Democrats Are Moving Left: Will Hillary Be Left Behind?

Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post, observes that while Obama’s State of the Union address was in substance, more liberal, “many other Democrats have moved much farther left.”

“Here’s what he didn’t say: That America needs a second wave of major Wall Street regulations to bring the financial sector to heel. That his signature health care law is just a stepping stone to the broader goal of single-payer healthcare. That the minimum wage should be $15 an hour nationally. That the rich should be paying substantially higher taxes. That Social Security should be made more generous. That his new trade deal is bad for workers. That the rules of the American economy have become so rigged in favor of the rich and the powerful that they must be radically rewritten.”

“These are core proposals of the newly energized populist wing of the Democratic Party, led in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren and in the presidential field by Bernie Sanders. Obama nodded at them, but he mostly stopped short of endorsing them.”

“Hillary Clinton, has moved similarly; the former 2008 rivals have both adopted the language and policy proposals of their onetime opponent John Edwards. Obama has run out of time to move further. The question for Clinton is how far she might keep moving.”

What Would America Look Like Without Gerrymandering?

Christopher Ingraham: “Some state legislatures are more brazen about [gerrymandering] than others. Maryland’s districts, drawn by Democrats, are one particularly egregious example. North Carolina’s, drawn by Republicans, are another.”

“From a technological standpoint it’s fairly straightforward — a software engineer in Massachusetts named Brian Olson wrote an algorithm to do it in his spare time … Olson’s algorithm creates ‘optimally compact’ equal-population congressional districts in each state, based on 2010 census data. It draws districts that respect the boundaries of census blocks, which are the smallest geographic units used by the Census Bureau. This ensures that the district boundaries reflect actual neighborhoods and don’t, say, cut an arbitrary line through somebody’s house.”

“To see what this looks like in practice, compare this map of our current congressional districts (top) with one we stitched together from Olson’s output (bottom).”

GOP Success Hinges on Working-Class Whites

Washington Post:  “The urgent imperative of Republicans — historically the party of business, money and power — [is] to broaden their coalition with many more white working-class voters. As the nation diversifies and the GOP struggles to adapt, the presidential hopefuls see this demographic bloc as the key to taking back the White House.”

“There has been a debate within the party — and the political class — about whether Republicans need to diversify to win or whether it just needs to attract even more of its core constituencies. So far in 2016, led by Cruz and Donald Trump, the election has moved decisively toward the latter. The exceptions, such as Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham, are either out of the race or on the edges of it.”

“The mission is not limited to the campaign trail, however. Within the GOP’s congressional ranks, some reform-minded lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), are pushing anti-poverty policies. Ryan co-hosted a presidential candidates forum in South Carolina over the weekend devoted to those issues.”

“As Republicans face difficulties winning over Latino, young and women voters, further maximizing support and turnout among working-class whites is critical.”

The Next SCOTUS Appointments Will Shape Political Power in the U.S.

Lawrence Norden in The Atlantic: “For the last 10 years, the Supreme Court has engaged in a systematic effort to transform American democracy … This year, the Court will decide a voting and redistricting case that could change the lines of virtually every state legislative district in the country. There is no area of the law the Roberts Court has more thoroughly transformed.”

“There are few issues in the last decade on which the Court has been so consistently and bitterly divided as it has over campaign finance law … On the Court, that swing back only requires one new or existing justice to adopt the approach of four current members. A shift in the Court could permit reasonable regulation of big money in politics. To be sure, state and federal legislators would need to pass new laws to regain the ground that has been lost, and mere reversal of campaign-finance decisions of the last decade would not solve all of the problems of excessive influence. Because of older Supreme Court decisions, for example, new laws still could not limit the total amount of spending in any election.”

“Still, it is no exaggeration to say that the next appointments to the Supreme Court will have a profound impact on political power in the United States. The appointment of one or more justices who agree with the five-member majority might solidify the current system for decades to come. By contrast, appointment of one or more justices who share the vision of the Court’s four-member minority could bring substantial power over elections and the political process back to ordinary Americans.”

