Archive for January 2008

Blogging for choice – or choosing not to.

January 27, 2008

The demands of caucus and post-caucus coverage left the Reasonable Reporter unwilling to write anything more complicated than a grocery list on Blogging for Choice Day.

On January 22, which was the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, NARAL asked bloggers to write about the reasons it’s important to vote pro-choice. The request yielded hundreds of blog posts.

The Reasonable Reporter chooses instead, as she does each time this anniversary commands high-profile coverage, to recommend the film “Citizen Ruth.” It’s a bitterly funny black comedy about the abortion battle in which both sides, and the movie’s title character, a pregnant addict whom both factions seek to exploit for political purposes, are all enormously unlikable.

These days, the Roe v. Wade anniversary brings with it sad public disclosures by women who’ve had abortions and wish they hadn’t. Their anguish is understandably immense, but, the Reasonable Reporter believes, better left in the shrink’s office or the confessional.

The generation that made successful political and literary careers from this issue used to say that “the personal is political.” Now, the political has become entirely too personal. One hopes the new political mantra of “change” will extend to this arena. One guesses it probably won’t.

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The caucus ain’t no pizza party, friends.

January 21, 2008

Two things, people. 1) The caucus is no place for casual voters. 2) If you don’t drag a few casual voters with you, your candidate will be crushed.

The Reasonable Reporter saw this contradiction demonstrated in Reno’s precinct 1003.

The precinct’s huge bands of Hillary and Obama supporters included more than a few casuals, and that’s why the two candidates performed so well. But many of the casuals wore the demeanor of someone on a blind date that isn’t going well. When the proceedings bogged down because of a procedural dispute, the casuals began to squirm and glance at their watches. Some even shouted things like “let’s get on with it.” A few slipped out the door while the captains were consulting the rules.

The casuals were easy to spot. The sleepy-looking college men with jet-black dye jobs, standing in the registration line. They told the Reasonable Reporter they were changing from Independent to Democrat. Why were they doing that? Blank looks all around. It was apparently not a question any of them had pondered at length. After a couple of beats one replied “Because Obama is the man.”

Then there was the restless-looking guy who bolted for the door the moment the counts were complete. The Hillary and Obama groups hadn’t yet chosen their delegates.

“I’ve got two kids at home” he shrugged as he breezed by Hillary’s dismayed precinct captain.

There were no casuals among the John Edwards supporters, and it was wrenching to watch their distress as they were forced to abandon their candidate and choose between the larger groups.

Remember the endless rounds of mockus sessions where Democrats were trained to caucus by choosing pizzas? It always made perfect sense. Pepperoni was always viable, because lots of people like pepperoni. So was cheese. Anchovy supporters always had to choose another group. Only you never saw disappointment on the faces of the anchovy supporters. They were always laughing because, after all, who likes anchovies? And, more to the point, there was nothing at stake.

The real caucus ain’t no pizza party. It’s a cruelly effective tool for reducing the number of candidates.

The Edwards supporters in precinct 1003 had already absorbed the even less viable Kucinich supporters. The combined faction was still two bodies shy of viability. The now-enlarged Edwards group challenged the implementation of the rules. Some thought they should have a shot at peeling off people from the Hillary and Obama camps. But those people had already surrendered their candidate cards, and had been instructed to stay put.

Some of the Edwards group felt they’d been robbed of the “caucus,” since no discussion had taken place. And this, not crowded parking lots or ballot shortages, is the lesson the party needs to take to heart.

“I’m from Iowa,” one of the Edwards group announced. “And this is not a caucus, it’s a nose count.” She tried to persuade the captains that nobody should have been rendered off limits to lobbying until more discussion had taken place. Caucusing. Horse trading. They hadn’t had a chance to do it.

(Come and vote for pepperoni! It’s the tastiest pizza and your kids will love it! Come and vote for cheese! It’s got lots of calcium. Come and vote for vegetarian! It’s the healthiest!)

