Thursday, December 31, 2015

The P—ed Off Voter: Trump, Sanders, and the Failures of the Mainstream Republican and Democratic Parties

Two interesting pieces in the New York Times on December 31, point to important role of the p---ed off or disaffected voter and the mainstream Republican and Democratic voters in the 2016 presidential election.

The first article examines who are the Trump voters, finding many to be individuals–mainly but not exclusively white male, low income, no college–who still consider themselves Democrats but recently vote Republican.  They are the voters Democrats lost when the party embraced civil rights–as told by Mary and Thomas Edsell in Chain Reaction–and they became the Reagan Democrats in the 1980s, when they vote.  But many do not vote.  They are the ones who have lost out in the nearly two generation economic grind that has produced the economic inequalities that we now see in our society.  They see Democrats as having abandoned them as many of their candidates have walked away from talking about economics and class and instead turned into the party of people of color. When they do vote they support Republicans, but there too they see a party that no longer speaks to them. Trump’s message does (even if his solutions will do little to help them too).

The other article is how the battle for New Hampshire is about capturing the 40%+ independent voter in that state who could vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary.  Trump and Sanders are fighting for these voters, as are of course the other candidates.  This article too speaks to the voter who no longer feels that the two mainstream parties generally represent them, and instead their decision to vote and for whom is really up for grabs.  With it high percentage of these independent voters New Hampshire is typical of many of the swing states examined in my book.

We hear terms to describe these voters as swing or independent.  I think the best term is actually the p---ed off or disaffected voters.  There is little evidence that many voters actually swing in terms of switching to voter for candidates across parties.  Instead, they make a decision to vote or not.  Swing might more aptly describe swinging in or out of electoral politics.

The disaffected voter is central to the 2016 election prospects for Trump, Sanders, and the two parties.  There is evidence that the two parties do not adequately capture or speak to the interests of many voters.  This is the reason explaining why there is a strong force behind Sanders and against Clinton, and the same with the support for Trump and against Bush, for example. Robert Michael’s Political Parties well describes the tendency of parties to become less democratic and open over time.  One result might now be that the Republican and Democrat parties no longer resonate with many voters–young (especially Millennials), the poor, many people of color, and low income white males without college degrees. And in some cases women.  These are people who the political economic system has ignored, and whom the political parties too seem to have left behind or fail to give voice to.

The two NY Times pieces speak to a society where there is a disjuncture between the political and economic systems, where the leadership and mainstream of the two parties fails to capture the political frustrations and interests of many people in the US.  If that is the case t hen perhaps 2016 is  the basis of what political scientists call a critical election or realignment.  Such an election or alignment would produce a new political alignment and set of policy positions among the parties, or  new parties might emerge.  There is no guarantee that this will occur here.  Many thought that 2008 would produce a critical alignment and it did in some ways, one that seemed to benefit Republicans  more than Democrats, at least for now.  Longer term though the generational changes in the US that will see the Silent and Baby Boomers exit politically to be replaced by Gen Xers, Millennials, and post-Millennials (the Digitals) will reveal something that may not benefit either of the two major parties as they now stand.  Instead, the voters of these generation may be driving political changes because they are part of a large cohort of disaffected or p---ed off voters not happy with the status quo.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Politics, Lies, and Videotape: Rumor and Journalism in Era of the Social Media

“Let me tell you one truth–I always lie.”

Truth seems to be one of the main casualties of the social media.  There appear to be Facebook facts and real facts.  Facebook facts are those circulating across the social media.  They are stories which are not true, partially true, or simply the spinning of some pseudo-facts taken out of time and context. Often this manufacturing of facts is innocuous.  But increasingly as politics and partisans have discovered the social media as a tool for campaigning, it has become  a major source of political rumor and propaganda.  One would hope that the mainstream media, especially as it covers the social media, would correct these distortions, but that no longer appears to be the case.
There are two interesting political  stories driving Facebook and the media this Christmas weekend.  The first are stories that the Clinton camp is worried that it could lose Iowa and New Hampshire in the next couple of months.  The second story is that NBC’s Chuck Todd claiming it is not the media’s job to correct GOP lies about Obamacare.

