Franken Wasn’t “Denied Due Process” By Critics

One of the primary rallying cries of the righteous defenders of Senator Al Franken is that he is being “denied due process.”  Republican former Governor Arne Carlson was the latest in a long line of folks to make this righteously indignant assertion:

I am deeply troubled by the resignation of Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process. While I am not always in agreement with Senator Al Franken, I firmly believe in due process which is a cornerstone of our democratic way of living. Whenever in history we abandoned it, we severely damaged ourselves. Just think about the lynching of Blacks in the South, the internment of people of Japanese descent in World War II, or the era of McCarthyism when lives were destroyed based solely on allegations.

With all due respect to the often thoughtful Governor Carlson and my progressive friends who are understandably stinging over the loss of an effective champion, puh-lease. Al Franken is being treated like lynched African Americans or imprisoned Japanese Americans?  Really?

This is a silly argument. Clearly, Senator Franken had due process available to him every step of the way – the Senate Ethics Committee investigation process.  Franken said he wanted make use of that process when there was one accuser. After the number of accusers increased to eight, he decided to resign and not tap into that process.  That’s not quite how it went down for African Americans and Japanese Americans.

The critically important point is, the decision to forgo the process was always Franken’s.  It was not forced upon him by “the lynch mob,” the favored term Franken defenders use for anyone who believes Franken’s accusers.  The U.S. Senate’s due process existed for former Senator Bob Packwood when he faced sexual abuse accusations, it existed for Franken, and it still exists for accused pedophile Roy Moore if he, gulp, wins a seat in the Senate today.

While the “denial of due process” argument doesn’t hold up, there is a reasonable discussion to have about whether there was a “rush to judgment.”  Who knows, maybe all eight of these accusers were lying, exaggerating, conspiring or confusing an ass grab with a “hug.” To me, the evidence was pretty strong that Franken’s behavior — sophomoric and degrading, though nowhere near as bad as Moore’s or Trump’s assualts — no longer left him credible enough, at this unique time in history, to be effective representing his state and progressive causes.  That photo, which would have lived on in political ad-driven infamy, made it much worse for him.

But if some disagree with me on that, and want to make the “rush to judgment” argument, that argument is reasonable. Now, it would feel much more reasonable if those same folks were making the same “don’t rush to judgment” argument in the case of Cosby, Weinstein, Rose, Lauer, Keillor, Franks, Moore, Trump and others, which they aren’t.  But that is at least a worthy topic of discussion.

Not so with the “due process” hysterics. If the accusations of all eight women were as false and/or exaggerated as Senator Franken claims, he did have an impartial investigative process during which he could have tried to prove his case. The fact that Franken’s colleagues and constituents exercised their free speech rights to criticize him did not take that right away. He voluntarily abandoned that option himself, just as the list of women accusing him of unwanted grabbing and kissing was growing longer.

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.

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.

Americans Support An Actual “Government Takeover of Health Care,” And I Don’t Mean Obamacare

Government_takeover_of_health_careOn the heels of the closing of the second year of open enrollment for Obamacare coverage, expect to hear a lot of “government takeover of health care” ranting from conservatives.

That phrase is heavily used by anti-Obamacare zealots, and that is no accident.  In 2009, Republican political consultant and celebrated wordsmith Frank Luntz advised his conservative clients to portray the proposed Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as “a government takeover of health care.”

Conservatives did as they were told. If you Google those words, you’ll see that the usage of that phrase, and close variations, has been widespread among conservatives ever since.

In a 28-page strategy memo, Luntz explained why stressing a Washington “takeover” was so important:

“Takeovers are like coups.  They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.”

In other words, the Affordable Care Act shouldn’t be talked about as it were a legislative proposal in a representative democracy.  Instead, it should be talked about as if it were a Stalin-esque freedom grab.

There are two problems with conservatives parroting the Luntz-recommended phrase “government takeover of health care” to make Americans fearful about health care reform: First, It’s demonstrably false.  Second, It doesn’t scare most Americans.

