“I Voted.” Small sticker, precious step

Today I’m as powerful as Sheldon Adelson, Sean Hannity, Paul Ryan, John Roberts, David Axelrod or Elizabeth Warren.

My vote counts as much as each of theirs. And as I cast my vote today my heart lifted. I could feel it. For too many months I’ve been worrying and griping and moaning and arguing and living in fear of the unthinkable. An hour ago I took action. I feel empowered.

img_5163Our country has flaws. Disparity of rich and poor. Gross overconsumption of the planet’s resources. Poor education and a paucity of hope for too many. A system designed by those who already have the most to assure they get more. And our election system is far from perfect. Voter suppression. Hanging chads. Too much influence by the wealthiest. Gerrymandered districts that permit little challenge to incumbents.

But I just cast a vote that counts the same as Barack Obama’s. And it will be counted. The regular citizens who handed me the ballot and watched me slide it in the machine are the volunteer custodians of the dream the founders dreamed. My Uncle Bob died in World War II to protect the vote I cast today. John Lewis had his skull cracked to preserve the right of all of us to not just speak up about where we’re going as a country but to put our hands on the wheel.

There was a man standing at the corner of the street that leads to our local government center where Lisa and I voted. He was showing the world a life-size picture of Hillary Clinton behind bars. I firmly believe he’ll be disappointed a week from today. And as we drove past him I felt less of the despair I’ve been feeling for months, despair that the candidate he supports might actually, how could this possibly be true, win the election. I felt less depressed because I had just taken action. I had voted. To turn away that man’s vision and to bring my own closer to the light.

In a world full of despots I stood up and said to the preposterous, self-absorbed, ignorant, immature poseur who would be president: “I banish thee. Slink back under the foul rock you crawled out from. Begone.” Little old me, a guy of scant power, wealth or influence. But a guy with a vote.

In the car, Lisa and I did a Barack-Michelle fist bump. Is this a great country or what?

— Bruce Benidt

Hillary — Meet the Press, Dammit

Let’s just say it out loud: Hillary Clinton is wrong, selfish, stupid and irresponsible to not hold regular press conferences. Or at least one for goodness sake.

She is either a coward, or her ambition has crowded out her soul and what shreds of ethics she may still keep in a jar by the door.

If you read Carl Bernstein’s book A Woman in Charge, you’ll take this great journalist’s view that her ambition leads her to do whatever it takes to get to where she wants to go. Whatever it takes.

Including spurning much of the media. She hasn’t had a news conference in almost nine months. Yes she does some interviews one-on-one. Yes she calls in to some chosen news shows. Yes she sat down with Chris Wallace of Fox, one of the best, most fair and toughest interviewers out there. And she stuck her foot in her mouth.

But this is part of how you let America see you. You meet the press. This is part of what we voters deserve. To see how you handle tough inquiries from reporters in an uncontrollable scrum. Unruly? Sure. Unpredictable? Yes, thank god. And an important part of democracy. The media is not part of your marketing department, Madame Secretary. I’ve worked with a few public relations clients who felt that way. It’s wrong. It’s cynical.

Listening to Clinton answer journalists like Anderson Cooper’s questions on why she doesn’t hold a press conference is excruciating. If Clinton listens to herself she must shiver like someone tasting spoiled milk, or like John McCain every night when he realizes he’s gone another day without retracting his endorsement of Donald Trump. “Well Anderson I talk to lots of reporters, as I am right now with you, and I have done hundreds of interviews and…” blah blah blah. Answer the question. Answer them all.

Are you a less-skilled communicator than Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale’s VP nominee, who in 1984 took questions from 200 reporters for nearly two hours about shady financial dealings she and her husband were accused of? She stood there and took everything they could throw at her. And here’s Ragan’s PR Daily’s assessment of the outcome, from a 2011 piece on Ferraro’s death:

It helped reverse the narrative that she was not transparent;

It turned her into a more sympathetic figure;

It offered Ferraro a vital opportunity to show her mettle as a female candidate who could endure the intensity of the media’s scrutiny.

Don’t you have Ferraro’s guts, don’t you have what it takes, Madame Secretary? Is that why you’re hiding?

I’m a former daily newspaper reporter and a former college journalism teacher and I believe deeply in the role of the free press in helping us make crucial civic decisions. Those who avoid the press, who seek only to manipulate it and use it for their own ends, are putting their own interests before the best interests of the country. It’s wrong. It’s pathetic. Stop hiding, Hillary. Let us see how you handle tough times. Yes, we’ve seen you stand up to tough questioning before, as with the House Benghazi committee. Get out there again. Regularly.

