When it comes to voting, it’s not all about that base

By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States (Voting Day (phone) // Day -056) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, via Wikimedia Commons

Senior citizens and college students, Wall Street bankers and the religious right, Southerners and African Americans, industrial magnates and union workers: if you’re in one of those groups, and a handful of others, chances are either Republicans or Democrats think they can already count on your vote on election day. They call those monoliths the base, the reliable support upon which the party can build their outreach during any given election. They count on their respective bases not just for their principled, philosophical allegiance, but also for their vote.

There is an often repeated meme in American politics, and that is the more people who show up at the polls, the greater the chances that Democrats will win. The past two elections – the 2014 midterms and the 2015 so-called “off year” elections, last Tuesday – bare that out, if only . In both cases, only about thirty percent of registered voters bothered to show up and cast a ballot. In both cases, the Republicans scored major victories at the state and national level.

Some blame the low turnout on voter apathy. That’s a chickenshit way to look at it, don’t you think? It’s like the Democrats are saying, “Hey it’s not our fault. It’s our lazy ass base.” But it’s not just apathy. Apathetics know there’s an election, but don’t care. This is a case of voter ignorance, where American citizens are blissfully unaware of both the fact there was an election and the stakes in that election.

“Democrats are looking for voters,” MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, said last week, during her intro as guest host on The Last Word, after the party of FDR, JFK and LBJ had a disastrous election day for the second straight year. Presumably, she was referring to the Dems frustration at getting out the vote for their slate of candidates, and when politicians talk about getting out the vote, these days, they’re almost always referring to the base. After all, it’s cheaper and easier to knock on the same doors every couple of years, where previously reliable voters live, than to launch an uncertain campaign for new voters.

But Wagner’s brief analysis speaks more truthfully the latter. “Democrats are looking for voters.”

It could be argued that President Obama won in 2008 primarily because his campaign motivated more voters. He didn’t really expand the base; he got people who don’t usually vote, in any election, excited to vote.

In a season where politics as usual seems to be anything but, it would be good if Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the party she directs figured out how to reach voters who will likely sit out this election, unless significant changes are made. As I mentioned in an earlier post, political psychologist, Dr. Drew Westen, says the two most important questions a voter asks about a given candidate, in descending order, are: “How do I feel about a candidate’s party and its principles?” and “How does this candidate make me feel?”

Issues questions are the last on thing on most voters minds. That’s why for all of Hillary Clinton’s political experience and gravitas, she fails where Bernie Sanders succeeds – getting voters excited and keeping them excited.

Columnist H. A. Goodman wrote, Monday, that only Bernie can get him to vote, next year. Citing polls that show “Sanders defeats Trump by a wider margin than Clinton in a general election,” and “the same people who say they’d vote for Clinton if the election were today are also the same people who state they don’t trust Clinton,” and noting that Hillary has “evolved towards Republican viewpoints on war, foreign policy, Wall Street, and other issues,” Goodman concludes, “I’m only voting for Bernie Sanders in 2016, and will not vote for Hillary Clinton or Trump.” He then goes on to list his reasons.

The point is, he’s not alone, and it goes right to Dr. Westen’s analysis of a successful candidate.

Frankly, I understand Goodman’s stance. As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I am enrolled by his passion and authenticity. But, I’m afraid if we abandon the vote because our guy isn’t part of it, we will end up with Nixon, at best, G.W. Bush, at worst.

You don’t want to vote? Tough. Vote anyway. Of course she’s not progressive enough, but dance with the one who has the best chance of at least aiming toward sharing your goals, if you can’t take a turn with the one that brought you. Bill Maher described it on his show, Real Time, a few weeks ago, this way. After polling his audience and finding out they were overwhelmingly for Sanders over Clinton, he asked, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, who will stay home and not vote for Hillary?” Nothing but coughs from the audience. “Exactly,” he responded, “it’s like the airlines. We have two good candidates. Sometimes, you don’t get the fish, you have the chicken.”


DNC rules change leaves Lessig out of 2016 Democrat debates, forced to leave the race

Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has ended his nascent bid to become the Democrats’ nominee for president, despite some remarkable fundraising and outreach. Citing the Democratic National Committee’s last minute rules change for qualifying to get into the party’s next debate, Dr. Lessig says he is at a distinct disadvantage, one he sees no way of overcoming.

It seems Lessig realized that his anti-corruption, get money out of politics theme could not catch on with voters if he couldn’t get his time along side the other candidates.

“I may be known in tiny corners of tubes of the Internets,” he admitted in a video released Monday, “but I am not well known to the American public, generally. Our only chance to make this issue central to the 2016 presidential election, was to be in those debates.”

Lessig blames the DNC because they changed how far back the polling had to go to be included in the show. After originally saying they would go back to polling in the six weeks leading up to the debate, which would be October 10th, they decided last week to modify the criterion as at least six weeks before the debate.

“Under this new rule, I am just shut out,” he said

People who have been paying attention to Democratic polls will note that even though Vice President Joe Biden, who never announced he would run, was included in those polls, Dr. Lessig was left out.

“Unless we can time travel,” he says, “there is no way that I can qualify.”

Lessig’s endeavor began with a bang, promising to run only if his crowdfunding website could raise a million dollars by Labor Day, which it did, with no problem. But, arguably, it was the nature of his original campaign that doomed it from the start.

When he first announced his run, Lessig promised he would stay in office only long enough to get his pet issue, getting money out of the political process, passed into law. Once that was done, he said, he would resign. He called it “A Referendum to Restore Democracy.”

“The candidate is the referendum,” he explained in his August announcement. “The campaign is for that referendum.”

Not surprisingly, there were more than a few who found the strategy doubtful. He finally realized that himself, telling Bill Maher, last month, on his HBO series, Real Time, “Yeah, that was stupid. That was totally stupid,” and, he added, in obeisance to the party, “Like my daughter would say, ‘Fine. You win. I withdraw that promise.'”

