Monday, February 8, 2016

How a Sanders Candidacy is Good for Clinton

Personally I never bought the argument for Bernie Sanders' candidacy that a lot of pundits made. Namely the one about how, win or lose, he has moved Hillary Clinton to the left. The way I see it, the Democratic Party moved to the left before this campaign took shape. For example, income inequality took center stage as the issue that needs to be tackled. On cultural issues, the emerging power of millennials and the diversity of the Democratic coalition ensured that elected officials would follow suit.

But after reading an article by David Roberts titled: Two ways of assessing political candidates, and how they explain the Clinton-Sanders conflict, I came away with an appreciation for the fact that these differences will likely get hashed out in this campaign.

To begin with, Roberts picks up on the case Sanders tried to make last week about the distinction between a progressive and a moderate. He says that the label "progressive" is an ideological category, while "moderate" is a practical question related to what we've been calling a "theory of change."

Roberts then suggests that these two questions form the basis of each candidate's campaign message:
The distinction matters, because it helps map out the terrain each candidate want to fight on. In a nutshell, Sanders wants the contest to be about ideology and Clinton wants it to be about practicality. He is the champion of ideological progressivism; she is the champion of practical moderation.

So when Sanders attacks Clinton over her progressivism, he is trying to pull the fight into ideology. Clinton defenders try to pull it back to practical matters, saying, no, it's not that Clinton doesn't share these big ideological goals, it's just that she realizes the only way to get there is through modest steps built upon existing programs. Pushing too much change too fast is dangerous (one of many lessons Clinton took from her 1993 health care debacle)...

Similarly, Sanders proponents are quick to shift the discussion away from practical questions. All that's been said in support of Sanders' ambitious legislative plans is that there will be a "political revolution," which presumably involves either historic turnout, a historic shift of working-class white Republicans into the Democratic camp, or both. Few supporting details have been offered.
The first thing we can take away from this analysis is that it would be helpful to push each candidate in the area they are working to avoid. The debates have done a better job of highlighting Clinton's ideological positions than they have of pushing Sanders on questions about how his "political revolution" is supposed to work. So there is still some work to do on that one.

But secondly, this is a good debate for Democrats to have during the primary. Back in 2008, Barack Obama captured the party nomination because he was able to articulate a progressive vision, but combined it with the practicality of a pragmatic approach. Roberts points out that the opposite of moderate is radical...something that never described Obama. But what tended to happen is that the idealists heard the vision side of things and then became "disappointed" in the President when he went about implementing the slow methodical approach that our form of government requires. There tends to be a lot of overlap between those folks and Sanders supporters.

This time around, if we can get Sanders to be more specific with his vision of how change happens, we will have a primary where the two candidates lay out both their ideologies and their theories of change. If, as the polls indicate now, Hillary Clinton wins the nomination and is elected president, hopefully everyone will be clear about what to expect from her.

Rubio Confirmed the Narrative

I'm not one of those people who thinks that a single event changes the trajectory of a campaign. For example, I don't think that Trump's second place finish in Iowa was because he skipped a debate. Voters don't tend to pivot away from their candidate that easily.

But Sen. Marco Rubio's performance in Saturdays Republican presidential debate might be the exception to that rule.


The reason this one event might spell disaster for Rubio is that it confirms every negative assumption people already have about him. First and foremost is the one about how he comes off as a computer algorithm. Here's what NH reporter Erik Eisele wrote about him.
We had roughly 20 minutes with him on Monday, and in that time he talked about ISIS, the economy, his political record and his background. But it was like watching a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points. He said a lot, but at the same time said nothing. It was like someone wound him up, pointed him towards the doors and pushed play. If there was a human side to senator, a soul, it didn’t come across through.
That kind of analysis feeds on the concerns many voters have about the fact that Rubio is so young and inexperienced. That was recently reinforced by Santorum's inability to name anything Rubio has accomplished in the Senate. The narrative it confirms is that he is programmed on the surface because there is no substance underneath.

At a time when a portion of Republicans are still trying to make up their minds about which "establishment" candidate to go with, his supporters are not likely to get defensive about this kind of narrative but might, instead, begin to look elsewhere. I doubt it will be enough to exclude him from the race, but this could be a game-changer - especially in New Hampshire tomorrow.

Money in Politics Isn't Just About Campaigns. It's Also About Governing

When we talk about the role of money in politics, the focus is usually on campaigns. That leads to an emphasis on superpacs that are the result of the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case. But what that discussion leaves out is perhaps the more direct way that special interests have an impact on governing via their lobbying efforts once the campaigns are over.

