O-H-I-O. Not Just a Song By the Pretenders. Or CSNY.

Long-time readers of this blog – all two of you – might remember that in 2008 I was posting a lot in terms election prognosticating.  I haven’t done nearly so much this year.  Part of the difference is that I’ve been flat-out busy the last month or so with paying work and the other part is that I’ve concluded there’s almost zero value I can add to a discussion on this topic.  Everybody I know checks Nate Silver every morning (and afternoon and evening) along with Real Clear Politics, Votamatics and the other sites that aggregate, evaluate and weigh polling data.  What was once the purview of high-priced consultants and their client campaigns is now available to all of us for the price of a mouse click.

As of this morning, Silver is making the following predictions:


Continue reading “O-H-I-O. Not Just a Song By the Pretenders. Or CSNY.”

So What’ll It Be, “Change” or “Trust”?

The only remotely credible reason for voting or Mitt Romney is that with him comes a loosening of political gridlock and the possibility that something will get done in DC.

What “something” means to those inclined to this argument is almost entirely economic — which is valid as far as it goes in the face of the sluggishness of the heavily obstructed, politically hobbled recovery. But “something” is also inchoate. The middle-class choose to believe “something” will be good for them. But only a very special few have any genuine, realistic hopes of benefiting from a Romney-induced “recovery”.

In his column this morning, David Brooks of The New York Times imagines the effects of the next four years under Barack Obama or Romney. Essentially, he boils it to: Stasis with Obama. A repeat of the last four (or two) years. While under Romney, the GOP’s insurgent wing will move from obstruction of concepts and legislation their adult leaders once supported but reversed and walled off in their single-minded determination to destroy Obama’s presidency (national crisis be damned). Correctly, Brooks reminds readers that GOP politicians, most in gerrymandered-safe districts, are far more fearful of being thrown out of office by a right-wing, Tea Party challenge than the implausible rise of some populist Democrat. A Romney presidency would, he argues, neutralize the Tea Party and relax its grip around the throats of “moderate” Republicans, whoever they are.

Brooks of course is persona non grata with Republican insurgents, and has previously expressed his concerns that no voter anywhere has any idea what Romney will actually do, since the man has at some point over the past six years been both for and against every major issue under debate and has been resolute in avoiding anything remotely specific when it comes to economic management.

In these final days, with closing arguments reduced to “change” (Romney) and “trust” (Obama), I suspect voters swayed by Romney’s message are buying into Brooks’ thesis — that with Romney, “something” will at least change, where with Obama it’ll be another four years of trench warfare.

It goes without saying I’m unimpressed with the quality of deductive reasoning on display in that acceptance. In addition to avoiding a deeper analysis of what kind of “change” Romney is talking about (and who could possibly know, beyond loosening the fetters on “job creators”?), the crowd that wishfully chooses to believe that is simply impatient, and prepared to gamble that more trickle down good for them will come from a return to George W. Bush-style economics/regulation than steady, incremental recovery (from Bush economics) under Obama.

Obama plainly has the more coherent, empirically rooted argument. He has by and large done what he promised to do four years ago. The economy was saved from complete collapse. The government did have to extend credit to the auto industry, and that worked. The stimulus protected millions of jobs. The unemployment rate is falling. The housing industry is recovering. Obamacare will begin driving down every businesses ruinous cost of health care and millions more will be covered than two years ago.  (OK, Guantanamo is still open. But as with home loan modification, full financial industry oversight and re-regulation, GOP obstruction is far more to blame than any other factor).

In stark contrast to a guy who has said everything and yet nothing, Obama’s “trust” argument is more logically resonant. But logic isn’t always what carries elections.

If logic and “trust” mattered there’d be a graver reaction to Romney’s shameless lie of the day — the bit about Obama shipping “all” Jeep manufacturing to China, a claim he apparently pulled off a right-wing blog which mangled it from a Bloomberg story. Worse, when called on it, by the media and Chrysler management, Team Romney’s response was to — double down on the lie.

Point being, “trust” is an antonym for Mitt Romney.