It took a few more days for his name to show up in the polling. By then, under the DNC rule change, it was too late.

Still, Lessig insists he will continue the fight to fix our democracy. “We can’t solve any of the problems that this nation must address,” he said, like climate change and Wall Street reform, “until we fix the crippled and corrupted institution of Congress first.”

The fight’s not over. As usual, the people must lead.


Ghosts in the machine – the GOP enters the spectrum of invisible light

The House Freedom Caucus is suddenly not far right enough for the extremists in the base of the Republican Party. Less than two weeks ago, it was their stubbornness that drove the House Republican Conference into disarray over the establishment leadership’s inability to garner enough support to get Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) elected as Speaker of the House.

Now, the spectrum of how far right the GOP can move has entered the invisible realm of far infrared. Right wing bloggers like Breitbart.com, commentators like Erick Erickson and darkside personalities like Ann Coulter, along with a bevy of Super PAC profit takers, have trapped themselves into fighting the establishment at so many turns, that they have started to eat their own. The latest target is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), whom a majority of HFC members voted, last week, to support as Speaker of the House.

Arch-conservative Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) is suddenly “a RINO establishment lapdog” and a “phony,” according to a story in the Washington Post. Critics are even taking on Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the Freedom Caucus stalwart who put a motion on the floor of the House of Representatives for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to step down over the summer, writing things on his Facebook page like, “You should be ashamed,” and threatening other HFC members that they “should all be replaced.”

Spectrum element by D-Kuru/Wikimedia CommonsJust in time for Halloween, they are the ghosts in the Republican machine. You can never be sure what number is going to come up on Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-Louisiana) calculator. “The House Ways and Means chairman [Ryan] is set to be elected the 54th speaker of the House this week,” notes Politico’s Bernie Becker, “unless the House GOP finds yet another way to surprise us.”

The pressure is not just coming in the form of social media comments from ugly internet trolls. It’s also coming from Super PACs, those Citizens United enabled juggernauts that can raise tons of money for a cause and keep as much as they want. The New York Times reported on one such organization, the Tea Party Leadership Fund, which, it says, has raised millions, including in a recent “Boot Boehner” campaign:

“‘Your immediate contribution could be the most important financial investment you will make to help return America to greatness,’ the Tea Party Leadership Fund website said, although it gave no indication of how donations would be spent.

“The answer can be found in campaign finance records, which show that of the $6.7 million the Tea Party Leadership Fund has raised since 2013, only about $910,000 has been spent on conservative Republican candidates it supports — either in direct contributions or independent expenditures on the candidates’ behalf — as an alternative to Mr. Boehner and his supporters.

“Almost all of the rest of the money it has raised since 2013 has been spent on consulting firms involved in helping collect the donations.”

And that’s only one example of, as the old idiom puts it, a fool and his money parting. The group that advises the Tea Party Leadership Fund and tracks its fundraising, DB Capitol Strategies, has its hands in many right wing pies, and they make money from them in other ways, too. According to the Times’ story:

“[DB Capitol Strategies’ Dan] Backer and his various businesses run out of his office in Alexandria, Va., are another major beneficiary. His law firm provides legal and campaign advice to the Tea Party Leadership Fund. He also has an ownership stake in a campaign fund-raising company called SCM Enterprises that the Tea Party Leadership Fund relies on. And he helped create a conservative website, American Action News, where the Tea Party Leadership Fund routinely places advertisements. Collectively, the corporate entities Mr. Backer owns or has financial ties to have been paid at least $1.1 million in fees since 2013 by the Tea Party Leadership Fund and other PACs he helps run, federal records show.”

Considering how groups like Backer’s have sabotaged GOP leadership, it should come as no surprise that the Republican establishment views them as troublemakers who “stir people up on issues that don’t exist or solutions that can’t be achieved,” according to the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon).

Frankly, this is just as disconcerting for liberals, too. Just as we get over our shock at how far right the nut job rubber band can be stretched, they blow us all away by stretching it even further. Soon, though, it may break, sending the entire Republican Party into a centrist wall with a force consistent with Newton’s third law. But then, according to Newton, at least it will also fling the last hangers-on of the infinitely far right into the political abyss.

A new Gallup poll show’s the Tea Party movement with its lowest percentage of adherents ever. It’s at just 17 points among all voters, down from 32% in its 2010 hay day. While it still enjoys favor among many Republicans, at 42%, that’s way down from the 63% that ushered in their revolution.

What’s worse for the GOP, according to the poll, is they are losing independent R leaners who supported the Tea Party in 2010. That number is down 29 points, from 52% to 23%. That number could prove costly in 2016, barring any major implosion by the Democrats.

Some people like to classify the Tea Party remnants as Frankenstein’s monster, a creature that rises up to threaten its maker, but it looks like they are really zombies, the political walking dead, driven to eat anything establishment, even if it kills the entire country. They still eat brains, of course, because their backers want a dumbed down electorate. Unfortunately, it seems that despite Gallup’s assertion that smart people don’t support the Tea Party, the zombies will always have an endless food supply.


Love and electability – the candidates come a-courting

2016dancecompYou know you’ve felt it, the glaring double-take from friends who can’t believe you are pulling for Bernie Sanders. “You know he’s unelectable,” they say, referring to his independent affiliation in Congress and his longstanding identification as a Democratic Socialist.

Eight years ago, those were the people saying the same thing about Barack Obama.

And like 2008, they are pulling for Hillary, of course, because she is a conventional candidate. But you’re a rebel, and you and others like you are pulling for Bernie for the exact opposite reason. He’s not only unconventional, he’s calling for a “political revolution.” Plus, his populist policies are great for the middle class, great for America.