Ryan Lizza gave us a fascinating example of that in his story about the career of Elizabeth Warren. Prior to getting elected to the Senate, she worked to ensure that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill. In order to accomplish that goal, she worked with Camden Fine, the head of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), who Lizza referred to as "one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington." The deal that emerged was that in exchange for ICBA staying neutral on the CFPB, they were excluded from oversight by the bureau.

It is interesting to look at how ICBA has developed as such a powerhouse on Capitol Hill. According to Open Secrets, in 2014 they spent about $1.8 million on political contributions, but over $4.6 million on lobbying. What is probably at least as important is what Barney Frank told Lizza - "they're in everybody's district."

There has recently been a perfect example of how that works in my home state of Minnesota. Our Democratic Senators - Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken - led the fight to delay the implementation of the medical device tax as a funding mechanism for Obamacare. Here's how the state's largest newspaper described what happened.
It took tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions, but in the end, Minnesota's medical device companies got what they wanted out of Congress: the gutting of a sales tax they claimed was crippling them...

Because tax repeals are incredibly difficult to pull off, particularly after the money has been collected, the medical device industry sank millions into behind-the-scenes lobbying on Capitol Hill and hefty campaign contributions to Minnesota's politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Were Klobuchar and Franken bought off by the medical device industry? It's actually a bit more complicated than that. Minnesota is second only to California in the number of people who work in that industry - 35,000 in more than 700 companies. One of the reasons the state has such a low unemployment rate (3.5%) is that it has put a lot of emphasis on growing companies like this as part of the plan for economic development. Here is what Klobuchar said about her motivation:
"I advocated for the repeal because of the jobs in our state and the people who work in the industry. This is a tax that was assessed inordinately on one state," Klobuchar said in a statement.
Would she have fought this hard against the tax if it weren't for the campaign contributions and lobbying efforts by the industry? It's possible. But ultimately we'll never know.

There are complex reasons why Democrats from Connecticut support the insurance industry, those from Louisiana often side with the oil industry and those from Washington state protect the interests of Boeing. It isn't just the donations that are made to their campaigns. These industries also spend a lot of time and money lobbying their representatives. In doing so, they make a case for how legislation will affect not just their bottom line, but their employees and the local economies that depend on them. The line that divides a politician who has been bought off by these lobbying interests vs one who is justifiably representing their district/state is not always so clear.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Democrats and Dog Whistles

Following the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement, people of color have developed a keen sense of how racism went underground and is now often transmitted via dog whistles. It is no longer acceptable to openly use racial slurs (except, of course, among the white nationalist crowd), but there are subtle ways that people of color are excluded and dismissed every day. On the left, we sometimes like to think that this kind of thing only comes from conservatives. But any person of color will tell you that is not true.

Watching last night's debate, the dog whistle sounded early in Bernie Sanders' opening statement. I doubt that most white people noticed. But I also suspect that it was pretty clear to people of color who were watching. Here's what he said (with just a bit of context):
Millions of Americans are giving up on the political process. And they're giving up on the political process because they understand the economy is rigged.

They are working longer hours for low wages. They're worried about the future of their kids, and yet almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. Not what America is supposed to be about. Not the fairness that we grew up believing that America was about.
Take a moment to reflect on who is included in the "we" he's referring to in that last sentence. People of color have never been under the illusion that America is about fairness. That is exactly what they have been fighting for over these last 250 years.

I'm not suggesting that what Sanders said was racist. That all depends on how broadly or narrowly you define the word. But it was a subtle way of saying that, in his understanding of the problem we're facing now with fairness, the long history of people of color is dismissed and excluded.

That is essentially what Charles Blow described about a similar statement Sanders made recently.
In Sanders’s speech following the Iowa caucuses, he veered from his position that this country “in many ways was created” on “racist principles,” and instead said: “What the American people understand is this country was based and is based on fairness.” Nonwhite people in this country understand that as a matter of history and heritage this simply isn’t true, but it is a hallowed ideal for white America and one that centers the America ethos.

Indeed, the current urgency about inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are coming to live an experience that many minorities in this country have long lived — structural inequity has leapt the racial barrier — and that the legacy to which they fully assumed they were heirs is increasingly beyond their grasp.

