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Robert David SullivanNovember 12, 2014
Let them eat net neutrality. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi)

After last week’s terrible election results, the Democrats got another kick in the pants from respondents to a Gallup poll, who gave the party a 36 percent approval rating. As Vox’s Ezra Klein points out, this is the lowest number since Gallup started measuring party approval in 1992. Meanwhile, the approval rating for the Republican Party, which had gone as low as 28 percent during last year’s shutdown of the federal government, has rebounded to 42 percent after the WINNER! headlines from the midterm elections.

For the Democrats, the problem may not be unpopular stands on issues, but rather confusion over the party’s priorities—which may have contributed to the dismal turnout of, coincidentally, 36 percent of the voting-eligible population.

President Barack Obama, no longer concerned with protecting Democratic Senate candidates in red states, now has more freedom to brand his party—especially with party leaders Harry Reid in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House seeming like relics of the time when not being George W. Bush was enough to win elections. (“You can’t begin a new era with old leaders,” writes the Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh in calling for their exit.)

Obama could please (not the same as “energize”) much of his party’s base by acting on immigration reform. But his first bold stroke after the election was declaring Internet service to be a public utility and strongly supporting the concept of “net neutrality,” which would prohibit Comcast and the like from charging websites (like Netflix) to deliver their content at higher speeds. Obama’s action seems popular—one poll found that 81 percent of Democratic voters and 85 percent of Republican voters oppose “fast lanes” on the Internet—but that may change as GOP leaders reflexively oppose him. (The most infamous, and perplexing tweet of the week, was from Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas: “‘Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.”)

Net neutrality is of limited use in getting voters enthusiastic about the Democratic Party, since it’s an affirmation of the status quo, just like protecting the Affordable Care Act from Republican attempts to repeal it. But Vox’s Klein has an idea that could pique interest: “the government should step into to provide a public alternative based on high-speed fiber infrastructure.” Government-provided Internet service, which could bring us up to the availability and speeds enjoyed by Japan, Sweden, and other advanced counties, would be akin to the post office, which now competes with private delivery companies.

Promising a “public option” for the Internet is one way to get younger, better-educated Americans in the habit of voting Democratic. Another is marijuana legalization, which enjoys greater support among younger voters.

But these are classic appeals to “wine track” Democrats, as Ryan Lizza calls them in a New Yorker article on possible primary opponents to Hillary Clinton in 2016. The “beer track,” or working-class segment of the Democratic Party, is likely to demand action on flat wages, long-term unemployment, and other economic issues where there is little common ground with the Republican Party. Raising the minimum wage, a winner in several referenda campaigns last week, is one possible focus for Democrats. But Lizza quotes former Virginia Sen. James Webb, a potential 2016 candidate as arguing for a broader economic vision: “A lot of the Democratic leaders who don’t want to scare away their financial supporters will say we’re going to raise the minimum wage, we’re going do these little things, when in reality we need to say we’re going to fundamentally change the tax code so that you will believe our system is fair.”

Webb’s prescription has a lot of appeal, but it’s likely to falter on specifics. It may be more equitable, for example, to repeal or limit the mortgage interest deduction for homeowners, but that proposal would split the Democratic base apart.

TPM’s Josh Marshall argues that economic populism, based on concerns about income inequality, is a “loser” politically. He writes that income stagnation, not inequality, is what’s troubling most voters, and the Democrats haven’t figured out how to address it: “The great political reality of our time is that Democrats don’t know (and nobody else does either) how to get wage growth and productivity growth or economic growth lines back into sync.”

So it’s not surprising if Obama and the Democrats concentrate on “wine track” issues like net neutrality, decriminalizing marijuana, and marriage equality for gays and lesbians. They won’t do much to stop the party’s slide among white, non-college-educated voters, but the Democrats don’t have any other cards to play right now.