I watched the first Democratic debate of the 2016 cycle on CNN, Tuesday night, in a tavern full of party supporters and activists. Most already had expressed a preference from among the list of candidates, and it’s safe to say that the debate really changed no one’s mind, except the occasional surprise by those who found themselves agreeing with Bernie Sanders more than they thought they would.

In fact, Google’s analysis of searches done during the debate showed that “From start to finish, it was Sanders” who people were interested in finding out more about.

We have heard from most of the Republicans and Democrats who say they want to be president, as they embellish their accomplishments and wax about the policies they would present to Congress. We’ve had our first virtual socials with the viable and the unviable, so now it’s time to let our friends in on our candidate crushes.

On the right, they have the brash one, the quiet one, the cute one and the legacy, along with the mean one and the leader in search of a group that would have her, plus the religious ones. There is no tolerant one.

On the left stand the pragmatic one, the passionate revolutionary one, and the earnest one, along with the disciplinarian and the over-eager one (bless his heart).

Let’s start with Donald J. Trump, who many Republicans, and even a few independents, fawn over and adore. He is the brash, bad boy. He’s unwilling to bend to conventions like political correctness, for example, because it “takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort,” as he told NBC News, Wednesday morning. But if he chose to acquiesce to political correctness, he said, he would be “more politically correct than anybody you’ve ever interviewed.” Of course he would say that. It’s very Trump-ian.

Ben Carson is a Christian Right darling. Smart enough to be a brain surgeon, but dumb enough to believe in fairy tales, like Noah’s Ark, or if my grandparents had guns, maybe they would have outlived Hitler. Trump says he’s “nice.” I don’t think so.

Below those two on the GOP side, it’s a statistical mashup of the boyish Marco Rubio, the confused Jeb Bush who is having trouble loving his brother while trying to distance himself from his legacy, and Carly Fiorina, who will just get more and more stern until her authority is respected. Then, of course, there’s the intolerable Dominionist, Ted Cruz, the bully, Chris Christie, and the also-Rands.

Maybe your darling, the one you’re ready to fall in love with, if you haven’t already, is in the class that presented itself in Las Vegas, Tuesday night.

Will Saletan, posting at Salon, believes the populism voiced in Vegas is where most Americans are:

“Democrats are putting together a case for jerking the leash on capitalism. It’s moral, pragmatic, and smart. It fits the spirit of the times. Republicans had better come up with an answer.”

The pundits say that Hillary crushed it, but maybe you don’t concede to their consensus. Maybe her promise to “rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok” misses the point of the social contract of the type Bernie is pushing or Martin O’Malley endorsed. Or, despite Sanders magnanimously sidestepping the topic of Clinton’s “damn emails,” you believe it is a legitimate issue.

There is nothing wrong with swooning with anticipation over who you want on your arm when you come to the Great American Homecoming Dance, next November. Committing to Bernie, say, is great. Give him money. Work on the campaign. But don’t be disillusioned when your traditional parents put the kibosh on your crush because they are looking out for what, or who, they think is better for you in the long run.

And please don’t let the dreadful experience of attachment and disappointment keep you from being enthused about the dance, even if you’re not dancing with the one that brought you. We still need you to show up and actually dance, because democracy abhors wallflowers.


The dismantling of the House GOP is constructive for all of us

U.S. Capitol undergoing its first full restoration in 150 years. (From the Architect of the U.S. Capitol)
U.S. Capitol undergoing its first full restoration in 150 years. (From the Architect of the U.S. Capitol)
The dome of the U.S. Capitol is surrounded by scaffolding, these days. They’re calling it a restoration of a symbol of government. What’s going on under the dome, though, is more a dismantling of a symbol of governing.

The House Republican Conference is wringing their hands down to the metacarpals, and the enemy within, the House Freedom Caucus, is taking credit for sinking the leadership establishment – a very conservative leadership – for not being conservative enough. They see themselves as having won a victory of some kind, and are reveling in their take-no-prisoners approach.

“The establishment has lost two speakers in two weeks,” exclaimed Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) after Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal in the race for Speaker of the House. “K Street [lobbyists] must be shaking in their boots. Mitch McConnell must be shaking in his boots, too,” he added, in a thinly veiled threat to the Republicans’ senate majority leader.

They’re being called anything from anarchists to purists, and indeed their uncompromising method of governing – or not governing – smacks of the puritanical extremism of a Salem tribunal.

The HFC, after McCarthy’s sudden decision, Thursday, sent a questionnaire to those who said they were interested in the speakership. It is, essentially, a twenty-one question litmus test, covering everything from impeaching the IRS commissioner, to committing, either through repeal or defunding, to stopping all the Obama related policies they hate, even if the Senate won’t take it up.

This is how Politico summed it up:

  • “The group of conservative hardliners wants to ‘decentralize’ the Steering Committee, the panel that decides committee assignments. The HFC wanted to strip the speaker and majority leader of their outsized influence on the panel.
  • “The HFC wanted to know if the new speaker would agree to only pass a debt limit increase if it included entitlement reform.
  • “They asked if the candidates would commit to impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
  • “The HFC asked if the new speaker would commit to passing all 12 spending bills, and ‘not acquiesce to a continuing resolution in the event Senate Democrats try to block the appropriations process.'”
  • And this brings us to how this revolt of about forty Republican representatives against the rest of the House Conference, while embarrassing for the GOP, is great for those of us who want Congress to actually govern, and send stuff to the president’s desk that they know he will sign.

    In the aforementioned questionnaire, the HFC wonders if throwing in with Democrats to get something done is worse than voting against a rule that everyone else in the Republican conference supports. They point to the Export-Import Bank reauthorization as an example:

    “In the light of recent news that some of our Republican colleagues have started a discharge petition to ally with the Democrats and force the House to take up an Ex-Im reauthorization bill, do you believe signing discharge petitions or voting for discharge motions with Democrats is worse than voting against rules?”