Your failure to meet the press undermines any criticism you rightly make about Donald Trump’s despicable and willful refusal to release his tax returns. His failure is greater, but it’s on the same scale of cowardly hiding of what the public has a right and duty to know and understand.

Some people in your campaign are saying you’re playing a “run down the clock” campaign now, lying low to not blow your lead. If you are doing that, you risk my vote. I’m very liberal, I agree with you on most policy positions, but your actions are showing deep character flaws. I hope you thank god every night that the idiot Republicans have put up a barbarian to run against you. An actual human being would defeat you. And you’d deserve it.

— Bruce Benidt

Tattered Schools Not Trickle-Down

I preach to my communications clients — “Talk about results, not process. Or at least results before process.” What the hell does that mean? “Your kids’ schools and your roads are falling apart because too many wealthy people and corporations dodge paying the taxes that support the things we all need.”

Tell me what something means in my life before you tell me how it got there.

So here’s Hillary Clinton doing it right. According to The New York Times, Clinton told a crowd in Cleveland Wednesday, “We’re going to tax the wealthy who have made all of the income gains in the last 15 years. The super wealthy, corporations, Wall Street, they’re going to have to invest in education, in skills training, in infrastructure.”

Results not process. Not “let’s change the carried-interest clause,” but “let’s tax the people who’ve made all the money while your income has been stuck or fallen.” And why are we going to tax those who are making the increases? “They’re going to have to invest…” Invest. Pay your fair share to support the things we all use. That seems clear. That seems fair. Voters can get that.

When liberals talk about how trickle-down hasn’t worked, it means something to them but not much to regular human beings. But if you say “The wealthiest aren’t paying their share to support the things all of us, including them, need, and so our schools have no arts programs and barely enough teachers and the roads you drive on are falling apart and our libraries are closed on Saturday afternoons…” people might get it.

Results not process. Hard for a policy wonk like Clinton to not get stuck in the details of what dials she wants to turn to improve things. Hard to say “Here’s what will work better if we turn this dial.”

Clinton can make this work if she talks about results most people would think are needed and fair. Don’t talk about “the common weal” as we Progressives like to do. Talk about the neighborhood school that has 35 kids in a class while Wall Street speculators are lightly taxed on their million-dollar  bonuses, each of which would fund 10 new teachers.

And then she can talk about who pays taxes and who doesn’t. Donald Trump proudly says he works very hard (and spends lotsa dough on expensive lawyers and accountants) to avoid as much tax as possible. He’s proud that he contributes nothing to your local school or police force. Proud of that.

And for those who think The New York Times is liberal and shilling for Hillary, Thursday’s story about her criticism of Trump’s plan to reduce taxes on the rich ends with her saying that Trump doesn’t need a tax cut, and “I don’t need a tax cut.” The story doesn’t mention that Bill and Hillary paid 31 percent in taxes on their income in 2015. Nor does it mention that we don’t know what — if anything, if anything — Trump paid, because he won’t release his returns.

Keep making the tax point about fairness, Hillary, about who’s paying to support the cops and the teachers and the roads we all use. And who isn’t. Don’t focus on the policies. Focus on the schools.

Years ago, when I was still with Shandwick, the global public relations firm, we helped Minnesota and national Indian tribes fight off an attempt by commercial casinos — including Trump’s — to erode the national law that gave tribes the ability to run casinos. Trump et. al. wanted what the Indians had. (Heck, we’ve taken their land, their languages, their religion, their health, their food source, their hope — why not take the economic development tool that’s working for them?) Part of our campaign was showing a picture of a school and a picture of a yacht. Which should public policy support? Another yacht for the wealthy, or a decent school on a poor reservation? Seems pretty clear. And the tribes won that fight.

— Bruce Benidt

 

Hillary’s Perfect “How Not To” Crisis Case Study

“Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself.” These are Lanny Davis’s guidelines for crisis communications.

Hillary Clinton has violated all of them. And that’s why the email albatross is still screeching around her neck, making the majority of Americans feel she’s not truthful. Clinton’s email mess and her increasing obfuscation and dodging is the quintessential example of a crisis so poorly handled that it is never allowed to die. She shot herself in the left foot by setting up a private email system, and she continues to shoot off toe after toe on her own right foot with increasingly obtuse loads of bullshit which are crippling her campaign and destroying her credibility.crisis-tales-9781451679298_hr

Lanny Davis helped Bill Clinton through Monica and impeachment, is a partner in a crisis communications firm, and has written a pretty darn good book about handling crises, Crisis Tales. Hillary has been acting for months not only as if she’s never met Davis, but as if she’s never heard the most basic advice a junior account executive in PR would give someone in a crisis — “get the thing over with, get everything out, deal with it and don’t let it drag on.”

