Hillary Needs A Singular Trump Critique, Not Dozens

One of the problems with running against a historically bizarre opponent like Donald Trump is that there are so many different juicy ways to run against him.  Most activists and pundits think of that as an opportunity, but it also poses a very real problem – focus.

Because Trump is such an outrageous cartoon character of a candidate, Secretary Clinton could be tempted to use her campaign platform and resources to frame up Mr. Trump in a myriad of different ways.  But that would be the biggest mistake she could make.

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Trump the bigot.  Trump the philanderer. Trump the misogynist. Trump the bully.  Trump the trigger happy. Trump the uncouth.  Trump the simpleton.  Trump the liar.  Trump the inciter.  Trump the right winger.  Trump the failure.  Trump the blunderer.  Trump the neo-facist.  Trump the war criminal.  Trump the con artist.  Trump the demagogue.  Trump the hypocrite.  Trump the rejected.  Trump the authoritarian.  Trump the unstable.  Trump the novice.  Trump the flip-flopper.  Trump the all-of-the-above.

It’s dizzying.  One of the worst possible strategies is the last one — to throw everything at Trump in roughly equal measure, which is de facto what is happening at the moment.  And that is what happens when you don’t have a disciplined communications strategy.

Singular Key Message Needed

The essence of communications strategy is sacrifice.  You have to walk past some tempting messages in order to have a focused strategy.  If you say everything you possibly could say about an opponent, you effectively are saying nothing.  All of those very valid Trump critiques piled one upon the other becomes a cacophony to voters.  Subsequently, eyes roll and ears shut.

The_Key_to_the_Key_cg-50_jpg__320×247_So communications strategists typically identify a small number of messages or themes that they strive to repeat and stress above all the others. They’re often called “key messages,” or “frames.”

The key message is the one idea that you need to stick in your target audience’s mind in order to achieve your goal, which in this case is persuading swing voters to reject Trump and get more comfortable with Clinton.

Therefore, the Clinton campaign needs to stick to a small number of lines of attack, even as the Trump vaudeville act continually tosses out new bait to lead the Clinton campaign down dozens of different messaging paths.  Trump is clearly incapable of message discipline, but Clinton can’t allow his lack of discipline to destrory hers.

Trump The Economy Rigger

So which crystallizing key message should Clinton stress?

Swing voters are disgusted by establishment figures like Hillary and Congress, because they see them as part of a corrupt Washington culture that has rigged the economy for the wealthy few to the exclusion of the non-wealthy many.  That is the central concern of many Trumpeters and Bern Feelers, and so that issue is the most important messaging ground for Clinton.

Therefore, Secretary Clinton should align a disciplined campaign messaging machine – ads, speech soundbites, policy announcements, surrogate messaging, etc. — around framing Mr. Trump as:

Trump the self-serving economy rigger.

As Clintonista James Carville might say, “it’s the economy rigging, stupid.”  That is, Trump the privileged billionaire selfishly seeking to win control the Washington levers of power in order further rig the economy to benefit himself and his privileged class at the expense of everyone else.  If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s precisely the strategy that Team Obama used to defeat billionaire Mitt Romney in 2012.

Why choose this framing over all of the other delicious options?  First, it was proven effective against a billionaire candidate in 2016.  There is message equity there.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Second, it goes to the core of what is bugging swing voters the most in 2016.

With this kind of framing, the Clinton-Warren or Clinton-Sherrod Brown team would focus like a laser on Trump’s tax giveaways to the rich. It would highlight his proposals to weaken Wall Street protections. It would stress Trump’s opposition to Clinton proposals to  increase the minimum wage hikes and taxes on the wealthy. It would hammer relentlessly on Trump’s refusal to reveal his taxes, and stress that he doesn’t want ordinary Americans to know that the billionaire pays a much smaller percentage of his taxes than they do. It would focus on his history of lobbying to create and perpetuate the wealth-protection measures to rig the economy in his favor, while harming the rest of us.

Executing that kind of messaging strategy would require the Clinton campaign to largely take a pass on the other juicy lines of attack against Trump, all of which will be magnified during daily news coverage, but are unhelpful diversions of public mind space compared to this framing.  It would require her to be saying things like this:

“You know, I care much less about today’s latest sideshow than the fact that Mr. Trump’s plan to cut taxes for the rich and oppose a minimum wage hike will further rig the economy for the ultra-wealthy. His outrageous giveaway to  his fellow billionaires is much more offensive to me than his latest round of crudeness.”

Focusing on “Trump the self-serving economy rigger” would make Clinton look a bit more like a change-agent, and less like a defender of the despised Washington status quo.  It also would help erode the silly notion of among some swing voters that Trump is somehow the champion of the common man.

This won’t come naturally for Secretary Clinton.  Her establishment instincts will continually tempt her to focus her critique of Trump through a Washington lens.  She’ll instinctively want to crow about the fact that she knows more about policy details, and that the smarty pants Washingtonian centrists, and even some conservatives, are embracing her and rejecting Trump. She’ll want to scold Trump about saying things that, well, refined Washingtonians simply do not say.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  When Clinton does that, many swing voters hear her as “Washington insider looking down her nose at Washington outsider,” and in the current political climate the instincts of many will be to side with the outsider. Hillary needs to fight her instincts and frame Trump as the ultimate nest-feathering insider masquerading as an outsider.  She doesn’t need to feel her inner Bubba and triangulate the center right, or jump on each of Trump’s outrage du jour.  As much as she may want to resist it, Hillary needs to feel the Bern.

 

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Note:  This post also was published as part of MinnPost’s weekly Blog Cabin feature.

Note:  Collage portrait by Conor Collins.

How Hard Will Governor Dayton Fight For His #1 Priority?

Dayton_early_education_-_Google_SearchGovernor Dayton has been very clear that early education investment is his Administration’s top priority. But you’d never know it by looking at the budget proposals coming out of the Minnesota Legislature so far this year.

This Governor sounds very serious about making early education his legacy. Early in his term, the Dayton Administration brought two proven early education programs statewide — Early Learning Scholarships and the Parent Aware program. Last year, he continually demanded larger investments in early education, and  expressed bitter disappointment when the investment wasn’t as large as he had wanted.

Since then, he has repeatedly made it very clear that more early education investment is needed. Last summer, just a few weeks after the special session ended, the Governor told reporters:

“We’re going to keep making that the priority of my administration, and anything else is going to have to take second place and not precede it.”

He then went on to make a pledge that caught the attention of a lot of reporters and legislators who would like to spend their summer away from the Capitol this year.

“I will not sign a tax bill that does not have an equitable amount in it overall for early childhood and for continuing the progress that we’re made here.”

This winter, the Governor hasn’t let up. On February 28th, the Pioneer Press reported:

In a news conference last week, Dayton said that when it comes to closing student achievement gaps, addressing early learning “is the most important thing we can do.”

There’s compelling evidence to back up the Governor’s prioritization of early education. Research by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found that helping low-income children access high quality early education programs can yield up to $16 in societal returns for every $1 spent. The returns mostly comes in the form of a lifetime of taxpayer expenses foregone, such as future taxpayer bills for remedial education, social services, income supports, health care, law enforcement and prisons.

The part that many miss about this oft-cited research is that the investment must meet two important criteria in order for the returns to materialize. First, the investment has to be directed at low-income children. Second, it has to be in providing access to high quality programs, the types of places that actually get kids ready for school. Investing in children whose family can already afford good programs, or in lower quality programs, doesn’t yield the big returns.

In other words, how lawmakers invest matters, not just what amount they invest.

How Much Is An “Equitable Amount?”

Still, with 89% of low-income pre-schoolers unable to obtain Early Learning Scholarships due to insufficient funding, and Minnesota having some of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the size of the investment definitely matters. And with just a few days left in the session, the DFL Governor doesn’t seem to be getting much DFL legislative support for his top priority.

The DFL-controlled Senate is proposing to invest only 3.9% of the $900 million surplus on their Governor’s number one priority.  That is less than half what the Governor recommends. Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Minnesota House is proposing to spend just 0.5% of the surplus on early education, less than one-twentieth of what the Governor proposes.

In his budget recommendations, the Governor proposed spending 10.9% of the budget surplus ($98.4 million) on early care and education. Even that amount is not a particularly large sum for something the Governor has identified as “the priority of my administration,” but it is by far the most robust investment that has been proposed this year.

Somewhere in the vast gap between the House’s proposed 0.2% of the surplus and the Administration’s proposed 10.9% of the surplus is what the man in possession of the veto will consider an “equitable amount” for early education programs. If the Governor fights for his number one priority the way he did last year, reporters and legislators may not want to make their summer vacation plans quite yet.

– Loveland

Disclosure: I’m a communications consultant who contracts with a nonprofit organization that agrees with some but not all of Governor Dayton’s early education proposals, and some but not all of the bipartisan Legislature’s early education proposals. This post reflects my personal views, not necessarily that organization’s views.

And the “Republican establishment” is who, again?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Frankly, I don’t know how anything, much less anyone, can survive the next five and a half months. After spending most of last summer, fall and winter assuming/hoping Donald Trump would slither back under his gilded rock, we now have accept that he not only isn’t going away, but he’s going to be louder, cruder and more reckless than ever … because he’s convinced that’s what “his” Republican party wants.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has to figure how to sell competent management (zzzzz) through news cycle after news cycle dominated by the next ludicrous-to-offensive thing Trump says and the herd media loves to cover pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. Personally, I’m confident Team Clinton, arguably the best-oiled political machine of the last generation, already knows how it’s going to play the game ahead. But that doesn’t mean the vulgar absurdity of Trump will abate in any way.