    And they finish that question with this admonition:

    “Note that voting with Democrats for a discharge motion actually does take control of the House floor from the majority party, unlike opposing a rule.”

    So that’s it then. By going along with Democrats, they believe, they have ceded the House of Representatives to the minority party. They call it surrender. Other, more pragmatic members of the Republican majority call it governing.

    “In order to pass any bill around this place, everybody knows we need to assemble a bipartisan coalition,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania) told reporters, Thursday afternoon. And he’s not talking about Obama agenda kind of legislation – just passing ordinary bills that, until the last couple of Congresses, weren’t controversial.

    That echoes former Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s explanation, in an op-ed published a couple of days after John Boehner announced his pending resignation, of how the extremists have wrecked the legislative process. “[S]omewhere along the road,” he wrote in the New York Times, “a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies… with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise.”

    What makes this good for the rest of us are two main things. As long as Boehner is forced to remain as Speaker, he will have to reach across the aisle and follow Dent’s advice in getting critical, operational legislation done. The other thing this does is expose the extreme right as nothing but uncompromising zealots, unwilling to do their job. The people who elected them might be happy that they are behaving this way, but they have as poor an understanding of civics as their representatives. We can’t do anything about their gerrymandered districts, but we can hope this draws more reasonable Republicans, and perhaps more Democrats, to the polls.

    Sadly, because they were elected, I do not believe a mechanism exists to purge these obstructionists from the House of Representatives, but we can do with them what Congress used to do to extremists. Marginalize them. Let them have their three minutes on the floor, and ignore them. Then, we can get back to the business of governing.

    “The only way to get anything done in this House,” former DNC Chair and New Hampshire Gov. Howard Dean told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Friday, “is to get 150 Democrats and 150 Republicans to vote together, and throw those guys over the side.”

    Then, finally, maybe we can start to rebuild trust in Congress.


    ‘Two dimensions of otherness’ – the Syrian refugee crisis migrates to America

    “Each new American citizen brings a unique set of skills and experiences which they can use to improve our communities and our nation. And each of them can help renew our shared hope that unlimited possibilities are available to everyone who embraces the opportunities that this country offers under its Constitution.”
    – León Rodríguez, Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, column on U.S. Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, 2015

    “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims… when can we get rid of them?”
    – Question posed to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in New Hampshire, September 17, 2015

    It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s promise to welcome 10,000 refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, is causing some in our nation to flex their nationalist, racist muscle. Never mind that many are only a couple of generations removed from their refugee ancestors. Never mind that this latest batch of refugees can be linked directly to the mistakes we made invading Iraq, part of the Bush Doctrine’s sad, flawed legacy, and because of that we bear some responsibility.

    “When we talk about Iraq and Afghanistan refugees,” says Ted Terry, the mayor of “the most ethnically diverse square mile in America,” Clarkston, Georgia, “we’re talking mainly about people who helped out American and coalition forces during the war, people who risked their lives to help our soldiers in those wars, and who, if they stayed there, would be killed.”

    “These resettlement programs,” Terry added, “are making up for the turmoil and the war and the strife that, quite frankly, America caused by inserting ourselves into those parts of the world.”

    But humanity and empathy are set aside as too complex for simple minds that react more easily to hatred and fear.The immigrant is hated because he is different, and feared because of her olive skin and stigmatized culture. Take a look what is happening in Europe, right now, as hundreds of thousands of displaced people flee war to seek a better life in the West.

    “Certainly the fact that the majority of the refugees are Muslims is a problem,” Dr. Luca Mavelli, a professor of Politics and International Relations at he University of Kent, in England, told National Public Radio, Monday. “There is an issue in Europe, which is a longstanding conflation between migrants and Muslims, so two dimensions of otherness that, somehow, are now coming together, and are well represented by Eastern European countries, like Hungary or The Czech Republic who have been very clearly stating that they would only take Christian refugees.”

    And despite the fact that these brave souls are undertaking dangerous and harrowing journeys to reach Germany, France and England, their tiny children washed up on the beach like driftwood, the entire throng is demonized because most of them are Muslim. The hand wringing over solutions to the crisis has brought out some of the worst on our shores, as well.

    “The rhetoric has been really awful,” James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told Newsweek, recently. “The difficulty of doing it is met by this Islamophobia and conflation of Syrians and Iraqis with terrorists.”

    “Every person has their own story. They are human beings, here,” explained Ted Terry. “The term refugee is not a monolith. When we say refugee, we are talking about people from Eritrea who are Coptic Christians. When we’re talking about Syrians, we’re talking about people who are both Muslims and Christians.”

    Back in January, when it was apparent there would be new migrants from the war weary Near East coming to America, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) sent a letter to the White House warning that inviting thousands of Syrian refugees to our country would be offering “a backdoor for jihadists” who would take advantage of the melee to blend in with other immigrants.

    “We… know that ISIS wants to use refugee routes as cover to sneak operatives into the West,” he wrote in a statement, after the White House announcement, last week.

    But State Department officials insist there is already a rigorous and deliberate screening protocol for refugees. “We have a very slow process of moving refugees through our pipeline, and part of it is because of the security vetting component,” Larry Bartlett, the Director of Refugee Admission for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, told ABC in February.

    Scenes from Clarkston, Georgia, "the most ethnically diverse square mile in America.". (Click to enlarge.)
    Scenes from Clarkston, Georgia, “the most ethnically diverse square mile in America.” (Click to enlarge.)

    That one to two year vetting process, combined with “good community policing, good community relations with the Muslim leaders in these communities,” said Mayor Terry, make him feel his town is as safe as any in America.