Clinton Losing Iowa and New Hampshire?
Consider the Clinton story first.  I first saw a Facebook post on December 26, 2015 describing how Clinton was worried about losing the first two states in the Democratic Party presidential contest.  Clicking on the link it was to an article in Politico form September when the polls were much closer and in fact in looked as if Sanders was closing in on Clinton.  Several other  other Facebook posts had similar links to similar older articles or polls showing close races.  That was then, now is now.   Stories from four months ago do not reflect the present which show Clinton still leading Iowa and a closer race in New Hampshire.  Granted there is some evidence of a new Sanders’ effort to close the gap, and granted that Sanders may prove to be better at the GOTV than Clinton (a real possibility), but recirculating old articles from four months ago and passing them off as reflecting current reality is simply a lie.
A second basis for this Facebook fact is an apparent Clinton e-mail to supporters right before  Christmas saying she could lose Iowa or New Hampshire.  Clinton could be prescient but keep in  mind the context of the letter.  It is a fundraising letter begging for money and encouraging her supporters to turnout.  Her letter is no different than any other fundraising letter from a non-profit claiming that the sky is falling.  Candidates all the time seek to get money out of people by claiming that it is an emergency, they are about to lose, or that time is running out.  They do this–as do many organizations–that if they are in the lead there is a sense of complacency that led to people not giving or showing up to vote.  Crying wolf is a great motivation tool.  One should read her letter as simply that–it is an effort to make sure her supporters continue to give and show up to vote.

Chuck Todd, Corporate Journalism, and Obamacare
A second story making the rounds is an interview by NBC’s Chuck Todd saying it is not the job of the media to correct the Republican lies about Obamacare.  Did Todd actually say that?  Here is what he said in an interview.

Ed Rendell: Chuck. I think you are dead right. I think the biggest problem with Obamacare. It’s not a perfect bill by any means was the messaging. If you took ten people from different parts of the country who say they’re against a bill and sat them down. I’d love to have ten minutes with them and say, tell me why you are against the bill. If they told you anything, it would be stuff that’s incorrect.
Chuck Todd: That’s right.
Rendell: Incorrect.
Todd: But more importantly, it would be stuff that Republicans have successfully messaged.
Rendell: Absolutely.
Todd: Against it. And they won’t have even heard. they don’t repeat the other stuff. because they haven’t heard the Democratic message. What I always love, people say it’s your folks’ fault in the media. it’s the President of the United States fault for not selling it.

First, it is not so clear that Todd said it is not the job of the media to correct GOP lies.  In the context here Todd acknowledged Republican lies but also said the Democrats have done a bad job messaging and selling the Affordable Care Act.  This is one plausible reading of what Todd said.  Second, this interview took place back on September 18, 2013–more than two years ago.  Why is the story rerunning today?
Second, assuming Todd did say what some claim then of course he is wrong.  The very job of traditional journalism is to seek and publish the truth.  The entire enterprise of democracy depends on a robust and active press publishing the truth.  They are to be the watchdogs for the people, publishing the truth, exposing corruption, reporting to hold the government accountable.  That is the purpose of the First Amendment.  The Jeffersonian ideal of the people ruling requires an educated public and that is where the press comes in–publish the truth.
Truth is not reporting what both or several sides say–being fair and balanced.  Truth may be something entirely different than what any partisan says.  This used to be the rule of what one learned in journalism schools, but it no longer seems to be the practice of real journalism which does simply report what everyone says and then leaves it up to the public to decide.  This is not journalism–this is simply operating as a communications organ for different sides (and not all the sides as is evidenced by how much Sanders is ignored).  Journalism is not public relations or corporation communications but that point seems to be lost in the era of for-profit journalism.
And now what makes all this worse is how journalism seems increasingly  to be echoing or amplifying the distortions found on the social media.  If anything, the ethics of real journalism should rise above the lack thereof of the social media.   Perhaps if real journalists stopped trying to imitate and repeat the social media facts and corrected them, confidence in them would be better than it is now, and the public would be better informed than it is now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Donald Trump and the Politics of Bathroom Humor