But there are valid questions attached to the Obama-brings-more-of-the-same concern. I also wonder what a second term Obama will be able to do. Avoiding complete conservative control of the Supreme Court is reason enough to reelect him. But … can he use the threat of the “fiscal cliff” to re-set the revenue equations to middle-class advantage? (As opposed to relying on the largesse of the upper classes to toss some crumbs over the castle walls.) No one can possibly know.

On the other hand, you know with absolute certainty that Romney will provide tax relief for the wealthy, many of whom have bolstered their holdings through the recession by increasing the “productivity” of their remaining work force, and have no reason at all to return to pre-2008 wage and benefit scales.

But really, what other trick does the GOP have, other than obstruction? I do not see either Mitch McConnell or Eric Cantor adopting a conciliatory line to a second-term Obama. Both of those guys’ careers depends on remaining hyper-partisan warriors. If you like operating on a worst-case scenario basis, you can only expect them to double-down obstruction, like Mitt Romney with his shameless lie of the day.

What I hope … hope … Obama will do is accept his political reality, re-set his tactics and rally both his base (liberals disappointed with his willingness to deal collegially with one-note adversaries solely focused on his destruction) and the sympathetic middle class to high indignation over the lack of functional patriotism in the GOP’s obstruction.

Even the narrowest reelection victory is a mandate for “change”.





Tell Us Why You Care — Obama or Romney?

We get pretty rowdy on this blog when we talk politics. Clearly we care about this election and the issues before the country. And, amazingly, we occasionally listen to each other. Bless you all for reading and participating.

Let’s get personal. The election is on — we can vote already in Florida.

Each of you has three sentences. I’m voting for Romney because… I’m voting for Obama because… I’m voting for Johnson because… I’m skipping voting and getting drunk instead because…

Tell us why you’re voting for your guy, and also why you’re not voting for the other guy.

I’ll start:

I’m voting for Barack Obama because his views and instincts on everything I value are consistent with mine: environmental protection, alternative energy, human rights, education, affordable health care, and the fact that everybody counts. He also is always thinking long-term; not just about what might work now, but what will be best for the whole country and the planet over many years. I can’t stand Mitt Romney because he’s BushCheney redux, he represents and will serve those who already have it made, and he’ll do or say anything to get in the position to serve those like himself. — Bruce Benidt

OK — your turn:

What We Learned From Four Debates.

1. Say what you believe.
2. Short is better than long.
3. Be specific…
4. But don’t get buried in detail.
5. What you do matters more than what you say.
6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit.
7. Don’t whine to the moderator.

So, from a communications coach who never took a debate class, here’s my view, presented at lower decibel levels than when I yelled at the TV screen over the past weeks.

1. Say what you believe. When Mitt Romney said in the last debate that Putin wouldn’t get more flexibility after the election, as President Obama had told him, “He’ll get more spine,” it was a solid hit. Romney believes that, it’s not just a message point, he believes he’s a tough negotiator. He said it with conviction and it rang true. Not true in an ultimate sense, but true in his voice, in his guts. And when Obama said several times in the second and third debates, “Governor, everything you said is just not true,” he had more color and variety and inflection in his voice than in his other points. “You’re the last person who’ll get tough on China,” Obama said, with a solid ring. Even though that was no doubt a practiced line, the president believes it, and you could tell it in the passion in his voice. The stuff he said before that was just blah-blah and he delivered it to the moderator — then he turned to Romney and said it to his face, “Governor, you’re the last…”

In my coaching, i have people start a talk or an interview with what they most believe. No warm-ups, no preliminaries, get what you care about out right away. It brings out the real person, not the practiced person or the image one has decided to project. Imagine — say what you believe. It comes out more concise, in more conversational language, and with more of the speaker’s personality and passion engaged and evident.

2. Shorter is better. Obama often went on too long. He’d make a strong point, but had to layer on more context, which obscured the original point. Romney’s “He’ll get more spine” was powerful because it was short. So was Biden’s “But I always say what I believe” when Paul Ryan said Biden knows about how words don’t always come out the way one wants them to. Romney looked the worst when he was challenged and would go into a filibuster, flooding the room with verbiage in a faster higher voice that made him sound like a kid trying to explain about the cookie jar.

Say what you have to say and shut up.