Inequality has been a feature of the African-American condition in this country since the first black feet touched this ground.
As this country continues to move towards a day when white people are a minority, we're going to have to learn to check our assumptions for the ways in which they are centered on our white history and experience. As David Simon said after the last presidential election:
America is different now, more so with every election cycle...America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions...

We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests. And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal. That word, too, means less with every moment.

Democratic Debate: Knowing Many Things vs Knowing One Important Thing

Much of the conversation about the Democratic presidential primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton has focused on their different theories of change: idealist vs pragmatist. But recently I've been hearing about another way to capture the differences. It draws on the distinctions of Archilochus’s classic essay about the hedgehog and the fox, which can be summarized this way: "a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing." The latest commenter to use this frame is David Graham because it pretty effectively captures what happened in last nights debate.
With the New Hampshire primaries just days away, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders met on a debate stage in Durham on Thursday. In their first one-on-one matchup, the duo seemed determined to illustrate Archilochus’s classic binary between the fox, who knows many things, and the hedgehog, who knows one important thing. Sanders knows that what the country needs—the only thing it needs—is a political and economic revolution. Clinton knows the country needs progressive policies on a range of matters and a pragmatic, realistic strategy to implement them.
During the first half of the debate, the focus was on domestic issues - mainly the role that money plays in our politics and the two candidate's approach to Wall Street reforms. Here is an example of Clinton being the fox:
We both want to reign in the excesses of Wall Street. I also want to reign in the excesses of Johnson Controls that we bailed out when they were an autoparts company, and we saved the auto industry, and now they want to avoid paying taxes.
I want to go after the pharmaceutical companies like Valeant, and Turns that are increasing prices without any regard to the impact on people's health. Now, if all we're going to talk about is one part of our economy, and indeed one street in our economy, we're missing the big oil companies. We're missing other big energy companies. We're missing the big picture, and I have a record of trying to go at the problems that actually exist, and I will continue to do that.
And here is Sanders' response:
Yeah, I do. I agree with much of what the Secretary said, but, madam Secretary, it is not one street. Wall Street is an entity of unbelievable economic and political power. That's a fact.
And, I want to say something, and it may sound harsh, not to you, but to the American people. In a sense, in my view, the business model of Wall Street is fraud. It's fraud. I believe that corruption is rampant, and the fact that major bank after major bank has reached multi billion dollar settlements with the United States government when we have a weak regulator system tells me that not only did we have to bail them out once, if we don't start breaking them up, we're going to have to bail them out again, and I do not want to see that happen...
The same dynamic was visible in the second half of the debate that focused on foreign policy. Sanders continued to focus on Clinton's error in judgement when voting for George Bush's 2002 AUMF in Iraq while she dove into the complexities that we face around the globe.

Each approach - the hedgehog and the fox - has its strengths. In a world of campaign soundbites, the hedgehog provides clarity of vision. That is especially true for voters who have focused their attention on their anger at "the one important thing." On the other hand, being President of the United States as well as Commander-in-Chief requires knowledge of complex issues and the ability to craft meaningful responses. Another analogy would be to compare the candidate's poetry of campaigning vs prose of governing. As such, the hedgehog and fox binary offers each candidate a validation of their strengths and a window into where they can improve.

Hillary Clinton's Firewall

The conventional wisdom has said that Bernie Sanders will win the primary in New Hampshire next week, but then face problems when the race goes to states with a more diverse Democratic electorate like South Carolina and Nevada. Occasionally people have suggested that if Sanders performed well in the Iowa caucuses, he could see his support from people of color increase in the same way it did for Barack Obama in 2008.

Public Policy Polling just released the first national poll that was conducted after the Iowa caucuses. In it, Clinton maintained a 21 point lead (53/32) against Sanders. Her support among African Americans remained overwhelming (82/8) and she leads Sanders among Latinos (48/36). So the firewall seems to be holding.

