On the Road to Nowhere

NEW SLAUGHTERNot that any modern, talk radio conservative zealot is going take a clue from something as socialist and anti-liberty as The New York Times, but the rest of us can firm up our understanding of how bad the Republican party is today by reading Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine piece, titled, “Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones excerpts a bit of it this morning. But here is more. In it, Draper is shadowing a Republican pollster, sifting through the ashes of the election and looking for guidance to prevent what happened in 2012 (and really ever since Reagan) from happening again.

Draper writes:

“One afternoon last month, I flew with Anderson to Columbus, Ohio, to watch her conduct two focus groups. The first consisted of 10 single, middle-class women in their 20s; the second, of 10 20-something men who were either jobless or employed but seeking better work. All of them voted for Obama but did not identify themselves as committed Democrats and were sufficiently ambivalent about the president’s performance that Anderson deemed them within reach of the Republicans. Each group sat around a large conference table with the pollster, while I viewed the proceedings from behind a panel of one-way glass.

The all-female focus group began with a sobering assessment of the Obama economy. All of the women spoke gloomily about the prospect of paying off student loans, about what they believed to be Social Security’s likely insolvency and about their children’s schooling. A few of them bitterly opined that the Democrats care little about the working class but lavish the poor with federal aid. “You get more off welfare than you would at a minimum-wage job,” observed one of them. Another added, “And if you have a kid, you’re set up for life!”

About an hour into the session, Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said. The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”

“Young people,” one woman called out.

“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.”“Change.”“Open-minded.”“Spending.”“Handouts.”“Green.”“More science-based.”

When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”

Anderson concluded the group on a somewhat beseeching note. “Let’s talk about Republicans,” she said. “What if anything could they do to earn your vote?”

A self-identified anti-abortion, “very conservative” 27-year-old Obama voter named Gretchen replied: “Don’t be so right wing! You know, on abortion, they’re so out there. That all-or-nothing type of thing, that’s the way Romney came across. And you know, come up with ways to compromise.”

“What would be the sign to you that the Republican Party is moving in the right direction?” Anderson asked them.

“Maybe actually pass something?” suggested a 28-year-old schoolteacher named Courtney, who also identified herself as conservative.

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

Showing a reverence for understatement, Anderson said: “A lot of those words you used to describe Republicans are negative. What could they say or do to make you feel more positive about the Republican Party?”

“Be more pro-science,” said a 22-year-old moderate named Jack. “Embrace technology and change.”

“Stick to your strong suit,” advised Nick, a 23-year-old African-American. “Clearly social issues aren’t your strong suit. Stop trying to fight the battle that’s already been fought and trying to bring back a movement. Get over it — you lost.”

Later that evening at a hotel bar, Anderson pored over her notes. She seemed morbidly entranced, like a homicide detective gazing into a pool of freshly spilled blood. In the previous few days, the pollster interviewed Latino voters in San Diego and young entrepreneurs in Orlando. The findings were virtually unanimous. No one could understand the G.O.P.’s hot-blooded opposition to gay marriage or its perceived affinity for invading foreign countries. Every group believed that the first place to cut spending was the defense budget. During the whiteboard drill, every focus group described Democrats as “open-minded” and Republicans as “rigid.”

“There is a brand,” the 28-year-old pollster concluded of her party with clinical finality. “And it’s that we’re not in the 21st century.”

The stock wisdom is that “we need a stronger Republican party because, gosh, we must have a two party system”. Well, maybe. But one take-away from this snippet is that there is already enough range within the Democratic party to sustain a functioning balance of liberal and conservative … at which point the Limbaugh/Tea Party-toxified Republicans of today can continue their slide into a self-inflicted oblivion that only an aged, white few will even miss.

“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.

“In Order to Form a More Rowdy Book Club…”

Crowdies –

I have an experiment I’d like to propose.  Let’s read the new book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein and have a virtual book club discussion around it next month.

The book talks about the dysfunction afflicting the Congress and the confluence of forces that have contributed to – and perpetuate – that dysfunction. Mann and Ornstein are serious and longstanding Congressional and political observers, are not bomb-throwers from the left or the right and have some cred: Mann is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution and Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

What I have in mind is something similar to what we did in 2010 with gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner: I’ll put up a post on a certain date that kicks off the discussion and then let the discussing – and cussing – begin.  I’ll extend an invite to both authors to join us (you never know) but even in their absence, we could have an interesting conversation and – who knows – we might learn something.

