TPM Cafe: Opinion

Last week was awful. Gun violence struck still another American school and Canada's War Memorial. We learned that U.S.-led air strikes have killed 32 Syrian civilians so far. Perhaps worst of all, despite all of this, we probably spent more of our week talking about the ongoing Ebola faux-outbreak.

News feeds on the sensational — one of tragedy’s closest cousins. But not all tragedies are suited to a 24-hour news cycle or our flighty national attention span. Some spiral beyond the public's capacity to follow along. When it’s a missing airplane in the Indian Ocean, it’s largely irrelevant whether or not we keep watching. But when it’s the slow movement of the wheels of justice responding to Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, the dynamics are different.

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One of the great debates surrounding every midterm election is whether the many congressional and state contests have been “nationalized” or are instead subject to “local factors.” This question is to some extent a reflection of the perpetual argument between political analysts (usually political scientists) who emphasize “fundamentals” that follow similar patterns around the country, and those (usually journalists or self-lionizing political consultants) who emphasize the ebb and flow of particular campaigns and the quality of candidates and their many help-meets.

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Election Day is one week from tomorrow, and as pollsters and pundits have been projecting for months, there is a high possibility that by the time the votes are tallied, we will have a Republican controlled House and Senate.

The question everyone is asking (or should be) is what is on the GOP agenda when it comes to restricting access to abortion and birth control, and do they have the power to make any of it actually happen? The answers are lots of things, and yes they do.

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At the ballot box, there are two different electorates — and the difference between them makes a big difference for policy outcomes.

“Democrats have become increasingly reliant on precisely the groups most likely to sit out midterms, while Republicans score best among those most likely to show up,” says Ron Brownstein, writing in the Atlantic about the difference between presidential-year electorates and midterm electorates like the one politicians face in two weeks.

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With the 2014 midterm elections coming down to their last fortnight (excepting, of course, probable runoffs in Georgia and Louisiana), the spinmeisters are preparing to massively over-interpret the results. Some implications, of course, will be evident or at least plausible. If there’s a big bipartisan repudiation of governors, that would indicate the election was not, after all, a mere “referendum on Obama” but a ballot test for all incumbents sharing in responsibility for “wrong track” conditions.

If Democrats hang onto the Senate, it could be a sign that the election was not as “nationalized” as expected, or inversely, that a national GOTV effort succeeded in helping them overcome the usual “midterm falloff” problem. And if Republicans win Senate control, it will show their ability to take advantage of a very favorable landscape and adjust to unexpected challenges like viable independent candidacies in Kansas and South Dakota, or underwhelming campaigns like those of Thom Tillis and David Perdue.

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Minimum wage debates are stale. Opponents say higher minimum wages kill jobs, while supporters say maintain higher minimums reduce poverty and spur spending, benefitting everyone. But many economists believe both arguments are true: higher minimum wages do cost some jobs, but they also raise the standard of living for large portions of the population.

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“Here at ArborVitae, we recognize that free, timely, top-quality medical services provide indispensable information to women facing unexpected pregnancies who are engaged in what is often a difficult and stressful decision-making process,” reads part of the “Mission and Vision” section of the brochure of a clinic that is located in downtown Ann Arbor, near the campus of the University of Michigan. It’s a location that I know well, having grown up in Ann Arbor and graduated from U of M; in fact, this crisis pregnancy clinic is one floor below a coffee shop where I used to write.

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Over the past couple of weeks, courageous ordinary citizens of Hong Kong are creating a whirlwind of momentum towards staking their claim for a more democratic Chinese society, finally getting another moment in the spotlight nearly 25 years after Tiananmen. Uncertainty rings through the streets of Hong Kong as authorities and protesters alike weigh next steps, as everyone knows that this demonstration will influence political and cultural life in China for years to come. What’s less talked about is how Hong Kong is not an isolated incident: It is joining the ranks of the other landmark participatory democracy movements of our time, a pattern of upheaval witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt, Thailand, Venezuela, and Ukraine.

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