False.  I’m not going to go into detail about why it is false, because it’s pretty self-evident.  But suffice it to say that ‘government takeover of health care” as a descriptor for the Affordable Care Act was named by the non-partisan editors of Politifact as their 2010 “Lie of the Year.”   In a lie-intensive election year, “government takeover of healthcare” was named by both editors and readers as the Pants on Fire of all Pants’s on Fire.  Politifact notes the obvious:

“It is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover because it relies largely on the existing system of health coverage provided by employers.

It’s true that the law does significantly increase government regulation of health insurers. But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market.”

Not Scary.  But beyond being false, the more surprising thing to me is that “government takeover of health care” is not all that scary to a  majority of Americans.

While Obamacare is not remotely close to a government takeover of health care, putting Americans into the government-run Medicare program would be exactly that.  And you know what? Most Americans are just fine with even that level of government takeover of health care.

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A January 2015 GBA Strategies survey asked Americans if they support enactment of “a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare.” By a 15-point margin, a majority of Americans (51% support, 36% oppose) supported that kind of government takeover of health care.

The same survey then asked Americans about giving people the option of having government take over their health care.   Specifically, the survey asked if respondents would support giving “all Americans the choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurers, which would provide competition for insurance companies and more options for consumers.” An amazing 71% of Americans support having the option of a government takeover their health care, including 63% of Republican respondents.

So it turns out that, after six years of intensive Luntz-led vilification of “government takeover of health care,” backed by hundreds of millions of dollars of political advertising and public relations efforts, there are very few issues in America today with as much public support as there is for the federal government taking over American health care.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was republished on MinnPost.

What Happened To GOPers Looking To The Market To Set Prices?

price_is_based_on_what_the_market_will_bear_-_Google_SearchOne of the things that you can usually expect Republicans to be consistent about is faith in market forces. They’re continually reminding us that we should trust market forces to allocate resources, as opposed to having politicians arbitrarily setting prices and picking winners and losers.

In the personnel marketplace, this means that if salaries are set below what the rest of the marketplace is bearing, we can expect to attract a smaller pool of talent willing to work at the below-market price. In a market economy, the theory goes, you get what you pay for. If you offer less salary, you attract less talent. If you attract less talent, you get worse personnel.  If you get worse personnel, you get incompetent enterprises and poor outcomes.

For Republicans, this trust in markets is a not just any old belief. This really is their core, their bedrock. But it all goes out the window when there is a juicy demagogic opportunity in front of them.

For a politician, the most tempting political opportunity of them all is the chance to get self-righteous about a government pay increase.   For demagogues, a government pay increase is as delicious a target as there is. One doesn’t have to be a particularly skilled, bright or courageous politician to score political points this issue. Jihadi John probably could get a standing ovation from Americans if he proclaimed his support for lower government employee salaries.

But again, political opportunism aside, what happened to Republicans’ bedbrock belief in trusting the market price? The Star Tribune has reported on the market price for state government Commissioners and found:

Before smaller raises in 2013 and 2014, agency heads had seen no increase since 2000. A recent analysis by Minnesota Management and Budget showed that before the raises, 14 of 15 commissioners were paid at or below the 50th percentile compared to commissioners in other states; eight were below the 25th percentile. The raises push Minnesota salaries above the median.

Dayton noted in his letter that mid-level managers at many Minnesota companies earn more than his commissioners, who after the increases are earning between $140,000 and $155,000 a year. DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, for instance, manages a $17.7 billion budget and will now make about $155,000.

Dayton also pointed out that even after the raise, the state education commissioner is still earning about 80 percent of the yearly salary of superintendents at a number of larger Minnesota school districts. Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius had been making $119,000 before the raise. By contrast, the head of Minneapolis schools earns about $190,000.

In other words, senior executives in Minnesota state government had been earning well below the market price being paid peers from other jurisdictions and states. Moreover, I would argue that Commissioners in Minnesota should be paid well above the 50th percentile, since Minnesota is a relatively high income state, ranking 11th highest in the nation.

