When national campaign strategists consider targeting an ethnic voting bloc to swing results in their direction, they typically consider blacks or Hispanics. Yet, an ethnic group they often overlook -- the Scots-Irish -- are the voters the Republican Party convinced in 2010 to swing back to GOP candidates, after they swung toward the Democratic Party in 2006, experts say.
As the 2012 election approaches and both parties eye the White House and U.S. House and Senate seats, strategists from both parties say the Scots-Irish again could be critical to winning.
"They could be the margins in a tight race," said Tom McMahon, a Washington strategist who was executive director of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 through 2009. The DNC, he said, wanted to ensure these voters "would be open-minded to voting for a Democrat,” because many are respected in their communities and could influence others.
"We found that when we talked about our core values as a party -- equality, fairness, social justice -- and how that applied to issues, we immediately made a connection to these voters,” he said. Democrats have not been effective with the Scots-Irish voting bloc during the past two years and might need to employ that approach again, McMahon believes.
The Scots-Irish apparently became voters to watch and court without knowing it.
“If they did know they were being focused on as part of a swing vote, they would probably vote in the exact opposite direction,” said Brad Todd, a Republican strategist in Washington.
Several hundred thousand Scots-Irish, primarily Presbyterians and other Protestants from the Irish province of Ulster, came to North America during the colonial era. Fiercely independent, clannish and skeptical of government, many settled in Pennsylvania and helped shape its industrial growth. They understood hardship and hard work.
"By the end of the 17th century, this became the largest migration from Europe to America,” said F. Thornton Miller, a professor of U.S. history at the University of Missouri.
These settlers preferred the hill country to coastal areas, building frontier communities across the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains, moving from Pennsylvania into Ohio, and then south into West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama. Often they became squatters, said Miller.
"They were known for fighting Indians, distilling and drinking whiskey. ... They became known as hillbillies," who didn't want to pay for land or to pay taxes, he said.
Today, political strategists might have some difficulty identifying these voters. Many don't identify with their ethnicity, and if they do, they are so distrustful of joining anything that they are hard to pin down, said McMahon and Todd.
“They have maintained their non-conformist nature all through the generations. ... This culture is the bellwether of change in this country, for either party,” said Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. Considered an authority on the Scots-Irish, Webb recently completed a documentary, “Born Fighting,” for the Smithsonian Channel and wrote several books on the subject.
Scots-Irish himself, Webb practices that non-conformist way of life: he was a Republican, and then ran as a Democrat for his Senate seat in 2006. He announced this year he would not seek reelection.
Todd determined the Scots-Irish were swing voters by poring over mapping data after the 2008 presidential election. He found a distinct voting pattern: people who rejected President Barack Obama, choosing Hillary Clinton in the primary election and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the general election.
“When I looked at that map, I realized I was looking at where the Scots-Irish had settled, starting with Pennsylvania and Ohio (and moving) diagonally south along the spine of Appalachia,” said Todd, who knows a little about these finicky voters because of his own Scottish and Irish bloodline.
He decided as a strategist that it made sense to target House seats Democrats held in areas settled by Scots-Irish families -- even if those congressional seats were considered to be "safe" Democratic incumbents.
His theory worked.
Republicans won eight of the 12 seats they targeted. Two GOP losses were in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Reps Jason Altmire of McCandless and Mark Critz of Johnstown held onto their seats by putting forth a message of maintaining independence from the Democratic Party and government regulation in Washington. That platform appealed to the populist nature of Scots-Irish voters in their districts.
“I campaigned on the same values that my constituents have," said Critz. "That independence from Washington resonates around here. We believe if government leaves us alone and doesn’t bother us, we will get the work done.”
Seventeen U.S. presidents are of Scots-Irish descent, including Obama, who visited with distant Gaelic relatives in Ireland this week -- perhaps because his strategists are beginning to realize he should not ignore these voters.
Mr. President, Put Less Pressure on Israel, More (Some) on Her Enemies
In recent months, Israel's struggles to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority have been marred by Palestinian decisions. Chief among these challenges is the decision by the Palestinian Authority to bring Hamas representatives into their leadership. If that did not present enough challenges, last week President Obama increased the pressure on Israel by unleashing new parameters for Israel-Palestinian negotiations based on pre-1967 borders. All supporters of Israel have to be alarmed and concerned at this new explicit position the U.S. has taken.
Following Obama’s expression that negotiations be based on pre-1967 borders, supporters of Israel from across the political spectrum have condemned the idea. Despite the caveats President Obama portends to place on these factors, this is no place to start a negotiation.
President Obama insists that the parameters of pre-1967 borders were always a starting point for prior U.S. administrations pointing to the Clinton administration. This is nonsense. Obama’s declaration last week was the first explicit statement by a U.S. President that pre-1967 borders would be the parameters of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu’s terse phone call with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prior to Thursday’s speech should have tipped the President off that this indeed would be viewed as new ground.
Further, Israel would be foolish to accept these conditions and rightly rebuked Obama for his position. Israel would be foolish to give up the Golan Heights along the Syrian border, foolish to pull its military presence out of the West Bank, and foolish to walk into a negotiation under the unnecessary pressures and concessions President Obama chose to place on the only true democracy in the Middle East. As the Prime Minister aptly put it, the pre-1967 Israeli borders, “were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive from them.” Never again, will Israel return to these indefensible borders regardless of the unnecessary pressure President Obama chooses to place on Israel.