As I have noted previously, this support among people of color is not something that Clinton is taking for granted. She recently met with 50 African American ministers in Philadelphia and received the endorsement of several activist DREAMers in Nevada. The man who Jonathan Capehart described as "the only person as revered by the black community as Obama and the first lady" - Eric Holder - has endorsed Clinton and her campaign is running an ad featuring him in selected states right now. Finally, here is the news from yesterday.
The Clinton campaign announced Wednesday that more than 170 prominent African American women leaders have endorsed the former Secretary of State in her bid to become the nation's first female president.
All of these black women will rally African American voters around Clinton's candidacy in the upcoming South Carolina primary on Feb. 27 and March primary states.
The women will serve as surrogates for Clinton, a Democrat, and according to the campaign, they will host debate watch parties, neighborhood meetings, and women-only phone banks.
The reason this is so important is because of the major role African American women have played over the last 40 years in the Democratic Party. It's not just because of their high turnout in elections and the fact that they overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates.
Finally, Black women represent a significant portion of the Rising American Electorate (RAE), an estimated 115 million eligible voters - and nearly half of the electorate - composed of unmarried women, people of color, and people under 30 years old. Black women sit at the intersection of these groups, representing just over half of the 26.9 million eligible Black voters and 19% of all eligible unmarried women voters (Lake, Ulibarri, and Treptow 2013). They also represent the most active and dependable contingent of the RAE, contributing to its growing influence and playing an essential role in building coalitions across RAE groups to influence electoral outcomes in future races.
During last nights Democratic debate, Clinton said that she was working to gain the support of the coalition Barack Obama developed in his two successful presidential campaigns. That is the firewall she is now building in this primary season.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What it Takes to Wield Power


A lot has been written over the last few years about how a Black guy named Barack Hussein Obama got elected President of the United States of America...twice. But one of the things that is rarely mentioned is that he took his background as an African American man, his experience as a community organizer and his years of studying law at Harvard and used it to develop an understanding of how to gain and wield power. In the photo above, he is teaching a class on that topic in Chicago prior to his run for the presidency.

This is one of the things that most intrigued me about the President from the beginning. By watching what he has said and done over the years, it has become clear to me that he understands the power of partnership...a kind of "power with" as opposed to the "power over" of dominance.
That seems to be something that Bernie Sanders understands as well.


But lately, both Sanders and his campaign have been engaging in rhetoric that is divisive. That erupted again a few days ago when Sanders suggested that Clinton was only a progressive on "some days." When the Clinton camp responded, he eventually tweeted this:
Sanders' supporters loved it, saying things like, "he's Bernin' it up on twitter" and "Boom. Nailed it!" I know how good it feels when your candidate lands a blow on their opponent. It's also a great demonstration of power if you assume you are involved in a competition (see four-pane power window above).

But engaging in that kind of power play is self-defeating when you are trying to build partnerships (much less start a revolution). That's exactly what Brian Beutler noticed.
One of the questions at the heart of the fight between Clinton and Sanders is whether Sanders’s promise to lead a political revolution that brings the United States closer to social democracy is credible or fantastic...
Even if you side with Team Sanders on this question, the insight that gave rise to that tweet (that pitting progressives against moderates is an effective tactic in a two-person Democratic primary) is incompatible with the goal of uniting the existing Democratic base with the unattached voters and Republicans of the white working class. It may even be incompatible with building a majority coalition in a general election.
Others, like Amanda Marcotte and Connie Schultz weighed in as well.

I am reminded of the seminal speech on building coalitions (i.e., partnerships) by Bernice Johnson Reagon. In it, she said this:
There is an offensive movement that started in this country in the 60’s that is continuing. The reason we are stumbling is that we are at the point where in order to take the next step we’ve got to do it with some folk we don’t care too much about. And we got to vomit over that for a little while. We must just keep going.
In order to wield the power of partnership with any hope of igniting a revolution, that is what is required...like it or not.

Goldman Sachs CEO Questions Sanders While His Analysts are Prepared to Question Capitalism

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, made headlines this week with a suggestion that Bernie Sanders' campaign is dangerous. Battle lines were drawn and Sen. Elizabeth Warren - who hasn't endorsed a candidate in the Democratic presidential race - weighed in.

What I found much more interesting was a note that Goldman Sachs analysts released right in the middle of all that. It starts with a recognition that corporate profit margins have maintained an elevated level (income inequality anyone?) That has happened because of things like technology, a growth in emerging markets and the ability of corporations to exploit cheap labor by moving operations overseas. In other words, all of the issues Democrats have been talking about for years now.