What do Republicans – stalwart champions for trusting the market to determine prices – think about this market snapshot? The Star Tribune reports:

Republicans scoffed at the argument that Dayton would struggle to attract and retain talented commissioners without the pay increase. Plenty of talented people would serve as Dayton’s commissioners, “at the old price,” said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston.

In this case, Republicans effectively are insisting that we ignore the market prices, and instead let politicians set the price and pick winners and losers.

Why the inconsistency?  The marketplace argument gets pushed aside in this case for three primary reasons.

First, with legislators earning a ridiculously low salary of $31,140 per year, everything looks extravagant. As I’ve argued before, legislators need a large pay raise to attract a better talent pool, and until they get it, legislators are going to be tempted to pay government employees below what the market is bearing, simply out of jealousy and spite.  When they are being paid less than the average sewage worker, I can’t blame them for being bitter, but their own demagoguery is what prevents the problem from getting the problem fixed.  In any event, legislators’ low pay is an important undercurrent in this debate.

The second reason market arguments gets ignored by Republicans in this debate is that many honestly have no problem making government less competent. At their core, Repulbicans want government to become smaller. Lower paid commissioners lead to less talented commissioners, which leads to less competent government, which leads to less faith in government, which leads to more political support for shrinking government. Score!

The final reason market arguments get pushed aside by Republicans in this debate is the most obvious.  There are cheap political points to be scored. You can bank on the fact that the pay increase will be showing up in endless campaign ads during the 2016 elections.  And when you’re only making $31,000 per year, sometimes the adrenalin rush that comes from scoring cheap political points is the best pay available.

– Loveland

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

Minnesota Senate Candidate Mike McFadden Wins Another Blockbuster Endorsement

Molly_McFadden_adSaint Paul, Minnesota – In news that could shake up Minnesota’s previously sleepy U.S. Senate contest, Republican candidate Mike McFadden announced today that he has landed the endorsement of his young daughter Molly McFadden.

“With just two weeks left in the campaign, we decided to launch our October Surprise,” said McFadden, a CEO of an investment banking company from Sunfish Lake.

Ms. McFadden’s announcement was made through a new television ad produced by the McFadden campaign.  The transcript of Ms. McFadden’s ad follows:

My dad, Mike McFadden, is running for Senate.  He really tries.  But he’s not very good at this political stuff.

Problem is, dad’s super honest.  He works hard.  And he’d rather help people than attack them.

Dad’s been all over Minnesota telling people about his plan.

But I can tell you this:  He’s a good guy, with a great heart, and he’ll give everything for Minnesota.”

The announcement continues a red hot streak for the McFadden campaign, having secured the endorsement of the candidate’s Obamacare-hating peewee football players, fiscal analyzing son Conor, and now his political analyst daughter Molly.

“Amazingly, Mike is on the verge of getting endorsed by every one of his offspring, while liberal Al Franken hasn’t been endorsed by a single McFadden child,” said McFadden campaign spokesperson I.O. Koch.

In a rare moment of political harmony, the Franken campaign released a statement agreeing with Ms. McFadden:  “While we dispute the ad assertions that Mike is honest, doesn’t attack people, and has a plan that he is sharing,  we cannot disagree with the ad’s observation that Mike “is not very good at this political stuff.”

Note:  This post is satire.  Though Mike really did release a series of sappy ads featuring endorsements from his young players, son, and daughter, the reaction quotes are fabricated for my own amusement.

Will Bakk Building Put DFL Back Out of Power?

While Minnesota DFLers controlled state government the past two years, they have done some very constructive things:

  • TRULY BALANCED BUDGET.  Unlike their GOP predecessors, DFLers balanced the budget without relying on irresponsible gimmicks and shifts, and they paid back public schools for the money the GOP shamefully “borrowed” from them.
  • TAX FAIRNESS.  The DFL also restored a bit of tax fairness to an unfair system, by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans who were paying a lower percentage of their income in taxes than other citizens.
  • 5 G’s.  Importantly, DFLers didn’t get bogged down with issues associated with “the five G’s” — gays, guns, gambling, God and gynecology — which tend to dominate under GOP control.  DFLers enacted marriage equality swiftly and efficiently — a very historic and important achievement — then moved on to other important non-G business.
  • ALL-DAY K.  DFLers passed universal all-day kindergarten.  While that’s not the first education investment I’d prioritize, it is a constructive move, and a publicly popular move.
  • JOBS AND INFRASTRUCTURE.  The DFL authorized and funded a long list of needed capital improvement projects that are rebuilding Minnesota’s deteriorating infrastructure and putting long-suffering construction workers back to work.
  • NO DELAYS OR SHUTDOWNS.  Finally, the DFL got its work done on time, and didn’t shut down state government, as the previous GOP-controlled Legislature did. DFLers mostly governed like grown-ups.

That’s a very nice body of work for the DFL to showcase to voters.  They should be proud of it.

If DFLers lose control of all or some of state government, it likely will have had to do with environmental factors they can’t change , such as low DFL constituency turnout in a non-presidential election and an unpopular Democratic President.  Their policymaking performance will not be their biggest political problem.

Minnesota_Senate_office_buildingBut there is at least one policymaking unforced error that is making things a bit more difficult for the DFL — the DFLers authorization of a new Senate office building.

The new Senate office building project is nowhere near as wasteful as Republicans claim.  It also is nowhere near as necessary as Senate DFLers claim.  But one thing is indisputable:   The political optics of the project are bad for the DFL during the election season.

Attack_mailing_PDF__1_page_Most voters won’t do a comprehensive financial analysis of whether DFL leaders are doing a good job stewarding their tax dollars.   They will judge fiscal stewardship based on an isolated example or two.  Republicans are working overtime to make sure that the Senate Office Building is the example voters use to make their judgement.

The Senate office building works well for the GOP on a political level.  First, the building is built for legislators by legislators.  On its face, that seems self-serving and arrogant to many voters.  Minnesotans don’t take kindly to self-serving and arrogant.

Second, this is not a pole building, and therefore can be made to seem extravagant.  The building renderings strike me as modest, responsible and utilitarian, but demagogues are making the Senate office building seem like something akin to Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea.

The issue is obviously being overblown by Republicans.  This project represents only a small fraction of the entire state budget, and the argument for the building is strong, if you actually take the time to study and consider it.  But at-a-glance, voters perceive the building to be self-serving and extravagant, and Republicans realize most will voters only consider the issue at-a-glance.

In what is likely to be a close non-presidential election with little room for error, the DFL legislators can’t afford many unforced errors.  Choosing this year to build the new Senate office building is one very big unforced political error.

– Loveland

Conservative Pressler Attempts Facelift For SD Senate Race

Pressler_Reagan_BushOne of the more brazen political facelifts in recent memory is being attempted in South Dakota, where a ballot crowded with conservatives is causing conservative Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD, 1979-1997) to attempt to convince voters that he is now a moderate.

The former Republican U.S. Senator’s most recent television ad features this claim:

“I believe in taking the best ideas from both parties…”

That spin sells well with moderates.  But Pressler’s claim will come as a huge surprise to non-conservative policy advocates, given that Pressler’s most recent voting record ratings show him rejecting almost all non-conservative ideas:

  • National Education Association:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • National Council of Senior Citizens:  Pressler voted against their positions 90% of the time.
  • NARAL Pro Choice America:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • Human Rights Campaign:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • United Food and Commercial Workers:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • Coalition to Stop Gun Violence:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • National Public Health Association:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • United States Students Association:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • Children’s Defense Fund:  Pressler voted against their positions 89% of the time.
  • Human Rights Campaign:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • American Association of University Women:  Pressler voted 100% against their positions.

Source:  Project Vote Smart

Voting records speak louder than ad claims, and this not the voting record of a moderate.  This is not the voting record of someone who “takes the best ideas from both parties,” unless you believe conservatives have 99% of the best ideas, which of course makes you an ultra-conservative.

So why is long-time conservative Pressler trying to masquerade as a moderate in 2014?