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JR Cosgrove
9 years ago
A few comments First , If Democrats lose the Black vote or it just split 50/50 they wouldn't be able to elect a dog catcher any where. There is a movement going on in Chicago amongst Blacks that is getting some traction. Chicago Resident: Obama Will Go Down as Worst President Ever https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9ixOsjut3E&feature=youtu.be&em We will see where this goes. Second Beware of net neutrality. It sounds like Obama wants a government takeover of the internet through regulation. Maybe someone could correct me but isn't this being driven by people opposing Netflix streaming. Video streaming makes up about 60+% of the internet volume and it is not going to go away. People want it to happen and a service which places a priority on this type of delivery should be attractive. It is not that I won't be able to get my email but I may want to pay extra for a fast video connection. We have Federal Express that revolutionized package delivery with overnight and two day service and we are willing to pay for it. Why wouldn't we want a premium internet service for streaming. God knows, the cable people have been able to extract outrageous fees for drek, why not for something we want. Third Mr. Sullivan obviously has some favorite sources and they are very liberal. America could do better to find an offsetting voice to this constant liberal drum beat that is not too thinly disguised. Ezra Klein is an Obama worshiper. Why quote him. Here is what Klein once said about Obama http://prospect.org/article/obamas-gift
Obama's finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don't even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I've heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence. In the days to come, just as in the days that have passed, I'll talk much more about Obama's policies. About his health care policy, and his foreign policy, and his social policy, and his economic policy. But so much as I like to speak of white papers and scored proposals, politics is not generally experienced in terms of policies. It's more often experienced in terms of self-interest, and broken promises, and base fears, and half-truths. But, very rarely, it's experienced as a call to create something better, bigger, grander, and more just than the world we have. When that happens, as it did with Robert F. Kennedy, the inspired remember those moments for the rest of their lives.
I would not listen to anyone with this kind of judgment and neither should Mr. Sullivan. We didn't get elevation, we got Jonathan Gruber who taught us how they have to lie to us because we are too dumb to appreciate all the good things they are doing.
Nathan Schneider
9 years ago

Your position on net neutrality seems to be informed by little more than Ted Cruz's infamous tweet. Net neutrality is in fact the opposite of both a "takeover" and "regulation." It is, as this article points out, the status quo, which people are now struggling to protect. It is also by far the simplest kind of Internet policy: all data is to be treated equally, regardless of its nature and its source. Consumers who want faster connections and are willing to pay for them can do so, as they are (in places where there is any decent competition) able to do so now. But part of the responsibility of an Internet service provider has been and always should be accepting that the Internet is an open medium, and it is not the job of ISPs to control who gets access to what, and at what speed.

JR Cosgrove
9 years ago
Your position on net neutrality seems to be informed by little more than Ted Cruz's infamous tweet.
I wasn't aware of anything Ted Cruz did. He is not someone I particularly like. This term has been bandied about for a couple years now with little understanding of just what is meant. I came across a discussion of it several months ago and it primarily reflected streaming and the enormous amount of bandwidth it takes. For streaming to be effective it requires a fast speed and it has the potential of crowding out other more less bandwidth intensive uses. I would support a system where one pays for their bandwidth such as is done with a lot of cell phone usage. That way the money could be used to support two or three tier systems where the bottom tier would be available but still be reasonable responsive to normal traffic.
Net neutrality is in fact the opposite of both a "takeover" and "regulation.
Then why did Obama get into it? No it is all about regulation and control. Let the market sort it out.
all data is to be treated equally, regardless of its nature and its source. Consumers who want faster connections and are willing to pay for them can do so, as they are (in places where there is any decent competition) able to do so now
One sentence contradicts the other. Which is it, all data is to be treated equally regardless of source or customers can have faster connections that are willing to pay for it.
Joshua DeCuir
9 years ago
"TPM’s Josh Marshall argues that economic populism, based on concerns about income inequality, is a “loser” politically. He writes that income stagnation, not inequality, is what’s troubling most voters, and the Democrats haven’t figured out how to address it" DUH. Wage stagnation is the single most important driver of income inequality (but not the sole cause). Instead, the Democrats (and some progressive Catholics, I might add) have sought to score points by focusing exclusively on pay ratios. It misses the real issue. I really think the Democrats are entering into their own version of "Tea Party vs. Establishment." I see a real divide between the party's "Establishment", who are quite liberal on social issues, including marijuana legalization, etc., but are also quite solidly tied to Wall Street, & the more radical elements who want a bigger break from Clintonism. I'm interested to see how the Party develops. The nomination of Hillary will be an interesting scenaio for Catholic Democrats who have objected to the GOP's ties to Wall St.
JR Cosgrove
9 years ago
A couple discussions on net neutrality I came across today as I tried to find out more about it. One is a youtube video of a John Batchelor show segment on Thursday night (probably the most eclectic show on radio or any form of media). The discussion on net neutrality starts about 4:20 into the video. (The first part is on Elizabeth Warren's new role in the Senate.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uIkpgKdDdQ&feature=youtu.be The second is another discussion of just what net neutrality is by a self acclaimed dork. http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-London/2014/11/13/Here-s-what-net-neutrality-is-and-what-to-think-about-it Imbedded in this article is a video of President Obama making his statement about net neutrality Net neutrality is not something anyone could possibly want once they understand just what it means. It is hard to find a reason why anyone would defend it.

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