Captain Arizona Takes on the Lawyers, AND WINS!


Captain Arizona is perhaps our most frequent commenter here. He often infuriates me. Even though I tend to agree with him more often than not, he has the unlimited capacity to annoy.

His most common theme I believe is that Democrats should stop wasting resources and strategy on white centrists and instead go out and bring more black and brown people into the process.

Neither I nor any reader here needed him to repeat the message 100 times, but I do agree with him. I suspect many readers agree with him on this fundamental point, except the “it’s a tough district crowd.”

Now, enter my lawyer friends, Scot and Rich, who decided to weigh in on this subject in their comments to my last post. They both “lawyer-splained” to me how politics works. I actually know both Scot and Rich. They both are scary smart and truly brilliant lawyers. Which perhaps is why I found this interesting.  Here’s Scot:

If Clinton wins, she isn’t going to be worrying about a few people who voted Green in 2016, and the Democrats in the House and Senate aren’t going to be thinking about them, either. If anything, they’ll be even more inclined to look for more support from Independents in the center, and cater to those people’s views, because taking those votes away from Republicans is literally twice as effective as bringing in votes from the left margin.

And here’s Rich who, after agreeing with Scot’s analysis, provided more insight:

As to 2010, President Obama passed the most progressive agenda since President Johnson, and I didn’t see progressives turn out to support Democrats in 2010. They stayed home. The turnout for young and minority voters dropped off the table. Same with 2014. The voters were overwhelmingly whiter and older and less progressive. It was not Democrat moderates that failed to vote, it was progressives. In 2016 and 2018, the majority of voters are going to be 50 and older. That is a fact. If you don’t believe me, go look it up at the Census Bureau website.

So, Rich explains, the voters are getting older, which means they’re getting more moderate. And more white. Thing is, though, we have a bunch of pre-boomer, conservative, overwhelmingly white voters dying and being replaced by young, far less white, progressive voters. So I’m not sure why Rich “knows” that the electorate will be less progressive.

But I digress. The lawyers have the opposite view of the Captain. They say forget about the young and the minorities; appeal to the white centrists and let the progressives stay home. As Scot points out, flipping a white centrist from R to D has double the value of getting a progressive to vote. His math is actually correct. But he implicitly assumes that there are at least half as many persuadable centrists as there are progressives who could be brought to the polls. The Captain thinks that’s crazy. Why? Because he’s observed that there are a whole lot of black and brown people who aren’t voting.

Who’s got it right? Let’s check in with Elias Isquith, of Salon, who interviewed author Steve Phillips for his recent post, “People of color … have to be the first thought”: Why it’s time for Democrats to give up on swing-voting whites. Phillips, a lawyer himself, is out with a new book in this very subject.

Does he agree with the Captain, or his fellow lawyers? Well, the title of his book gives it away: Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority.

The Captain Wins! The Captain Wins!

Seriously, the Captain’s simple logic is remarkably consistent with Phillips’ analysis. Here’s Phillips explaining the purpose for the book:

I was trying to show with the title that the composition of the country’s electorate has changed fundamentally in a way that needs to reorient the focus of U.S politics. So instead of people of color being an afterthought as they have historically been in politics, they now have to be the first thought.

The concept, historically, campaigns have had is: How do we win over conservative white swing voters? as their starting point. Now their starting point has to be: How do we increase the votes of the ever expanding communities of color?

The point of this book was to make the mathematical argument that progressive people of color comprise 23 percent of all eligible voters, progressive whites comprise 28 percent of all eligible voters — and that’s 51 percent of the eligible voter population; what I’m calling the “New American Majority.”

Phillips is far more eloquent, but the case he makes through mathematical analysis is the same exact case the Captain makes with his gut and common sense.

Why does Phillips believe his strategy and the Captain’s has yet to take hold? Basically, inertia. He explains:

I describe in the book what I call “the tyranny of the white swing voter,” and how whites have broadly been divided into thirds — “progressive whites,” “conservative whites” and “white swing voters.” This whole notion around competing for white votes in the middle is a long-standing tradition [of American politics], and it continues up through the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, when the Democrats ran away from Obamacare and immigration reform and policies that spoke to voters of color in a failed attempt to appease the more conservative white swing voter.

What does Phillips have to say about the “strategery” of Rich and Scot?

