Speeches Mattered on Wisconsin’s Primary Night

Scott Swenson

In a week that focused us on a war of words, Wisconsin's primary night continued to underscore consistent themes for the 2008 election; politics as usual won't work.

The presumptive GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain, spoke to supporters celebrating his win in the Wisconsin Primary, saying,

The most important obligation of the next president is to protect Americans from the threat of violent extremists who despise us and our values and modernity itself, they are moral monsters, but they are also a disciplined dedicated movement driven by an apocalyptic zeal.

This quote applies to:

  • A) "Islamic fascists," as McCain labels terrorists
  • B) The social conservative wing of his party
  • C) Both A and B

McCain's victory in Wisconsin has yet to quiet Gov. Mike Hucakbee and social conservative forces insisting McCain follow their lead to declare every egg is a person with rights they deny adult women, as they want to do by ballot initiative in Colorado. They will make him support tax payer funding for failed abstinence programs, throwing good money after bad as a means of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS globally, as they want to do in Congress. They will force him to flip-flop on his stand against defining marriage as a privilege for certain Americans, using the Constitution of the United States to ensure all are not equal.

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McCain may be talking about terrorists abroad publicly, but with his legendary temper, the double entedre isn't hard to imagine. The GOP battle for its heart and soul continues on the fault line of social issues, the very issues that Ronald Reagan once suggested was the reason the Democratic party of FDR left him. He attracted "angry white men" who became Reagan Democrats and the GOP ruled for a generation.

John McCain is white and his anger is justified as he remakes himself from a straight talker to a man pandering to the GOP base. He is losing Reagan Democrats as Gov. Mike Huckabee and social conservatives increasingly look like caricatures of their former selves.

In the first shots of the general election Sen. McCain attacked Sen. Obama on issues of empty eloquence and inexperience, ignoring that voters are overwhelmingly rejecting negative attacks as well as these specific themes also used against Obama in the primaries. McCain's repeated emphasis on the word "proud" signaled an effort to "Kitty Dukakis" Michelle Obama's remarks about her pride in America as the nation stands up to make real change happen, rejecting politics as usual, for the first time in her adult life.

One difference in 2008 is that none of the tricks from the political playbooks of the 1980's and 1990's seem to be working. Voters are rejecting labels, negativity, identity politics and shallow attacks on character, patriotism and faith, at a time when most people believe the best way to demonstrate patriotism and faith is by working together to heal our nation's wounds, rather than continue the politics of division.

Perhaps the biggest difference in 2008 is that the very social issues upon which the GOP social conservative era was built, have shifted dramatically toward progressives, as patriotism and faith no longer require anger, but hope, and reflect the diversity of people and ideas in this great nation.

In Wisconsin, as he had in the Potomac Primaries one week earlier, and now in a string of ten states consecutively, Sen. Barack Obama proved that he can bring Reagan Democrats home in ways Sen. Hillary Clinton cannot, winning in every demographic, except white women, which he split with her almost evenly.

Sen. Clinton refused to concede publicly, claiming only she is ready to lead on day one in a dangerous world in a program laden speech with little energy. By contrast people stood and cheered when Sen. Obama spoke in his victory speech about specific policies ranging from the war in Iraq to the mortgage crisis, health care to human rights, tax fairness to trade. By combining his more thematic speech with his more programmatic speech, Obama risked challenging former President Bill Clinton's 1988 DNC performance for longest political speech ever (not including Castro), and at the end, people were shouting, just not for Obama to leave the stage as they had for Clinton in 1988.

How the Clinton's will leave the stage in the 2008 election is now an active question for many Democrats after the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries. The Associated Press used the word "fading" to describe her campaign. Chuck Todd, NBC Political Director, outlined the margins she needs to win by moving forward and how they out pace even Obama's large margins to date. Last night's Wisconsin victory a not-so-close 17 percentage point difference. Sen. Clinton's stump speech in Ohio was interrupted by all networks for Sen. Obama's victory speech in Texas, in what Lisa Caputo, Senior Advisor to the Clinton campaign, admitted was a brilliant political strategic move that literally and symbolically put Obama center stage.

Known as brilliant strategists themselves, the Clintons now face decisions on how to make their case in the remaining contests. Howard Fineman reported that the campaign remains split between sharpening their negative attacks on Obama and preserving Sen. Clinton's image long-term. Her campaign's tactics in South Carolina back-fired dramatically, initiating the Obama momentum, and in Wisconsin, Clinton's claims of plagiarism against Obama were seen by most voters as collaboration, not plagiarism. Collaboration in Washington, building a majority that can break stalemates on important policy issues and put arguments of the past behind us seems to be what Americans seek.

