Can’t write a letter, can’t send a postcard

8 12 2016

I’m still (mostly) avoiding articles on that One weird trick! which won Trump/cost Clinton the election, mostly because I don’t trust anyone right now who is confident in her conclusions.

As I mentioned in my original election post-mortem, I think there are a number of variables which factored into Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss, and that the particular ordering of those variables likely shifted from state to state. Further, given that information is still coming in—any bets on what will ultimately be Clinton’s popular-vote lead over Der Donald?—we don’t even have all the pieces to begin trying to assemble these puzzles.

What can be done, however, is analysis of each of those pieces: how much did Clinton’s sex matter? what was the role of economic anxiety in voting? what is ‘economic anxiety’? etc.

And, of course, what was the role of the media? Well, that may only be theorized, never truly known, but one can at least look at the coverage, it’s shape and tone—which is exactly what the Shorenstein Center did.

This is only one study, of course, but it highlights the role of the negative in press coverage:

Negative coverage was the order of the day in the general election. Not a week passed where the nominees’ coverage reached into positive territory. It peaked at 81 percent negative in mid-October, but there was not a single week where it dropped below 64 percent negative.

Even those numbers understate the level of negativity. Much of the candidates’ “good press” was in the context of the horserace—who is winning and who is losing and why.

Negativity in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but

The mainstream press highlights what’s wrong with politics without also telling us what’s right.

It’s a version of politics that rewards a particular brand of politics. When everything and everybody is portrayed as deeply flawed, there’s no sense making distinctions on that score, which works to the advantage of those who are more deeply flawed. Civility and sound proposals are no longer the stuff of headlines, which instead give voice to those who are skilled in the art of destruction. The car wreck that was the 2016 election had many drivers. Journalists were not alone in the car, but their fingerprints were all over the wheel.

There’s a lot more at the link—a lot more—so g’head and read it all.

Media folk will have to figure out for themselves what, if any, professional standards they wish to uphold in their campaign coverage, but it’s also damned clear that candidates must prepare themselves for another worst- (or even worst-er-) case scenario in plotting their own messaging strategies and tactics.

I have precisely zero advice on what those strategies and tactics should look like. Trump received a great deal of negative coverage, which (apparently?) didn’t hurt him; Clinton was also covered negatively, and it (apparently?) did hurt her.

Man, it’s tough even to figure out the affects of the coverage: how much did it really matter in any direction? I tend to agree with Rick Perlstein that it sure as hell didn’t help, but beyond that? Dunno, and dunno if anyone does know: I’m guessing there will be all kinds of regressions run over the next few years to try to tease out some kind of answer.

In the meantime, it might be worthwhile for current and would-be Democratic politicians to start dry-running different tactics right now to try to determine what works vis-à-vis the media—and if nothing works, what then.

Because they—we—have to be prepared. Even if it only matters on the margins, well, elections are won and lost on those margins.


I got three passports

7 12 2016

I live in a blue neighborhood in a blue city in a blue state: this has been an excuse for not acting politically.

Hey, I don’t have to do anything, my rep’s gonna vote right, my senators’ll vote (mostly) right.

But that ain’t right, and I need to step up. I’ve written one letter to each, and need to write or call regularly to say Hold the line! And with the mayor and my city council member, too.

Still, there’s more that could be done, especially when it’s important to hang the Trump anchor around and drag each and every Republican in the House and Senate. So I’m going to adopt a red district.

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, so I’ve decided to adopt James Sensenbrenner and, by extension, Ron Johnson. Johnson just won re-election and Sensenbrenner has held his seat forever, but what the hell: why not spend some time tracking each and every thing these fuckers do, then coordinate with some Badger Democrats? Besides, Tammy Baldwin is up for re-election in 2018, so I’ll see what I can do for her campaign. (Oh, and whoever runs against Scott Walker? You betchyer ass I’ll be all over that.)

Or, y’know, maybe coordinate with some Badger Democrats, first, and go from there.

I’m not much for marching, anymore, and I don’t need to track the media—there are enough media people tracking the media—so why not do something I can do? Research, hunting down and collating information, maybe a little analysis.

Is this something you, similarly surrounded in blue, can do? Try it! Pick a place at random! Pick a place where you once had a pleasing interaction with a waitress at a roadside diner! Pick the place of your first kiss or last kiss or where you think would be a good kissing place! Pick a town whose name you love saying out loud and figure out who represents it!

Then contact the local Dems and say Hi, I love the sound of your town and have some skills and would like to help you elect Democrats, what can I do?

Or maybe you’re shy and not sure you can call out of the blue, so do some work and publish it to social media or maybe send an abashed email saying Hi, I love the sound of your town and have some skills so here’s some work I did that I thought might help you elect Democrats.

You can contact state offices or if you’ve picked a place, find out the city or county party (I’ll be hitting up the Sheboygan County Dems).

Now, one of the things I’ll be doing is looking at similarly situated districts, see which ones are repped by Dems, then look at how that person won. I’ll dig into historic voting data, demographic data, census—the whole megillah.