    “For Clarkston,” he added, “we’ve had 35 years of refugee resettlement. We’ve had them from many different Muslim countries. We’ve had them from Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, certainly, and we haven’t had a terrorist come over in those 35 years. I don’t expect that to change.”

    That’s important to Terry because even Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) acknowledges that most of the new refugees are likely to end up there. Like other Republican run states, Georgia’s leaders have asked Washington not to increase their share of refugees. Deal explained his state’s position to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week:

    “Deal’s administration confirmed Tuesday it has asked the State Department to keep the number of refugees resettling in the Peach State ‘static’ going into the next fiscal year.

    “‘We will be welcoming,’ Deal told the AJC. ‘But we want to make sure we’re not taking a disproportionately large share of them compared to other parts of the country.'”

    Deal is supported by some of his party’s hardliners, like pundit and political consultant Phil Kent, who recently published a piece titled, “Gov. Deal Seeks to Limit Muslim Refugee Influx.” Like its headline, the post unsparingly criticizes Obama’s decision based on the faith of the migrants and reiterates the aforementioned “conflation” that equates them with terrorism.

    “I don’t recall ever voting in the United States for bringing in masses of Muslims,” Kent said, this week, on a local news and current events television panel where he appears as a regular guest.

    Terry finds that attitude counterproductive, and insists that the promise of America demands we take in the refugees:

    “We can invite them to come to America as a gesture of good will and compassion, lead by example in that regard, and when they get here, they find out, ‘Oh, my goodness! Americans aren’t the evil Satan. Maybe they’re not as bad as people in my country said they were. I’ve been welcomed with open arms. They helped save me from this terrible position I was in, helped me to save my children, and here I am in a place that’s not only free, but also safer and has a lot more opportunity than I ever could have dreamed of.’

    “That’s the only way we’re ever going to win this war of ideas between radical Islam and what is not a religious argument, but more of an argument over liberty and freedom. That’s what we say in the pledge of allegiance every single school day and every City Council meeting in Clarkston. We talk about ‘…with liberty and justice for all.’ That’s exactly what we’re doing for these refugees. We’re providing liberty and justice for all of them.”


    Will the power of impassioned politicians work down-ticket?

    Curiouser and curiouser. It’s like Alice herself is guiding us through the United States of Wonderland’s early primary season going into the 2016 presidential elections. Showmanship and passionate authenticity seem to be ruling the day, while establishment electoral politics sits bemused on a mushroom. Just how long can this go on?

    With the angry Republican up by double digits and the fiery Democrat surging in the early primary states, it might be time to stop asking when the campaigns of Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders are going to collapse and start figuring out a way to put the magic in a bottle labeled “Drink Me” for the down-ticket House and Senate races in 2016.Alice_drink_me-bottle

    But will it work? Beth Cope, a Democratic political consultant who has worked on several campaigns, doesn’t think so. Referring to a popular 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a dangerously honest presidential candidate, she said, “I don’t think the ‘Bulworth Principle’ applies down-ticket. Down ballot voters are hardcore voters who aren’t turned on by theatrics.”

    Still, Republicans have been rather good at theatrics the last three or four election cycles, especially in the House. They have been providing the most entertainingly twisted, Mad Hatter’s tea party kind of candidates to take on politics in a couple of generations. Where Reagan may have been extreme in his time, they are unapologetically extremer. Where Goldwater gave no quarter, they give not even a penny.

    The Washington Post published an article over Labor Day about Republican contrarian, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), calling him the “Trump of the House.”

    Like the presidential candidate, Meadows questions the leadership of the Republican Party. One may remember that he launched a campaign, before the summer recess, to unseat Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) as Speaker of the House, a move some at the time described as “unhelpful.” Boehner himself dismissed the move as coming from “a member here and a member there who are off the reservation.”

    But that boldness that has been coming for some time, according to Cope, and one needs to look no farther than The Donald as an exemplar of why Republicans thinks it’s okay to go “off the reservation.”

    “Donald Trump isn’t doing anything that Fox News wouldn’t ordinarily do,” she said. “When [Republican National Committee Chairman] Reince Priebus and Fox News and all of these folks say, ‘Oh, they’re damaging the Republican brand,’ every time they did not stand up against [the litany of misogynistic and degrading] things said on Fox News or elsewhere, every time the leadership said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to offend our base. We’re not going to weigh in,’ they gave up a little piece of their party.

    “If Donald Trump is the type of person who is unacceptable to them, it’s their own fault.”

    Yet WaPo points out that Trump’s bravado has bolstered the spirits of those who disagree with the establishment GOP brand:

    “Trump’s anti-establishment message, gleefully mocking not only Democrats but also a hapless Republican establishment, has emboldened congressional conservatives ahead of their return to Washington Tuesday.”

    What people like Meadows and his allies like Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Rep. Jody Hice (R-Georgia), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Arizona) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) brought to their respective campaigns was a way to draw out those who sought validation and acceptance for their poignantly out of the mainstream, wackadoodle, arch-conservative views.

    As we have heard many times in the “Summer of Trump,” these views touch a nerve. It is, for them, a righteous anger they show toward immigrants and the milquetoast establishment. Republican base voters don’t see it as being a negative. They see it as it’s-about-time-someone-took-these-pussies-on kind of anger, and as psychologist Drew Westen points out in his book, The Political Brain, the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation:

    “…subjectively, anger can feel either pleasant or unpleasant, as anyone knows who has fantasized about revenge…And although anger can lead to avoidance or withdrawal, it can just as easily be an approach-oriented emotion, causing people to approach someone or something they intend to attack.” (p.79)

    And what is Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” except a call for revenge against those who “destroyed” it in the first place? At the national level, the personalities at Fox News have been beating this drum loudly for decades. Assisting in fomenting the anger of the “silent majority” at the local level have been the folks in the “vengeance is mine” business, the Evangelical churches that helped forward their message of exclusion and exceptionalism.