In early 2008, President Obama called for the U.S. to preside over a Muslim Summit including leaders of Syria and Iran, not understanding that elevating their criticism of Israel with a United States moderator would have been a dangerous development for Israel. Recently, Obama’s Secretary of State Clinton referred to Syrian President Assad as a “reformer”. In April 2011, Assad’s regime fired live ammunition on protesters. And Assad has repeatedly supported Hamas and Hezbollah in fomenting violence towards Israel. With reformers like Assad, who needs reform?
Mr. President, I would ask you to stop putting unnecessary pressure on Israel and start demanding more of these autocratic regimes that stifle democracy and threaten the only democracy in the Middle East—Israel. I would ask you to start resembling your recent predecessors who had both actions and words which carried an unwavering support for Israel. Each and every day, Israel remains on the frontline along with the United States in the War on Terror and is nothing but an unabashed ally of pro-democratic and pro-American policy. Mr. President, stop putting undue pressure on Israel and start providing more support.
The Great Liberator: Remembering Ronald Reagan at 100
I had the privilege of attending the Ronald Reagan Centennial Gala in Washington earlier this week. Superbly organised by the Reagan Presidential Foundation, it was a truly magnificent event remembering the greatest American president of the last 100 years. Lech Walesa, the brave Polish freedom fighter who stood up to Communist tyranny, received the Reagan Centennial Freedom Award, and former First Lady Nancy Reagan delivered a moving message by video from her home in California.
Another highlight of the evening was the brilliant speech by British Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who paid tribute to the powerful partnership between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, an unbreakable alliance that defeated the Soviet Empire and won the Cold War. Dr. Fox, who has been the star performer of David Cameron’s cabinet and for decades a true friend of the United States, declared to much applause:
It is impossible to assess the contribution of Ronald Reagan to the history of the 20th century without considering another political giant of the era- Margaret Thatcher- his friend, ally and intellectual soul mate.
…. At a time when leadership was so needed they brought values, vision and valour. The Cold War did not end. It was won. It was not an accident. It came about because the leadership of the free world was committed politically, militarily, and morally to the defeat of totalitarian ideology and the triumph of liberty and freedom.
It was not an exercise in expediency but the application of conviction. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher understood that our strength lay in people not governments and that liberated from the dead hand of the state -of the self perpetuating bureaucracy- the innovation and drive of free people would triumph. They believed that competition is to be welcomed not feared- that it is the means by which we judge our talents, one against the other, without recourse to conflict.
They understood that there is a difference between tolerance and surrender and that the moral relativism that blurs the distinction between right and wrong needs to be confronted. They knew what they believed to be right and had the courage to say so- and they knew what they believed to be wrong and had the fortitude to confront it.
They knew that in a free society the market works – that the combined wisdom of millions of individuals, acting in their own interests, is always likely to trump the wisdom of the self selecting elites of government.
They were giants of history when history needed giants. We may never see their likes again in our lifetime. But living and nurturing their legacy is the greatest honour that any of us can do for their dreams, their endeavours and their hopes. Let us not let them down.
These are wise words that politicians on both sides of the Atlantic should heed, at a time of towering public debts, economic uncertainty, and mounting threats to the security of the free world. In her eulogy for President Reagan at his memorial service in Washington National Cathedral in June 2004, Lady Thatcher referred to her close friend as “the great liberator”, a leader who had freed hundreds of millions from tyranny in Europe, as well as offering renewed hope for the American people after a period of decline. In the words of the Iron Lady:
Ronald Reagan carried the American people with him in his great endeavours because there was perfect sympathy between them. He and they loved America and what it stands for: freedom and opportunity for ordinary people.
With the lever of American patriotism, he lifted up the world. And so today, the world – in Prague, in Budapest, in Warsaw and Sofia, in Bucharest, in Kiev, and in Moscow itself, the world mourns the passing of the great liberator and echoes his prayer: God bless America.
Pay Freedom Forward, Properly Arm Our Armed Forces
As Americans begin the Memorial Day weekend, we remember those who have given their lives to defend the freedoms and way of life that we enjoy. The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano writes in The Sacramento Bee that as we honor them, we must also “do our utmost not to add to their ranks”:
Cold gray monuments, brassy parades, majestic flyovers – they are all remembrances of those who died in the service of the nation. They are all part of our Memorial Day.
No day speaks more about American patriotism than the day we thank those who gave their lives in the fight for freedom. Yet, no ceremony, no solemnity can ever replace those we have lost . . .
So while on this day we honor sacrifice, we have a job the rest of the year as well: reminding our leaders in Washington to ensure that the troops who defend us have what they need to do the job – and come back to us. There is no better way to recognize the valor of those who serve, and demonstrate care and respect for their families, than to pay it forward – to properly arm our armed forces for the next fight.
Carafano writes that adequately funding defense is among America’s greatest challenges, and it is one that must be addressed:
After 10 years, we have put a lot of wear and tear on the armed forces. The danger that our military preparedness could plummet has never been greater.
Today, America has the smallest Navy since before World War I, and the force is aging. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the popular movie “Top Gun.” The ship featured in the film was the USS Enterprise. It is still at sea. In fact, it was commissioned in the 1960s, and is the second oldest ship in the U.S. fleet. Ships in the Navy’s sister fleet, the U.S. Coast Guard, are even older . . .
America’s Air Force has the oldest average fleet of planes and the fewest number of planes in its inventory at any time since World War II . . .
The Army and Marine Corps both have aging fleets of vehicles – and have just seen the plans to replace them pushed further down the road.
Annual spending to buy new equipment is already under-funded by about $50 billion a year. Still, there are calls to slash military spending.
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