The risk to the eventual Democratic nominee and to progressive ideas on a range of issues, including and especially reproductive health, is great, if the campaign for the nomination reverts to even more negative attacks. It is time for all progressives to unite against the real opposition, as former President Bill Clinton did so effectively earlier this week.

Sen. John McCain is angry because he realizes he cannot win the middle of America if he is pulled too far to the right by Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Sen. Clinton risks all she has worked for to create a progressive majority in the country on a range of issues from health care to women's rights, if her campaign sullies what appears to be the eventual nominee, barring a dramatic turn of fortune.

Hanging in the balance is nothing less than a growing coalition of politically diverse Americans supporting progressive ideas and the prospects of a governing majority that will make social conservatives look like the incredibly shrinking extreme fringe of the GOP many of us have always known them to be.

Change, more than a word, is evident every where you look.

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Sen. Tim Kaine Focuses on Reproductive Rights Amid Clinton’s Looming Decision on Vice President

Ally Boguhn

Last week, the senator and former Virginia governor argued in favor of giving Planned Parenthood access to funding in order to fight Zika. "The uniform focus for members of Congress should be, 'Let's solve the problem,'" Kaine reportedly said at a meeting in Richmond, according to Roll Call.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) appears to be rebranding himself as a more staunch pro-choice advocate after news that the senator was one of at least three potential candidates being vetted by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign to join her presidential ticket.

Last week, the senator and former Virginia governor argued in favor of giving Planned Parenthood access to funding in order to fight the Zika virus. “The uniform focus for members of Congress should be, ‘Let’s solve the problem,'” Kaine reportedly said at a meeting in Richmond, according to Roll Call. “That is [the] challenge right now between the Senate and House.”

Kaine went on to add that “Planned Parenthood is a primary health provider. This is really at the core of dealing with the population that has been most at risk of Zika,” he continued.

As Laura Bassett and Ryan Grim reported for the Huffington Post Tuesday, “now that Clinton … is vetting him for vice president, Kaine needs to bring his record more in line with hers” when it comes to reproductive rights. While on the campaign trail this election cycle, Clinton has repeatedly spoken out against restrictions on abortion access and funding—though she has stated that she still supports some restrictions, such as a ban on later abortions, as long as they have exceptions.

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In what is seemingly an effort to address the issue, as Bassett and Grim suggested, Kaine signed on last week as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services. As previously reported by Rewire, the measure would effectively stop “TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion provider) laws, forced ultrasounds, waiting periods, or restrictions on medication abortion.” TRAP laws have led to unprecedented barriers in access to abortion care.

Just one day before endorsing the legislation, Kaine issued a statement explicitly expressing his support for abortion rights after the Supreme Court struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law HB 2.

“I applaud the Supreme Court for seeing the Texas law for what it is—an attempt to effectively ban abortion and undermine a woman’s right to make her own health care choices,” said Kaine in the press release. “This ruling is a major win for women and families across the country, as well as the fight to expand reproductive freedom for all.”

The Virginia senator went on to use the opportunity to frame himself as a defender of those rights during his tenure as governor of his state. “The Texas law is quite similar to arbitrary and unnecessary rules that were imposed on Virginia women after I left office as Governor,” said Kaine. “I’m proud that we were able to successfully fight off such ‘TRAP’ regulations during my time in state office. I have always believed these sort of rules are an unwarranted effort to deprive women of their constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.”

Kaine also spoke out during his run for the Senate in 2012 when then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed a law requiring those who seek abortions to undergo an ultrasound prior to receiving care, calling the law “bad for Virginia’s image, bad for Virginia’s businesses and bad for Virginia’s women.”

Kaine’s record on abortion has of late been a hot topic among those speculating he could be a contender for vice president on the Clinton ticket. While Kaine’s website says that he “support[s] the right of women to make their own health and reproductive decisions” and that he opposes efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the senator recently spoke out about his personal opposition to abortion.

When host Chuck Todd asked Kaine during a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press about Kaine previously being “classified as a pro-life Democrat” while lieutenant governor of Virginia, Kaine described himself as a “traditional Catholic” who is “opposed to abortion.”