    What both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been able to do with their campaigns, although with noticeably different messages, is be angry voices for change in their respective parties. To some extent, the same could be said for other party base drivers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts).

    “If you’re trying to convince people to change course,” Westen points out, “you generally have to elicit emotions such as anxiety or anger, along with enthusiasm for your cause, particularly when your point is that an incumbent has behaved in ways that are incompetent or unethical.” (p. 318)

    Remember, these campaigns are not just trying to replace an incumbent; they’re aiming to change the way Washington, D.C., and the parties that run our government, work.

    But what good is anger, one might ask, if there is no policy plan to back it up, and offer solutions? Trump just talks about actions that will be “terrific” and “huge,” without a specific plan. Well, the fact is people vote based on what they feel about the candidates personality first, and policy is the last thing they care about. That’s why attack ads work. They give voters a reason to dislike a candidate.

    Westen breaks it down to four questions a voter asks when considering who he or she will choose, what he calls “a hierarchy of influence.”

    “‘How do I feel about a candidate’s party and its principles?’ ‘How does this candidate make me feel?’ ‘How do I feel about a candidate’s personal characteristics, particularly his or her integrity, leadership, and compassion?’ and ‘How do I feel about this candidate’s stands on issues that matter to me?'” (p.418)

    “Candidates who focus their campaigns toward the top of the hierarchy and work their way down generally win,” Westen concludes, adding, “Candidates who start at the bottom of the hierarchy and work their way up generally lose.”

    Democrats seem to think that middle America is constantly voting against its own interests, that if people had a better understanding of how their policies are better that the Republicans, then they would be compelled to vote Democrat. But it doesn’t work that way. Every time a Democrat goes back to explain policy to voters, he loses them.

    In some ways, it seems like Sen. Sanders is campaigning starting at the second or even the third level of Westen’s hierarchy. He is running as someone outside the mainstream, and he is in the Senate as an independent. People like Bernie because they admire his consistency. “This is a man who is authentic,” one Sanders supporter said at a July rally in Phoenix, “he’s held his convictions for decades.”

    Still, his speeches are usually a litany of populist policy changes, something Westen warns against.

    He advises “abandoning traditional Democratic laundry lists…and instead telling and retelling compelling narratives of what progressives stand for and what they won’t stand for.” It could be argued that Sanders is doing that, but will his passion, exciting as it is for the crowd, ignite a sustainable movement?

    “Trump’s supporters are angrier than he is,” Politico’s Ben Schreckinger wrote in a brilliant piece comparing the two surprise contenders, last month. But, he points out, “Sanders is angrier than his supporters. When the Vermont senator, hoarse of voice, bellowed out for a ‘political revolution,’ the [Reno, Nevada,] crowd cheered. But minutes before they had milled about amiably on the lawn. A game of Frisbee seemed more likely to break out than a revolution.”

    So it seems that for a while, at least, the often talked about enthusiasm gap has yet to make an appearance this cycle. As far as carrying the spectacle into down-ticket, House and Senate races, as a way to get people interested in checking the boxes below the presidential candidates, one can hope there’s enough in the Drink Me bottle to go around. It will make 2016 so much more fun.


    The evil that police do – Darren Wilson and the family of Michael Brown

    Ferguson Protest, NYC 25th Nov 2014
    Ferguson protests in New York City, Novemeber, 2014.
    By The All-Nite Images from NY, NY, USA (Ferguson Protest, NYC 25th Nov 2014) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

    “He’s evil.”
    – Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, speaking to Al Jazeera America about former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer, Darren Wilson

    When I went to Germany, eight years ago, my friend in Hanover was less than enthused when she found out we had been to visit the museum at the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich. She wasn’t angry. She just expressed herself in what might be described as a very resigned, German way.

    “It’s a shame,” she said with a shrug, “that whenever people think of Germany, they think of Nazis.” Maybe, but murder leaves a mark. Racist hate leaves resentment and anger. Evil leaves a stain.

    Evil is blind, too. It draws conclusions in shallowness because it lacks the vision, or the compulsion, to look deeper.

    It’s quite callous, the way former police officer Darren Wilson recently described his feelings about Michael Brown, one year out from their fatal encounter on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. In an article in the New Yorker, Wilson tells writer Jake Halpern that he dismisses claims of historical, cultural abuse at the hands of whites as an excuse that Brown and other young people of color use to justify resenting authority and behaving badly.

    “People who experienced that, and were mistreated, have a legitimate claim,” he told Halpern, referring to those he calls the “elders,” who lived through Jim Crow. “Other people [meaning young people, who grew up post-civil rights era] don’t.”

    Don’t justify and call it justice; confront truth and discover justice

    Wilson goes on to claim that, despite what the article describes as a difficult childhood, he has been able to persevere and build a life, but it comes across as an “I did it, why can’t they” attitude. “What happened to my great-grandfather is not happening to me,” he said, “I can’t base my actions off what happened to him.”

    His obvious lack of understanding doesn’t bother him in the least. He thinks he doesn’t have to understand more than what’s going on in the moment. “We can’t fix in thirty minutes what happened thirty years ago,” he told Halpern. “We have to fix what’s happening now. That’s my job as a police officer. I’m not going to delve into people’s life-long history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment.”

    But doesn’t community policing require more of an effort at understanding the community you’re policing, rather than making assumptions about who they are and what they are capable of? Not according to Wilson. To him, they are as free to make the same, sound choices he has.

    “They’re so wrapped up in a different culture than — what I’m trying to say is, the right culture, the better one to pick from.”