3. Be specific… Assertions with no examples or specifics to back them up are just marketing blather. I’ll cut the budget. HOW? WHAT? Obama said Romney’s foreign policy is the same as Bush’s. How much stronger to back up that assertion with “Seventeen of your twenty-four advisers on foreign policy served in the Bush administration that got us involved in a disastrous war on false pretenses. Why should we believe you’ll do any better with this crowd?”

4. But don’t get buried in detail. When Obama explained for the second and then the third time, in the first debate, how his health care board was constructed and what it would do, you knew he was toast. Too much ‘splainin’. The point is — “Would you rather have insurance companies deciding what gets covered and for how much, or representatives of patients and medical staff?”

5. What you do matters more than what you say. Obama lost the first debate before he had two sentences out of his mouth. As so many have observed, he looked down, he looked pissed, he looked like this whole thing was just too stupid for words. Watch Bill Clinton in his recent talks for Obama — the guy’s alive, having fun, smiling — you want to hear him. In the second debate, Romney walking up to the president and saying, over and over like a petulant kid, “Have you looked at your pension, have you looked at your pension…” looked like a jerk and gave the president an opening for a smartass cutting retort. Which brings us to…

6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit. Obama said “My pension isn’t as big as yours, Governor, it doesn’t take me that long to look at it.” Clever, made his supporters feel good, and probably doesn’t sway anyone. Same with “Horses and bayonets” and “The unraveling of the Obama foreign policy” and all the canned talking points and practiced zingers. They sound canned and practiced. Real people respond to people who sound like real people. Even better if they actually are real people who speak like people in my Point 1.

7. Don’t whine to the moderator. When Romney kept saying to the moderator that the president had the first answer so he should get the next one and that he should be able to finish — he looked like the dweeb running for student council vice president. And when Obama did the same, he sure as hell didn’t look like a man who could run a country or stand up to Putin or Boehner or anyone.

I’ve said many times I’d like to see debates with no moderator. The two candidates in a room, start the camera, see what happens, no rules. And in another debate have a town hall audience, they ask questions, but no moderator, see how these two people handle themselves as human beings.

I believe the more a person is himself or herself — not some practiced line-spewer — the more people respond.

But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong (thanks, Dennis Miller).

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from npr.org)

“Vision” and “leadership” with neither clarity or courage.

By the quaint standards of the “reality based” community, Barack Obama “won” last night’s debate handily. He offered a serious, nuanced view of how foreign policy works with ideological zealots like Iran — (News flash: It’s a wee bit more complicated than “projecting strength” or buying more boats for the Navy). But command of nuanced reality isn’t what matters in politics.

Mitt Romney’s people are sounding quite pleased that their guy once again avoided damage. And he did it as he always has, by maintaining a nearly completely opaque wall around what he would actually do about any of the serious problems of our times. … other than “keeping America strong and confident and creating 12 million new jobs” … details to follow … maybe … talk to my scheduling secretary.

Thanks to the heavily negotiated/litigated rules for these debates (and for the moderators), the mano a mano phase of the campaign has ended with no discussion at all of social issues, like abortion, the Republican machine’s anti-gay marriage and Voter ID initiatives and … oh, yeah … climate change. The latter of which might have some very serious impacts on “foreign policy” in the not at all distant future.

I’m certain that if Romney had been asked what he would do about carbon emissions he would have assured us that he has a “vision” to act with clarity, authority and strong leadership … without ever actually being clear, or demonstrating any kind of authoritative grasp of the subject matter and therefore betraying a profound lack of personal courage, a principal asset of leadership.

The fact there is a debate designated solely to foreign policy is because earnest thinkers believe presidents are never more presidential than when managing international conflicts and crises. This plays in the face of the fact that your average persuadable voter is far more interested in which guy will put more money in his pocket, and probably knows so little about international geography he thinks Iran and Syria share a common border. With that in mind the Romney strategy of avoiding mistakes — by again saying nothing and revealing nothing while suggesting something strong and leader-ly — pretty well satisfied their campaign needs for another night.