The former Iowa resident got up and walked out. “She’s right! That’s what it’s supposed to be about, “ another man shouted. “There’s been no caucusing.”

The Reasonable Reporter witnessed no caucusing, if caucusing means discussing the merits of the candidates. A rules clarification at party HQ confirmed the process had been technically correct. Horse trading means trading up. Viable groups absorb non-viable groups, not the other way around.

On the issue of caucusing, however, the answer is less definitive. They should have been caucusing from the moment they walked through the door, a spokesperson told the Reasonable Reporter. If that’s the case, first-time Nevada caucusers at precinct 1003 didn’t realize it. Instead, they waited for instructions. Some are still angry.

“I hope we never have another caucus,” one told the Reasonable Reporter on Monday. She had decided to participate after watching an Iowa caucus meeting on C-Span, and seeing lots of discussion and persuasion.

On the Republican side, where the process is simpler, the dissatisfaction is somewhat in the same vein. The din in the rooms made it impossible to hear the speeches given by prospective delegates. No audible discussion. Some gave up and went home.

Slouching Toward Caucus Day, part 3

January 18, 2008

Re-branding John Edwards

The Reasonable Reporter has written little about John Edwards. That’s because, embarrassingly enough, the Reasonable Reporter has found the Edwards campaign difficult to grasp.

After the candidate’s appearance at the Grand Sierra on Wednesday, the light went on. If Hillary is Coke, and Obama is Pepsi, then John Edwards is Old Labor Cola. It’s been a successful brand for decades, but the product needs a boost. Or a line extension. Perhaps Old Labor Cola should branch out with an energy drink.

Edwards stood on the stage at the Grand Sierra backed by what appeared to be members of the Communication Workers of America. The Communication Workers include workers at AT&T and Cingular. Although the endorsement rap from CWA’s president resembled the rap from any other union president, “communication workers” sounds hip. It has currency. CWA could have been the energy drink.

Upon accepting their endorsement, Edwards referred to CWA as the “backbone of our information age economy.” So why didn’t he use a thumbs-up from a hip sector like communication to build on the stories about textile mills?  (And by the way, what the hell is a textile mill? Textile mills are virtually alien to the experience of young Americans. Certainly to young Western Americans. Edwards’ father may as well have worked as a blacksmith.)

The improved story would begin with Edwards’ father, who suffered a demoralizing job loss after having trained the man who would ultimately become the executive in charge of the textile mill where senior Edwards had worked for years. His job was eliminated. Some theater of the mind might be in order. Descriptions of sheets of fabric being mechanically folded onto bolts… the product was destined to cover the couches in American living rooms where millions of families enjoyed their lives together.

Ah, but on to the future. Textile mills have been ceded by the American economy to the offshore places where companies now take their manufacturing business. We lost that one. But we are the United States of America, and we are the leaders in telecommunications, and our telecom workers are the most sophisticated in the world, and they will carry on the union tradition. (Applause.)

The CWA endorsement would have been the perfect vehicle to moderize the Old Labor Cola brand, and position Edwards as the best bet to lead labor into a prosperous and progressive American future. (Wild applause.) Properly employed, this approach could have reinvented Edwards as the most cutting-edge of the Democrats.

As to the confusing element of the campaign. Edwards tends to blur the lines between the middle class and the truly impoverished. The narrative portrays America as a place that’s hostile to the working man. While Obama is focused on hope, and Hillary points out that families are struggling with energy prices and college tuition, and certainly both have exploited the foreclosure crisis, Edwards stirs authentic fear. He taps perhaps too deeply into the darkest and most fearful corners of our survival angst.

We haven’t heard lately about the mother forced to decide which child to send to school on a bitterly cold day because her children own a single coat among them.  Nonetheless, it’s desperate straits rather than every day struggles that dominate the message.   Darker than Obama’s hope, and less comforting than overachieving Hillary Clinton who’s been crafting her policies, she says, for 35 years.