But Goldman Sachs analysts recognize that much of that is changing. Corporate America has squeezed all of the blood that is available out of that stone. And so they expect profit margins to begin to decrease. But here's the kicker...what happens if they don't?
Goldman wrote: "We are always wary of guiding for mean reversion. But, if we are wrong and high margins manage to endure for the next few years (particularly when global demand growth is below trend), there are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism."
In other words, profit margins should naturally mean-revert and oscillate. The existence of fat margins should encourage new competitors and pricing cycles that cause those margins to erode; conversely, at the bottom of the cycle, low margins should lead to weaker players exiting the business and giving stronger companies more breathing space. If that cycle doesn't continue, something strange is taking place.
Whoah! Goldman Sachs analysts are prepared to question capitalism if profit margins remain elevated?! Someone call Blankfein because that sounds like a Sanders or Warren campaign statement, doesn't it? On the other hand, it would be fascinating to hear what Sanders or Warren have to say about Goldman Sachs issuing such a statement.

Park this one in the place where you store items that remind us that the world is always more interesting and complex than we sometimes assume.

You Belong

I'll never forget my reaction when I heard the first two lines of a poem by David Whyte titled Self Portrait.
It doesn't interest me if there is one God or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned.
My head snapped and I wanted to hear more. As someone who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family and felt abandoned, he captured the essence of my struggle with those two lines. That's when I knew that what I was looking for was a sense that I belonged. Many people find that in their religious faith. But if it means a sole focus on getting the dogma right, it leaves us on our own.

I suspect that whether or not we've named that search for belonging, we've all felt it. That's because, as the saying goes, "no (wo)man is an island." As humans, we need a connection to others...a place to call home.

On a grand scale, that is the heart of the question we are struggling with in this country right now. Some people are trying to tell others that they don't belong because their very presence strips them of what they've come to know as home. And every social justice cause that is being fought right now is a fight for belonging.

At the heart of our country's aspirations is the idea that everyone belongs...no matter your age, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. But of course we've never lived up to that. As President Obama has encouraged us so often, it is our job to continue the work of perfecting our union and moving closer to our aspirations.

It was in that spirit that the President reached out to young Muslims in this country at the end of his speech yesterday at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. This is one of the groups that is being told that they don't belong. Fear mongering on the right suggests that they are a threat and terrorist recruiters are more than happy to capitalize on that - offering them a place of belonging in their cult of terror. So these words from President Obama were powerful.
In our lives, we all have many identities. We are sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters. We’re classmates; Cub Scout troop members. We’re followers of our faith. We’re citizens of our country. And today, there are voices in this world, particularly over the Internet, who are constantly claiming that you have to choose between your identities -- as a Muslim, for example, or an American. Do not believe them. If you’re ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States: You fit in here -- right here. You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too. You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.
That came at the end of a speech where President Obama reminded us of some facts about how Muslims have been an integral part of the this country's experience from the beginning and laid out a few principles for how we can go forward as one American family where everyone belongs. If you haven't already, you can read the whole thing here or watch it here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Long Struggle

Yesterday I asked whether or not we're looking for a therapist-in-chief during this presidential race. That was based on some comments by Democratic strategists/pundits who said that Clinton is offering solutions while Sanders is "reflecting back their feelings to people." The assumptions underlying that assessment are that people are angry/afraid and candidates need to mirror those feelings to show that they "get it."

That's one of the many reasons why I found this excerpt from a book by Erin Aubry Kaplan to be so fascinating. As an African American woman, she is writing about her initial reaction to candidate Barack Obama back in 2007. In this quote, she is explaining why she hadn't been impressed with his 2004 speech at the Democratic convention, with it's emphasis on finding "strength in unity across party and ethnic lines."
I had grown up with a fiercely activist father, a soldier of the movement and a New Orleans native who believed in justice and equality for all, but he harbored no illusions about the depth of white American resistance to both. He was committed to changing laws and behaviors; changing hearts and minds was not a reachable goal. It depended too much on feelings, and in my father’s line of work and in his own life experience, feelings were unreliable, mercurial, even dangerous, for everybody concerned. Anybody talking about feelings as they related to justice and politics had his head in the clouds or was secretly averse to the real work needed for racial progress — work that was tough, unglamorous, and distinctly unsentimental. It was also lonely. Erasing differences and coming together across color lines as a way to effect change was one of those facile ’60s utopian ideas commercialized by companies like Coca-Cola that celebrated brotherhood and equality as the good feeling Americans get singing a song or downing a soda. Now that feeling had been resurrected as a serious message for a seriously disillusioned age that seemed to be always invoking the ’60s, minus its actual events and unfinished business. The sense of possibility, of transformation being eternally on the horizon, was the only use people had for the ’60s anymore. Mainstream politics had long ago stopped talking about its hard lessons and touted only hope and rainbows, talking up the idea of change rather than the mechanics of it.
In that quote is an explanation of why African Americans like Kaplan and her father don't find their feelings reflected in presidential candidates and probably wouldn't trust one who attempted to do so.  You also see an understanding that the "real work" of change is "tough, unglamorous and distinctly unsentimental."