Since Obama clearly demonstrated both a willingness to debate the interlocking mechanics of foreign policy and remind voters of how he’s already pulled that off, I won’t bore you with a lot of moderator-bashing. Except to say … veteran journalist Bob Schieffer seemed content to play clock keeper and wallpaper. Schieffer knows enough about the nitty-gritty of foreign policy to have interjected a much deserved “and how, exactly … ” a couple dozen times last night. But as I say, his role has been negotiated down to an edge-less nub by strategists for the two campaigns.

My newest brain storm:  A channel that runs the debates on a five-minute delay with “real-time” fact-checking for your average “apology tour” and “private credit was available to GM” moments. That gimmick would have spared the crowd at our debate party last night a lot of spontaneous profanity. (I hope the friend of our friend from St. Paul wasn’t horrified when a scene from “Casino” broke out … three or four times.)

Barring an October surprise from one of the GOP’s leading intellectual lights — like Donald Trump — my prediction is Obama will win by something around 1.5% and a bit less than 300 electoral votes.

But as a kind of horror movie thought experiment consider the psycho-dynamics of a Romney presidency.

In George W.Bush liberals like myself saw a guy manifestly unequipped to be President of the United States. Intellectually lazy, glib to a fault, dismissive of any countering logic, content to be steered by authority figures out of a past generation and incapable of serious reflection and self-criticism. … but affable. A guy you probably would have a beer with. (Dick Cheney … well, only if I could slip sodium pentothal into his mug.) And all our original fears were born out in a genuinely disastrous administration. It was an eight year-run of reckless foreign adventurism and profligate spending that will require another 10 years of repair to set right … assuming we don’t reignite it.

But Bush had friends when he arrived in the White House. Not those who egged his limo on the way to the inauguration, but within his party. People who liked him, personally. Does Mitt Romney?

Based on the primary season I think we can conclude that Romney is despised nearly as much by his own party as a Democrats and liberals. His insular, highly deceptive “leadership style” has quite thoroughly infuriated his own party, and liberals, again judging from my contacts and the venom thrown at his image last night, deeply, genuinely and with multiple valid reasons hold him in utter contempt. I have to go back to Richard Nixon for a candidate whose personal ethic I find as loathsome as Mitt Romney’s.

And that would be his situation at the start … widespread contempt and deep mistrust, with abundant good reason —  before the first shell is lobbed in the political wars. And well before he could commence his vision to “bring America together” … through strength and clarity and leadership … details to follow.

Come Home America; Rest Ye, George McGovern

Decent. Public servant. A man who truly cared about all Americans.

George McGovern. Probably had no chance of being president. A good man who played by the rules up against a psychotic criminal.

Late — late — summer night in 1972. I’m driving back to Camp Ihduhapi west of Minneapolis after a night out. McGovern is giving his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention and I pull over on the dirt road into camp to listen. Democrats then were an unruly bunch, and reforms, led by McGovern, in how delegates were selected led to an excess of inclusiveness and a raucous convention that droned on and pushed McGovern’s speech way past prime time into the wee hours.

“Come home, America,” McGovern called out over the radio waves. 1968 had been chaos in Chicago and all over the world. Richard Nixon barely beat Hubert Humphrey and began a reign of lies and paranoia unmatched in our history. We didn’t know it that late night in 1972, but Nixon was deep in dirty tricks and cover-ups that would taint America for years and cost this dear country credibility and strain the faith of a generation. What Nixon did in the dark was matched by what he did in broad daylight. His secretary of state, war criminal Henry Kissinger, announced on the eve of the election that “Peace is at hand” in Vietnam. Utter bullshit and they knew it. Lying bastards.

McGovern was slaughtered in the election. He’d caught the presidential bug in the tumult of 1968 when he stood in for the assassinated Robert Kennedy at the convention. He felt he had to stand up to Nixon’s lies four years later.

George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale. Good, decent people from the Midwest, people of no great wealth and with no great lust for power. Trying to serve their country beyond what they’d done for their states and the nation in the U.S. Senate. None made it to the presidency. Perhaps too good, too decent.

McGovern was the last major candidate who seriously talked about the poor in America. Remember the poor? The poverty rate in America was about 12 percent when McGovern ran for president — it’s about 15 percent now. Sorry, George.

McGovern in his “Come home America” speech talked about his opponent getting secret money from the privileged few. Oh, George, 40 years later, how much more, how much more.

