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Blocking the Vote in Congress

A friend of mine who has been a lobbyist for years—and wants to remain anonymous so he can continue doing it a while longer—recently made the argument to me that the current Congress is not, in fact, the least productive in U.S. history. But you do have to go quite a way back: He says the Ninth Congress, from 1805 to 1807, during Thomas Jefferson's second term in office, did even less, because the government had no money left after the Louisiana Purchase. (As a Louisianan, I think it was a worthwhile investment.)

In any case, it would not be hard to fill up a five-day symposium on Washington dysfunction; heck, it wouldn't take much effort to make it a semester-long course. Some problems are unique to the House of Representatives, others to the Senate, and still more to the White House. Then, of course, there are the more-systemic problems, such as the intense partisanship that has become so prevalent in the last 30 years, infecting both chambers, tainting relationships, and making addressing big issues more difficult.

One such problem can be laid squarely at the feet of congressional leaders—specifically, those who call the ...

Disruptive Politics

Back in the mid-1990s, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen coined the phrases "disruptive technology" and "disruptive innovation" to describe certain kinds of game-changing developments in the business world. Now, in politics, we are seeing a variation on that theme.

On the left, the Occupy movement helped spawned a new populism that is reflected in rising interest in Sen. Elizabeth Warren's ideas and future, with her name increasingly being bandied about as a presidential hopeful despite her statements urging Hillary Clinton to run. Warren is fighting banks and other financial institutions in a way that is catching on much more noticeably than the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's tilting at windmills. She's recently made forays into surprising places, touting red-state Senate candidates such as Alison Lundergan Grimes, Mitch McConnell's Democratic challenger in Kentucky, and Natalie Tennant, the Democratic nominee for West Virginia's open Senate seat. Neither would want President Obama to campaign for them, but inviting a Massachusetts Democrat who is considerably more liberal—and more populist—than the president made sense to them.

This isn't just a left-wing phenomenon. Populism fueled the tea-party movement, currently personified by Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who both could ...

Playing in Traffic Is Not Safe Politics

While I have never seen anyone literally thrown under a bus, I would imagine it is quite a grisly sight. In politics, we occasionally see someone throw an individual or a group on their own team under one. That is not a pretty sight either.

Early this year, we saw Senate Democrats throw their House brethren under the proverbial bus with a Jan. 29 story in Politico headlined, “Democrats: Cede the House to Save the Senate.” It noted that Democrats’ hold on their majority in the upper chamber was tenuous, while over on the House side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was raising money hand over fist despite having little chance of reclaiming the majority House Democrats lost in 2010. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Senate Democrats were trying to redirect fundraising from what they saw as a lost cause on one side of the Capitol to what they saw as a much more important one on their side.

On one level, it was pretty obvious that the odds were exceedingly long for House Democrats and more like 50-50—give or take 10 points—on the Senate side. But these kinds of stories are ...

Why Democrats Are So Confident

It was a revealing convergence Monday when the five-member conservative Supreme Court majority delivered the Hobby Lobby contraception decision even as President Obama announced that House Republicans had officially shelved immigration reform.

Both disputes reaffirmed the GOP's identity as the champion of the forces most resistant to the profound demographic and cultural dynamics reshaping American life—and Democrats as the voice of those who most welcome these changes.

And both clashes captured a parallel shift: While Republicans took the offense on most cultural arguments through the late 20th century, now Democrats from Obama on down are mostly pressing these issues, confident that they represent an expanding majority of public opinion.

Veteran pollster Stanley B. Greenberg captures this almost unprecedented Democratic assurance when he declares flatly: "Republicans are on the losing side of all of these trends."

Beyond contraception and immigration, the parties are escalating their conflicts over a broad suite of issues that divide the electorate along cultural lines, including gun control, gay rights, abortion, and climate change (which politically pivots on trust in science). Combined, these confrontations are stamping the GOP as what I've called a "Coalition of Restoration" primarily representing older, white, religiously devout, and nonurban ...

Democrats Face Unfair Fight in Midterms

Generally speaking, the further into a U.S. president’s tenure in office one gets, the less volatility there is in that president’s job-approval rating.

It’s pretty logical that 1,979 days into Barack Obama’s presidency, the number of people most inclined to approve of his performance has stabilized, as has the number of those disposed to disapprove of him. Given that Obama tends to evoke particularly strong emotions with bedrock supporters and equally adamant opponents, arguably more people than usual have locked in their opinions. And those who are undecided by this point are the folks who have pretty much checked out of politics and are unlikely to come down on one side or the other. Simply put, there are few people left who are ambivalent about Obama’s performance. We see large variances at this point only when we compare the results of one pollster to another. These variances are likely the result of individual firms’ unique methodologies and sampling idiosyncrasies; they do not represent the genuine changing of minds.

With the Gallup Organization sampling a little more than 500 adults per night, around 7,500 in a week (with a margin of error of ...