Slouching Toward Caucus Day, part 2

January 17, 2008

 Can Ron Paul’s Army put him over the top?

More than a few observers have predicted a strong enough caucus day turnout for Ron Paul to push him far above his statistical level of Republican support – perhaps he’ll even come in first, some have speculated. These are the unscientific projections of various credible political observers, based on gut primarily, and on daily scrutiny of the pre-caucus activity. Disclaimer issued.

But two facts bolster these predictions. First, the GOP candidates have been damn scarce in Nevada, giving the media little to cover, and forcing likely Silver State caucusers to make their judgments from afar. Second, Saturday’s Republican “preference poll” results will depend on who shows up. Ron Paul’s Army intends to show up.

Washoe County GOP Chair Heidi Smith says her office was inundated prior to the party’s December 19th registration deadline with Paul party-switchers preparing to caucus for him. Chris Hansen, who chairs the state’s Independent American party says a large number of IAP party members have changed their registration in order to support Paul. Hansen’s also had numerous contacts with Democrats doing likewise.

Paul’s avid support has been attributed to the internet, but it’s also the fruit of 35 years of Libertarian activism, simply conferred upon whomever has the stamina to elbow his way into the spotlight with the message. While his years as a Texas congressman certainly lend gravitas, Pauls’ not a commanding or charismatic candidate. He’s a smart and pleasant man, but no particular personality trait of Paul’s, except persistence and energy, can be credited with the passionate support for him.

Undeserved success is generally punished in politics. (The Reasonable Reporter uses the word advisedly, understanding the fury of the Paul supporters, who are sensitive to the dismissive attitude of the media toward their candidate. Ron Paul’s Army would lash out at the use of the word, pointing out his commitment to constitutional principle, and his performance in congress, which demonstrates it. Duly noted.)

“Undeserved success” is a marketing term, and it isn’t pejorative. It refers to incidental gains coming from peripheral market segments for reasons not explicit in the original plan. In politics, it might mean success not garnered through the traditional route, and not recognized by the sanctioning body.

In general, the likelier candidates come down hard on the successful dark horse as he begins to eat into their numbers. Paul says this happened earlier in the month when an old story resurfaced about a newsletter with racially bigoted content published by one of his organizations. He’s already had to set the record straight on this matter during an earlier campaign, he says, and it’s bubbling up again because of his success.

Certainly, Paul’s campaign has worked hard on the ground in Nevada. The candidate himself has been attentive to the state, and has earned whatever success is in store on Saturday. If the predictions come true, Paul could make political history once again. And the national campaign may want to brace for tough treatment in states where, unlike in Nevada, the GOP candidates feel a greater imperative to show up.

Slouching Toward Caucus Day

January 16, 2008

Hillary and Obama and mortgage misfortune 

It was one of the most fascinating, but least commented-upon moments of the week. Perhaps only the Reasonable Reporter and Joe Harrington from KOLO noticed, although it hardly seems possible, given the number of eyeballs and cameras trained on Hillary Clinton when she sat down with Nevadans for a roundtable at Bertha Miranda’s on Saturday. Here’s what happened.

One of the locals at Clinton’s table spoke at length about her mortgage misadventures. After a series of transactions with lenders who got her into a house at the peak of the market, and then couldn’t deliver refinancing, the woman has been using credit cards to pay her mortgage. The monthly payment has nearly doubled, the value of the house has dropped, and she’s facing foreclosure.

When the story concluded, it was Clinton’s cue to respond. As she began to speak, Clinton brushed her finger lightly across her cheek. It was a casual, and yet a lingering physical gesture.

It’s quite possible a tiny flake of mascara had fallen onto the cheek of the former first lady. Or did a twitching facial muscle need soothing? Maybe it was an itch and not a twitch. Or, for crying out loud – which Clinton wasn’t – maybe the woman in the next chair had uttered the word “foreclosure” with an overly forceful “f,” propelling a saliva droplet onto the former first lady, and Clinton needed to politely dispatch the miniscule bit of fluid from her face.