Necessity.  There are two other conservatives – Republican Mike Rounds and Tea Party-backed former Republican state legislator Gordon Howie — joining the historically conservative Pressler on the ballot. Pressler is running a pretty distant third place behind increasingly strong Democrat Rick Weiland and Rounds, and he apparently doesn’t like the mathematics associated with splitting the conservative vote three ways.  So instead of running again as a conservative, Pressler is giving himself a moderate facelift, and hoping South Dakota moderates will somehow forget his conservative voting record in the U.S. Senate.

It’s understandable how South Dakota voters might forget the voting record of someone who has been out of office for almost two decades.  It’s a little more difficult to understand how the South Dakota news media, many of whom covered Pressler and know all about his conservative voting record, could neglect to expose a facelift that would put Michael Jackson to shame.

– Loveland

Franken-McFadden Ad Wars: Credibility v. Likeability

Al_Franken__Rigged_Ad_The tone of the TV ads of Senator Al Franken and challenger Mike McFadden could hardly be more different.

CEO McFadden has crafted his ads to remake his public image from Millionaire Mike into a jocular, lovable common man, a sort of Clark Griswold Goes To Washington.

Meanwhile, recovering comedian Franken has crafted his ads to remake his public image from shock jock Al into a earnest, wonky, propeller-headed legislator, a sort of congressional Mr. Fixit.

All of this raises an old political messaging argument:  How important is likeability in politics?  Is it more important for a candidate to be liked or respected?

Mike_McFadden_football_adIn his quest for likeability, McFadden’s ads stray into the absurd.  The millionaire explains the difficulty of living on a budget, with his polished McMansion on display over his shoulder.  He scripts grade school football players to ape his critique of the complex federal health care policy.  He goes for groin-shot guffaws and shallow symbolism in lieu of serious policy debate.

After all, who wouldn’t want to “have a beer with” the good time Charlie who goes soprano after pretending to get hit in the privates?

There is obviously a method to McFadden’s sophomoric madness.  He is trying to make his public self likeable in order to win over swing voters — moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats and independents — who McFadden apparently believes are not interested in the more detailed policy discussions Franken is featuring in his ads.

Who knows, McFadden might be onto something.  According to conventional political wisdom, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton particularly drew a lot of swing voter support due to their supposed want-to-have-a-beer-withism, while Mike Dukakis and Al Gore particularly suffered from appearing distant, dour and dorky.  Just because Millionaire Mitt made a mess of his 2012 likeability tour doesn’t mean that Millionaire Mike shouldn’t try to connect with voters on a non-millionaire level.

Meanwhile, Franken seems content to sit out the likeability contest.  In Franken’s rush to prove to Minnesotans that he is no longer a cartoonish comedian or pugnacious pundit, he is going all Mike Dukakis on us.

Mo Fiorina, a professor of political science at Stanford University, has researched the connection between likeability and winning at the presidential level, going back to 1952.   Professor Fiorina has good news for Franken.  He told National Public Radio (NPR) in 2010 that likeability is only a “minor factor” in voting:

“There’s very little historical evidence for it.  The fact is we decide who is likeable after they win, not before they win. If I had been advising Mitt Romney, I would have said in the end the American people are not going to decide who they are going to have a beer with, because the American people know that they are not going to have a beer with any of these people.  They are going to decide on the base of who they know is going to do the job.”

Still as a Franken supporter, I would be more comfortable if Franken wouldn’t completely cede the likeability ground to McFadden.  Right now Franken’s TV ad persona is grim and flat, and even a “minor factor” ought to matter to a guy who only won by 312 votes in 2008, a much better year for Democrats than 2014 is likely to be.

If only Franken knew a good comedic writer with political instincts who could write a TV ad to lighten him up.  Know anyone like that, Al?

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in the MinnPost Blog Cabin Roundup.

McFadden’s New Ad Proposes Scissoring Health Care System’s Unhealed Wounds

McFadden_Stiches_AdFollowing his sophmoric campaign ad about getting hit by a child in his, tee hee, senatorial privates, Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden has a new metaphoric television ad about the harm he wants to inflict on Obamacare.