It’ll also be worth looking at what Dems did in Nevada and North Carolina: Clinton beat Trump in Nevada and the Dems took the governorship from a Walker-level guv in NC, so there’s probably something to be learned from each.

Okay, I’m being a bit scattered, here: I’m neither an Americanist nor a statistician and I don’t quite know what are the best places to find this info. The Cook Political Report seems a good place to start, and I’ll poke around the US Census site; county-level date presidential election data is available in chart form here (click on “Detailed Results”) and as in an interactive map here. I’ll also be (re-) reading Jameson Quinn’s work with Center for Election Science (the first dispatch published here) for some guidance on how to make sense of the stats.

It’s a start, and while I might not know what I’m doing right now, I think I’ll get the hang of it as I go along. I’ll keep you posted—and hey, if you’re doing something like this or something not at all like this, lemme know!

Between ideals and fact

26 01 2013

I said I wasn’t going to concern-troll the Republicans, right?

Well, what about concern-imp-ing? Concern-nixie-ing? Is it really concern-monster-ing if my recommendations apply to all political parties?

Whatever.  Here it is: Focus on governance.

Shockingly original, I know, but its obviousness has been obliterated in the past decade or so by Republican operatives (Karl Rove) so intent upon winning that they forget that winning is only the beginning, and not the end, of electoral politics.

I’ve described election campaigns as free-for-alls, governed solely by the standard of “what works”, i.e., solely by what increases the chances of winning. Another shockingly original insight: if you want to win, you have to concentrate on winning, full stop.

But after  you’ve won, you have to do something else: You have to govern.

Now, however distinct are the ways of the campaign from those of governance, it is worth considering whether a platform for governance can help you to win. Sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes all you have to do is remind the voters of what a great guy you are or what a great team you’re on and how terrible is the other guy or team. You go for fear or pride or collegiality (“I’d like to have a beer with that guy”) and don’t say much about the Eurozone crisis or CAFTA or the eligibility standards for SSI and bim bam boom, you’re in.

At some point, however, folks might wonder just what it is you plan to do once you’re in. A backbencher representative might be able to get away with platitudes and ideas to nowhere, but party leaders—governors, senators, presidents—have to do something. They have to govern.

If, therefore, you want your candidate or party to win, it might just help to have some ideas of how to govern. It’s not enough simply to say “there’s a problem and the other team caused it”; you have to offer solutions.

Edward L. Glaeser gets this. He’s an urban-conservative, and as such focuses on what can done to make things better. I disagree with both his analyses of and suggestions to fix the problems of urban life, but I really like that he grounds the symbolic appeals to conservatism in practical policy-making. I really really like that he thinks Republicans should engage in governance as something other than acts of arson, and that he doesn’t consider conservative policy-making a contradiction in terms.

He thinks Republicans should compete for cities, and points to what he sees as the accomplishments of Republican mayors as both reasons and guides for a GOP commitment to urban America. Focus on what we have to offer—what good we can do—he counsels Republicans, and go from there.

In other words, build an electoral strategy based on policy accomplishment, and you might just win.

Elections and governance are way too messy and contradictory for a simply Competence=>Victory equation to pan out (see: Michael Dukakis). Dirty tricks and fear-mongering and lies and money and error and passion and whole tangled nest of interests and reasons and desires will all play parts in electoral campaigns, as will the always-important backdrops of economic performance and unpredictable crises. Arguably, policy achievement might not play much of a role, at all.

And yet, it’s just possible that policy achievement might matter, perhaps even enough to cross that line from defeat to victory. There’s so much that can’t be controlled in elections; why not focus on what you can control, what you can do?

Unless, of course, you think it’s better just to control the elections so that you don’t have to worry about governing at all.

Campaign 2012: Elizabeth Warren

12 10 2011

Well, maybe not really, but watch it all the way to the end:

The politics of contempt

7 09 2011

Can I steal from myself? ‘Cause I’m gonna steal from myself.

I’ve been yelping and hectoring and despairing and whatevering for the past year on the battlefield that is American politics, on the Republicans’ scorched-earth tactics, and on President Obama’s unwillingness to open the hose on these arsonists.

There is more to be said on this.

My attention is wavering, however, so I’ll let James Fallows (here, here, here, and here) and TNC run a few legs of this race, and, for now, simply steal the comment I posted at TNC’s joint:

I think this [destructiveness] goes back even further—at least to FDR—but it took a different form then than it does now.

My hypothesis: that the sense of the illegitimacy of any kind of left (center-left on outwards) government used to be on the fringes of the polity, but has since edged into some of the main streams of the Republican party.

There were certainly (loud) mutterings that Roosevelt was a communist, but I don’t know that these came from the Republican leadership. The Eisenhower administration was, of course, attacked by McCarthy, and Kennedy was hardly universally mourned; still, even if the GOP leadership thought that all liberals and Democrats (a phrase that only in the late 80s became redundant) were axiomatically illegitimate, they didn’t say so in public.

