No Machine Can Win Without Real Vision and a Messenger

istock_000017113782small-646x363Little Rock   There are a million lessons from the recent US election campaign but many of them are reminders of what we always knew in our guts, but intellectually tried to rationalize away for lack of better alternatives. The most basic is that it “takes a horse to beat a horse.” That’s especially true in a horse race. A machine can’t run in a horse race. It has to be horse, those are the most basic rules. Election Day seems to have told us not only that a movement can always beat a machine, but that a machine can’t run the race without a horse that can really carry it the whole way to the finish.

In some ways we were reminded of this over and over again, whether we wanted to believe our lying eyes or not.

Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination should have been more than enough to let us know that there were real signs that winter was coming, though in our desperation to ignore all the weather reports, we forced ourselves to believe differently. But, even before Trump, Bernie Sanders and his close contest in the Democratic primary should have convinced us that without huge adjustments we were in trouble. Look at the incredible odds Sanders had faced. Start with the unlikely phenomena that he was older than dirt, and millennials were pushing and shoving to get in his rallies and support him. Add the fact that in the minds of many Americans, he was stone cold “red,” as a self-declared Socialist, which a couple of decades ago would have disqualified someone from being elected dogcatcher, but was water off a duck’s back in this contest.

Take money and its role in politics which is huge and corrosive. Money was still way too big a factor in race after race, but both Trump and Sanders turned the tables on the billionaire sweepstakes, especially Sanders. The early money “primary,” seen by the pros as so fundamental, was won by Jeb Bush and of course Hillary Clinton. They didn’t win on the money as much as they lapped the field many times over. Trump claimed he was largely self-financed, but even so he ran such a non-traditional campaign that he needed less money and made up for it with earned media and the willingness to provoke. Sanders, the novice fool that he was, refused to take big donations and PAC money, and created a small donor phenomenon of support and went head-to-head with Clinton through most of the primaries. Meanwhile Clinton spent valuable time throughout the campaign, even after winning the nomination, currying donations from the rich, while the big money, including the Kochs and others, pretty much stayed clear of Trump. Who in America who wants change could have missed how important this was?

Contrary to what some are saying, I can’t see how anyone can blame Sanders or hold his campaign responsible for Trump’s victory. Yes, a tough contest exposes weaknesses in the opponent, but it also should make you stronger and teach lessons. It’s not fair to blame the teacher for the student not doing homework when it comes time for the real test.

Finally, the real email damage to Clinton may have come from WikiLeaks as much as from her own server stumble. The emails showed her as weak and indecisive, rather than having core commitments and vision. For every time Trump seemed to be resisting and saying he would do it his way, it seemed like she was running by committee and coming to positions with polls.

For people wanting change, they have to see the vision, and believe the messenger. Trump and Sanders were wildly unlikely and deeply flawed messengers, but their ability to deliver a vision, consistently and clearly, moved people to accept the messenger. The same could be said for Obama and his campaigns that were powerful enough to allow the first African-American to be elected. We just didn’t get that with Hilary, and we knew that, no matter how much we tried to wish it away.


I’m Sick of This Campaign! Can it Get Any Crazier?

election2016Grenoble   This presidential election season seems like a nightmare that just will not end! The whole season feels like Halloween with all tricks and no treats. It feels like the whole country is not living in suspense, but something more along the lines of a feeling of constant dread. What will Trump say next and who and how many millions will he offend? What will be revealed next in the Clinton staffers’ emails, and now, unbelievably, what in the world is the FBI doing in the middle of the election, jumping into the middle of the mess days before the voting, like we are living in Egypt, Turkey, or Russia, rather than the good ol’ USA.

Looking back over the last year is not a highlights, but a low-lights, reel.

Trump is like an abusive comic in a bad reality show. He’s attacked Muslims, Mexicans, all manner of immigrants, African-Americans, other candidates and their wives, parents of soldiers, and of course women by the tens of millions. And, no doubt, I’m forgetting others by the score. We’ve heard him on tape flaunting sexual abuse as he’s established a new standard for crudity and crassness in electioneering, and, yes, that includes comments on the size of hands and sex organs. We’ve heard him take pride in tax dodging and pat his own back for not paying taxes, while he’s running for the job of spending everyone else’s tax dollars and clearly not paying any of his own. Commentators have expressed concerns about allowing younger children to even watch Presidential debates for goodness sakes! Is there no end to this?