Among the innumerable ironies of the past month or so, as Trump achieved inevitability and “presumptiveness”, are the persistent eulogies for the Republican party. It’s as though the GOP “establishment”, which I’m not sure but I guess means the Bush Family, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Grover Norquist and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, was this cherished national treasure, a font of high-minded enlightenment guiding the masses with unimpeachable Socratic logic and rewarding the faithful with effective, far-sighted governance and benefits of indisputable value to the forever “hard-working” middle class.

What a colossal crock. After Romney augered in four years ago, I wasn’t the only one who said that if the “Grand” old party truly wanted to remain relevant in national elections it had to make a handful of serious changes. There was the “Hispanic problem”, which in truth is also a problem with pretty much every other minority group as well. There was also “the woman problem”, even though the Mittster did pretty well with white women. But most of all, IMHO, there was the need to be something more than a careerist messaging apparatus for anti-government “public servants” and actually, truly, genuinely do something for the middle class. Hell, the party itself said essentially the same thing, with the exception of, you know, that doing something part.

But because modern conservatives have been in the sales game and out of the doing something game for so long, bloviating about “freedoms” and “Constitutional rights” and “limited government” while incessantly licking the boots of the donor class that keeps them in office, they have no street cred with the crowd Trump tapped in to. Other than gun rights, Trump’s people have about as much of a focus on Constitutional freedoms as a diabetic bonobo. But damn! They know what they despise.

More to the point, the “messaging” they were getting injected with every day had nothing to do with the Bushes or even the Wall Street Journal. Their “establishment”, the real Republican establishment, was led by Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, a pack of self-serving entertainers pushing a much more digestible product. Namely, “Everything is [bleeped]. We are the ultimate authorities and the only people you can trust. And, you are the real victims of the DC con game.”

McCain’s top advisor in 2008, Steve Schmidt, recently went off on a rant about exactly this.

In small part he said, “[Mark Levin] is series-A round investor in the demise of the conservative movement in the Republican Party. He, very famously, a woman calls up his show and has the gall to just disagree with Mark Levin, who calls himself the great one. Talk about a narcissist. Talk about self-aggrandizers. Mark Levin asked, ‘Do you have a gun in the house? Go find it and blow your brains out’. This is the tone that has emanated from talk radio and this cancer has spread and that tone has infected the whole of the party. And so this moment that we’ve arrived at, where there’s been a severability now between issues and conservatism, and the test of who is the conservative in the race is who has the loudest voice of opposition.”

(As for bona fides, never forget that it was Schmidt in 2008 who signed off on Sarah Palin.)

A lot of liberals I listen to are smug in their belief that that kind cloddish rage has appeal only to the usual low-information, angry white (aging) male crowd. But the fact is Hillary Clinton’s high “unfavorable ratings” are directly connected to the same dynamic. The woman has been accused of one scandal after another since 1992. From Travelgate, to Whitewater, to Benghazi to this e-mail nonsense, all of it stoked and relentlessly marketed by the same entertainment “establishment”, (with the Bushes, McCains, Romneys and Wall Street Journals happily nodding along).

Point being, when I hear ardent progressives and marginally liberal people both talk about Clinton’s “untrustworthiness” I have to ask, “What do you mean, exactly?” And after valid stuff like her Iraq vote and coziness with Wall Street, the bulk of the examples are utter crap, like Whitewater and Benghazi. False reality, junk facts and manufactured outrage force fed by conservative entertainment “messaging” like milk to credulous veal calves. But so much of this “message” has been shoved down the public’s throats for so long, it has become a DNA marker in the body of the general public, conservatives, liberals and agnostics alike.

“There must be something to it. They always talk about it.”

So follow the dots: The cynical fecklessness of the Republican establishment class meant it kowtowed to its entertainment mouthpieces. Those mouthpieces cultivated an enormous audience of lazy-minded cynics. Those cynics, after 25 years, have now ridiculed and booed the “establishment” off the stage in favor of an actual TV performer-celebrity. That performer is, big surprise, another self-serving populist demagogue. A character who manifests, mainly, not any grand issues or policies, but rather the disposition the GOP’s target audience acquired from their regular habit of tuning in to be reassured they were right to feel sorry for themselves.

Well done, establishment conservatives.

Dear South Dakota: Lighten Up

5_reasons_to_still_get_excited_for_Paul_McCartney__besides_the_obvious__-_StarTribune_comSouth Dakota is feeling under-loved, again. A South Dakota state senator wrote a commentary in today’s Star Tribune complaining about the newspaper’s preview of Paul McCartney’s two Target Center concerts. The forlorn headline says it all: “Gee, did you have to slam South Dakota again?”

It seems the mulleted Beatle began his Midwest tour in Sioux Falls, which prompted the Strib’s music critic to do what music critics do for a living, get snarky. “For once, you may envy the folks who live in Sioux Falls,” wrote the Strib’s Chris Riemenschneider.  This prompted South Dakota State Senator Bernie Hunhoff to do what South Dakota politicians do for a living, get defensive.

Actually, Hunhoff’s piece was pretty light-hearted and fun, a welcome change from much of what we often hear in these tiresome “border battles.”  But along with the humor, there was hurt.  Oh yes, there was hurt.

We midwesterners as a group tend to be mighty sensitive when we feel someone has disrespected us. For instance, remember all of the rage a while back about Minnesota’s Red Lake County being named the Ugliest County in America? Judging from the heated reactions, one might have thought the Washington Post and the evil authors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Amenities Index had launched nuclear weaponry at poor little Minnesota.

But when it comes to sensitivity, South Dakota is in a league of its own.  As a South Dakota expat, and Wry Wing’s South Dakota Correspondent, I would make this observation: Among easily offended Midwesterners, South Dakotans are among the most easily aggrieved. Perhaps it’s because South Dakota is one of the most flown over portions of Flyover Country.  Perhaps it’s because former Governor South Dakota Bill Janklow long ago popularized the art of promoting himself by continually creating new platforms where he could defend South Dakota’s honor.  Whatever the reasons, many South Dakotans still spend their lives looking for ways that outsiders are not sufficiently appreciating South Dakota’s awesomeness.

To be certain, there is awesomeness to be had there. Like most states, parts of South Dakota have great natural beauty. Like most states, there are fun and interesting places to eat, drink and see. Like most states, there are friendly, diligent and kind people.  I loves me some South Dakota.

South_Dakota_low_taxes_-_Google_SearchIn fact, now that retirement is a decade or so away, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world for my South Dakota-born wife and I to take our thousandaire fortune and retire closer to our South Dakota family and friends. After all, lots of old folks retire there to shield their income from taxes, since South Dakota has no income tax.

But actually, that is precisely why I won’t be retiring in South Dakota, and will be staying in Minnesota. As a committed liberal, I realize that the seamy side of scarce taxes is scarce community services.

I don’t want to live in a place with the lowest paid teachers in the nation, and one of the region’s lower rates of health coverage. I don’t want to live in a place populated with so many taxophobes that bitter community civil wars break out every time someone proposes addressing a community need or creating a community amenity. I love South Dakota, but I don’t love the short-sighted taxophobic culture that has come to limit the place.

But back to McCartneygate. First, let me apologize for Mr. Riemenschneider’s snark. I’m sorry he showed disrespect to South Dakota. Though truthfully it didn’t strike me as much of a diss, particularly considering he is a music critic, rest assured that most Minnesotans like and respect South Dakota.  They really do.

Second, I would urge my home state to lighten up a bit. Shrug things off.  Have thicker skins.  Be confident enough in what you have to offer the world that you don’t feel the need to be constantly in grievance mode. Realize that you have enough to offer that you don’t have to engage in a fiscal race-to-the-bottom with the Mississippi’s of the world.  You also don’t have to run desperate Tokyo Rose-like ad campaigns on Minnesota conservative talk radio stations recruiting taxophobic businesses and individuals to relocate there.

South Dakota doesn’t need more civic paranoia. It doesn’t need to recruit more selfish taxophobes. It’s a terrific state populated by wonderful people who love the place deeply. As Sir Paul told South Dakotans a few days ago, “with a love like that, you know you should be glad.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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Note:  This post also was published as part of MinnPost’s weekly Blog Cabin feature.

What Can Hillary Learn From Bernie?

Cursor_and_clinton_smug_-_Google_SearchAs a Sanders supporter, I concede there are many valid reasons to worry about him. But one of the biggest “go-to” criticisms used by Senator Hillary Clinton and her supporters strikes me as simplistic and overblown. More importantly, her focus on that issue makes me worry that she perhaps doesn’t truly understand what it takes to be an effective general election candidate and President.

Before I get to that, here are just a few of the more valid reasons for being concerned about supporting Sanders: 1) You don’t think enough moderate voters will ever be willing to pay higher taxes to allow him to be elected in a general election; 2) You worry whether a perpetually shouting septuagenarian white guy is the best option for leading an increasingly diverse electorate that values charisma (see McCain v. Obama); 3) You worry that the term “democratic socialist” Sanders uses to describe himself is too toxic to attract swing voters in November;  4) You worry that if we don’t elect a remarkably well credentialed female leader like Clinton, the shameful White House glass ceiling will remain intact for a very long time.

Those are valid concerns. While I also have a list of concerns about Clinton, I do admit that Sanders is not an entirely safe political bet.

But one thing I’m not particularly worried about is his policy aptitude.  Many Clinton supporters, and Secretary Clinton herself, have become obsessed with the notion that Sanders doesn’t have the necessary policy chops for the job.  That certainly was an oft-repeated Clinton theme on last night’s MSNBC’s “town hall” broadcast.