Book clubs seem to meet on Wednesdays for some reason so how does Wednesday, August 8 sound?  That gives us a month to get the book and read it.

No need for a show of hands!  Go forth and read!

– Austin

One Man’s “Artful Dodging” Is Another’s Blocking and Bridging

The Washington Post today offers up an instructive discussion on the difference between “blocking and bridging” – the technique that is at the heart of media relations – and simply ducking the question.  In particular, the article discusses how audiences perceive those who use the techniques and those who don’t:

In a series of particularly relevant experiments, psychologists Todd Rogers and Michael I. Norton recently showed that most people are extremely poor at spotting even dramatic discrepancies between questions and answers. They found the failure was especially acute when answers were semantically linked to questions — for example, when a question about the war on drugs is parried by an answer about health care. Audiences seemed to notice dodges only when answers were completely unrelated to the question — such as responding to a question about illegal drugs by discussing terrorism.

The psychologists found that irrelevant answers delivered fluently and with poise scored higher with audiences than answers that were accurate, on-topic, but halting. And when they had actors deliver the same answers to audiences — once fluently and once with “ums” and “ahs” — audiences judged the hesitant responses as intellectually inferior to the fluent ones.

These findings underscore the key message media trainers hammer home  during sessions: preparation and practice are the keys to successfully working with the media.  Prep and practice will help you define the topics you want to talk about, the questions you’re likely to get and the verbal “blocks” and “bridges” that let you get from one to another. account payable fine

The Third Rails of American Politics

Whew, we’ve had a busy couple weeks here at the Crowd.  Lots of good posts and some even better comments. Thank you one and all for making the SRC worth visiting – as it turns out Voltaire didn’t say, “Some of you are whacked but I’m totally behind your right to say any crazy thing which pops into your head.”

Of course, some of the things you might say will lead to eating alone in the lunchroom.  As free a society as we are in terms of expression, there are some places you just don’t go in American politics.  There are no laws per se about most of them – some “hate crimes” laws cover speech and there are public safety type laws about shouting “Fire!” in the theater and such things (“Bomb” in the airport security line is also ill-advised) – but there are certain unspoken but pretty rigidly enforced social conventions that most of us – politicians and the like – avoid like the crazy guy on the corner walking in circles muttering to himself (“That’s a mirror, Jon.”)  Step on them and you’re zapped with 50,000 volts (or amps or watts, I forget which one is the killer) of political excommunication.  Even stepping too close to one of these “third rails” can be a fatal or near-fatal political experience.

Sometimes it’s hard to detect the absence of something, but – like stuff that’s not porn – you know it when you don’t see it.  Here’s a few of the America’s no-fly zones that our politicians avoid:

  1. Not supporting Israel.
  2. Criticism of”soldiers on the ground.”
  3. Criticism of “working men and women.”
  4. Race- or gender-based differences.

What are some others?  What won’t be popping out of the word processors of campaign policy advisors and speechwriters – on either side of the aisle – this fall?  Should any of them be dragged out and debated?

– Austin sample invoice template fine

Pawlenty Avoids the Cattle Call

“After twelve years in the minor leagues, I don’t try out,” says Crash Davis to Annie Savoy in Bull Durham.

That’s pretty good advice for front-leading VP candidates as well and explains why neither Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or Mike Huckabee made it to Senator McCain’s ribfest this weekend (yes, yes, yes, I know they both had prior commitments but c’mon, people, do you really think if they’d thought it was important to be there they wouldn’t have made the trip?)

A basic rule of politics is , “If given the choice to be Snow White or one of the seven dwarves, put on the dress.” In this context, that means biding your time and waiting for the invitation for your own one-on-one weekend and skipping the opportunity to be written up as one of a group of possible VP contenders. Six-to-five says the polite, “Thanks, but no thanks” was orchestrated with the McCain folks so as to avoid the – slight I think – possibility of the message being misunderstood.

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Minnesota’s Blog Scene Gets NYT Coverage

The New York Times has an interesting look at the impact it believes Minnesota’s bloggers are having on our State’s political landscape. The article focuses mostly on the role Minnesota Democrats Exposed is playing in the Senate race, but also mentions True North, Truth vs. The Machine, MNPublius and the Minnesota Campaign Report.

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