A lot of people have wondered why African Americans seem to be more supportive of Clinton's pragmatic approach than they are of Sanders' idealism (I know that's oversimplified, but bear with me). There are probably as many answers to that as there are African Americans. But themes do emerge. People like Kaplan and her father have learned some hard lessons about what to expect from white Americans and our politicians. The older generation still has memories of what it took to actually change segregation and dismantle the legal framework of Jim Crow. After all that, they find themselves almost 40 years later still having to assert that black lives matter, defend their right to vote, and fight to change our criminal injustice system.

In addition to Kaplan's eloquent words, perhaps this theme is best captured by the song that has become the Black National Anthem...Lift Every Voice and Sing. Take a few minutes to watch this rendition that pairs the words of the song to images of what the long struggle means.

How Women Like Hillary Clinton Learn to Maneuver in a Man's World

Rebecca Traister is onto something powerful when it comes to the difference between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
...in failing to present an upbeat take on her disagreement with Sanders, Clinton had sounded like a scold, the disciplinarian, the mean mommy, the pragmatic downer — all versions of a feminized role that she and many, many women have long found it incredibly difficult to escape...
From her entrance into the campaign, Clinton has been tagged as unlikable, as the practical buzzkill, the boring one with the wonky facts and figures and experience who’s going to show up and tell you that your big plans are impossible, but that she’s thought of some smaller and more doable fixes. Meanwhile, Sanders, who entered the race shouting righteously and correctly about a system that’s broken, has, as his campaign has strengthened, become the unlikely vehicle of idealistic hopes and dreams for America — Free college! Free health care! A $15 minimum wage! The breakup of the big banks!
What Traister has identified goes beyond what we usually focus on as sexist attacks/assumptions and tapped into the way that women like Hillary Clinton (and myself) have learned to maneuver in this "man's world."
...it falls into a very old, very well-worn gendered pattern, in which women — understanding that making promises they cannot back up will not get them taken seriously and that they must prove themselves extra-competent in order to be understood as basically competent — become the nose-to-the-grindstone wonks, easily compared to know-it-all bores like Tracy Flick and Hermione Granger. They’re the wet blankets, the ones all too acquainted with the limitations imposed by the world, and all too eager to explain their various ideas for working around them.
If you have any doubts that this is the path that is most often the one available to women, think about this:
This is a paradigm; it’s why Mom is the disciplinarian and Dad is the fun guy, why women remain the brains and organizational workhorses behind social movements while men get to be the gut-ripping orators, why so many women still manage campaigns and so many men are still candidates.
This is a paradigm I've seen both in myself as well as most of the women I've known in my professional career. It's how we've handled the dictum of "you have to be twice as good as a man to get half the recognition." We put our nose to the grindstone, worked hard and produced results. We watched as men with big dreams and lofty rhetoric often failed to actually get things done, but garnered much of the limelight. We learned that - away from that limelight is where the slow steady process of change actually happens. And yes, secretly we always hoped that someone would finally notice that.

A lot of people have commented about how President Obama would have never made it to the White House as the "angry black man." Perhaps as a result of genetics, culture and pragmatism, he learned to be cool, calm and rational. In the same way, women like Hillary Clinton know that they can't rely on lofty rhetoric to get where they want to go. It actually requires the wonky work of developing solutions. That may be a liability in a political campaign. But it's probably the best (only?) path towards electing our country's first woman president.

Ted Cruz is Executing His Game Plan

At the outset, let me say that in a field of Republican presidential candidates that is disturbing, Ted Cruz is perhaps the worst. There is a reason why no one who knows him or works with him has anything but contempt for the guy. His policy positions are downright dangerous and he is steeped in ideological authoritarianism.

The one thing Cruz has going for him is his intelligence. And that is what makes him rise above the rest in terms of the threat he poses. We saw the results of that with, not only his win in Iowa, but the way he won. Those who are simply writing it off to the high concentration of evangelical conservatives in Iowa are failing to look at the bigger picture.

Back in October I wrote that "Dubya is right to worry about Cruz." Let's review some of why I said that.