McGovern said, “I believe that the destiny of America is always safer in the hands of the people than in the conference rooms of any elite.” Ah, George, George meboy.

McGovern said, “As one whose heart has ached for the past ten years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt a senseless bombing of Indochina on Inaugural Day. There will be no more Asian children running ablaze from bombed-out schools. There will be no more talk of bombing the dikes or the cities of the North. And within 90 days of my inauguration, every American soldier and every American prisoner will be out of the jungle and out of their cells and then home in America where they belong. And then let us resolve that never again will we send the precious young blood of this country to die trying to prop up a corrupt military dictatorship abroad.”

George, George. We wish it were so, don’t we, George.

McGovern said that he and Thomas Eagleton, his vice presidential nominee and a favorite of Jon Austin, “Will call America home to the ideals that nourished us from the beginning. From secrecy and deception in high places; come home, America. From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation; come home, America. From the entrenchment of special privileges in tax favoritism; from the waste of idle hands to the joy of useful labor; from the prejudice based on race and sex; from the loneliness of the aging poor and the despair of the neglected sick — come home, America. Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream.”

His words blew away on the midnight Minnesota wind, and his campaign was beaten by mendacity. But he was a good man, with a dream, and he made a difference in the heart of this nation.

Bless you George McGovern. Dead now, but a living example of the kind of person we might choose as leaders.

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo of McGovern and Eagleton from pbs.org)

Nienstedt = Genius

More Freud than friar?

Roman Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt is a genius. Stay with me here.

I’ve been struggling to reconcile the Archbishop’s fervent support of the Marriage Amendment and his intolerance of any form of dissent from his flock including the priestly shepherds that tend his parishes, with the catholic teachings of Jesus Christ I received in Catholic grade school.

My unsuccessful attempts to do so were wearing on me until a recent jog around Lake Harriet took me past the occasional “another catholic voting no” yard sign.  Then it hit me. This guy is a freakin’ genius. Think about it. What is the easiest way to get a Catholic to do something? Tell him he can’t. So what does the Archbishop do? He tells his flock not to oppose the Marriage Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. Brilliant. Tell me adultery is a sin and I want to adult all over the place. I must keep holy the Sabbath? Now you can’t keep me from raking those leaves on Sunday.

But this may not be enough. Catholics aren’t easily roused from their Sunday morning sleepwalk to and from church. So this human behavioral savant goes even further. He tells you that if you are a good Catholic, you will not dissent. You will keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told, or risk eternal damnation. Very clever. We should put this guy on the childhood obesity problem. We’d be losing kids down sewer grates they’d be so skinny.

Of course, you can lead a Catholic to communion, but you can’t make him drink (the wine). We’re going to need more of the Archbishop’s reverse psychology. Or would it be reverse theology? Regardless, this man of God knows he needs to stoke more indignation in these sacramental somnambulists. So he drafts condescending letters read at masses throughout the Archdiocese by priests, some of whom may even secretly oppose the amendment. Genius. Do or say what you will to me, but silence my beloved priest and make him take part in these kabuki sermons and I am just about ready to go out and buy a lawn sign.

Not enough? You’re right. Plant a priest and a married couple in high school auditoriums to address the topic with high school seniors eligible to vote in November. Then, secretly instruct the couple to equate homosexuality with bestiality. See what he’s doing here? If you can’t light a fire under these people, go after their kids. That’ll make them “oppose you.” (wink, wink) And just to be safe, point a reporter in the direction of a two-year-old response to a woman with a gay son and highlight the passage where the Archbishop mentions her eternal salvation is in jeopardy. Wow.

Is this the result of reverse theology at work?

Do you get it now? He is obviously using Jesuit jujitsu to get the Catholic faithful to oppose the amendment. The alternative is just too soulless to even consider.  I realize that by uncovering the Archbishop’s genius, I hazard curtailing his plan’s effectiveness. But I’ve heard so many fellow Catholics wrestling with this, I think it’s worth the risk to give them some peace between now and November. So fear not Minnesota Catholics, Archbishop Nienstedt has a plan, and it’s working. Just maybe not the way most people think.