Meanwhile, we have this email train wreck that won’t stop running over in the Clinton wheelhouse. It starts with a terribly bad decision when she was Secretary of State to use a private server rather than the department’s email system. Anyone can make a bad call, but then the tendency towards secrecy without much of a mea culpa just exacerbates the trust issues, and can’t be put to bed and tucked in for the night. The FBI finally puts an endless investigation to rest with a couple of hand slaps, which are mistakenly called exonerations, and then, darned if they don’t reopen the whole mess, breaking their own internal policies by doing so, and offering hardly a smidgen of information. Worse, it seems to involve a former Congressman and estranged husband of one of Clinton’s closest advisors who once again is caught in a sexting scandal and unbelievably shared some electronic devices with his ex-wife that may have contained secret information. Talk about crass and crude, and stupid as a rock. What the frick!

Can any of us believe we are living through any of this at the highest levels of our political life?

And, that’s not all. Thanks to WikiLeaks and likely help from the Russians we also are treated to a daily dose of email drops from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta with way too much tacky talk and inside baseball play-by-play of the functions and dysfunctions of the Clinton campaign. We thought we had drama inside the Trump campaign, well, hold on, here comes the Clintonistas, too! Oh, and sure, video drops of dirty tricks to boot.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but I can’t take anymore.

Tuesday, November 8th, can’t come quickly enough for any of us. In some countries and in union elections there’s a quiet period before the vote for campaigning to stop. Can we get some of that now?!?


Counting Down, But All Over But the Shouting – and Hard Work!

2000 after Gore-Bush election protests & counting every vote

2000 after Gore-Bush election protests & counting every vote

New Orleans   Donald Trump’s campaign manager is a political professional. She has now admitted that they are behind without any hanky-panky accusations or artifice. She argues that there is still a possible path to a Trump victory but it is minuscule. Aggregates of all polls and predictions are rating Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning at 90%. Clinton is now putting money and time into states where Senate races are in play on the chance that with her victory and four seats swinging to the Democrats with the VP as the deciding vote on a party line division, control would shift. Few see a flip of thirty seats in the House, but most seem to believe that the margins will tighten and it could fall. President Obama is putting muscle and work behind more than 150 state legislators to see if control of some statehouses and chambers can be jilted to achieve more balance in the states. Obama has also committed to supporting former Attorney General Eric Holder’s project to try and impact redistricting in 2020 and reduce gerrymandering.

All good, but here’s the big but….

Turnout predictions are way down. Early voting is happening in Florida and North Carolina, and Clinton is pushing for more turnout, but numbers coming from Ohio so far are considerably down compared to the two Obama elections. This is even true among African-Americans where Clinton’s strength is huge.

In fact, television interviews and newspaper reports with black millennials are depressing. I read one wondering “why would I waste my time?” I saw a television piece interviewing a half-dozen very bright black millennial activists, and no matter how many times the interviewer posed the threats of a Trump candidacy, they were immovable on voting for Clinton, and perhaps voting at all. The third party candidates, god love them, don’t seem to have picked up the Sanders movement, so that seems less of a monkey wrench in this election, but voter antipathy to the candidates and a feeling that it’s over before it begins could spell trouble.

Here’s where the hard, usually invisible work of a field program comes to the fore. The AFL-CIO says it’s putting 100,000 volunteers on the streets of battleground states over the coming weeks. The Clinton campaign has invested deeply in offices and staffing in many battleground states in order to maximize the get out the vote effort, while Trump’s ground game still seems to consist of multiple rallies of the faithful. This is also where having a financial advantage helps the Clinton campaign by allowing them the resources to fuel the field. I even heard about a unique effort by some techies to encourage vote trading from blue to red states, but I doubt if that’s a movement. The additional incentive that Trump has offered the opposition is the need to pile up the score in order to de-legitimize any allegations of election rigging by administering an electoral beat down.