One way to judge a candidate's performance is in the amount of money his campaign is raising - especially from small donors. As I noted a couple of days ago, right now Ted Cruz is leading the field on that one with the most cash on hand and 42% of his contributions coming from people who gave $200 or less.

Yesterday the editorial board of the Des Moines Register noted that Cruz won Iowa the old-fashioned way.
As Monday night’s caucus results showed, Cruz’s strategy, which included at least one visit to each of Iowa’s 99 counties, paid off. He slogged his way across Iowa by car and by bus, stopping in small-town cafes and gymnasiums, while his biggest threat, Donald Trump, traveled by personal jet and by helicopter to large-scale rallies.
The victory was all the more significant given the gains Trump had made in the final Iowa polls leading up to the caucus.
This is how presidential campaigns tend to work in Iowa. They are grounded in hundreds of small, intimate gatherings in which a few dozen people get some actual one-on-one face time with the candidates.
You might respond by saying, "that's Iowa, but it's not how it will work going forward." You'd be right. But it demonstrates that Cruz figured out how to win in Iowa. And as Nick Corasaniti noted months ago:
For every county in the first four voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the Cruz campaign has locked down county chairs in charge of not just lending their names to the campaign, but of spearheading outreach and organizing efforts…
The focus on the ground game should come as no surprise, as the Cruz campaign has been heavily focused on building leadership teams…It has also focused on building issue-based teams in the early states, such as their “99 Iowa Pastors” initiative, which seeks to tap into the networks to build more grass-roots support.
I suspect that Cruz won't pull off any surprises in New Hampshire. The focus there is likely to be on which "establishment candidate" has the best showing. Cruz is focusing on what comes after that and before the big splash on Super Tuesday.
Cruz also has a plan beyond Iowa. He has referred to the March 1 “SEC primary,” in which eight Southern states go to the polls, as his “firewall”: that is, a backstop against whatever losses he might sustain beforehand. This year, these Southern states will go to the polls before Florida and before the traditional Super Tuesday, a change in the primary calendar instituted by RNC chairman Reince Priebus. Most of those contests, unlike the ones that precede them, are not winner-take-all, and Cruz’s goal is to win the most delegates rather than to take entire states.
All of this is, of course, balanced by the fact that Cruz is despised among a lot of Republicans (not to mention Democrats). But he's got a game plan and is executing it pretty well so far.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Do We Really Want a Therapist-in-Chief?

Tell me where you've heard analysis like this before:
[Candidate A] appears to be connecting more effectively than [Candidate B] with how certain voter groups feel about the economy and the country’s future, whereas [Canidate B] has been focused more on offering solutions rather than giving voice to their concerns.

“[Candidate B's] message has tended to focus on solutions and not really reflect back to people the feelings that they have. [Candidate A] is reflecting back to people their feelings."
That is a bit of a paraphrase of what Greg Sargent is hearing from some political consultants about the contest between Bernie Sanders (Candidate A) and Hillary Clinton (Candidate B). While not stated specifically, the feelings being referred to here seem to be the fear and anger "about the economy and the country's future" that so many people are talking about during this election.

The first thing I noticed is that this is also what we've been hearing for years now about President Obama in comparison to Republicans. It all started back in 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when folks like Maureen Dowd and James Carville expressed their need for a daddy-president.
President Spock’s behavior is illogical.

Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.

“This president needs to tell BP, ’I’m your daddy,’ “ scolded James Carville, a New Orleans resident, as he called Barack Obama’s response to Louisiana’s new watery heartbreak “lackadaisical.”
At least Carville had the wisdom to eventually admit that he was wrong about President Obama - who was actually busy working on solutions rather than reflecting our fears. Maureen Dowd has simply been joined by a chorus of others echoing her belief that it is the job of the President of the United States to "reflect back to the people their feelings." The most recent episode being when a lot of people thought he didn't express enough anger and fear about ISIS after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

I have to admit that I am totally mystified about where this assumption comes from. I would suggest that if you need someone to "reflect your feelings back to you," it's probably time to see a therapist. To the extent that we think that it is more important for a leader to do that than it is for them to focus on solutions, we seem to be in search of catharsis more than actual progress.

If we are talking about the idea that it is a leader's job to inspire people to engage with the solutions they are offering, that is a valid question. And like it or not, that is a weakness for Hillary Clinton that is not likely to change. But seriously...when did it become the job of a POTUS to validate our fear and anger? Can someone help me out with that?