As evidence, Clinton and her supporters continually point to her more detailed policy plans, or editorial board interviews in which Clinton shows a deeper grasp of policy detail than Sanders. For instance, many Clinton supporters have been pumping social media channels full of articles like this from Vox’s Matthew Yglesias:

“Hillary Clinton does a better job than Bernie Sanders at explaining the details of his bank breakup plan.”

I’ll be the first to admit, Sanders should have a stronger answer to questions such as “how would you break-up the banks.” After all, that is a marquee issue of his campaign.

At the same time, let’s keep all of this in proper perspective. These interview performances are hardly evidence that Sanders is not intelligent enough to be President. They aren’t evidence that he will fail to surround himself with advisors who are experts on such details. They’re not evidence that breaking up the banks is a regulatory impossibility. Therefore, they are not particularly strong evidence that Clinton would be a better President.

Moreover, maybe, just maybe, communicating on a less wonky level to lightly engaged voters is a more effective way to connect with them.  After all, that approach has led to Sanders swiftly moving from being an obscure fringe candidate with almost no support to a serious contender for the nomination of a party he only recently joined.  That approach also has led to Sanders polling significantly more strongly than Clinton in general election match-ups against Republicans, according to Real Clear Politics current average of major surveys.  So maybe, there is something here Clinton can learn.

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If the American people were interviewing Sanders as a candidate to become the nation’s lead banking regulator, his failure to go deeper into the regulatory weeds would concern me. But we are interviewing Sanders to be hired as the nation’s Chief Executive, a position that operates at a much higher level.

Think of it this way: The Obama Administration’s White House and Treasury Department is thick with brilliant, learned staffers who know much more about banking regulations and foreign policy than President Obama. But that doesn’t make Obama a lightweight, and it doesn’t mean those staffers are more qualified than Obama to be President.

The most important qualifications for a President to have are the right values and vision, the backbone to stick to that their values and vision, the communications chops to persuade the American people, the ability to enact the related policy agenda, and the judgment to react wisely to developments that we can’t yet foresee. Those things are infinitely more important than the ability to score the highest marks in the editorial boards’ Wonk Olympics.

At this stage, I realize my guy Sanders is not going to be the nominee.  I can count.  As the great Mo Udall said, “the voters have spoken, the bastards.” Therefore, I am, gulp, hereby “ready for Hillary.”  Actually, given the alternatives, and given how much there is to admire about Clinton, this is not close to a difficult decision.

But Clinton needs to disabuse herself of the notion that the ability to spout policy details like a Spelling Bee champ is among the more important qualifications for President. Rather than smugly dismissing Sanders’ preference for addressing the American people on an inspirational and aspirational level, Clinton should have enough wisdom and humility to learn from Sanders’ approach.  Doing so would make her a better candidate and President.

Tim Pawlenty: “Health Care Policy All-Star?”

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is being featured as a “health policy all-star” by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. No, I’m not kidding.

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The University event is celebrating the accomplishments of a 2008 Healthcare Transformation Task Force that happened during the Pawlenty years.   Governor Pawlenty is the keynote speaker.  The invitation portrays the Pawlenty years as a time when there was less intense partisan disagreement. Again, not kidding.

Health care policy has generated intense partisan disagreement over the past 5 years. The acrimony has been a sharp departure from Minnesota’s long tradition of collaboration among Democrats and Republicans and across the business, non-profit, and public sectors.

I’m not all that familiar with the Task Force’s work, but I’m sure it made excellent health care policy contributions.  It’s very worthwhile to recognize and reflect on that work, and I applaud the University’s Humphrey School for doing that.  If you’re interested in health care policy, I’d encourage you to attend the event.

But perhaps the Humphrey School should also invite the community to reflect on some of the big picture differences between health care in Minnesota under the Pawlenty-era policies versus health care in the post-Pawlenty era.  Minnesotans should reflect on the dramatic health care improvements that have happened despite Governor Pawlenty, rather than because of him.

The Good Old Days

Ah 2008, those certainly were the good old days of Pawlenty era health care in Minnesota, back when the rate of health uninsurance was 9.0 percent. In contrast, in the post-Pawlenty era, the rate of uninsurance under Governor Dayton has declined to 4.9 percent, the lowest point in Minnesota history.

This happened largely due of the success of the ACA reforms that Governor Pawlenty persistently and bitterly opposed.  For example, in 2011 Governor Pawlenty revved up a Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) audience with this simplistic barn burner:

The individual mandate in ObamaCare is a page right out of the Jimmy Carter playbook. The left simply doesn’t understand. The individual mandate reflects completely backwards thinking. They, the bureaucrats, don’t tell us what to do. We, the people, tell the government what to do!

We’re blessed to live in the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world. Our freedom is the very air we breathe. We must repeal Obamacare!

Do you see how much less “intensely partisan” health care policy was five years ago under Governor Pawlenty?

hqdefault_jpg__480×360_Oh and then there was that super nonpartisan time when Governor Pawlenty, who was preparing to run against President Obama, enacted an executive order to ban Minnesota from accepting any Obamacare-related Medicaid funding to provide health care coverage for 35,000 of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens. As the Star Tribune reported at the time, even Pawlenty-friendly health industry groups reacted to the highly partisan and punitive Pawlenty ban with unified expression of strong disapproval.

In a rare and unusually sharp statement, heads of Minnesota’s most influential medical associations said Pawlenty’s step contradicts his earlier embrace of state health care legislation. “The governor’s decision just doesn’t make sense for Minnesotans,” the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, the Minnesota Hospital Association and the Minnesota Medical Association said in a joint statement late Tuesday.

The Post-Pawlenty Health Policy Era

When Governor Dayton took office, he promptly reversed this Pawlenty ban to ensure that 35,000 low-income Minnesotans could get health care coverage.  Governor Dayton took a lot of heat for that decision, but this move started the process of driving down the state’s uninsured rate, a trend that has continued throughout the Dayton era.

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In more ways than many citizens realize, Minnesota has benefited enormously from the ACA reforms that Pawlenty politicized and obstructed.  According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services:

  • 64,514 Minnesotans have gained Medicaid or CHIP coverage
  • 1,465,000 Minnesotans with private health insurance gained preventive service coverage with no cost-sharing
  • Over 2 million Minnesotans are free from worrying about lifetime limits on coverage
  • As many as 2,318,738 non-elderly Minnesotans have some type of pre-existing health condition, and no longer can have coverage denied because of that condition

Yes, those Pawlenty years, when the Governor was fighting to keep Minnesotans from enjoying all of these ACA benefits, certainly were the good old days of health care policy.  “Health care policy all-star” indeed!

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Note:  This post also was published as part of MinnPost’s weekly Blog Cabin feature.

If Your Privacy Isn’t Yours, Whose Is It?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Are you as amazed as I am at the indifference so many people have to their own personal privacy? Practically every day there’s another revelation of prying, “data-mining”, bogus security “filters” and the astonishing trade going — with your personal information. Where you are. Where you go. What you buy. Who you call and text. All of it literally making billions for the tech giants — Google, Facebook, cell phone carriers — while they heavily promote themselves as benevolent giants “bringing us together”.

As someone native to a small town — bucolic, Mayberry-like Montevideo — I grew up accustomed to listening to Mom and Dad grumble about so and so at church, at the Sunday morning-for-pancakes restaurant, at the clothing store that once prospered on Main Street. Nosey busy-bodies constantly working the gossip mill for news, the badder the better, about everyone else in town. “Why didn’t they mind their own business?” Naturally, Mom and Dad were as unconditionally interested in chatter about everyone else … as everyone else. Who doesn’t love gossip? “I heard Donny was so plastered Saturday night they had to carry him out of the club” . Nevertheless, they were as annoyed as hell when they were the primary subjects. Human nature. It’s a beautiful thing.

As a kid I probably took an unhealthy attitude toward “my business”. Being also Catholic, with the sword of eternal fiery damnation hanging over every “impure thought”, mortification came far too easily when word got out of my clueless, hopelessly-bridled carnal fascination with cute little Peggy or Patty or Mary or … well, the list went on.

Anyway … last week I wrote a column for MinnPost on Al Franken’s most recent inquiries into the privacy raiding and trading practices of big tech companies. Namely, Clear Channel billboards and Oculus Rift. Here’s the post. (Please read it, or at least click and pretend you read it. MinnPost likes the traffic.) I won’t reiterate everything, except to say that the ability of these companies to grab, sort and sell damn near every bit of information about you is way … way … ahead of laws to prevent or control it. (And unlike Big Gubmint, feared by every paranoid Tea Party rancher feeding cattle for free on public land, these companies have a powerful profit incentive to play with your business.)

After a couple Franken staffers backgrounded me on what the Senator was up to and why, some effort was made to get Al on the phone for a few minutes. That never happened. So after a couple weeks, I said, “[Bleep] it. Here’s a handful of questions. Pretend it’s him talking and kick something back to me.”

Most of the Q&A is in the published MinnPost piece. But for some reason, what for me was the central question was edited out, probably because it was the one question to which Franken didn’t offer a response. (His answers to the other questions qualify as predictable boilerplate.)

The deleted section was this:

 

Finally, in terms of a kind of ‘grand umbrella’ piece of legislation, has anyone proposed a law establishing an individual’s full proprietary rights to their personal information? By that I mean establishing that every person must be given, A: Notification that his/her information has been collected. B: Must agree to allow it to be sold/transferred/traded. C: Is notified as to who it has been transferred, and D. Is offered even a micro-payment remuneration for each transfer?