Another crisis comm bromide: It you’re explaining, you’re losing. Clinton is still explaining, to Fox News, to the associations of Black and Hispanic Journalists, to anybody who can still stand to listen. Which is almost nobody.

And the final rule in handling crises — have somebody with a finely tuned bullshit detector on your team who will speak truth to power. Somebody needed to sit Clinton down and tell her last week — “No, Hillary, FBI director Comey did NOT say your FBI testimony was consistent with all your public statements. No, Hillary, you did NOT short-circuit your answer with Chris Wallace on Fox, you were NOT talking past each other. What you are saying, Hillary, is NOT TRUE. And people will know it, and they’ll recognize that you’re still spinning and dodging and dancing and they’ll rightly conclude you’re not trustworthy.” Tough stuff to say, but that’s what a smart person needs around her, someone who will tell her the truth. Has anyone? Does she not listen?

As hundreds of observers have said, this whole mess could have been dealt with honestly and openly when the email issue first surfaced and it would have caused much less harm than this dragged-out water torture has.

But what should Hillary do now? I watched Joe Scarborough struggle with this on Morning Joe today, trying to role play what Hillary might say now. It’s not easy. Scarborough stumbled through some straight talk and some obfuscation, went too far, said too much, and ended up promising a Clinton term would be the most ethical in history.

If I were advising Clinton, I’d have her say something like this: “I haven’t been as forthcoming and clear as I need to be about this email mistake I made, and I want to correct that. Having a private server was a mistake in judgment pure and simple, and I’m sorry for it. And how I’ve handled questions about it has caused many people to doubt my honesty, and I regret that. I ask people to judge my character and capability based on my whole record of public service, where my constituents and colleagues have trusted me.”

Something like this could help, even now. What she says has to be short, simple, and has to address head on the elephant in the room — people don’t trust Hillary.

By not stepping up and openly taking the hit, Clinton has caused herself months and months of debilitating atrophy of her reputation and — has increased the possibility that a crude, immature, ignorant huckster might become president. We’re all paying the price for Hillary Clinton’s refusal to deal honestly and forthrightly with a crisis.

— Bruce Benidt

 

 

 

 

How Dare You, Donald Trump?

khizr-khan-dncI spent 20 minutes today on the Massachusetts Turnpike with tears streaming down face.

I was so outraged listening to Donald Trump’s response to Khizr Khan’s speech on Thursday that it brought me to tears. Now that I’m not driving I can use my words:

How dare you, Donald Trump? HOW FUCKING DARE YOU?

How dare you demean and disrespect those AMERICAN parents who understand far better than you the citizenship that is your birthright and that you do not deserve?

How dare you use a mother’s raw pain as another dog whistle insinuation to impugn a religion you neither understand or respect?

How dare you dismiss the sacrifice their son made on behalf of his country and his men? Humayun Khan, an Army captain, died trying to save lives. That moment of bravery counts for more than every second of your 70 years of greed, narcissism and classlessness.

How dare you equate your “sacrifice” with a second of the Khans’ grief and mourning?  The dust on their soles have more claim on our sympathy than you do.

How dare you equate your “sacrifice” to that of any other veteran’s family? For two years, I watched my mother cry every day when the mail came: she cried when a letter from my Marine Corps brother in Vietnam arrived and and she cried when one didn’t. My mother and tens of millions like her – parents whose sons and daughters go to war, wear the uniform of our firefighters and police – know the meaning of “sacrifice.” You know nothing.

Sixty-two years ago, Joseph Welch kicked another petty bully to the curb with words that perfectly express the contempt I feel for you. With apologies to his memory, I paraphrase:

Until this moment, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that people such as the Khans. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.

Let us not assassinate this family further, Mr. Trump. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

And to those of you out there who still support this poor excuse of a MAN, please tell me why. Please explain how you can look the other way in the face of such grotesqueness. Are there no standards of decency or humanity left to transgress? How will you explain your support for this monster to your children? How can I explain it to my children? Paul Ryan, can you answer those questions? Mitch McConnell? Reince Prebius?

The simple truth is that you cannot. If you cannot admit this now, then you are damned along with him.

– Austin

 

 

I Need A Mystic Chord of Spirit Touched, Please, Madame Secretary

In 2001 my therapist in Minneapolis said he had many clients who, like me, were suffering a kind of political depression. George Bush was president and things that mattered deeply to me were being ignored.

I feel that same depression now. How is it possible that … oh you know, Donald Trump.

And Hillary Clinton doesn’t lift me out of my slough of despond. Are my reactions to her unfair? Am I guilty of a double standard?