Women urinate and have periods.  So what else is new?   Coming out of two of the presidential debates this year the biggest headlines are that Trump accuses Fox’s Megyn Kelly of having her period as the reason she asked him tough questions, and that it is disgusting that Hillary Clinton had to urinate during a break in the most recent Democratic debate.  Something is wrong with politics and the media if these are the stories that capture our attention.
If there was any doubt that Donald Trump deserves to win the misogynist male pig of the year award that ended with his comments making fun of Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break during last Saturday night’s presidential debate.  They come after jokes about Carly Fiorina’s physical appearance and  accusations about Megyn Kelly’s mood and menstrual cycle. The reality is that bodily functions exist and that there are some differences between men and women.  Adults accept this and move on.
In the course of a work day adults accept the reality that we need to take bathroom breaks.  Studies have documented shortages of bathrooms for women in many public places and that in many cases it takes women more time to do their business than men.  Adults also recognize that  women can get pregnant and for good or bad (or sexist reasons) are assigned more domestic and child rearing duties than men and therefore should not be discriminated against for that.  Trump’s campaign is replete with dragging out double standards and sexism.  I suspect it is no surprise he was once a big supporter of the Miss America pageant; it appears that the only part of women he likes are their T & A.
But also there is something just sophomoric and juvenile about these comments.  In fact, that is the campaign he is running–sophomoric.  His campaign is about name calling, making fun of others, and jeering at bodily functions and people’s physical looks.  On the stump he also swears, challenges the masculinity of others, and picking on others.  All that is missing are groin kicks and fart jokes and what you would have is Tom Bernard’s KQRS morning show.  Its staple humor for a quarter century has been this type of insulting puny humor.  Perhaps that is acceptable conduct for a morning show seeking to appeal to the lowest common denominator to achieve ratings, but it should not be the basis of a political campaign.  Yet if the polls are to be believed, 39% of those who claim to be Republicans (32% of adults X 39% = 8%) seem to like Trump’s views.  
Whether this support is for Trump the candidate or Trump comedy road show it is not yet clear.  But the major point here is that Trump is using the same type of insults and jokes that make  make adolescents to help fuel his campaign popularity.  Yes it gets him in the news but should we not hope that this country is better than that? Is the key to making America great against reside in making fun of the women who pee?  I hope not.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The DNC v. Sanders: Why Bernie is in Trouble

Sanders is in trouble.  And it is not simply the problem with staffers hacking Clinton’s voter database.  The problem runs deeper, much of which has little to do with Sanders, per se.  Instead,  the forces that are perhaps beginning to do Sanders in are entirely predictable and resident in the nature of leftist politics in America and its relationship with the Democratic Party.

The Party v. Sanders
Democrats have a long history of animosity with socialist candidates.  Yes many were elected at the local level in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the 1920s and 1930s, but one should also remember how fiercely Democrats and Liberals often joined in the communist witch hunts of McCarthy during the 50s.  Out of fear of being red-baited or considered pinkos, Democrats were slow to condemn what he did.
But even at a less extreme level, it comes as absolutely no surprise that the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Deborah Wasserman Schultz, and the establishment Democratic Party are pressing the scales and favoring Hilary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.  Face it, two things are going on here. First, remember that Bernie is not a Democrat–he is an independent and self-described democratic socialist running within the Democratic Party.  He and his supporters are challenging the hierarchy and establishment of the Democratic Party.  He is to the Democrats as Trump is to the Republicans in so many ways.  He has not build up favors within the party, he is not married to a former president of the US who was a Democrat, and he is not beholden to the same special interests that so much of the party, including Clinton is.  The current Democratic Party is a pro-business corporate entity, this is not who Sanders is.  Given all of that, should one be surprised that the party would shun him.
Sanders is part of a long line of progressives nationally and in Minnesota taking on the Democratic Party establishment.  Think of Eugene McCarthy to Johnson, or Howard Dean v. John Kerry.  Or even consider Jesse Jackson in 1988.   He and hie delegates were shunned in Minnesota and across the country.  Party leaders and regulars are basically conservative.  They go with incumbents over challengers, old faces as opposed to new, and are loath to accept those who have not paid their dues or sworn their allegiance to party endorsements and traditions.  Political parties are insular, often unable to change, adopting a strategy that is more protective of their interests than that of what the people want.  In effect, often leaders think “they” are the party and not the people who attend caucuses or vote.  For years I have levied this criticism against the Minnesota DFL–a party still often living in the past, basking in the legacy of Humphrey, Freeman, Mondale, and Wellstone, not realizing that times have changed and that the keying to winning is developing a strategy and narrative that will be broader than one which is only good for winning in Minneapolis and St Paul.  Robert Michels classic Political Parties, published a century ago, described the oligarchical tendencies of political parties, well described this phenomena, and it still worth reading.

 War and Socialism
Sander’s other problem is his narrative.  He speaks of the problem of class politics–the gap between the rich and the poor, the power of corporations in American society. It is not a message of fear.  Contrary to Trump, he does not blame the rational perception of many that economically it is worse for them now than in the past by attacking Muslims or immigrants.    His message is one of working and middle class solidarity.  Yet the events in Paris and San Bernardino have eclipsed his theme of economic justice.  In so doing, he would not be the first progressive candidate felled by this.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth century socialist parties of Europe were derailed by World War I and nationalism that pitted workers against workers across the continent.  In the US, WW I ended Eugene Debs’ career as it did too for Norman Thomas with WW II.  War is a great way to break up progressive politics.  Find another enemy, fight another war, distract workers from their economic plight by playing on and to  their fears and prejudices.  War is a wonderful to divert peoples’ attention from domestic issues.  George Bush did that with Afghanistan and Iraq.  “You need to wait because we need to fight a war and you need to sacrifice for the war effort.”  This is what we are again hearing.  Sanders’ message of economic justice is getting eclipsed and drowned out by the drum beat of war that not only the Republicans are sounding, but so is Clinton.  No she is not saying send ground troops in yet, but there is no question that her political status is benefitted by a war.