The ad opens with Mr. McFadden establishing his bona fides as a Common Man, just like us.  Sitting in a plush leather chair in a well polished den, the son of the CEO candidate — who is worth between $15 million and $57 million dollars — tells viewers about the McFaddens’ hardscrabble existence:

Conor McFadden (son of the candidate): “My dad, Mike McFadden? He’s cheap.”

Mike McFadden (candidate): “With six kids, it’s called a budget.”

In Romneyesque fashion, the “with six kids” and “budget” references are intended to imply that Millionaire Mike is struggling from paycheck-to-paycheck, just like a dang minimum wage worker.  This is as close to an obligatory “Honest Abe was raised in a primitive log cabin out on the wild frontier” yarn as Team McFadden can muster.   (Of course, the $2,000 hockey table on display next to junior doesn’t exactly support the Frugal Mike image.  But, hey, he didn’t get the kids the $3,000 table, now did he?)

Then comes the metaphoric meat of the ad:

Conor: “When I was 10 and had to get stitches out after a hockey injury, the nurse said it would cost one-hundred bucks. Dad was so horrified he grabbed the scissors and took them out himself.”

Mike: “You lived.”

Conor: “Trust me, nothing will stop Dad from trying to take out Obamacare.”

Mike: “Send me to Washington and give me some scissors. I’ll put ‘em to work.”

Mike_McFadden_stern_daddyNote the tough, no-nonsense daddy image that McFadden’s political consultants are constructing.  Linguist George Lakoff has documented how GOP candidates very consciously frame themselves as “strict fathers” of the  family — “you lived” — while portraying Democrats as the overly permissive mommies.

Wait until daddy comes home!  Daddy will stop mommy and and the children from spending irresponsibly. There is a lot of that patriarchal “father knows best” vibe here.

So, to recap the ad narrative,  strict daddy on a budget is so darn frugal he will remove son’s stitches with his own scissors to save money, and he will do that with Obamacare too!

There are at least a couple of major substantive problems with the mac daddy’s metaphor:

Problem #1:  America’s health care system is far from a healed wound.  In fact, America’s health care system is an open, festering wound.  According to the non-partisan Commonwealth Fund, the United States has the worst health care system in the developed world.  After Mr. McFadden “takes out” the ACA stitches in this gaping wound, what is he going to do about the bleeding:

  • The 99,643 Minnesotans newly enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) who would be uninsured again.
  • The 2,318,738  Minnesotans with some type of pre-existing health condition who would once again be denied insurance without ACA protection.
  • The 35,000 Minnesota young adults who, thanks to the ACA, are currently insured under their parents plans until age 26 but would be uninsured again without ACA.
  • The 2,043,000 Minnesotans who, thanks to the ACA, are free from worrying about lifetime limits on coverage, but would face such dangerous limits again.

Are we really prepared to let McFadden re-open that wound?

Problem #2:  “Taking out” Obamacare stitches with McFadden’s scissors doesn’t save money. In fact, it would cost a lot of money.  According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation (JTC), eliminating Obamacare would:

“…cause a net increase in federal budget deficits of $109 billion over the 2013–2022 period.”

In other words, McFadden may be cutting, but he is certainly not saving.  That’s an important little $109 billion detail to keep in mind.

Also, McFadden has made it clear that he wouldn’t use his scissors on fellow CEOs at private insurance companies.  McFadden opponent Senator Al Franken successfully authored an ACA measure that, for the first time, requires private health plan CEOs to spend at least 80 to 85 percent of the premiums they collect to pay for actual health care, instead of corporate overhead, salaries, bonuses, marketing and profits.  In 2012, Franken’s “medical loss ratio” provision led to the average Minnesota family with private insurance receiving a rebate of $303.

But Mr. McFadden has made it clear that he opposes Franken’s scissoring of private insurance companies’ overhead, salaries, bonuses, marketing and profits.   Instead, McFadden prefers to take his scissors to millions of Minnesotans benefiting from Obamacare.