My biggest disappointments about Clinton are that she’s so calculating, and that she lets her ambition and fear overwhelm her decency. I agree with almost every position she takes on the issues, and I admire the lifetime of work for others her husband told us about at the DNC.

But she has consistently lied about the whole email mess, which she created in the first place by being too secretive and protective of her too-managed image.

So. Double standard? I just read JFK’s Last Hundred Days, by Thurston Clarke. It tells about what JFK was growing into, building up to. Opening to Cuba. Getting us out of Vietnam. Pushing for Civil Rights. Oh. And there was that sexual addiction thing. He shared a mistress with a Mafia goon. He slept with a woman who had ties to East Germany. He slept with almost anyone who came near him. And of course he lied about it. Had the German woman deported so she couldn’t be called before Congress. This is a bit of a character flaw, right? Yet I admire JFK, felt deep sadness for what might have been as I stood in Dealey Plaza a few weeks ago.

Why can’t I give Hillary Clinton a break? Is it because she’s a woman? Am I not taking into account, as I react against how calculated and cautious she is, the decades of attacks she’s suffered at least partly because of her gender and her refusal to sit quietly in her place while the boys ran the show? I dislike her ambition and the lengths to which she’ll go to feed it, as shown in Carl Bernstein’s book A Woman in Charge and as exemplified by her saying, when asked in 2008 if Barack Obama was a Christian, “As far as I know he’s a Christian,” rather than challenging the whole notion of questioning his religion.

I know that I’m deeply distressed that she is so compromised by her flaws that an abomination like Donald Trump actually has a chance to be elected.

I’d like to be won over. I’ll vote for her, God knows, although I voted for Bernie Sanders in my Florida primary. But I’d like to see the part of Hillary that Bill talked about two nights ago. Tonight, as she accepts the nomination, I’d like to hear her talk. Not give a speech. Not holler how she’ll fight for me. I don’t want someone fighting for me. I want someone thinking and analyzing and inspiring and standing up for principle. I want to hear what’s in her soul. Including what she thinks of the darkness in there. Does she regret that some of her mistakes have made so many of us doubt her character? Show us. Let us feel that. Let us feel what drives her. David Axelrod said tonight she has to tell us not just what she’ll do as president but why.

I’ll try and relax my double standard, Secretary Clinton. You, please, send home the focus group and open up your heart. I need to feel touched. I know about your experience and competence, and god knows we need those. But I need to feel inspired. Spirit. Inside. Let it out. Draw mine out too. Touch what I felt the night Bill was elected. The night Obama was elected. Call out the better angels of all our natures. Let us see and feel what you’re made of. Please.

— Bruce Benidt

The Trump Train Adds Another Car

David Duke

Donald Trump likes to boast of how many people are joining the “Trump Train” so I’m sure a Tweet from @realDonald Trump (AKA The Great Conductor) will be forthcoming welcoming David Duke aboard.

For those of you who do not inhabit the fringes of racist politics, Duke is a former Louisiana state representative who has run unsuccessfully for Congress, governor and president. He’s also a convicted felon and has in recent years hosted a radio show where he promotes his point of view that Americans of European descent are the real victims of discrimination.

And, oh yeah, he’s a former leader of the Klu Klux Klan.

It’s no coincidence that Mr. Duke is jumping back into politics now after almost 20 years off the trail. In the New York Times, Mr. Duke credits Donald Trump for making the environment welcoming:

“‘I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I’ve championed for years,’ said Mr. Duke, who had an early foray in politics as a supporter of George Wallace, the Alabama governor whose name remains synonymous with segregation.”

And he’s been an enthusiastic supporter of the Trump campaign:

David Duke 2

You might remember that when Mr. Duke and the KKK first jumped on the Trump Train, it took The Great Conductor – AKA Donald J. Trump – a couple of days to decide how he felt about the riders. This caused most of us – who have pretty firm views on the KKK that are easily recalled and expressed – to pause. After an unseemly long time, The Great Conductor said they couldn’t ride. That remains the official position of The Great Conductor as revealed by His Oracle who told the Times that ““Mr. Trump has disavowed David Duke and will continue to do so.”

The problem, though, is that even someone as powerful and dominating as The Great Conductor doesn’t actually get to pick and choose who rides his train. When you lay your tracks right into the dark heart of racism and intolerance, when you spend 14 months stoking the boiler with a powerful mix of dogwhistle code words, encouragements to violence, calls to “take our country back” and to blame people who don’t look like you for all their problems, you can’t credibly claim surprise – or even dismay – when the David Dukes of the world hitch their car to your train.

Welcome to The Great Conductor’s Train, Mr. Duke. You two deserve one another.

– Austin