On that one his office sad they were not aware of any such legislation.

The reason I asked it is that it seems to me, watching this astonishing proliferation of technologies Hoovering up personal information … and then trading and selling it … the time really has come for a kind of Constitutional amendment-like declaration of individual privacy rights. I mean, the situation – if controlling the outflow and exploitation of your personal information is important to you (and it isn’t to many, I accept that) — will only get worse, rapidly and exponentially.

Did you catch this on “60 Minutes” last night?

Had I got Franken on the phone, the follow up question to that last one, would have been asking him to speculate on political blowback from the tech industry, in the case of Silicon Valley giants, an enormous and reliable source of cash for Democrats.

It would be a demonstration of Lincoln-like political courage and suicide for Al Franken to purpose legislation requiring, say Google or Facebook, to directly notify everyone whose information they collect, get their explicit approval (i.e. “opt in”) and then remunerate each and every one of us every time their GPS logged us parked in front The Smitten Kitten and sold that information to Latex Fantasies of Hong Kong Limited.

The bottom line questions are really pretty simple: Do you own you? If not, why not? And if not, why should anyone else?

Bernie Needs To Give Democrats One Final Parting Gift

Sanders_from_behindPresidential candidate Bernie Sanders has already given much to the Democratic Party. But even though his chances of being nominated remain slim, he still has a bit more he could give to his adopted party.

Largely because of Clinton’s dominance when it comes to establishment-oriented super delegates, we’re being told by elite analysts like FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver that Hillary will likely be nominated, even after a likely Sanders win in Wisconsin today and a possible win in Clinton’s home state of New York. Sanders’ exit from the stage couldn’t come soon enough for frustrated supporters of Hillary Clinton, who see Sanders as an annoying speed bump on her trip down Inevitability Lane.

Bernie’s Gifts To Democrats

But the fact is, Sanders’ questioning of Clinton has helped her improve as a candidate. Though still too cautious and programmed, Clinton is a better candidate now than she was before Sanders joined her on stage.

Beyond changing candidate Clinton for the better, Sanders has also changed the Democratic party for the better. This longtime political independent has reminded Democratic partisans that it’s okay to dream of progressive policies that go beyond the cautious incrementalism ushered in during the 1990s by the Clintons and their center-right Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

With every major western nation operating universal health care systems that are more fair, effective and efficient than today’s complex Rube Goldberg-style Affordable Care Act (ACA) machinery, Sanders reminded Democrats that it’s reasonable to both appreciate the progress being made under the ACA, while continuing to fight for the superior single payer models.

Sanders also reminded Democrats that a college degree is as vital today as a high school degree was at the time the American public education system was created, so we need to keep fighting to update our public education system by offering tuition-free public higher education.

Sanders reminded Democrats that even Republican presidents such as Bush, Reagan, Nixon and Eisenhower all required wealthy Americans to pay more to support their country than we do today, so it’s reasonable to ask more of the wealthy again to help rebuild the American dream for the lower- and middle-class.

Sanders reminded Democrats that the party that created a wide array of popular socialist programs that built the great American middle class — New Deal job programs, Social Security, the GI Bill, the Rural Electric Administration, Medicare —  doesn’t need to cower in fear every time conservatives label their proposals as “socialism.”

Finally, Sanders shined a light on the corrupting influence that big money has had on America’s corporatized Congress.

Democrats owe the Independent Senator a debt of gratitude.  The fact that many to most of Sanders’ proposals could not have passed in the short-term with a Republican-controlled Congress does not mean that progressives shouldn’t advocate for those policies, to improve their viability over the long-term.  It’s self-defeating to allow do-nothing congressional conservatives to limit how Democrats use the bullypulpit.

Bernie’s Parting Gift

But where does Sanders go from here? If delegate geeks like Nate Silver are correct that it’s impossible for Sanders to come from behind to win the nomination, should he just pull out of the race, as indignant Clinton supporters have been demanding?

Before Sanders leaves the stage, I’d ask one more favor of him:   Expose Trumponomics for what it is.   To limit the number of Sanders refugees who are tempted to support Trump over Clinton in November, Sanders should spend the next few weeks exposing the fraud Mr. Trump is attempting to perpetrate on Americans.

For instance, Sanders should explain that billionaire Trump may claim that his partial self-financing makes him independent from the uber-wealthy interests, but Trump’s tax plan exposes the truth. According to a Tax Policy Center (TPC) analysis, Trump’s tax plan would give an average tax cut of $1.3 million per year to the richest one-tenth of one percent.  Sanders should make sure his audience understands that billionaire Trump plans to further enrich his fellow billionaires.

Sanders should also explain how the businessman’s proposals will destroy the American economy, rather than make America “win so much will be sick of winning.” For instance, look at what Mr. Trump’s plan to lavish the mega-rich with tax breaks would do to the national debt:

“The Tax Policy Center estimates the proposal would reduce federal revenue by $9.5 trillion over its first decade and an additional $15.0 trillion over the subsequent 10 years, before accounting for added interest costs or considering macroeconomic feedback effects.”

Some have suggested that Sanders and Trump compete for the same type of voters, those most frustrated with the status quo. Therefore, before Sanders leaves the stage, he should conduct a seminar for “open to Trump” voters about the fraud Mr. Trump is attempting to perpetrate on them. Doing so could constitute Bernie’s greatest gift of all to the Democratic Party.

Note:  This post was also chosen to be featured by MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

But Wait, There’s More! For No Additional Cost, We Also Are Including Tweets…

For those who enjoy tweeting and getting twitted at, I’m @jloveland.  Small sample of the available awesomeness:

Tweet_transgenderCursor_and_Joe_Loveland___jloveland____TwitterJoe_Loveland___jloveland____Twitter

Relief Needed In Minnesota’s Food Deserts

I don’t understand why food deserts — areas in which it is difficult to buy affordable fresh food — happen. Why wouldn’t the free market law of supply-and-demand dictate that grocery stores would locate wherever food-consuming human beings are located?  It’s especially difficult to understand how food deserts happen in densely populated urban neighborhoods.

map_fooddesert_jpg__500×351_But food deserts definitely do happen, particularly in low-income and rural areas.  When they do, Minnesota’s most vulnerable fellow citizens – those with the least economic ability to travel far distances to do their regular grocery shopping – suffer the most.  Too often, they’re forced to eat what is available in their neighborhood, which is relatively expensive and unhealthy junk food from convenience stores and fast food restaurants. 

This phenomenon is contributing to an obesity epidemic in those neighborhoods that is threatening Minnesota’s quality-of-life, and driving huge medical costs.  For the sake of our food desert-stranded neighbors and taxpayers who will bear much of the brunt of the resulting medical costs of these food deserts, something needs to be done.

So, what’s the solution?  We normally can depend on market forces to solve resource allocation issues like this.  But when market forces aren’t working, and the breakdown causes public problems and expenses, governments need to intervene.  

This year, the Minnesota Legislature is considering establishing a Good Food Access program.  Under the proposal, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture would provide $10 million per year for loans and grants to support or create grocery stores, or even mobile grocery stores.

Some may say that government supporting grocery stores is inappropriate.  But clearly, the market is not working in this case, so government does need to fill in the gap to bring badly needed oases to Minnesota’s food deserts.

What Does “The Press” Know About Trump’s People, Really?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3It appears “the media” has decided we’ve achieved “Peak Trump”. Over the past week coverage of the most fascinating politico-cultural phenomenon of the last generation — at minimum — has turned resoundingly sour and nasty. Conventional wisdom is that this has everything to do with the most recent run of Trump loutishness, beginning with the, uh, unflattering photo of Ted Cruz’ wife, followed by the campaign manager’s “arrest” for yanking the arm of a female reporter and then the business about punishing women who have abortions.

God knows the guy deserves everything he’s getting. But since Trump’s been at this kind of stuff since last summer (and let’s not forget his birther phase), the sudden turn of the NY/DC press establishment is kind of startling. The operative journalist group think explanation is that they are of course merely reporting “what’s out there”, and at the root of what’s out there is Team Trump’s cloddish attitude toward women. I mean, the guy’s a pig! A misogynist! And apparently … We just noticed!

Another (very) possible explanation, because it coincides so neatly with the turn in tone you hear in everything from the evening news, to cable pundits, including FoxNews, is that the press establishment is reacting New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s recent “mea culpa” for the way he and the rest of his journalistic peer group have played “lapdog” for Trump’s ratings-goosing, ad revenue-spiking carnival act.

Said Kristof in his Sunday March 26 column:

“An analysis by The Times found that we in the news media gave Trump $1.9 billion in free publicity in this presidential cycle. That’s 190 times as much as he paid for in advertising, and it’s far more than any other candidate received. As my colleague Jim Rutenberg put it, some complain that ‘CNN has handed its schedule over to Mr. Trump’, and CNN had lots of company.”

It may be pure coincidence that the very week following Kristof’s self and peer flagellation the tide of coverage turned so resoundingly negative. But I suspect otherwise. It was the Times. It was a Sunday, and what Kristiof said was dead-on. Trump has been great for business. Full stop.

The counter to Kristof’s argument largely centered around the amount of Trump coverage that was “unfavorable”. The fistfights at rallies, the “mine’s bigger than yours” quality of GOP debates. All the crap. “We reported that bad stuff, too!” The problem with that defense is that a show biz creation like Trump truly does flourish in a world where all publicity is good publicity. (Shorthand: “All pub is good pub.”)