The Arrogance of Power
Perhaps the only bright side for Sanders is Clinton’s continued sense of entitlement and arrogance. Clinton’s recent debate performance was strong, but she talked right past Sanders and O’Malley.  She and her supporters still act as if she is entitled to the presidency–it is her time, she is due it.    Yes Clinton has a lot to offer and she is the establishment candidate for the party, but she has yet to offer a compelling narrative to why she should be president.    She has lots of positions and views on subjects, but there is no compelling and overarching narrative for her presidency.  She needs to solve that problem.
Sanders has a narrative and an argument, but alas, it may not be enough.  With less than 45 days to the Iowa caucuses Clinton appears to be consolidating her hold there, New Hampshire, and beyond. Yes 45 days is an eternity, and yes surprises can happen during that time, but right now Sanders is in trouble, with much of his problems no surprise given what has happened in the past with really progressive candidates who take on the establishment in the US.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Donald Trump and the Corporate Media Bias in America

Prophecies of Trump’s demise are like waiting for Gadot.  For months establishment media and political operatives have declared that his comments on McCain, women, Mexican immigrants, and now Muslims would do him in.  They have not.  Instead, they have done little more than fortify his status.  So what is going on?  There is no one answer, but understanding both the corporate biases of the media and the ability of Trump to bring traditional marketing strategies to politics are critical.  They also explain why Sanders is stuck in the polls.
Ranging from the New York Times, Washington Post, the Economist, to pundits on television such as FOX or NBC, Trump’s rise is attributed to many factors.  Some link him to Orban in Hungary and Le Pen in France, seeing Trump as appealing to nativism and political and economic anxiety arising out of both the declining economic fortunes of white middle and lower middle America and the renewed fears of terrorism after the Paris attacks.  Trump also benefits hugely from his name recognition, the mediocrity of his rivals along with their lack of media sophistication.  All of these are reasonable explanations. But Trump also is served well by his understanding of marketing and media bias.
Pick up the standard book on business marketing–Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management.  He and others will tell how FUD–fear, uncertainty, and dread–are the cornerstone of how to sell products.  “Am I pretty enough?  Does this car make me look like a jerk?  What will my friends think?  Am I attractive enough to women?”  Much of American consumerism appeals to ours fears, uncertainities, and dread.  Anxiety sells as does vanity, envy, and worry.  The seven deadly sins are better motivational tools than the four cardinal virtues.  Trump knows that, and he also knows how to use the media to convey his message.  He has done that for a career.  The rest of the Republican field are hacks by comparison.  In fact, most elected officials dread the news and media, fearing they only time reporters want to speak to them is to report on bad things.
Trump, as the Washington Post reported, is not unhinged and his statements not unplanned.  He has tested marketed them on Twitter and in speeches before going mainstream with them.  What Trump understands is how presidential politics is more about narratives and marketing than it is anything else.  He knows how to speak to the camera, turn a phrase, appeal to FUD.  His success is simply in better understanding the media and marketing than others do.
He also understands how at least in this early stage of the campaign even bad media coverage is better than none.  So much of the polling and success is simply about name recognition.  It is about branding.  Those who denounce him simply feed into his persona.  Attack him and it supports his image of being an anti-establishment populist.  He feeds on the same distrust of the media and government that Spiro Agnew spoke of when he railed against “effete intellectual snobs” and “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
But the other factor benefitting Trump is media bias.  For years conservatives railed against a liberal media bias.  If that were the case Bernie Sanders would be leading Clinton and be a household name.  The media bias in America is not liberal but a corporate one.  All of the major news networks are owned by larger for-profit corporations which generally share a pro-business bias.  Trump’s ideas get play because they both generate profits for the news industry (he is a good headline that sells soap) and because he political views do not challenge a basically pro-corporate business world view.  Unlike Sanders, Trump does not challenge economic inequality, corporate power, or even the legitimacy of capitalism.  He does not rail against Wall Street and contrary to his image, Trump is no friend of working class America.  Trump is ratings success and safe coverage for the corporate media.
So is Clinton.  She is a Wall Street Democrat.  In a different era she would have been a Republican with the positions she has.  She gets coverage for many of the same reasons as Trump–her name sells soap and she is not anti-establishment.  Yet unlike Trump, Clinton is not a master of the media.
Now image a different world.  What if Sanders received as much coverage as Trump?  The fact that he does not ought to be proof of a media bias against real liberals or those on the left.  He is marginalized by the mainstream media despite the fact that his poll numbers within the Democratic Party are better than Trump’s in the GOP, and that there are more people identifying as Democrats than Republicans.  In effect, more people nationally probably support Sanders than Trump.  But Sanders is not media savvy and he offers a message that challenges the corporate media.
Overall, Gadot may arrive and Trump may collapse.  We re still six weeks from Iowa.  There is no indication of a Trump ground game and his success seems all air wars and marketing.  But at some point he needs to show he can deliver the votes. But for now Trump will continue to thrive because of his better understanding of the media and marketing, and the advantage is enjoys from a corporate media.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Second Amendment is not a Bar to Reasonable Gun Regulation (The American people are the problem)