I would argue that the incontrovertible evidence of the past eight years is that the winning strategy is mobilization of voters of color, and the losing strategy is the attempt to win all of those white swing voters. That’s why, in 2008 and 2012, Democrats won; and that’s why in 2010 and 2014, they lost. That’s the vocal point we have to prioritize.


The winning formula requires large and enthusiastic participation by people of color. If you get that, then that and the meaningful minority of progressive whites, who almost always vote Democratic, adds up to a majority. But if people don’t turn out then Democrats are actually not going to prevail. If the black vote level falls back to the pre-Obama level, the 2004 levels, Democrats would lose Ohio. If the Latino vote level falls back to the pre-Obama level, they’d lose Florida.

That’s what happened in 2010. Democrats ran away from healthcare, ran away from the black president, and then their voter turnout fell by 26 million people, whereas Republican voter turnout only dropped by 7 million people. And that’s how Democrats lost the House.

I’ll probably get ticked at the Captain tomorrow or next week for repeating something for the umpteenth time, but right now my hat is off to him. Here he is, this guy who describes himself as “up from gutter,” who can see with crystal clarity a gaping flaw in Democratic Party strategy, to which two brilliant lawyers are completely blind.

What explains this? I’m not sure, but it brings to mind an older lawyer I once knew, who would caution younger lawyers when they got bogged down in the technicalities of the tax law. “You’re getting tangled up in your underwear,” he’d say. The Captain it seems, didn’t get tangled up in his underwear.


  1. Thanks bob. I have made a life study of how to win. The fred duval attempt too woo moderate republicans in 2014 was doomed to failure as they are moderate republicans not democrats. As you know all it did was piss off latinos. While we have a large number of independents who don’t like the partys but still vote for the partys candidates (see diane douglas) I talk to white people all the time in my job mostly lower class whites. they hate Obama because he is black though they say for other reasons and don’t like hillary either. 70% of whites voted republican in arizona in 2014. even white women. Last year a texas republican wrote an article I may have read it here telling his fellow republicans not to be complacent as the national vote was only 52% to 48%. in 2012 9 million less democrats voted in 2012 over 2008 also 2 million less republicans vote( though some of these had died. also many minority people are growing older too and at an ever increasing rate. If this were no so their would be no need republican voter suppression. The boy sang in cabaret(to bad he was hitler youth) the future belongs to us so we should start lay the ground work instead of discouraging latinos.

  2. Ts said:
    ” I think education of our electorate is key and we need to give them a reason to vote.”

    To that point, Michael Moore has done a superb and masterful job with his newly released movie, Where to Invade Next.

    And like it or hate it, if Democrats nominate Hillary, it takes away the reason to vote for MANY people… there will still be those of us aging white Progressives who vote, but we won’t be enough by ourselves.



  3. Ruy Texeira and John Judis had it earlier in their The Emerging Democratic Majority.

    The real issue is why this group of voters do not turn out for mid-terms. You suggest it is because Democrats ran away from Obama’s agenda in 2010 and 2014, I argue that low participation in midterms is the norm for this group of voters, look at the graph in this article and you will see that voter participation in midterms is ALWAYS 20 to 40 points below presidential year turnout.
    There has been a lot of speculation on why that is. I suspect that there is mot one correct answer but a lot of things that contribute.

    First has to be how difficult we make voting in this country. The difficulty of maintaining registration for a group that typically moves frequently is high on that list. Now add to that the fact that voting is on a Tuesday, that ID is now required in many places and yet not provided easily or for free, that for poor voters who work two or thrre jobs or studemts with full time school and full time work and little transportation just getting to the polls before closing is difficult, and that many midterm elections are non-competitive it is not unreasonable that turnout would be low. But another thing that may factor in is that many working class and poor voters become excited during presidential elections thinking that all they need to do is vote for the one person at the top of the ticket and that person will fix all the ills in the country. They turnout, they vote, but they don’t understand that changing politics is a long game that requires voting down ballot and across many elections. When things don’t change they become discouraged and don’t vote in the midterms. Or maybe they are inspired by the particularly charismatic person at the top of the ticket (true charisma is a rarity) and since he or she is not there they don’t vote. Or maybe they just don’t know anything about the candidates in the midterms, certainly local media doesn’t he, so they don’t vote. The cumulative effect is low voter turnout in midterms, primarily among low income, young, and minority voters.

    Is it getting worse? Some metrics say yes in the last 20 years, others look worse in the ’30s. But there is always a difference. I think education of our electorate is key and we need to give them a reason to vote.

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