So, McFadden wants to scissors an unhealed wound even though it will cost billions and cause massive bleeding.  Why?  Because the Minnesota GOP’s rabidly Tea Party base demands red-faced Obama-hating, and McFadden will say anything to curry their favor.  As McFadden’s son promises them, “Trust me, nothing will stop Dad from trying to take out Obamacare.”

– Loveland

Minnesota Senate Candidate McFadden Releases New Humorous Ad

Mike_McFadden_groin_hilaritySaint Paul, Minn. — Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden (R-Sunfish Lake) followed an earlier campaign television ad that ended with a child-inflicted injury to his groin with a new  television ad that uses thinly veiled flatulence-based humor to further make his case for election to the U.S. Senate.

“We’re just trying to have some good clean fun, while making a very serious point about Al Franken’s big government, job-killing stuff,” said McFadden.

The ad opens with a fog rolling over a grainy black-and-white photo of a frowning Senator Al Franken. Ominous music drones throughout the spot, and two 10-year old boys on a playground chime in in a sign-songy tone.

Male adult announcer: “Something is very, very rotten in Washington.”

Male child actor #1: “Al Franken says the Iraq War and Great Recesssion  are not his fault. But he who smelt it, dealt it.” (giggle)

Announcer: “Death panels.  IRSgate. Benghazi. Al Franken wants to keep it silent. But we all know, they’re silent but DEADLY.”

Male child actor #2: “Whoever rebuts it, cuts it.” (giggle)

Mike McFadden: (Giggling and holding his nose ) “I’m Mike McFadden, and I declare it, so Al can no longer blare it.”

(McFadden then sits on whoopee cushion. McFadden and kids giggle in unison.)

Mike McFadden:  “Oh no, not again, Al!”

The ad began running across Minnesota today. Like the groin ad, it was created by Washington-based Sophmoric Productions.

– Loveland

Note:  This post is satire and the featured ad doesn’t exist, for now.

News Flash: Candidate Announces a Running Mate…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

KuisleIn recent years, it feels like the quantity of political reporting in daily newspapers has dropped off.  Whether a function of smaller newsrooms, editors who believe the public wants less political coverage, editors who are gun shy about provocative political topics, or something else, there just seems to be less political coverage.

Political reporters do still cover the most predictable, scripted and formal of political events — candidacy filings and announcements, campaign finance filings, party endorsement events, and running mate announcements.   For the most part, the public snores through all of this formulaic coverage of predictable events.

Case in point:  Today’s Star Tribune carried a fairly in-depth article about Hennepin County Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson picking Guy I’ve Never Heard Of as his Lieutenant Governor running mate.   In this article, we are earnestly briefed about the selection of someone who almost certainly won’t impact the outcome of the gubernatorial race, and almost certainly wouldn’t have substantive duties if he somehow beat the odds and actually got the job.

What is even better is that we can look forward to this kind of scintillating “candidate chooses running mate” coverage for each of the multitudes of candidates in the gubernatorial race.  Spoiler alert:  Each candidate will be picking someone brilliant who is “balancing their ticket” in some fashion.

Meanwhile, more important and interesting things go uncovered or undercovered.

  • When congressional candidate and big box store heir Stuart Mills III airs a TV ad portraying himself a self-made man who treats his workers well, there is no newspaper  probing of those two claims.
  • When Senator Al Franken films an ad implying he has been working overtime to help small businesses get high skilled workers, there is no probing of the veracity of that claim.
  • When shadowy independent expenditure groups’ attack ads are aired, there is too little work put into trying to learn about the financial backing for the ads, and whether the groups’ claims are based in fact.
  • When Candidate A criticizes Policy X while refusing to offer a detailed alternative, there is too little exposing that act of political cowardice and intellectual dishonesty.

These are shadowy areas where savvy, sleuthing political reporters could actually shed light.  But when political operatives figure out that lying and hiding won’t get exposed, guess what, lying and hiding proliferates.  When that happens, our democracy gets weaker.

I hope this isn’t an either/or issue.  Maybe there still is enough capacity in newsrooms and column inches in newspapers to cover both the formulaic stories and the more probing stories.  That would be ideal.  But if there no longer is enough journalistic capacity for both types of coverage, our democracy needs the latter much more than it needs the former.