Kaine went on to affirm that he nonetheless still believed that the government should not intrude on the matter. “I deeply believe, and not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm,” Kaine continued. “They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As the Hill noted in a profile on Kaine’s abortion stance, as a senator Kaine has “a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood’s scorecard, and has consistently voted against measures like defunding Planned Parenthood and a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.”

While running for governor of Virginia in 2005, however, Kaine promised that if elected he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

After taking office, Kaine supported some existing restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law, which in 2008 he claimed gave “women information about a whole series of things, the health consequences, et cetera, and information about adoption.” In truth, the information such laws mandate giving out is often “irrelevant or misleading,” according to the the Guttmacher Institute.

In 2009 he also signed a measure that allowed the state to create “Choose Life” license plates and give a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network, though such organizations routinely lie to women to persuade them not to have an abortion.

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Arizona Drops 1,500 Needy Children With First-in-Nation Cash Assistance Cap

Nicole Knight Shine

Critics have called the cap "an aggressive and intentional effort to undermine support for vulnerable families.”

At the beginning of this month, around 1,500 children and 1,000 adults living in poverty in Arizona lost cash assistance and now are permanently barred from the state’s welfare program.

Arizona is the first state in the country to end welfare benefits after one year, meaning that a family—typically a parent or a relative with at least one dependent child—who has already used 12 months of cash assistance will be cut off permanently.

The approximately 2,500 individuals who lost benefits July 1 represent roughly 10 percent of the children and one-quarter of the adults who receive Arizona’s funds from a federal block-grant program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). They may, however, still qualify for benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Medicaid, and other assistance.

Arizona had previously provided two years of cash assistance, but Arizona lawmakers and the state’s Republican governor recently agreed to cut the time limit in half to help plug a projected $534 million budget hole in 2016 and shift the money to state child welfare programs. The state expects to save $3.9 million annually with the 12-month limit, according to a spokesperson from the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which runs TANF.

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Supporters of Arizona’s new one-year limit, such as former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R-Lake Havasu City), who’s challenging incumbent Sen. John McCain (R) in the August primarysaid the cut will “encourage the able-bodied to treat welfare like a safety net rather than a hammock.”

Critics have called it “an aggressive and intentional effort to undermine support for vulnerable families,” as Cynthia Zwick, executive director for the Arizona Community Action Association, put it for the Arizona Republic.

The average Arizona family in the program received $201 in May 2016, according to a state report, an amount that is less than half of the nationwide average monthly benefit of $429. To qualify in Arizona, a family of four generally cannot earn more than $2,584 a month, although that varies and is based on multiple factors.

In May 2016, before the new time limit kicked in, 15,581 children and 4,139 adults in Arizona received cash assistance, totaling $1,841,672.

A federal block-grant program, TANF was enacted under former President Bill Clinton in 1996 with the aim of “end[ing] welfare as we know it.” TANF allows up to five years of benefits, but gives states wide latitude with those benefits, as long as their TANF spending meets at least one of four official goals: providing cash aid to needy families; promoting job training, work, and marriage; reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and increasing the number of two-parent families.

In the 20 years since the program’s enactment, what’s happened is a marked and ongoing plunge in cash assistance to families in poverty, as states, like Arizona, spent TANF money elsewhere.

Arizona, for example, has shifted TANF money to its underfunded child welfare programs, as the Phoenix-based Morrison Institute for Public Policy noted in its 2015 report. Ohio funds faith-based crisis pregnancy centers with TANF dollars, with the ostensible goal of reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Oklahoma, meanwhile, spends TANF dollars on marriage counseling.

Roughly 55 percent of impoverished Arizona families received TANF benefits in 1994-95, a number that plunged to 9 percent in 2013, as the Morrison Institute noted in its 2015 report. Arizona’s latest reduction is the fourth since 2009, as the report noted.

Anticipating the cuts, representatives from the state DES said recently in a statement that state contractors have found jobs for more than 1,500 individuals who were in danger of losing benefits because of the new one-year cap.

Arizona outsources its job training and placement to two private companies, MAXIMUS and Arbor/ResCare Workforce Services. The DES also reported that an additional 245 individuals have gained work experience, and more than 450 have participated in community service activities with employers.

DES Director Tim Jeffries described gainful employment as “the true American dream.”

The agency, he noted, acting as “good stewards of taxpayer’s money, should work to assist individuals in becoming self-sufficient, with the goal that one day they will no longer need benefits.”