By another coincidence, last Tuesday I was talking with Chris Worthington, now the head of Minnesota Public Radio’s soon-to-premiere investigative unit. He of course had read Kristof’s piece and his takeaway was the part where Kristof says:

“We failed to take Trump seriously because of a third media failing: We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated. … Media elites rightly talk about our insufficient racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but we also lack economic diversity. We inhabit a middle-class world and don’t adequately cover the part of America that is struggling and seething. We spend too much time talking to senators, not enough to the jobless.”

Fundamentally, says Worthington, the story of Trump is the story of his voters. Who they are and why they believe what they believe. There is something to that, if only that were the essence of the coverage.

But on the subject of guilt, Kristof was also guilty of being too polite. (He works at The Times, y’know.)

It’s true “middle class” journalists, and people like Kristof and the celebrity anchors on CNN, MSNBC and Fox are comfortably beyond “middle-class”, and don’t spend a lot of time interacting with the country’s economically distressed. But I’m not convinced economics are a primary motivating factor of Trump’s appeal. Oh sure, he rails on about “terrible trade deals” and jobs some U.S. company has shifted off to Mexico. But I suspect it’s much more his “us against them” theme that grabs and sustains enthusiasm for his cause, and that doesn’t have all that much to do with anyone’s cash on hand, really.

More to the point, besides being busy and operating in a competitive business environment where group think powerfully influences editorial decision making, it’s the rare professional journalist who has a lot of spare time to listen to and dig deeper into the resentments of people who, as I’ve said before, don’t have reason to be complaining as much as they do. A single mom living on welfare? Sure. A laid off coal miner with black lung? Of course. A 40 year-old, high-school educated white guy driving a two year-old pickup, regularly hunting and drinking with his buddies? Not so much.

Traditional media makes regular, good faith effort to report on and demonstrate sympathy for the travails of people living under obvious social and economic oppression. What they have a harder time explaining — much less implicitly sympathizing with — is the plight of a fairly large chunk of the American population that believes it is entitled to more than it has ever made an effort to earn.

Very ironically, two of the best and most lacerating takes on this population have come from the conservative end of the spectrum.

Here’s Kevin Williamson in The National Review. Sample quote: “Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget [conservative hero Edmund] Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.” Or, put another way, Trump’s blame-placing people are their own worst enemy.

Then, over at The Weekly Standard, in a piece on GOP insider’s insider Mike Murphy, writer Matt LaBash says, “I’d like secure borders, more tightly controlled immigration, and would love to see manufacturing jobs come back as much as the next guy. But what about our own culpability in the nation’s decline? The technologies we so ravenously consume as our jobs get automated or algorithmed out of existence. We pretend as though character doesn’t count, then wonder why we get so many characters. We buy cut-rate Chinese goods at Walmart, or better still, on Amazon Prime, so we don’t have to put down the Doritos bag and budge from our easy-chair rage-stations as our passions get serially inflamed by Sean Hannity telling us how great we are and how hard we have it. Our consumption of everything seems to be increasing — of carbs, meth, anger-stoking shoutfests — even as our producers seem to be disappearing. Maybe we have unimpressive politicians because they’re our representatives, and we’ve become grossly unimpressive ourselves.”

Republican insiders specialize in sleight-of-hand class strategies that rarely if ever benefit the Doritos-munching rubes who never the less vote for their candidates. But “the media” which is now portending Trump’s demise is generally too polite to explore the reality these guys have been dealing with.

The Five Anthropological Certainties of Minnesota Legislative Hearings

hearing_room_2Now that state legislators are creating better public spaces for visitors in the new Senate Office Building and renovated State Capitol Building, here’s hoping there will be more ordinary citizens coming to legislative proceedings. The Minnesota Legislature is extremely insular and clubby, so it could benefit from fresh observers and participants.

When I’m traveling to an unfamiliar new place, I like to do research into the inhabitants’ culture, so I’m at least somewhat familiar with their ways.  In that spirit, I’m offering a few amateur anthropological observations about what visitors to the new Capitol campus digs can expect to see during legislative hearings.

Outsiders will observe at least five repetitive behavior patterns characteristic of the native inhabitants of the State Capitol campus:

#1.  The 75% Rule.  During the first witness of the hearing, legislators serving on the committee will, in rapid succession, launch a long series of rhetorical questions, speeches, irrelevant personal stories, and/or “jokes.”  Remember That Kid in school who always needed to be heard?  Well, there are about a dozen of Those Kids in this classroom, they all have a desperate need to be heard, and there is no teacher present to restrain them.

Therefore, the legislator-centric grandstanding during the first witness typically takes roughly 75% of the allotted hearing time.  During the remaining 25% of the time, the legislators who have been talking ad nauseam will shift to scolding the long list of scheduled testifiers about the need to be brief.  After all, busy legislators don’t have time to waste.

cultural_anthropology_quotes_-_Google_Search#2. The iPhone Prayer.  The reason legislators continually have their heads bowed is not because they are prayerful or otherwise contemplative. It’s because of smart phones.

The hearing observer will quickly notice that legislators much prefer their smart phone to their smart constituents. Therefore, visitors should expect to mostly see the crowns of legislators’ heads, as they stare down smirking at their latest epic text or tweet.

You see, the State Legislature is like high school, with its complex network of cliques constantly angling to mistreat each other. But the environment is actually much more toxic than high school, because unlike high school, unlimited smart phone use is permitted in class.

#2. The Extras. Visitors will notice that the least relevant person in the committee room is the lowly testifier. The person delivering testimony is an extra, a volunteer who is cast by legislators to create the illusion of information gathering and democratic participation.

Seemingly unaware of the ruse, many testifiers spend hours earnestly preparing their thoughtful, fact-filled remarks.  But they quickly discover that committee members have much more pressing needs to attend to, such as epic texts and tweets.

#3.  The Mind-Melding.  The confident looking people in the hearing room who dress like they earn significantly more than $31,141 per year are not legislators. They are lobbyists.

This native species will be furiously scribbling, typing, texting, hand signaling and whispering. This elaborate display is to justify spending 99% of their work day sitting through legislative testimony that is being 99% ignored by the legislators.

Interesting side note: Lobbyists have mind-melding powers, derived from their political action committees (PACs).

#5. The Civil Sandwiches. Hearing tourists will also notice that legislators have a very peculiar and predictable speech pattern, which linguists have dubbed The Civil Sandwich.

Here’s how it goes:  Legislators begin and end statements by saying something superficially civil. Then sandwiched between the civilities is a juicy layer of petty savagery. For instance, a typical Civil Sandwich might sound like this:

“I greatly appreciate the fine work of my good friend, and thank him for bringing forward these ideas.

However, moron, your bill would obviously lead to the collapse of Minnesota’s economy, the moral decay of society and, very possibly, leprosy. This proposal proves you are even more stupid and corrupt than I suspected, and are clearly doing the bidding of evil-doers intent on world domination. And by the way, the fiscal note for this bill is as nauseating as your very homely spouse.

But again, Representative Jensen-Carlson, I sincerely appreciate and respect the hard work you have done on this issue.  I look forward to collaborating with you to improve on it, because that’s just the kind of fella I am.”

Yes, I’m exaggerating for effect.  It’s the satirists’ disease.  The truth is, many individual legislators are bright, thoughtful, and decent people who sincerely care about Minnesota. In fact, I’ve often made the case that legislators should be paid much more than $31,141 per year, because their job is important, time-consuming and difficult.

But individuals aside, when it comes to the collective culture of legislative hearings, my level of exaggeration here is not as extreme as you might hope.  But by all means, go judge for yourself.  Enjoy your excursion to an upcoming hearing in legislators’ spacious new habitat.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Note:  This post was also featured by MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Revenge on the Revenge of the “Unmoored”

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Prior to Tuesday night’s results, which all but officially certified a Donald Trump v. Hillary Clinton smackfest  … for the next seven and a half months … the news item I found most heartening was the anarchist/prankster/hacker group Anonymous announcing it would be devoting its full energy to derailing The Trump Express, a mission it described in terms fever-eyed missionaries used to use for smoting the Prince of Darkness.

“We have been watching you for a long time and what we’ve seen is deeply disturbing. You don’t stand for anything but your personal greed and power. This is a call to arms. Shut down his websites, research and expose what he doesn’t want the public to know. We need you to dismantle his campaign and sabotage his brand.”

The thing of it is, the Anonymous folks will not be alone. Far, far from it. Given the relentless, exponential growth of social media, with hundreds of new, mocking, guerrilla videos being posted every day, any two characters running for president in 2016 would be targets for an unprecedented bombardment of ridicule. But with Trump, a Twitter-addicted, internet-trolling, infomercial-like charlatan taking control of … The Party of Lincoln … we are about to witness an astonishing convulsion of high(er) tech sabotage and satirical mockery.

The atmosphere, with a candidate as ludicrous (and dangerous) as Trump has never — ever — been so ripe for an open competition of can-you-top-this pranks, righteously dirty tricks and street theater. It is already well beyond anything that we could have imagined nine months ago, when we were convinced this was going to be yet another dusty, deadly dull Bush v. Clinton affair. And, as the treacly old song goes, “We’ve only just begun.”

So … I want to be on record saying how genuinely wonderful and entirely appropriate all this is going to be.

Trump likes to say he’s shaking up the game, and he is. He has. But, [full Trump voice here], I absolutely guarantee you, he is not prepared for the cosmic bombardment of derision that will rain down on him from now until election day.

The number of low-information authoritarians throwing themselves at his feet seems impressive in the current GOP primary vacuum. But those “angry” folks are neither a majority or among the country’s shall we say most facile wits. Even Trump himself, for all his show biz theatrics, strikes me as fundamentally literal-minded, with a very limited feel or patience for satire, especially at his expense, especially when it comes in the form of a million daggers puncturing his phoniness and bigotry.

