Our American Discourse, Ep. 25: In Defense of Our Political Party System (Sort Of)

A government shutdown doesn’t inspire confidence. Politicians, their parties, and the leaders of those parties all get a hefty amount of blame from the American people. But you know that Winston Churchill quote about democracy being the best system except for all the others? It turns out there’s some truth to that. With today’s guest, we ask where all this gridlock comes from, what we can really do about it, and whether politics really deserves all the blame it gets.

In this episode, Thad Kousser reveals some surprising facts about the political game and some useful tips for the American electorate to play it well.

Continue reading “Our American Discourse, Ep. 25: In Defense of Our Political Party System (Sort Of)”

Our American Discourse, Ep. 6: Federalism and the Battle for Partisan Power

We think we know how federalism works. Republicans believe in states’ rights, and Democrats want a strong federal government, right? Not so fast. New research reveals a whole different tug of war playing out on Capitol Hill. Our legislators don’t always do what they say, but they do have a strategy to design and implement our laws. It turns out that federalism is ground zero in their battle for partisan power — and now we finally know how the game is being played.

In this episode, we go behind-the-scenes with the researcher who uncovered these terms of engagement, Pamela Clouser McCann.

Prof. McCann is an assistant professor in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. Her new book, The Federal Design Dilemma: Congress and Intergovernmental Delegation, was published by Cambridge University Press in September.

To listen to this episode of Our American Discourse, click the orange arrow in the Soundcloud player at the top of this post. Or you can download it and subscribe through iTunes, Soundcloud, or Google Play.


“Our American Discourse” is produced by Aubrey HicksJonathan Schwartz, and myself, and mixed by Corey Hedden.

Letter to a Trump Supporter #2: Path to Citizenship

This is the second in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

In keeping with the immigration theme, he sent me a video of Bill Clinton, as president, vowing to increase deportations. I responded:

Yes, President Clinton said that, and his administration did conduct a lot of deportations. But you know who ordered more deportations than any other president? Barack Obama.

Anyone who tells you that today’s Democratic Party is trying to encourage undocumented immigration is lying to you. The Democrats just don’t engage in race-baiting and fear-mongering, so they don’t get the headlines.

To this, my friend asked, “Do you agree to limit the number coming or agree to increase as Hillary wants?”

Below is my response.


Dear Mr. ——,

Good question, but I might need to clarify it a bit.

Hillary Clinton has never said that she wants to increase the number of immigrants coming into the United States without limit. Her website lists her immigration proposals, which don’t say anything about an unlimited increase in immigration.

Current immigration law does have annual limits, and Secretary Clinton has not proposed to change them.

There are a couple things you might be referring to.

She has said that she wants to allow 65,000 Syrian refugees into the country. This would be a one-time increase representing 0.02% of the American population. That is a cap, of course, and a very small one at that.

She has also said that she would give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, but that’s only for people who have already immigrated here. So it wouldn’t change the number of immigrants at all.

This is not a particularly liberal stance. In fact, the leaders of both parties supported a pathway to citizenship in 2013 when they tried to pass immigration reform.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning news outlet ProPublica recently published a fascinating behind-the-scenes investigation into the failure of that effort. The Senate had passed a bill. The House was negotiating a bill. They had gotten 140 Republicans onboard. They were literally celebrating that a majority of both parties were ready to vote yes…and then Eric Cantor, the number-two Republican in power, was defeated in the primary by a conservative challenger who campaigned against his support for immigration reform. The Republican reformers all realized they were in danger of losing their seat too, so they abandoned the negotiation and the bill died.

If extremists like Donald Trump had not been allowed to hijack the debate, we probably would have passed immigration reform.

It even had the support of Sean Hannity, who said, “It’s simple to me to fix it. If people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done.”

And Paul Ryan, who said, “I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, because I’m Catholic, and my Christian values say we cannot have millions of people in second-tier status.”

So, yes, to answer your question, I agree with Sean Hannity, I agree with Paul Ryan, and I agree with Hillary Clinton. Mass deportation is cruel and infeasible. A pathway to citizenship is in keeping with American values, Christian values, and common sense.

Best regards,

The Money Race: It’s Closer Than You Think

People seem to be fascinated by the money raised and spent by both parties in the presidential election, but they also seem to be quite misinformed — or, at least, confused — about who has the advantage and what that advantage means.

Many Republicans, for example, are telling scare stories about the Obama campaign being close to raising $1 billion. This is completely untrue. Some experts have predicted that they will eventually raise $1 billion, extrapolating from the $750 million they raised in 2008, but as of now, they are nowhere near that number:

Still, from these numbers, it looks like the Obama campaign has an incredible advantage. Don’t be fooled. That advantage will shrink quickly. The only reason the gap is so big is because Romney was competing against a half dozen other Republican candidates for money:

Now that he has the nomination, all the Republican donors will flow to Romney, which begs the question: Who are those donors?

Two characteristics distinguish Romney’s donors from Obama’s. First, they’re almost certainly richer, given the higher proportion of large contributions:

And second, they’re overwhelmingly dominated by Wall Street:

I still find it astonishing that, in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the Republican party would nominate a candidate from Wall Street. But I digress.

Of course, the campaigns themselves won’t be the only spenders in this election. The parties also raise lots of money to promote their respective candidates. By that measure, it’s Romney who has the advantage:

Finally, independent groups — especially the new Super PACs — play a critical role in buying media time and airing attack ads. On this front, there’s no question that Romney is winning:

Republican-aligned groups are hitting President Barack Obama with almost $2 million in attack ads and the response so far has been silence.

The reason: Democratic groups formed to counter those charges don’t have the money to do it.

the hardest-hitting television ads will be crafted by outside groups run by advisers closely aligned with the campaigns. In this sphere, Obama and his allies are behind.

[The Republican-founded] Crossroads [GPS], which has two arms, plans to spend $250 million to influence the presidential and congressional races, it announced last year. One entity, American Crossroads, has raised $27 million, according to Federal Election Commission disclosure reports. The other, Crossroads GPS, takes unlimited donations and doesn’t reveal its contributors.

Romney has another friendly super-PAC, Restore Our Future, which was founded by his former aides. It raised nearly $43 million by the end of February, and spent $40 million on ads…

In contrast, Priorities USA set a goal of raising $100 million to defend the president during the general election. According to FEC reports, Priorities USA Action has raised just $6.5 million. When combined with Priorities USA, a partner group that doesn’t disclose donors, the total contributed to the effort was about $10 million by the end of February, according to Burton.

So, no matter what you hear, remember: It’s close, and it’s getting closer.