The Reasonable Reporter would consider any of the above a perfectly good explanation, were it appropriate to ask for explanation. Joe Harrington noticed, and wondered the obvious. He used the shot to tease his story on channel 8 that night. Was Hillary Clinton crying again?

Clinton’s roundtable was focused on the financial hardships of the middle class. Two days later, Barack Obama performed essentially the same event, sitting with similarly challenged Nevadans in a meeting room at the Reno Events Center.

These back-to-back events did more to differentiate the two candidates than almost anything else the campaigns have presented to date. But not on policy, particularly.

The Clinton conversations took place in a Mexican restaurant. There were a dozen or more participants at the table. The format was formal. Each guest introduced him or herself, and used a hand-held microphone to tell a story. Clinton, also using a hand-held mic, responded to each story with a critique of current policy, and the changes she would offer. It was neat and tidy, organized and smart, as was she. The place was jam-packed, but it was not a large place. Two hundred or so may be a generous estimate.

Obama’s roundtable was a media-only event. He had four people at the table, badly amplified, and there was no camera platform, which meant the TV cameras hogged the front line, and almost everyone else peered beneath the armpits of camera operators, stooped to look between the legs of tripods, or hugged a side wall to glimpse the proceedings.

(The thought that goes into preparing for media is always interesting. The press RSVP was the most wretched of all communication tools, the online form. It offered the following choices to identify the needs of the news organization: photography, video, print, internet, other. Yes, “other.” Radio, the Rodney Dangerfield of news media does have technical needs. We need to jack in for audio, and high-quality audio is apreciated, thank you. And just because the listeners can’t see the action doesn’t mean the reporter doesn’t need to see it.)

Obama’s interaction with his hand-picked Nevadans was intimate, (under the circumstances) with the candidate resting his chin in his hand as he looked earnestly into the eyes of each speaker. He interjected comments as they spoke, rather than waiting for them to finish. Even made a rueful quip or two, which seemed not to bother his guests, and it was something a friend might do, listening to an unremittingly grim tale of luckless occurrences.

He offered less in the way of substance than did Clinton, and this is notable. Obama is Obama when he’s before a crowd. At a table, he’s just another guy, and a bit of a slow talker at that.

Obama and Clinton both blame the business model that has Wall Street packaging mortgage-backed securities. But his criticism of Washington was more widely spread than Clinton’s. She blamed the Bush administration. He blamed the Washington establishment and lobbyists.

Obama then held a rally on the main floor of the Events Center, where the crowd pushed 2,000. This in contrast to the Sunday appearance at TMCC by Bill Clinton, where the crowd pushed 500. Both are rock stars, and both were wildly received. For the record, a wild reception by 2,000 sounds like ten freight trains.

Obama made his standard hope-and-change stump speech. The former president made his standard speech for Hillary, which included – The Reasonable Reporter made it a point to count them this time – 20 references to himself and his own presidency in a 39 minute speech. That’s a bit more than one every two minutes, for the math-challenged..

Hillary’s Slide and Air America’s Rage Against the Machine

January 7, 2008

 

 

Hllary Clinton’s nomination is perhaps not inevitable after all, but while we wait to find out, it’s worth contemplating the possible role of progressive talk radio in creating the tide that may now suck her under.

Air America Radio was developed to counter the dominant conservative brand of AM talk radio. In recognition that Rush Limbaugh had been influential in fomenting the Republican Revolution of 1994, and that Rush and dozens of Rush emulators made up a conservative spin industry, 19 hours a day across the nation, Democrats wanted a similar venue.

Clinton is said to have been among those who conceived the progressive talk product, and to have tried without success to introduce large investors to Air America’s wealthy founder. The network got off the ground in 2004, and bumped along for a while with marquee talent famous for other show business accomplishments, but uninitiated to radio and badly suited to the business. These personalities had been recruited for their celebrity names and their political outspokenness.