One of this country’s most reassuring resources is our vast, fathomless pool of pomposity-mocking skeptics, professional comedians, satirists now multiplied by an uncharted universe of amateur snarks and miscreants; each of them eager and capable of claiming 15 minutes of fame by sticking the day’s most viral knife in a character — The Donald — who is an absurdist comic’s wet dream.

This assault is already well underway, but will explode now that Trump is a 99% certainty. The barrage — I guarantee — will also make collateral damage of Trump’s brawling, chanting, sucker-punching, saluting masses. They may be proud now of their association with a “movement” that has lifted up such a “strong leader”. But they too are about to endure/suffer an intensity of social shaming and disapprobation far beyond anything they’ve experienced before, no matter how badly they think they’ve already been victimized by all those “others” Trump has them rallying against.

Within a very short time their open support of Donald Trump will be the cultural equivalent of scrawling, “Kick Me, I’m a Racist Fool” on their own backs.

In the long run, this relentless shaming and ridiculing of a large chunk of people who already feel “unmoored” from fast-evolving modern society, (to use a trendy word), probably won’t go over so well. Their likely response to being constantly publicly ridiculed will be more anger, not less. It’s not hard to imagine more bare-knuckled, physical eruptions of the culture wars Republicans have been cultivating for the last quarter century.

But every haymaker-flailing goon in a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap becomes instant fodder for a 1000 comedy riffs, skits and viral videos.

Bottom line, the “unmoored” are unmoored for a reason. The “whys” and “hows” of their perceived mistreatment may be varied, but the basic fact remains they haven’t adapted to the world they’re living in. The 21st century simply moves faster and thinks faster than they do. They are people who habitually misjudge what is and isn’t in their best interests. And for that there are always social consequences … blowback that in this case will only get worse the more overt they get about who they’ve foolishly put their faith in this time around.

Along with The Donald they are about to experience a hellfire of ridicule and scorn beyond anything they thought possible.

The Benghazi Question: Democrats At Their Best and Worst

When Univision reporter Jorge Ramos asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a challenging question about the tragedy at the Benghazi embassy at last night’s debate, Democrats were at their worst, and best.

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Democrats were at their worst when they booed the question and questioner for several seconds.  They should be mature enough to know that a healthy democracy needs courageous reporters like Ramos asking candidates tough questions.  It’s their job to ask those questions, and it does us all a great service.

But Democrats were also at their best when Secretary Clinton didn’t attack the reporter, fuel dangerous anti-journalism attitudes or avoid the question.  While she clearly is tired of answering Benghazi questions, she gave a reasonably solid one-minute answer.  I would have liked her to shush the boos non-verbally, but she did pretty well overall.  It’s her job to answer those questions, and it does us all a great service.

How DFL Legislators With Only 29% Voter Approval Could Win in November

Minnesota_Legislature_-_Google_SearchDFL state legislators are an awfully unpopular bunch. According to an August 2015 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of registered Minnesota voters, only 29% have a favorable view of DFL state legislators, while 49% disapprove. Not many candidates with 29% approval ratings get reelected.

Still, DFL legislators may manage to do well in the November general election, due to at least five factors.

More DFLers voting. First, DFL turnout should be much higher in this presidential election year than it was in the 2014 midterm election. Historically, presidential year electorates tend to be more favorable to Democrats than mid-term year electorates. That historical trend is somewhat in question this year, with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton proving to be particularly uninspiring to her base in the primary season and Republican front-runner Donald Trump proving to be particularly inspiring to his base. But traditionally presidential elections have high Democratic turnouts, and Trump-fearing Democrats – particularly women, communities of color and new immigrants – have a particularly compelling reason to vote in 2016.  That should give a big boost to Democratic state legislative candidates.

No catastrophes. Second, DFL legislators haven’t imploded. So far, there are no big DFL-centered scandals, like Phonegate or leadership sex scandals. There also is no particularly controversial issue, like a large tax increase on the masses. The construction of the Senate Office Building probably still has some demagogic appeal, but that doesn’t seem like a significant political albatross at this stage.

Happy days are here again. Third, it’s the economy, stupid. Fortunately for DFL legislators, Minnesota’s economy is quite strong. Seasonally adjusted unemployment is only 3.7%, while the national rate is 5.6%. Under Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota had a steady stream of budget shortfalls.  Under DFL Governor Mark Dayton, Minnesota has enjoyed budget surpluses the last several years, while 19 states still have had budget deficits despite a relatively strong national economy. Republicans promised Minnesota voters that DFL proposals to increase taxes for the wealthiest and the minimum wage for the poorest would surely decimate Minnesota’s economy. That simply did not happen, robbing conservatives of their most compelling criticism of Democrats – that they can’t manage the economy.

Bully pulpit in DFL hands. Fourth, DFLers control the Governor’s bully pulpit.   A relatively popular Governor Mark Dayton (47% approval) can use the bullhorn and large audiences that come with his position to make the case for DFL achievements and legislators. So can other popular prominent statewide elected DFLers, such as Senators Al Franken (48% approval) and Amy Klobuchar (55% approval).   Governor Dayton is certainly no Tim Pawlenty out on the stump, but he is in a strong position to help drive a strong unified message about DFL legislators’ accomplishments.

Republicans are even less popular. Finally, and most importantly, DFL legislators’ 29% approval rating looks pretty awful, until you put it alongside GOP legislators’18% approval rating. Then it looks nearly stellar.  To put that 18% approval rating in context, a disgraced President Richard Nixon had a 24% approval rating when he was forced to resign due to the Watergate scandal. With 63% of Minnesota voters disapproving of the job being done by Republican legislators, the slightly less disrespected DFL legislators would seem to have a shot at winning some elections this fall.

Note:  This post was also featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

The Donald’s Primitive Appeal

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With Trump-mania continuing to build, a lot of time and energy is going in to trying to understand why. Not among his most enthusiastic supporters, of course. Those folks, the ones proudly and completely without irony offering Nuremberg-like salutes pledging fealty to The Donald, seem to be pre-introspection. In their own odd way they’re hippie-like in the “If it feels good, do it” approach to tribal leadership.

Elsewhere though there’s plenty of cogent analysis of Trump’s basic, and I do mean “basic”, appeal. One of the best I’ve read is this piece by Amanda Taub on Vox a week or so back. (Hat tip to PM for recommending it.)

Taub writes about fresh research on the appeal of authoritarian personalities by several teams of socio-psychologists, serious professionals building on numerous previous studies that established the significantly greater, almost instinctive respect conservatives have for authority — group consensus, workplace bosses, police, the military, cultural and government leaders in general — than liberals.

Or as Taub writes, “ … a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.”

And, “Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force. They would thus seek a candidate who promised these things. And the extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms.”

The problem with most previous surveys is that they began in an unambiguously political context which likely led interviewees to shade their responses so to appear more or less authoritarian-minded, depending on how they felt they might be judged. More to the point, it was hard to get an honest answer to questions like, “Do you fear Muslims?”

The beauty — the elegance — of these new tests, and some are based on work began 25 years ago but largely ignored until recently, is the way scientists masked the intent of the survey by asking subjects about their philosophy of … parenting.

Sample questions:

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

As the article lays it out, the parenting line of questioning proved far more accurate in identifying people with latent authoritarian impulses — the desire to be protected, guided and feel part of a conforming mass. Beyond that the correlation with Trump’s devotees, who are clearly something beyond traditional authoritarian-minded conservatives, was even more startling.

“The third insight came from [Vanderbilt professor Marc] Hetherington and American University professor Elizabeth Suhay, who found that when non-authoritarians feel sufficiently scared, they also start to behave, politically, like authoritarians.

But Hetherington and Suhay found a distinction between physical threats such as terrorism, which could lead non-authoritarians to behave like authoritarians, and more abstract social threats, such as eroding social norms or demographic changes, which do not have that effect. That distinction would turn out to be important, but it also meant that in times when many Americans perceived imminent physical threats, the population of authoritarians could seem to swell rapidly.

Together, those three insights added up to one terrifying theory: that if social change and physical threats coincided at the same time, it could awaken a potentially enormous population of American authoritarians, who would demand a strongman leader and the extreme policies necessary, in their view, to meet the rising threats.”

It’s a long read, but I think a valuable one for anyone trying to comprehend the appalling spectacle we’re all watching.

By coincidence I’ve been reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, a reexamination of biological and social evolution, very much rooted in primitive concepts of personal safety, tribal unity, resistance to change and suspicion of “others”. The takeaway for me, not that it offers any great consolation for the sight of thousands of well-protected, reasonably prosperous Americans pledging fealty to a TV celebrity, is that the evolutionary process of survival of the fittest — in this case the success of those best able to manage irrational fear — is at minimum, a process thousands of years from completion.

The two-to-five thousand years of global-scale human interaction doesn’t even yet amount to a blink of the evolutionary eye. While the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and today’s cyber revolution have/are forcing radical adaptations (i.e. evolution) on us sapiens, slowly diminishing our primitive fears of any/every new tribe intruding on our hunting ground, there’s no good reason to believe we aren’t still hundreds-to-thousands of years away from the demise of the last over-active, primordial amygdala.

As I say, there’s no great comfort in considering this thesis. But in the face of something as primitive as Donald Trump any kind of explanation helps.

The More Relevant Poll Finding Pundits Are Ignoring

trump_angry_-_Google_SearchDonald Trump and Hillary Clinton are now pretty assured of winning their party’s nomination for president, both because they are far ahead and because it seems unlikely either will implode with their respective bases. They have both had fundamental vulnerabilities exposed, yet they both continue to have a sufficient amount of support to win their nominations.