The Questions at Stake in the Democratic Presidential Primary

Democrats are in the midst of a tough presidential primary and there are times when that battle puts out more heat than light. But Bryce Covert provides some much-needed perspective.
But the largest difference between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders is not over policy...There is scant daylight between them on most issues and certainly almost all of the causes near and dear to Democrats’ and progressives’ hearts.
If your reaction is to dismiss that as untrue, take a look at this:
Here is a partial list of the policies that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders largely agree on: The country should have paid family leave; the minimum wage should be substantially increased; college students shouldn’t have to take on so much debt; parents need more affordable, quality child care and preschool options; Wall Street needs further reforms; health care should be universal; the wealthy should pay substantially more in taxes. Many of these are new policies even for Democratic presidential candidates. Despite using the socialist label, Mr. Sanders sounds a lot like many prominent Democrats. Mrs. Clinton is a tried and true liberal.
Covert's point is that what separates Clinton and Sanders is not those goals, but the issue that is taking up a lot of ink from liberal pundits lately: their different theories of change.
The largest difference, and therefore what the Democratic Party is truly grappling with, is not about two different visions of the party. The choice is between two theories of change. It’s the difference between working the system and smashing it.
Much of the discussion about these different theories has focused on which one is more likely to be successful against Republican extremism and intransigence. The truth is that no one has seriously cracked that nut yet. But underneath it are other questions. For Clinton pragmatists, the idea of "smashing the system" is reckless and the outcomes are too unpredictable. For Sanders idealists, "working the system" is insufficient for the level of change that is needed. So the issue is at least as much about how to get there as it is about efficacy.

Those are the issues Democrats should be debating in this presidential primary. Accusations of complicity with corporate interests, dishonesty and lack of integrity are distractions that are divisive and could hurt liberals in the general election against Republicans. As then-Senator Barack Obama said back in 2005, here is what is at stake:
I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.
Republicans are doing all they can to "dumb down the political debate" in search of a cynical, selfish electorate. Democrats can (and should) do better than that.

Iowa Caucuses: Game-Changer for GOP, Status Quo for Democrats

As we all know by now, who turns out to caucus in Iowa is the key to winning. Here is how the Des Moines Register called that one:
Republicans counted more than 180,000 caucusgoers, topping their 2012 attendance record of 121,503 by an estimated 60,000 people.
And while Democratic numbers weren’t completely tallied at the time of this publication, all indications pointed to a robust performance, although not likely to top the roughly 240,000 total who showed up in 2008 to vote for a Democratic rock-star field led by Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.
Going into last night, the conventional wisdom was that high turnout meant a victory for Trump and Sanders. That's not how things turned out. Ted Cruz won on the Republican side and Democrats ended up in what Sanders called "a virtual tie" with Clinton eking out the smallest of victories.

The shock waves of what happened to the Republican field are the real story this morning. It's not only that Cruz won, it is also that Trump underperformed and Rubio did better than expected in his third place finish. And so the trajectory of the GOP race has been altered a bit. Going into New Hampshire, it is now a three-man race between Cruz, Trump and Rubio - with Rubio the clear standard bearer for the "establishment" wing of the party. That's because Bush, Kasich and Christie didn't get out of the low single digits in their percentage of vote totals last night, while Rubio came within striking distance of actually beating Trump.

One of the big questions going forward will be whether Trump actually has the campaign organization to get voters to the polls. That's how Cruz beat him last night. While its true that the ground game matters more in a caucus state than it does in traditional primaries, it is not clear right now whether polling is doing an accurate job of identifying "likely" voters when it comes to Donald Trump. We'll have to wait and see how that plays out in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The results on the Democratic side don't alter the race going forward as much. They probably won't impact what happens in New Hampshire - where Sanders is likely to pick up a big win - or in subsequent states where Clinton is expected to do better. In other words, neither candidate changed the overall trajectory of the race. As Nate Cohn says, that is better news for Clinton.
But in the end, a virtual tie in Iowa is an acceptable, if not ideal, result for Mrs. Clinton and an ominous one for Mr. Sanders. He failed to win a state tailor made to his strengths.
Here is how Jeremy Bird summed it up:
Sanders needed a great showing in Iowa to build the kind of momentum he will need going into South Carolina, Nevada and the Super Tuesday states where Clinton has the advantage right now. That didn't happen last night.

When it comes to the race going forward, the Iowa caucuses gave us a bit of a game-changer for Republicans and more of the status quo for Democrats.