The attack on the legitimacy of the government emerged as an open campaign theme in the 1980s; the attack on the legitimacy of Democrats to lead government blew open in the 1990s, culminating, of course, with the impeachment of Clinton. These lines crossed and fused in the 2000s, apparent in the various campaigns, and then going nuclear—with the eventual blessing of the GOP leadership—with the election of Obama.

Again, this is just an hypothesis, and I’d guess that a full exploration of this hunch would reveal all sorts of exceptions and wrinkles and significant subdynamics (such as the movement of white southern Democrats into the GOP); I’d also caution that I think this phenomenon has until recently been confined to the national level.

I’ll let this be for awhile—other things on my mind—but the full flowering of this discourse of delegitimization is nothing less than an expression of contempt for democracy itself.

That bears watching.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

7 07 2011

Here’s an idea for the Dems:

Shoot a basic video with shots of Grover Norquist and sundry Republican leaders talking about the debt, deficit, unwillingness to consider tax hikes/closing tax loopholes, perhaps superimposed with quotes about how defaulting on the debt wouldn’t be a big deal. Note somewhere in all of this that Republicans have “pledged” fealty to Norquist.

Leave blank spots sprinkled throughout this video, allowing editors to upload shots of the local Republican representative—perhaps the quotes could be superimposed over photos of the local rep.

Find someone from that member’s district who’s willing to go on camera, give her or his name, and talk about how the cuts in spending/govt shutdown/default would devastate them.

Then end the video with a shot of the rep, and the question: So who do you work for, Representative [Republican]?  The Washington insider/lobbyist/whatever term of approbation, or [local constituent]?

This shouldn’t be that hard to do or that expensive to shoot, not if you consider that the bones of the vid need only be shot once and then distributed to the state parties for tailoring. (You could also make variations of this for radio.)

This is a no-brainer. MAKE THEM PAY!

Wipeout, pt. III

4 11 2010

Do the Republicans care about ideas?

EmilyLHauser agrees that ideas are important but in a cri de coeur argues that Republicans don’t care about ideas, don’t care much about people, period:

If we, the Democrats, were fighting an ideology that was somehow bigger than “defeat the Democrats and support the rich,” I wouldn’t feel so ill. If today’s GOP were offering, you know, ideas, I wouldn’t feel so ill. If we were engaging on the merits of a case, the merits of a piece of legislation, the merits of this appointee or that bit of policy — I wouldn’t feel so ill.

But what the GOP is doing — what it has done since the Newt Gingrich House — is dragging us down to our lowest level of discourse, our basest fears, our most easily pushed buttons. They are playing us, and they are doing it magnificently. And the depth of the hypocrisy, not to mention the utter lack of concern for honest-to-God real human lives that are damaged or destroyed in the process is just mindboggling to me.

It is enough, she notes, to make me hang my head and weep.

I don’t disagree that the Repubs were nasty and mean, that they appealed to the lowest common denominator—even helped to lower that denominator—or that they impeded the progress of even noncontroversial legislation and executive appointments simply because they could, and because they thought it would hurt the President and the Democrats.

But I don’t know if that’s all they were. Yes, the notion bring-down-the-deficit-by-reducing-taxes is unsupported by the evidence and the show-solidarity-with-the-little-guy-by-helping-the-Big-Guy sensibility is incoherent at best, but that these themes are deployed to manipulate doesn’t mean they’re only manipulative.

There are people who honestly believe in supply-side economics, who think wealth actually does trickle down, so why wouldn’t they try to convince voters of the same? Why wouldn’t they try to bollix up any and all legislation or presidential maneuvers which counters their views?

In the past two years the Republicans have treated the entire executive, judicial, and legislative arenas as fields of action for Total War. Gentlemen’s agreements, practical accommodations for the sake of governance, across-the-aisle alliances for shared agendas—gone gone, gone daddy gone. Day-to-day tactics are now driven by partisan strategy and whether it is good or bad (I tend to think the latter), it is now the standard operating procedure.

The Democrats and President Obama (bless their hearts. . .) have been operating as if good-will still mattered, as if individual legislators would cross party lines in the name of a worthy cause, as if party didn’t override everything. And while they’ve been able to accomplish a great deal, much of what they have accomplished they won precisely because they, too, sought to beat back every bit of opposition to their preferences.

The key difference is that the Republicans have evolved to fight in every way, while the Dems have contented themselves to fighting bit-by-bit.

And here is the hard nut of my disagreement with Mizz Emily: The issue isn’t that the Republicans are devoid of ideology, but that they see all that they do in service to that which preserves that ideology. No, they’re not fighting idea-by-idea; they’ve gone global.

And if the Dems are going to advance their causes, they’re going either going to have to pull the GOPers back to the Dems preferred methods (unlikely, not least because it’s not clear that the Dems have a clear and effective notion of their preferred methods) or they’re  going to have to go global, too.

That doesn’t mean they have to deploy the same hatefulness as did some of the GOP campaigns, but it does mean that they will have to bring it to every.single.thing. they do. It may be ugly and awful, but it’s also necessary.

Ideas matter, but so does the strategy used to bring those ideas forth. Let’s hope the Dems figure that out before 2012.