Politics & Issues
9:19 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Political Rundown: Future Shock And History Lessons

Politics can be a 24/7 occupation, as anyone with a cell phone, computer or cable subscription knows. It's not hard to find political news, commentary or just plain rants. They are everywhere. Sometimes it takes a little more digging to find the context, perspective or background on major issues of the day. 

Once a week, our political team would like to share stories that gave them insight into the news of the day -- or perhaps just some pleasure to read. This week's contributions run the gamut, from how political parties and government are dealing with our brave new technological world to a couple of excursions into the past.

Is the party over?

St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon isn’t the only news outlet pondering what’s next for Missouri’s state political parties. Politico, the national website that’s a must-read for political junkies, also is interested in the topic, with a recent story that rightly examines whether the state political parties are the real losers with the rise of independent outside campaign committees.

Those groups -- such as Karl Rove’s CrossroadsGPS, the Koch brothers’ aligned Americans for Prosperity, and the environmentalist League of Conservative Voters – are increasing spending more money to sway voters than many state political parties.

State political parties used to wield much of the power in deciding who should run for office and which candidates would get campaign help.  But no longer. In many states, candidates are wooed and supported by wealthy outside groups with different political priorities than the state parties, which are often still the prime vehicle for overseeing voter turnout.

The rise of the outside groups has led to shrinking coffers for state political parties. That, in turn, makes the parties less financially able to provide the help they once did -- which then forces candidates to rely more heavily on outside groups. Which reinforces the shift in power away from official party organizations. (Jo Mannies)

Nixon's national exposure

Gov. Jay Nixon has looked and sounded more like a Democrat since winning a second term at Missouri's governor. He began an aggressive campaign for expanding Medicaid weeks after his re-election and more recently he has spoken out on issues related to the gay community, specifically calling for Missourians to be able to vote again on gay marriage. That's coupled with last fall's executive order directing his revenue department to accept joint federal income tax returns for gay couples legally married in other states.

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post wrote last fall about Nixon's efforts to craft a national profile as did the New York Times' John Eligon. An analysis piece written in November by local AP reporter David Lieb was picked up LGBTQNation.com, which noted Nixon's shift.

Nixon may run the risk of negative national publicity, though, as more news outlets outside of Missouri report on the state's execution protocol. NPR's Laura Sullivan explored Missouri's short supply of execution drugs in the wake of an Oklahoma pharmacy's decision to no longer supply pentobarbital for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Finally, Nixon still has lots of work to do if he wants to boost his national exposure, as evidenced by this Politico article of potential 2016 presidential candidates. While strongly focusing on the track record of governors getting elected president, the article never mentions Nixon.  (Marshall Griffin)

Up for debate

Was Edward Snowden justified in leaking confidential documents to the press? That's the question Intelligence Squared grappled with in the past week.

In case you're not familiar with the program, the program is touted as "Oxford style debate in America." Of course, I like the way the New York Times put it better, when the newspaper called it "the intellectual equivalent of a pro-wrestling smackdown.”

Representing the pro side (Snowden was justified) is Daniel Ellsberg, the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower, and Ben Wizner, the legal adviser to Snowden. Representing the con side (Snowden was not justified) is James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as Andrew McCarthy, a contributing editor at the National Review.

This debate does a good job of getting to the core of the argument -- weighing the public's right to know against the government's responsibility to gather intelligence. The debate polls the live audience before and after the debate. Without spoiling the result, this debate saw a huge sway in opinion. You can listen to the full audio through NPR. (Chris McDaniel)

Unlicensed to kill

Several national news outlets reported on a John Hopkins University study about the impact of repealing its "permit-to-purchase a handgun" law. That law eliminated the need for a background check before getting a permit to purchase a firearm. The study said that the 2007 repeal “contributed to a 16 percent increase in Missouri's murder rate.”
 
"This study provides compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence," said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and the study's lead author, in a news release. "There is strong evidence to support the idea that the repeal of Missouri's handgun purchaser licensing law contributed to dozens of additional murders in Missouri each year since the law was changed."

The study piqued my interest because I remember the legislation in question quite well. The permit repeal was tucked into a broader bill establishing the so-called “Castle Doctrine,” which protects people who use deadly force against intruders from lawsuits or prosecution. I wrote about the repeal when I was a state government reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Proponents of the repeal – such as then-state Rep. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown – said the permit process was inconvenient. Others found the requirement duplicative because people who purchased a handgun faced a federal background check. "In some counties, it was basically used as a way to throw up another roadblock for law-abiding citizens to legally obtain a handgun," Munzlinger said at the time.

Tom Reddin of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department told me in 2007 that the change would likely benefit people who buy several concealable firearms. While he said that most people who applied for permits were "good, law-abiding citizens," he also said he would rather see a three- to five-year permit on concealable firearms permits, noting that the federal background check didn’t look at local jail or civil litigation records.

"You lose the local knowledge or the local documentation of the person’s conduct, which can be used to qualify or disqualify them from the permit," Reddin said at the time.

The bill in question passed overwhelmingly: Only nine out of 197 legislators in the House and Senate voted against it. That was somewhat surprising because bills easing gun restrictions often draw more robust Democratic opposition.

And while anything can happen in the Missouri legislature, that outcome suggests that the John Hopkins study may not prompt any action – especially since the General Assembly is even more Republican than it was in 2007. But that hasn’t stopped the study from sparking a national conversation about the Show Me state. (Jason Rosenbaum)

The 'L' word

These days, it seems, nobody -- except maybe Paul Krugman or Rachel Maddow -- wants to be called a "liberal." Within the political arena, it's become something of a dirty word. A piece in the Atlantic, "The Origin of Liberalism," traces how the word has changed, actually quite dramatically, over time. According to a fascinating Google analysis, the word wasn't even used politically until 1769. Then it got a great boost in 1776 with the publication of Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," which was seen as an expression of liberal economic principles. (Today we would be more inclined to characterize Smith -- and his espousal of an unfettered marketplace -- as economically conservative.) By 1880, the word changed again, coming closer to its current meaning, including the "idea that the government should 'do something' to solve perceived problems." (Susan Hegger)

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