As the campaigns shift to the general election, Team Clinton shouldn’t take Donald Trump lightly, says the boy who watched slack jawed as a sophomoric but entertaining professional wrestler with no real policy agenda became Governor of Minnesota.   The Trump-Ventura parallels are imperfect. For instance, the Minnesota electorate in 1998 was divided by three strong general election contenders, making the general election threshold unusually low for the middle finger voting block to attain.  Still, that experience has given me a healthy amount of respect for the electoral appeal of entertaining protest candidates.

But to put this in casino terms, in honor of the candidate who somehow finds ways to regularly bankrupt rigged casinos, I’d much rather have Hillary Clinton’s hand than Donald Trump’s hand. Here’s why:

As pundits continually remind us, Trump is indeed the runaway Republican front-runner. But this doesn’t mean he is broadly popular.  All this really means is that his antics have charmed about 40% of the one-third of Americans who participate in Republican primaries. That equates to about 14% of the general election electorate.  So, yes, he’s the front-runner for the nomination, and that’s a shocking thing.  But we have to keep in mind that eight months from now, he needs to win over a lot more people to win a general election.

The problem for Trump is, general election voters are a very different audience than the people currently voting for him. Most notably, they include large numbers of Independent voters. To win a two-candidate — don’t you even think about it, Michael Bloomberg — general election Trump has to win Independent voters.

What do Independent voters think of Trump’s nomination campaign performance.  As of December 2015 poll showed 47% of Independent voters would be embarrassed to have Mr. Trump as President.  Only 20% of Independents would be proud to say “President Trump.”  Even pilloried Hillary, one of the more systematically smeared political figures in modern political history, has a much lower 32% of Independents who say they’d be embarrassed to vote for her.
National__US__Poll_-_December_22__2015_-_Half_Of_U_S__Voters_Embarrasse___Quinnipiac_University_Connecticut

This is a big problem for Trump, because the “would be embarrassed” question is a reasonable approximation of “would never vote for.”  Therefore, the finding shows that Trump’s pandering to his authoritarian-loving base has badly damaged his chances in a general election, perhaps irreparably so.

Now, if anyone is uniquely positioned to dig himself out of this hole, it may be Mr. Trump. First, he’s instinctively talented at reading audiences and adjusting to them on the fly. He’s like a veteran door-to-door salesman in that way.  Second, he’s no ideologue.  He’s perfectly comfortable changing positions to win over whichever audience happens to be in front of him at the moment, and skilled at deflecting “flip-flopper” criticisms. Therefore, as soon as the Republican nomination is in the bag, we can expect Trump to quickly be moderating his positions and tone, and that should help him partially rehabilitate himself with some Indies.

Still, it will be very difficult to erase the memories of Trump’s boorish behavior over the past several months.  Social media and massive ad buys will keep Trump’s Greatest Hits fresh in general election voters’ minds.  Moreover, over the next eight months Trump will still have his hard core Trumpeters coming to his rallies, which will continually tempt him to pander to them, both to win their adoration in that moment and to ensure that they don’t stay home in November.   So, Trump will moderate compared to his current self, but he probably will remain plenty embarrassing.

These same numbers also show how critically important it will be for Hillary Clinton to partner with Bernie Sanders to get Sanders’ 18-34 year old supporters to the polls in November.  After all, an astounding 73% of these younger voters would be embarrassed to have Trump as their President. This should be a solid voting block for Secretary Clinton in the general election, but they could easily stay home in large numbers if they can’t get more excited about her than they are now.

So as the nomination fights wind down, it’s time to stop obsessing about the nomination horse race numbers and delegate counts, and start focusing on the more general election-relevant data points in the survey research. When you dig a little bit deeper into the data, there still is a very high wall around the White House for the wall-obsessed Trump to scale.

You’re Mad as Hell. I’m Happy for You.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Every family has its classic stories. Legendary face plants and screw ups. Moments of never-to-be-lived down buffoonery. Hell, recalling such things is practically what families are for. Everyone has leverage on everyone else. It isn’t possible for anyone to stay all high and mighty for longer than it takes a spouse, a sibling or a child to “remember that time when you … .”

So … .

Quick story: A few years ago, after a hiking trip, I’m checking in for a flight at the Phoenix airport. Eyeing my backpack the ticket agent asks, “Do you have any gas canisters in there? Anything flammable?”  No, I tell her, thinking to myself, “How much of a rube do I look like? Gas canisters. Right.  Let’s go, Toots. Chop, chop. I’ve got better things to do than stand here answering your official list of stupid questions.”

“Anything that has been used with gas?”

“What? What do you mean, ‘used with gas’?”

“Like a stove, a camping stove.”

“Well, yeah. But there’s no gas.”

“You’ll have to take it out. It can’t be in checked luggage.”

“There’s no gas. It’s just a piece of metal you screw into canisters. But there are no gas canisters.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’ll have to remove it.”

With that my demeanor, uh, deteriorated … rapidly. “Removing” the screw-in “stove” meant unpacking the entire backpack right there on the floor in front of the counter, clogging the aisle and slowing down the 20-30 people behind me. Pretty soon there are empty water bottles, metal cook kits, spoons, dirty socks and underwear heaped on the terminal floor as I drilled down to the stove.

Finally I come up with the thing. A piece of inert metal the size of a manual can opener. I hand it to her, and with as much snot as I could lay on a line say, “Here you go. No gas. No canister. No nothing. It’s a piece of metal.”

She holds it to her nose and announces, “I can smell gas. This can’t fly. You’ll either have to forfeit it or mail it back to yourself. [For $25].”

Without belaboring a lot of other not exactly mature details, pretty soon — because I know my rights, dammit! — I’m demanding her name, her superior’s name, the airport commissioner’s name and stopping juuuuuust short of dropping a few highly politically incorrect stupid/corporate drone epithets on her.

She doesn’t budge. But she does however press the button for security, which shows up in the form of three burly guys on bikes, who tell — not ask — me to gathering my belongings and step out of line.

Off to one side the oldest of three, a muscular ex-military guy looks me in the eye and says, “I’m going to need you to calm down.”

Truth be told, he alone could have taken me. But with the two younger dudes, a physical defense of my precious Constitutional liberties — it’s in there somewhere: “Thou shalt not be jacked around by [bleeping] dimwits” – was not an option.

But I do whip out the gas-less, canister-less piece of metal and waggle it in his face.

“You know what this is?”

“Yeah, it’s a camping stove. One of those screw-in things.”

“Right. And there’s no gas here is there?”

“No.”

“So what in the [bleep] is the logic of this?”

He pauses, looks at the two younger dudes, then over his shoulder at Nurse Diesel behind the counter, leans in to me and says, ‘There is no logic to this. But that doesn’t mean this could not end up being a very bad day for you if you don’t settle down’.”

This is just a very long set-up to an observation (okay, a complaint) about our popular culture of outrage. Specifically, what a misplaced, counter-productive, self-pitying waste of energy it is, especially for middle-class Americans who by any measure have things pretty damned good these days.

A lot of Donald Trump’s appeal is believed to be rooted in the “rage” and “anger” felt by white Americans who feel marginalized by government, the media and the super rich (other than Donald Trump, of course.) But on closer inspection most of these people are getting along fine or at least well enough that they shouldn’t be nearly as whipped up and pissed off as they say they are. Not many of them are homeless, or getting stopped and gunned down by the cops for broken tail lights. But being “mad as hell” is a great act. It feels cathartic. It attracts attention and pity for their plight, which as all sorts of surveys are showing, is really rooted in crudely filtered resentments of … people in far worse predicaments than they are.

It’s nuts. But in a cultural moment when “outrage” is a standard commodity for sale on reality TV shows, political pundit panels and talk radio, getting in on the act in your own personal way seems like a serious and (very ironically) sophisticated thing to do. “Hey! Look at me! Look at how pissed I am! You should take me seriously! Hell, I should be on TV!”

These are the people I’ll charitably describe as the knuckleheads. The Trumpists, feeling their moment in the raging sun. But theatrical rage is also evident, and arguably even more misplaced among today’s liberals and progressives.

I’ve long had a pet theory built around the notion of “Stress as status”. People, usually in a business environment, who exaggerate and wrap themselves in the stress and tension of their job as a way to A: Extract pity from others, and B: Legitimize their emotional responses to routine workplace disagreements. The more stress you demonstrate, the more serious a person you are.

Liberals at this moment have good reason to be concerned about Donald Trump and his swelling “movement idiocracy”. It is phenomenal. But for the time being it is contained within a Republican party that has been pandering to racial and class resentments since 1968 and is now getting it’s face blow-torched off by the inmates. (It really does remind me of a prison riot.)

By the starkest contrast, the Hillary-Bernie “fight” has been as civil and responsible and mature as anything you’d want to teach the kids in a high school government class. Trump may very well win the nomination. But who can imagine Team Clinton being as feckless and clueless about demolishing Trump as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio? And the reaction of blacks, Hispanics, women and other rational adults to seven months of Trump’s act? Please.

Point being, there is only suspect status in rage. Mainly, people just adjust and keep their distance from you. In a glutted market for anger, rage is actually kind of boring. It’s a tired cliche. Composure is a more salable long-term product.

And I say that as the guy who would have been a lot better off giving the Phoenix ticket agent one of my patented long, silent, dismissive stares and handing over the camp stove, than throwing an indignant scene.

So as the man said, “I’m going to need you to calm down.”