Yet again another mass murder in the US and yet again another round of calls for gun control
regulation followed by yet again claims that the Second Amendment bars any legislative action. This has led some to call for a constitutional amendment repealing or modifying the Second Amendment.  The reality is that there is no need to amend the Constitution.  Congress and the states have sufficient constitutional power to act if they want.  The issue is not the Constitution, or even the NRA.  Instead it is political will and resolve...among the American people.
Some thought the debate and public opinion on guns would have changed after 20 young children and six adults were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  A few states acted but little changed. The NRA in typical fashion said the solution was more guns.  Now a terrorist attack in San Bernardino kills 14 and the NRA is in the position of defending policies that make it easy for terrorists to get assault rifles.  The ludicrousness of their positions should be enough to discredit them and their lobbying power. But it will not be.
The NRA has argued that the solution to gun violence is to prevent the mentally ill from getting guns.  This assumes all mentally ill people are violent and those who are sane are not.  Our prisons are full of lots of people who use guns and commit  crimes and the law has deemed them sane.  There are millions of people in America will mental illness problems and few are violent. But even is preventing the mentally ill from obtaining guns were the solution, without universal background checks that policy is impossible to enforce.  But this fact does not really matter.
Claiming that everyone should be armed and that we can defend ourselves is false.  It reeks of images of the shootout at the OK Corral or it assumes abilities to respond that few people have.  Go talk to the police or those in the military about how much training it takes to use a gun.  And think about also how much criticism there is even now regarding police use of deadly force and it should be obvious that more guns are not going to make us safer.  But this fact does not really matter.
It would perhaps be easier to refute the NRA’s claims but it bullied Congress yet again in July 2015 into preventing the Center for Disease Control from researching gun violence.  But there is research from outside the US that examines gun violence that challenges claims that guns make us safer.  But the facts from this research do not really matter.
And of course the NRA can bring out its biggest weapon–invoking the Second Amendment. Advocates of gun control can whine to their hearts content about the Second Amendment but the reality is that it exists.  Moreover, while many might argue the Supreme Court was wrong in its 2008 D.C. v. Heller opinion where a majority ruled that the Amendment protected an individual right to bear arms, the reality is that this is what the Court said.  But it is also important to recognize something else about that opinion–the Court did not rule that all gun regulations are unconstitutional.  As the Court declared:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.

Even in Heller the Court recognized that limits on who could own a gun, where and when, and the types of guns permitted could all be enforced.  Case law before and after Heller have upheld bans on guns in schools, religious institutions, and public buildings.  Regulations banning specific types of guns are permitted, and rules governing sales have too been upheld.  Probably the only law that would not be constitutional would be a flat ban on personal possession of a gun for personal safety in the home.  Beyond that, most regulations are constitutional.  Otherwise, no one has a constitutional right to own an atomic bomb.
The point is that the Second Amendment is not a legal bar to gun regulation.  The problem is political will.  There is simply not enough political will in this country to act.   Calling for a constitutional amendment is foolish.  If there was enough political will to pass a constitutional amendment there would be enough political will to enact meaningful legislation to control gun violence.
Whatever the facts are about guns, they really do not matter.  Facts are not issue here.  It is even more than the pure lobbying power and intimidation of the NRA that is at issue.  Yes they hide behind the Second Amendment and cowboy myths of American rugged individualism to prevent the regulation of guns.  They use fear of crime, political imagery, and the power of money, lobbying, and influence to prevent politicians from acting. But the NRA has millions of members.  The NRA and its supports are geniuses–they have figured out how to mobilize divided public opinion, gerrymandered safe political districts, and other tools of influence to prevent meaningful gun regulation.  Our gun policies are a symptom of a grid locked political system and public opinion which is simply divided.  Until such time as the public is act all the facts in the world will not matter.