    Halpern didn’t let that statement go unchallenged:

    “This sounded like racial code language. I pressed him: what did he mean by ‘a different culture’? Wilson struggled to respond. He said that he meant ‘pre-gang culture, where you are just running in the streets—not worried about working in the morning, just worried about your immediate gratification.’ He added, ‘It is the same younger culture that is everywhere in the inner cities.’”

    Wilson says he is certain that families in the community are to blame, and definitely in the case of Michael Brown’s family. “Do I think he had the best upbringing,” he asked Halpern rhetorically, in a tone the writer describes as “striking.”

    “No,” Wilson concluded, answering his own question, “Not at all.”

    Given that his own mother was a “compulsive” thief, who Wilson warned his own friends against, who left his father, then put his stepfather $20,000 in debt the first year they were together, it makes one question his frame of reference for what is and is not “the best upbringing.”

    “His acts were devilish,” Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden told Al Jazeera, Wednesday morning, “and we definitely know he didn’t have the right upbringing, because those are words that you just don’t use, especially after you took somebody’s life and you know you had no reason to.”

    Wilson has looked at Michael Brown’s life and just doesn’t care anymore, if he ever did, except that he is being sued by Brown’s family. “Do I think about who he was as a person? Not really, because it doesn’t matter at this point,” he explained to Halpern.

    “He can’t hurt me with his words,” responded McSpadden. “What he did hurt me really bad, so his words mean nothing to me.”

    Racism and Ferguson: a systemic problem requires a systemic solution

    It’s a shame. It’s a shame that in communities of color – in Ferguson, in Staten Island, in North Charleston, in Baltimore, in Cincinnati – that when people think of white police officers working in those communities, they think of careless, frightened, hair-trigger murderers.

    This need not be the case.

    Many law officers have been caught escalating too quickly to violence, asserting superiority over unarmed men and women, too quick to draw their weapon, shoot a fleeing suspect in the back or physically abuse a prisoner already in custody.

    Dying in custody – a necessary conversation

    There is a problem with training that says, “You have a gun. You’re in charge.” If that’s your philosophy, go join the army, if they’ll have you. They need people who will shoot to kill.

    But police should be working with communities, not against them. Cops need to be evaluated not by how many tickets they write and how many arrests they make, but on how they get along with the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.

    Ferguson fallout – justice dancing on the head of a pin

    Asked whether she could ever forgive Darren Wilson, Michael Brown’s mother answered simply, “Never. Never.”

    It’s a matter of respect – the kind that police expect and the citizens deserve. Killing officers only reinforces this us vs. them attitude. As long as one lives in fearful resentment of the other, people will be as uncomfortable in their own neighborhoods as the cops who patrol them.

    Unless full, mutual respect is achieved, citizens will die, families will be torn apart and police who kill will remain the face of evil for entire communities.

    – PBG

    Huckabee’s monolithic view will get him shoved to the exit door

    Auschwitz oven door
    The oven doors in a crematorium in Auschwitz. Poland, 1989

    For Christian evangelicals like Mike Huckabee, support for Israel is, and has always been, of a single purpose: to bring all the Jews to the tiny Mediterranean country so that they can make them convert or die, and prepare the world for the Second Coming.

    Pundits are calling the former Arkansas governor’s remark about the Iran nuclear deal, saying Obama is taking Israelis and “basically march[ing] them to the door of the oven,” the “Trumpification” of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign. Outrageous does buy you news cycles, and the media is all too happy to cover a practiced politician like Huckabee instead of a blowhard buffoon like Trump. They’re likely relieved. The asshat with the comb-over is exhausting.

    The main difference between Huckabee and Trump is that what the Donald’s minions mistake for authenticity is actually salesmanship, flim-flam, telling them what they want to hear. The Huckster, on the other hand is actually being sincere. Earnestly sincere.

    I’m pretty sure this isn’t Huckabee trying to be like Trump, as much as it is him trying to rally his evangelical base, to save Israel, so the Jews can go out according to their prophecy, and not the Ayatollah’s. We can’t have “a mushroom cloud over Israel,” he warned Hillary Clinton after her condemnation of his words. Certainly not one generated by Iran.

    Despite the objection of many notable Jewish organizations and individuals, like the Anti-Defamation League – who he dismisses as “leftist” and “pro-Democrat” – and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, Huckabee thinks he knows he’s on the right track with the Jewish community. After all, he was at an event, Monday night, where, he told Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Tuesday, “I was probably one of four gentiles in the entire event — it was a Jewish event. People were overwhelmingly supportive.”

    I’d hate to burst his bubble, but if he was invited to an event like that, chances are he wasn’t going to find a valid cross-section of American Jewry. It’s like going to a strip club and thinking the women there are representative of their entire gender. We are monotheistic, not monolithic. That may be where he’s confused.

    In defending his offensive remarks to Lauer, the governor used his association with the Holy Land and his personal experience at Auschwitz in a “some of my best friends are Jews and Holocaust survivors” kind of way. “I’ve been to Auschwitz three times,” he said, “I have been to Israel dozens of times.” He said he gets the Survivor slogan “Never Again,” because he stood “in front of those very ovens.”

    I’m not saying he couldn’t have had some kind of spiritual epiphany in that horrid place where I too have stood. But even as a child of Holocaust Survivors, I understand that you cannot ever know what it was like to stand in front of those ovens, unless you stood in front of them when they trickled with flame and smelled of burned hair and roasted human flesh.

    What’s grotesque here is not the extremes to which the Huckster has gone to get noticed. It’s the ease and assurety with which he thinks it’s okay to use a tragedy of epic scale in his quest for personal glory. This is not Europe in the 1930s. He’s ringing the alarm, using dog whistles like “appeasement,” because he thinks it works for him, and because he believes it. It may get him the evangelical vote, if he makes it to the Iowa Caucuses in January. But his methods are desperate and sad, beyond ridiculous, and we definitely don’t need him running our country – the United States, I mean, not Israel.