A Growing Majority of Professors are Liberal

Christopher Ingraham: “If you’ve spent time in a college or university any time in the past quarter-century you probably aren’t surprised to hear that professors have become strikingly more liberal. ”

“But the folks that first put these numbers together, a group of academic faculty calling themselves Heterodox Academy, argue that homogeneity in higher education is a bigger problem than it is in other areas.”

“Interestingly academics are, on the whole, considerably more liberal than even their students. HERI has also been surveying incoming college freshmen for a number of years. America’s students are much more likely to refer to themselves as ‘moderate’ than as liberal or conservative.”

“A quarter-century ago, college professors were about 16 percentage points more likely to identify as ‘liberal’ or ‘far-left’ than their first-year students. By 2014, professors were close to 30 percentage points more likely than freshmen to call themselves liberal.”

“American politics seems to work best when the two main factions are animated by rigorous thinking and serious ideas. And if there’s no home for conservative ideas at today’s colleges, it stands to reason that our political discourse will be poorer for it.”

Obama’s Focus on Climate Change in SOTU: Is it Enough?

Daily Kos: “President Obama spent eight paragraphs on climate change Tuesday night in his State of the Union address … This continued reordering of presidential priorities dating back to his June 2013 speech on climate change is welcome indeed … Our optimism is tempered with caution.”

“Here’s Jamie Henn at Common Dreams: With Keystone XL rejected and the Paris agreement in his back pocket, President Obama may feel like his climate legacy is secured. But the coming months will be defining ones for his Presidency and the entire planet. Many of the fights ahead won’t be in the Halls of Congress or in Washington, D.C. but out in places like [the oil pipeline hub of Cushing, Oklahoma] on the sharp edge between the fossil fuel era of the past and the clean energy economy of the future. The decisions about which coal, oil and gas reserves the administration intends to set off limits will determine the scorecard used by future historians in judging the President’s record on the issue. Which is why the climate mantra for the rest of President Obama’s term, and whoever succeeds him, is strikingly simple: keep it in the ground.”

Does Obama Have the Right to Brag Tonight?

Matthew Yglesias: “In tonight’s State of the Union address, Barack Obama is likely to try to argue loudly and proudly that life is pretty good in the United States of America. He’ll have a lot of data on his side as he tries to make his case … Compared to where it was when Obama took office seven years ago a huge array of indicators have gotten better.”

“The most recent jobs report, showing the economy added over 290,000 new jobs in December is fuel for the White House’s optimistic fire … The president’s economic advisors have developed an increasing level of confidence in the state of the economy … The 70 consecutive months of private sector job creation is a record. 2015 and 2014 were the second-best and best years of 21st century job creation. Nominal wage growth remains anemic, but thanks to low energy prices inflation-adjusted wage growth was actually pretty solid last year … the American economy at the beginning of 2016 is genuinely once again the envy of the world.”

“Obama’s problem in using this data to take a victory lap, is that normally a president likes to project a positive attitude when he knows the public already agrees with him … Somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the public says the country is currently on the wrong track.”

What’s the Most Likely Way You’ll Die?

Washington Post: “Not to be morbid, but what are you likely to die from? Nathan Yau of Flowing Data has created a fascinating interactive chart that shows the answer, according to statistics. Drawing on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Underlying Cause of Death database, Yau charted the cause of death for Americans by age.”

Here’s what the chart looks like for women overall:

Note that this chart shows percentages by age group, not absolute numbers. There are far more people dying in 70s and 80s than there are in their 20s, but this kind of chart gives them all equal space, to show you how deaths break down by percentages. And here is the chart for men overall:

“You can see that death by disease is far more common for children and for older people. Roughly a third of people die from diseases of the respiratory system, including the flu. Cancer is mainly an issue for older people, and infectious diseases are much more rare. External causes — drugs, guns, homicides — are a much bigger cause of death for those in their teens and 20’s.”

