His Life
I was encouraged when Michael Steele was elected RNC chairman early last year. Steele has a record of being a moderate-conservative, represents a new generation and was an active symbol of the GOP's recognition of its need to be more diverse and to have new voices speak for it.

Steele further encouraged me in his early days when he took on Rush Limbaugh and the other voices that John McCain (before he disavowed everything he used to believe in) once called "agents of intolerance". Alas, Steele quickly apologized to Limbaugh and started giving interviews that were all about Michael Steele and had very little to do with helping the GOP succeed.

The revelation that the RNC paid for a trip to a lesbian bondage strip club that total almost $2,000 is certainly embarrassing to a party that tends to oppose both lesbians and strip clubs. In and of itself, it would not be a career ender for Steele, particularly being that it appeared he was not present and may have had no prior knowledge of the expenditure. But combined with Steele's seeming self-obsession that has put him at increasing odds with the GOP establishment, this may well signal the end of his reign at the RNC.

Let's hope that the GOP finds some other new voices in their ranks that can speak to new ideas. And make sure that they are the right voices that can speak to an inclusive, unifying message. In short, they need a lot more Lindsey Graham and a lot less Bob McDonnell.

The GOP will undoubtedly do well in the mid-terms in November. But the long-term health of the GOP and the two-party system in America depends on the GOP's ability to evolve as a credible governing alternative and not just a party of opposition to President Obama.

Supreme Cout Fight, Take 2
Justice John Paul Stevens, 89, has announced his intention to retire at the end of the current term has created the opportunity for President Obama to fill a second seat in his still-young Presidency. But, as with the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor last year, this pick is unlikely to significantly change the make-up of the court, as Stevens was the most-liberal member of the current court.

If the President picks a moderate-liberal, he is likely to win easy confirmation without much of a filibuster threat. After all, the Democrats still control 59 seats in the Senate and there are several GOP members who still hold the commendable position that Supreme Court picks should not be filibustered expect in extreme cases (don't expect sell-out John McCain to be among them anymore, but you'll likely see Voinovich, Snowe, Collins and Graham take that stand.)

If the President picks a farther left liberal, he could see a bigger fight. But it seems unlikely to me that that is a fight he will want to pick right now.

In my view, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm would be the ideal pick: a smart, moderate-liberal pragmatist who is retiring from office. I believe she would be the first Canadian-born pick if she were selected. The other finalists from last time such as Diane Wood and Elena Kagan will also surely be on the short-list.

This also fairly well puts a nail in the coffin of doing any other truly ground-breaking legislation this year. A supreme court nominee, a nuclear arms reduction treaty and a set of appropriations bills in 5 months in an election year is probably all the Senate can manage.

Next up: my regular 2010 update

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