Nonetheless, it all boils down to getting yourself in gear and down to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th. Don’t go alone. Do your piece to make democracy work a bit better. Pressure your relatives, call your friends, post on your Facebook, Twitter, whatever, and let your small voice roar one way or another.


Voter Fraud Tactic is Just Another Voter Suppression Tactic

mapofshame2015New Orleans  Score setting is boring. It’s almost Trumpian. Who cares about all of this inside baseball back and forth? No one but the players in all likelihood. But, vindication, now that’s different. Recognition of a reality where someone has being crying to be heard in the wilderness, oh, yes, that’s worth taking note, I think.

And, so we will!

Finally, there’s starting to be a drumbeat of deeper understanding starting to rise among the cognoscenti in the media and political class that might eventually be heard over the din of the spin machines down to the grassroots that recognizes that these claims of voter fraud are nothing more than election tactics designed to confuse voters, rile up the hater-base, inspire racists, and suppress minority votes. Trump’s total lack of any credibility whatsoever has finally forced some mainstream reporters out of their deep slumber because the antipathy to Trump is so great by so many that they see his claims of a “rigged” election as a threat to democracy, rather than the standard operating procedure for election cycles at least throughout the 21st century in the United States.

I don’t want to suffer from “premature certainty,” but first the Washington Post pointed out that this rigged election malarkey was also a feature of the 2008 election thanks to John McCain’s fallacious accusations that ACORN was about to carry out the biggest voter fraud in history. The story was run nationally on the Tribune wire. Now the Huffington Post has jumped in and, more weightily, the New York Times finally got off the duff and realized that this “crying wolf” about so-called “voter fraud” has been going on cycle to cycle since at least 2000. Hello, welcome aboard the reality train! They of course cite the fact that ACORN was targeted, wrongly, in 2008, though they could as easily with a little more work and research have also made the same case back several cycles before 2008 as well.

The facts rarely disrupt tactics that are working even if they are essentially little more than media-manipulation and campaign dirty tricks. They do throw some fuel into the fire of truth though, and we can hope the sparks spread. Here are some:

…a study by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles…uncovered only 31 credible claims of voter impersonation between 2000 and 2014, out of one billion ballots that were cast. An Arizona State University journalism project reviewed 2068 allegations of election fraud between 2000 and 2012 and concluded that only 10 had involved misrepresentation.

Many of the allegations have been directed at efforts to register minority voters, so it’s hard to avoid the race mongering inherent in these claims and the intentional voter suppression, tragically backed up by targeted legislation largely in red-Republican states. Efforts to charge immigrants with illegal registration and voting, especially in 2012, but certainly in 2008, as well have all been pretty clearly unsubstantiated and at worse attributed to errors and confusion.

The Times concluded with an assessment from Lorraine Minnite from Rutgers, a voting expert, that,

“The frame is being controlled by those who are promoting the idea that fraud is a problem. If we shifted the framework to people who are trying to vote but don’t get their vote counted, we’d be having a different discussion.”

Been there, done that, said it often, so big whoop and amen to that!


Not O’Keefe Again!

organic-spies-spookNew Orleans    James O’Keefe, the infamous video scammer, showed up on my ACORN Google Alerts a couple of days ago, threatening once again to release daily videos that would overturn the election. Yawn. Really? He has been so thoroughly discredited so frequently in recent years that I have to admit I didn’t even open the alert and see what it was about. Just more self-promotion promoting a candidate whose entire platform and program is nothing but self-promotion.

Then a colleague mentioned a problem in their battleground state and the fact that there was a kerfuffle about videos having been mentioned by Trump in the debate. I replied that it was obviously minor since I hadn’t seen anything in local or national papers yet. Well, that was then, and this is now, since a story finally ran in the middle of the New York Times with comments indirectly alluded to elsewhere about “dirty tricks” for Hillary and troubling comparisons about the accuracy of the major candidates’ moral compasses.