BTW: The punch line to the Phoenix story comes after I walk across the terminal to some office and lay out $25 to mail the $25 gizmo to Minnesota. As the clerk rings up the charge I ask, “Just out of curiosity, how is this thing getting back to me?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, does it go on some super secure flight or something, you know like in a lead box?”

“No man, it just goes with the regular mail on the plane.”

“You mean like the same plane I’m going on?”

“Yeah, probably. That’s what they do.”

P.S.  Yeah, it’s a new mug shot. December in Furnace Creek.

Sanders Drawing Wrong Parallels To Explain Democratic Socialism

Cursor_and_Denmark_flag_-_Google_SearchWhen presidential candidate Bernie Sanders explains why Americans shouldn’t fear his “democratic socialism,” he usually points to Scandinavia.

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people. In Denmark, there is a very different understanding of what “freedom” means… they have gone a long way to ending the enormous anxieties that comes with economic insecurity. Instead of promoting a system which allows a few to have enormous wealth, they have developed a system which guarantees a strong minimal standard of living to all — including the children, the elderly and the disabled.”

His opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton, who clearly understands American exceptionalism biases, quickly shuts down Sanders’ arguments with a smug shrug: “We are not Denmark.”

By continually citing countries other than America to explain democratic socialism to Americans, Senator Sanders is hurting his case. Instead of pointing to Norway, he should more consistently cite the New Deal.

First, let’s consider the definition of “democratic socialism” offered by Democratic Socialist’s of America:

“Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.”

Truth be told, the United States of America is no stranger to this kind of democratic socialism. It was brought to us during some of the most successful and popular presidencies of the past century. Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower enacted a whole series of popular measures that fit under this definition of democratic socialism.  At the time their ideas were proposed, they were criticized as infeasible, un-American and socialistic, just as Sanders’ ideas are today.

Therefore, Senator Sanders should be explaining his democratic socialism with American examples that a large majority of Americans already know and love. Sanders might say something like this:

You want to know what democratic socialism is? When the great Republican Teddy Roosevelt dissolved 44 corporations to protect the middle class, and when he protected ordinary Americans from the railroad companies and other big corporations, his critics said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.”  But he passed them anyway, because the American people demanded it.

When the enormously popular Franklin Roosevelt used government funding to put Americans to work building community infrastructure, they said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.” When FDR proposed a Social Security system of government-run pensions that lifted millions of American seniors out of poverty, conservatives said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.”  But he passed those things anyway, because the people demanded it.

When Harry Truman enacted Medicare, people like Ronald Reagan called that socialism too.

And you know what? When Republican Dwight Eisenhower invested in an enormously expensive interstate highway system and had 90% income tax rates on the ultra-wealthy, they said it again: “You can’t pass that, because that’s socialism.”  But he passed those things anyway, because the American people demanded it.

And despite the dire predictions from critics, America’s economy prospered under these policies that were all predicted to be catastrophic for the economy.

So in 2016, when the defeatist “no you can’t” crowd tells Americans “you can’t pass bills to provide higher education and health care to all, because that’s socialism,” I get my inspiration and courage from Teddy, FDR, Give ‘em hell Harry and Ike.  Because of them, I know America can overcome the cynics’ name-calling and naysaying to do great things for the middle class now, just as we did then.”

Democratic socialism is already in America, and it is enormously popular. Surveys consistently show that Americans are vehemently opposed to cutting or eliminating democratic socialist programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and the minimum wage.

Americans not only have embraced democratic socialism in the past, they strongly support it for the future. A recent GBA Strategies poll shows that likely 2016 voters overwhelmingly support a whole range of Sanders’ ideas being dismissed as socialist ideas lacking sufficient political support:  Allowing governments to negotiate drug prices has 79% support. Medicare buy-in for all has 71% support. A $400 million infrastructure jobs program has 71% support. Debt-free college at all public universities has 71% support. Expanding Social Security benefits has 70% support. Taxing the rich at a 50% rate — the rate under conservative icon Ronald Reagan — has 59% support, and only 25% in opposition. Breaking up the big banks has 55% support, and only 23% in opposition.

This is hardly a portrait of a nation that opposes democratic socialism.  Overwhelming support for democratic socialism is already there, ready to fuel a 2016 presidential candidate.  But for two reasons, Senator Sanders needs to cite American parallels to explain his approach, not European.

First, citing examples of American policies will help build confidence that bold measures can be enacted over fierce opposition now, just as they were in the days of Teddy, FDR, Truman and Ike.  Second, citing American examples will paint Sanders’ democratic socialism label and his policy ideas red, white and blue, rather than just red.  It will show that such ideas have been embraced in the past by idolized Republicans and Democrats.  It subsequently will normalize democratic socialism.

Americans are in a very nationalistic, ethnocentric and nostalgic mood. So, rather than continually pointing to the Rikstag, Storting, and Folketing to explain democratic socialsm, Sanders needs to point to the faces on Mt. Rushmore.

Note:  This post was chosen for re-publication in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Ten Questions You Won’t Hear Asked By Intimidated Political Reporters

With all of the horse race and insult-related content in the GOP presidential debates, there is a huge opportunity cost: A lot of substantive questions simply are going unasked.

Megyn_Kelly_bimboMaybe that’s because reporters are worried bullying candidates will give them the Megyn Kelly Treatment/Rebecca Quick Treatment. Maybe it’s because reporters don’t take the time to learn policy issues. Maybe it’s because reporters don’t respect voters’ intelligence enough to think that they will care about, or understand, policy issues

Whatever the reason, the most consequential questions simply aren’t being posed, and the result on the Republican side is the most vapid set of presidential debates of my lifetime. Here just a few of the questions that I would love to hear asked at the upcoming Republican debate:

  • PAYING FOR TAX CUTS FOR WEALTHY? Which Americans’ services are you going to cut or eliminate to pay for your proposed tax cuts, which go disproportionately to the wealthiest Americans?
  • PAYING FOR PENTAGON SPENDING SPREE? You claim President Obama has destroyed the military, despite the fact military spending is at historically high levels, and is 23% higher than under President Reagan.  But if you do want to further beef up the military, which specific Pentagon spending programs will you increase, how much will that cost and what service cuts and/or tax increases will you offer to pay for that large increase in spending?
  • BUSHONOMICS AGAIN? President George W. Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthy didn’t lead to economic growth and deficit reduction, yet your tax proposal is remarkably similar to the Bushonomics that didn’t turn out so well for Americans. Why do you think that approach will lead to a booming economy if it didn’t turn out that way under the last Republican president?
  • CAP-AND-TRADE. One solution for reducing greenhouse emissions is the cap-and-trade approach. The last three Republican Presidents, including conservative icon Ronald Reagan, embraced this market-based approach. But suddenly Republicans now oppose the cap-and-trade approach to protecting the environment. Has cap-and-trade changed since President Reagan, or has the oil industry’s control of Republican leaders gotten that much stronger?
  • ELIMINATE OIL COMPANY SUBSIDIES? Given that you oppose subsidizing alternative energy sources, and government spending in general, would you support eliminating the $4.8 Billion in subsidies the petroleum industry is given every year? If not, why give an unfair competitive advantage to dirty, non-renewable, and foreign sources of energy over cleaner, renewable, American-based sources?
  • MAKING BANKS SMALL ENOUGH TO FAIL? The largest banks in America are now actually even larger than they were in 2008, when leaders judged them to be too big to fail.  Will you break up the nation’s largest financial institutions so that they are no longer “too big to fail?” If not, aren’t you leaving American taxpayers wide open to another crippling bailout?
  • DETAILS ON DEPORTATION. Explain specifically how you would deport 11.2 million undocumented immigrants, an amount roughly equivalent to the population of the State of Ohio? For example, how would you pry 11 million people away from their lives and families, and get them onto trains or buses? Would you use the military, National Guard or police? How would you pay the estimated $400-600 Billion cost of deporting 11.2 million people?
  • VETERANS VOTING RECORD. You all talk a lot about needing to honor and help military veterans. But if you all love veterans so much, why do groups like the Disabled American Veterans of America (DAV) rate your voting records so low. For instance, the DAV says Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz supported veterans 0% of the time in their most recent rating of them, while Senator Sanders supported veterans 100% of the time and Senator Clinton supported them 80% of the time.   Don’t legislative actions speak louder than your words?
  • DEFICIT SPENDING FOR WARS? Your comments on foreign policy indicate that you are inclined to send American troops to another armed conflict in the Middle East. If you do, will you increase taxes to pay for those operations, or will you fund the conflict with deficit spending, as the last Republican President did? If you’d run up the deficit with trillions of dollars of war spending, how can you claim to be a fiscal conservative?
  • AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (ACA) ALTERNATIVE? What’s your specific plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act? No, really, it’s been six years since the ACA passed, so this time you are not going to get away with dodging the question. If you still can’t name an alternative you support, isn’t it fair to assume that the claimed “repeal-and-replace” rhetoric is actually just “repeal,” which would lead to 1) about 15 million Americans losing their coverage and 2) another 65 million losing their ACA protection from discrimination due to a pre-existing condition?

Oh, and here is one over-arching question I’d like them to add. “For every tax cut or spending increase you didn’t know the cost of today, will you pledge to the American people that you will disclose the estimated fiscal impact within the next month? If not, why won’t you shoot it straight to the voters.”

There are dozens of other questions that need to be asked by reporters, but this would be a very helpful start. Yes, such questioning will cause reporters to get booed, heckled and bullied by the candidates and their cheering sections. But frankly that happens even when they ask softball questions, so what exactly do they have to lose?