    Bernie Sanders heats up record crowd in Phoenix

    crowd-compress 1
    Bernie Sanders drew 11,000 people to a convention center floor, Saturday night. You know, one of those cavernous spaces you could put a passenger jet in. It was the largest campaign event of any candidate this season, and it broke his record crowd of 10,000 in Madison, Wisconsin, a couple of weeks ago. But this event was not in some liberal bastion like Madison. This was Phoenix, Arizona. This was Maricopa County, half-a-mile from where the anti-immigrant birther, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has his jail. This is McCain country.

    “We’re feelin’ the Bern,” exclaimed Mara Prato, of Phoenix, using the unofficial hashtag slogan of Sanders’ campaign.FeeltheBernAZ

    Why would so many come from across the southwest on a triple digit desert day to hear this man? Because people all over the United States know the truth about the growing wealth disparity and the shrinking middle class.

    “What this campaign is about,” Bernie told the crowd, “is saying that our great country and our government belong to all the people, and not just the billionaires.”

    “I wanted to see someone who is more for the people,” Joan Besonen, who moved to Tempe, Arizona, from Michigan less than two weeks ago, told me.

    “It saddens me how many politicians are there for themselves and not for the people,” said Richard Gibson, who drove in from El Paso, Texas, to hear the populist candidate. “Bernie’s the only one who stands up for America, the way thinking Americans want it to be.”

    Liz Leith, who is married to Gibson, agreed. “I like that he’s ‘of the people, by the people, for the people,'” she said.

    Indeed, most of the people we spoke with are gravitating to Sanders’ longstanding commitment to what he called the “moral issue” of “grotesque” wealth inequality, and “putting money in the hands of working people.”

    BernieGesture 1-med“Are we content to see a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires when we have the highest rates of childhood poverty of any major country in the world?

    “Our economy cannot do well when so few have so much, and so many have so little.”

    Says Leith, “He’s standing up and saying all the things we want to hear from a politician, and he means it.”

    “He says what he means,” echoed Mark S., also from Phoenix.

    “He talks just simple, plain, common sense, concrete solutions, that used to be things that were taken for granted in this country, pre-1980,” said Prato.

    In stark contrast to those on the other side of the political spectrum, not surprisingly, this group is not nostalgic for Ronald Reagan, but for a different time, that almost all of them remember well.

    BernieMakesPoint“For the last forty years, the great middle class of this country, once the envy of the entire world, has been disappearing.”

    “This is a man who is authentic,” Prato added, “he’s held his convictions for decades.” Her yearning for a pre-Reagan social safety net, and her belief that Sanders has always been working to restore that, was not unusual.

    “He seems like someone I went to high school with, but stayed the course,” asserted Mike Harris, from Glendale, Arizona, who says he grew up protesting the Vietnam War in the 1970s. “Some people, along the way, meander off into little tangents. He doesn’t strike me as a meanderer, and I like that.”

    “He has stayed the course,” agreed Mark S., “He doesn’t waiver.”

    Prato said she specifically admires Sanders’ stated policies on “raising the marginal tax rate on the rich, Wall Street transaction taxes, things that were commonplace back in the Fifties and Sixties, things that built the middle class.”

    BernieStageSign2“We have a message to the millionaire class tonight. You cannot have it all.

    “You cannot hide your billions in profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, when we have unmet needs in America that must be addressed.”

    Despite the nostalgia, it isn’t this country’s past that concerned these Sandernistas. It is the nation’s future, our people’s future.

    “It’s not for me. It’s more for my grandchildren,” said Julian Acosta, of Phoenix, when asked why he attended the event. “I want them to have a good education, free college, good, inexpensive healthcare. I want them to have everything they need.”

    That is exactly what Bernie said he wants to make happen. During his speech, that night, he called for free college in public universities, refinancing student loan debt, and a medicare for all, single-payer public health system.

    But the biggest issue, in the minds of many, was campaign finance reform, and overturning the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision.

    BernieProfileSerious“What the Supreme Court said to the wealthiest people in our country, they said, ‘Okay guys. You already own much of the economy. We’re now going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government,’ and that is what they are trying to do.”

    “I think the number one thing is getting money out of politics and getting our democracy back,” said Fara Pastorius, who had come in from Buffalo, New York, to visit family, and was attending the event. “You shouldn’t be able to buy a [political] seat for anything. It’s not what this country was founded on; it’s not what it’s for; it’s very sad that it’s happening.”

    Earlier in the day, when addressing the Netroots Nation convention in Phoenix, Sanders promised a “litmus test” for any prospective Supreme Court justice and their stand on Citizens United. He also called for public financing of campaigns.

    But Bernie wanted to make one thing clear. All the changes he’s calling for can happen, but not without us. He calls it a revolution, but it’s really a call to be engaged in the system we already have to “bring about the changes we need.”

    Bernie w placards“What political revolution means, is that people all over America have got to stand up and become involved in the political process in a way they’ve never done before.”

    Sanders went on to clarify that by “people all over America,” he meant all Americans, and he urged the crowd to get out of their “zone of comfort” and talk to their Republican family, friends and neighbors. Why?

    BernieFlag3“It is one thing for the billionaire class to be voting Republican, but there are many Republicans out there – you know them – these people are working at two or three jobs, they have no healthcare, their kids can’t afford to go to college, and yet they are voting [for] people who are voting against their best interests, everyday.”

    Mobilizing the working class is not just the only way someone like Bernie can get elected. It’s the only way we can elect a truly representative Congress, that is more beholden to our interests than they are to lobbyists and corporate interests.

    As Bernie said, in one of his opening lines to the overwhelming Phoenix crowd:

    BerniPlacards“When we come together in meetings like this, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish in transforming America.