It turned out this time that the O’Keefe video burned a couple of tangential operatives that may or may not have been obliquely involved in low levels of the Clinton campaign. The discussion ostensibly was about planting provocateurs in Trump rallies who might or might not provoke Trumpeteers into random acts of violence. Yes, you’re wondering, why bother, isn’t this an organic and natural part of Trump rallies anyway? Well, perhaps but the operatives were trying to entice O’Keefe’s pretend “donors” and may, or may not, have been gilding the lily for the bucks. One of the operatives who was off-camera reportedly was an old friend and colleague, Bob Creamer, a native of Shreveport and former community organizer with Illinois Public Action in the 1980s, who used to stop by and visit during Christmas when he was visiting his family, and in later life, now married to Congresswomen Jan Shaklowsky of Chicago, has made his career as a political consultant and organizer. In short, I’m biased. I like Bob. I detest O’Keefe.

All of which is neither here, nor there, because my real problem is not this tempest in a teapot, because I have to admit how jaded I am since all I see is small potatoes, but how is it still possible that any and everyone involved at any level of political, activist, or organizing life has not learned the lessons from the ACORN-O’Keefe attack to thoroughly vet any and every one that they do not know well when they are doing any business whatsoever. Ok, you may say I’m not a trusting person, but that’s OK, because I’ll freely admit, I’m not a trusting person, but why would anyone fall for O’Keefe’s ridiculous ploys anymore?

Is it possible on the right or the left that part of the standard interview process and contractor terms don’t require a guarantee against loose lips and sinking ships mandating vetting or permissions before any discussions in or away from the office with random folks? How can it be that the lessons of the slanderous ACORN takedown are not tattooed on the arms or worn like an amulet by every political organizer and campaign employee from high to low? I don’t get it.

Somehow memory is fleeting from cycle to cycle and 2009 is so yesterday, but geez can’t we get our act together finally and do right on this? O’Keefe continues to be a bad penny who keeps popping up, simply because we allow his shtick to survive.


Issues Missing in Presidential Campaign

20160711_election_issues_2New Orleans    Not long ago there was an op-ed piece that ran in the papers about the fact that poverty and what to really do about the equity gap was missing as an issue in the campaign. More recently, others have noted that climate change has also been raised, but not engaged as a campaign issue. When you think about it, we’ve definitely seen issues around race and gender as centerpieces of the campaign, but when it really comes down to hard-and-firm debates about policy choices and decisions that we might face once we live through this campaign, there’s not much there, there.

We can infer that Trump would reboot our foreign policy with a Russian warmup of some kind. We know that Clinton traveled to a host of countries while Secretary of State, but I’m not sure if we know exactly what she would do on foreign policy as President, other than more of the same. If we grab at straws there are contradictory readings of some of the WikiLeaks email dumps that indicate that Clinton might – or might not – be tougher on Wall Street. Immigrants may have to learn to crawl the wall with Trump, but we’re guessing that Hillary would continue to push forward with Obama-lite programs in this area. We know Trump would appoint highly conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, and, we can guess that Clinton would not, but she has not committed to pushing forward on Obama’s stalled nomination or been clear where she might look in this regard.

It’s kind of amazing how little we know about what either candidate would really do as President, given the nature of this campaign. It has been so bitter and so divisive that it has drowned out any but the most strident messages of the candidates.

We can gather that something might happen on daycare, but Trump’s initiative here was tactical, rather than profound, so it’s not like we could take it to the bank. And, speaking of the bank, for all of the controversy about Trump’s non-payment of taxes, if a gun were pressed up against my head, I would still be hard-pressed to repeat exactly what Clinton has said that she would commit to doing to change the tax rate and how it favors corporations and the rich, even if we can be confident from Trump’s remarks that he thinks it’s fine and dandy, and even smart to not pay taxes. I’d say about the same on trade and jobs, which have surprisingly been clearer issues for Trump, than Clinton.

Maybe this is just real-politick. Perhaps we are seeing all of these sideshows from both candidates because neither are sure that they can get anything through Congress? The increasingly confident Clinton is putting more money into Arizona, Indiana, and Missouri to try and influence Senate races to switch control, but meanwhile polls are also indicating that people are tuning out and tired of the back-and-forth, particularly African-Americans and younger voters which could lead to lower turnout.

One thing that was clear in the Sanders campaign and his constant one-note repetition: voters knew where he stood. The only thing clear about this campaign as we come down to the wire is that voters know who they don’t like – not what they can expect to see over the next four years.