The hosts were hampered not only by their ineptitude with the medium, but by Air America’s apparent mission, which was nonstop excoriation of George W. Bush and Republicans. There were regular guest slots, for instance, featuring wonks from the Center for American Progress, a think tank run by former members of the Clinton administration, to dissect the internal workings of the Bush administration. (From a Clintonian point of view, one presumes, but it was so boring, who could pay attention?)

It’s a tough trick for the most seasoned personalities to deliver policy details in a crisp and entertaining fashion. Beyond that, such content simply isn’t interesting enough by itself to sustain mass listenership. There’s so much more going on in the nation that could be discussed in politically progressive terms, but the hosts were either confined by management, or it didn’t occur to them to wander farther afield.

Air America had to be financially rescued with new ownership. The high-profile radio rookies were replaced with radio professionals. Air America’s prime dayparts were staffed at last with real talk radio hosts, rather than actors who love politics. They dance to their own drummers.

This was great for Air America, which sounds a lot more polished these days. But it may have been bad for Hillary. Air America has settled into its rightful niche, which is on the bleeding edge of progressive politics. What was perhaps unanticipated at its conception, (oddly enough) was that if progressive talk radio could survive, it would survive because of its very progressiveness. Being wildly moderate does not breed passion or success. Successful branding would necessarily place the product well outside the territory occupied by mainstream Democrats.

The audience would largely consist of political junkies and well-educated liberals who want to drill deeper into events than does the mainstream media. They would also want to hear something more in-your-face than than public broadcasting can provide.

Deep drilling automatically penetrates the protective bubble where mainstream politicians live. If done in earnest, it doesn’t spare the mushy middle. This puts Air America not on the Hillary Track, but on the Kucinich-Edwards-Obama track. An sampling of Air America during a typical week offers a whole lot of criticism of Hillary Clinton. She’s not sufficiently anti-war. Her experience is regularly called into question. She gets criticism for everything from the Iranian Red Guard vote to her defense of lobbying, to her status as a Clinton in the Bush-Clinton 20-year White House dynasty.

While the hosts regularly say they’ll support her if she’s the nominee, she doesn’t seem to be anyone’s preference. Be Careful what you wish for.

 

 

 

 

Reporter as public servant?

January 2, 2008

It was election eve on the planet San Francisco, and the doorbell rang. On the porch stood a neighbor, with whom no more than a nodding acquaintance had developed. She was clutching her voter guide, which in that particular year was the size of a small-town telephone book. She was aware of the Reasonable Reporter’s occupation as an issue-watcher.

“Can you tell me how to vote on the ballot initiatives?” she asked.

The next ninety minutes was spent at the dining room table, reviewing the pros and cons of 21 separate state ballot issues. (Yes. There were 21 propositions on the ballot that year. The Reasonable Reporter seems to recall one of them approached 40 pages long, as filed with the Secretary of State’s office. The voter guide, of course, held an abbreviated version.)

No voting recommendations were offered, and the woman was not entirely pleased that she was still on the hook for making up her own mind, but she was better informed when she left than when she arrived. And by the way, why hadn’t she asked a co-worker for help? Or her parents? Or her boyfriend, with whom she lived in the house across the street?

“He told me to ask you,” she said.

This would not be last time a citizen-acquaintance would request information. From time-to-time the questions come.

“What do you think of this or that candidate?” “What’s the deal with this or that issue?”

But the inquiries are different these days. Sometimes, citizen-acquaintances don’t really want additional information. They ask for it, and then reject or embrace it depending on whether it squares with opinions they’ve already formed. They seek validation, not information. Facts only serve to add fuel to the fire of their certainty. Recently, one questioned the professional detachment of the reporter.

The prudent course of action now is to simply direct the questioner to a Google search. It’s sad, for those who would like the job to have a dimension of service.