Are Conservatives a Dying Breed?

Gallup: “Americans’ political ideology remained essentially stable in the past year, with conservatives retaining the barest of advantages over moderates in Americans’ self-identified political views, 37% vs. 35%. Liberals held firm at 24%.”

Americans' Self-Identified Political Ideology -- 1992-2015

“The ideological bent of U.S. adults changed little in 2015, although Democrats continued to inch to the left. This continues a significant long-term trend, with a slight increase in Americans favoring the liberal label, mostly at the expense of conservatives. While conservatives still outnumber liberals by a healthy margin in the U.S. population, the gap is narrower than at any point in Gallup’s 23-year trend. It is also possible that after several years of heightened conservatism among Republicans and independents, this is moderating somewhat, but it is too early to say for sure.”

Obama’s Impressive Failure to Fail on the Economy

Paul Krugman points out that dire warnings from Republicans about the effect of President Obama’s policies on employment have simply not come true.

“Politicians and pundits, especially on the right, constantly insist that presidential policies matter a lot. And Mr. Obama, in particular, has been attacked at every stage of his presidency for policies that his critics allege are ‘job-killing’ — the former House speaker, John Boehner, once used the phrase seven times in less than 14 minutes. So the fact that the Obama job record is as good as it is tells you something about the validity of those attacks.”

“More detailed examinations of labor markets also show no evidence of predicted ill effects. For example, there’s no evidence that Obamacare led to a shift from full-time to part-time work, and no evidence that the expansion of Medicaid led to large reductions in labor supply.”

“So what do we learn from this impressive failure to fail? That the conservative economic orthodoxy dominating the Republican Party is very, very wrong.”

“The Obama economy offers a powerful lesson in the here and now. From a conservative point of view, Mr. Obama did everything wrong, afflicting the comfortable (slightly) and comforting the afflicted (a lot), and nothing bad happened. We can, it turns out, make our society better after all.”

A Supreme Court That Caters to Oligarchs

Dana Milbank: “Just in time for the 2016 election, the Roberts Court has found yet another way to stack the deck in favor of the rich.”

“By all appearances at Monday’s argument, the five Republican-appointed justices are ready to upend a 40-year precedent guiding labor relations in favor of a new approach that will deplete public-sector unions’ finances and reduce their political clout. The case, from California, involves arcane issues of ‘agency fees’ and member opt-outs, but make no mistake: This is about campaign finance, and, in particular, propping up the Republican Party.”

“Because there are fewer liberal billionaires … the only real counterweight to Republican super PACs in this new era is union money. And the Supreme Court is about to attack that, too.”

“The only question is how big a loss Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association will be for the unions. It’s virtually certain to be another step toward American oligarchy. The court’s conservative majority, setting aside a professed respect for precedent and states’ authority, is putting a thumb on the scale of justice in favor of the wealthy donors who have purchased the GOP and much of the government.”

Can Job Growth Last?

FiveThirtyEight: “The U.S. job market ended 2015 on an unexpectedly high note. Now the question is whether it can sustain that momentum in a new year that is already off to a rocky start … Here are a few more observations from Friday’s report.”

“Watch the revisions: The monthly job figures are always volatile and subject to revision, but that’s especially true in December, when holiday-season hiring and other factors can make it tricky to adjust the numbers for seasonal patterns.”

“A slowing trend in job growth: Monthly job growth accelerated in December, but the more stable year-over-year trend now shows a clear sign of a slowdown. Employers are now adding jobs at a pace of about 2.7 million per year, down from more than 3 million at the start of the year.”

“Stronger wage growth: Average hourly earnings were up 62 cents in December from a year earlier, a 2.5 percent increase and the strongest gain of the recovery so far.”

“Better luck for the unemployed: Some 26 percent of unemployed workers found jobs in December, up from a low of 16 percent in 2010 and the highest mark of the recovery … Perhaps more importantly, fewer unemployed workers are giving up their search for work and leaving the labor force.”