– Loveland

Stewart Mills’ Ad On Truth Serum

This is the script of a political ad that was recently released by conservative Republican Stewart Mills III, who is running against DFL Congressman Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.  The ad shows young Stew the third sporting the orange shirt worn by front line employees at the Mills Fleet Farm chain of big box stores that his family operates.

I’m Stuart Mills.  My family operates Mills Fleet Farm.

As a teenager, I worked here stocking shelves.  (chuckle)  Then I got promoted to mopping floors.

Now I run the health care program for thousands of our employees and their families.

Everyday, I see how Obamacare hurts small businesses and the middle class.

As your congressman, I’ll replace it.

I’m Stewart Mills and I approve this message, because we need to grow the middle class and get Minnesota back to work.

Stewart_Mills_III_orange_shirt

If Stew the third were injected with truth serum, the ad might sound more like this:

I’m Stewart Mills the third.  My family operates Mills Fleet Farm.

As a teenager, I worked there stocking shelves.  (chuckle)  Then I said,  screw this, daddy, make me a top executive faster than everyone else.  And he did.

In other words, I was born on third base, but think I hit a triple.

Now I’m fighting to protect my millions of dollars in inherited wealth.

But every day in Minnesota I see how 350,000 minimum wage workers have gotten a raise, 95,000 have new Medicaid coverage, and 2.3 million with pre-existing conditions have gotten their coverage protected through Obamacare.

As your congressman, I would oppose those things, and  offer no alternatives.

I’m Stewart Mills III, and a bunch of other folks with inherited wealth approve of this message, because they want a fellow silver spooner growing the upper class and putting ordinary Minnesotans back in their place.

 

Note:  This post was featured in Politics in Minnesota‘s Best of the Blogs.

Paul Begala: Wry Wing Politics Devotee

Okay, call me a rube, but my obscure little blog doesn’t get linked everyday in Tweets by national talking heads like Paul Begala.  So when it happens, I have to take a moment to feel self-important, before I slink back to my dark  corner of the world.

Begala_tweets_wry_wing_politics

 

Yes, Paul (I call him “Paul” now) links to among the least unique posts I’ve ever penned.  (And trust me, there is plenty of competition for that honor.)  Yes, it is surely his first and last visit to WWP.  Yes, this happened because of Rick Weiland’s great work, not mine.

But still, a sideways glance from Paul freakin’ Begala makes a backwater gadfly’s little heart go pitter-patter, and page views go through the roof.

I’m thinking I’m probably now on his holiday card list, right?

South Dakota’s Rick Weiland: A Different Kind of U.S. Senate Candidate

Most U.S. Senate candidates spend all of their time traveling to Wall Street, K Street, LaSalle Street, Montgomery Street, and Federal Street to beg for money from millionaires and billionaires who demand obedience after they’re elected.

Most U.S. Senate candidates produce phony cookie cutter ads whose stock photography make them all look and sound the same.

So, it’s refreshing to see at least one U.S. Senate candidate, South Dakota’s Rick Weiland, running a very different kind of campaign, on Main Streets running to reform Wall Street.    Three hundred and eleven South Dakota Main Streets, to be precise.

This video, shot and editied by the candidate’s son Nick, and song, performed by the candidate with family members and friends, isn’t the slickest thing you’ll ever see.  It might even be a little corny for some of you hipsters.  But it’s also a rare breath of fresh air in an all too polluted political atmosphere.

MN Congressional Candidates Take Note: 6 of 10 Americans Want To Keep Obamacare

The reporting on Obamacare public opinion research has been consistently shallow, as I’ve noted for years.  Despite the many simplistic “Public Opposes Obamacare” stories and punditifications, a deeper dive into the polls shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans want to either keep the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as is, or improve it.

The latest Kaiser Family Health Foundation Tracking Poll, which was fielded prior to this week’s positive publicity about ACA insurance exchanges targets being met, finds that this trend is continuing.  Even after a pre-deadline deluge of anti-Obamacare advertising, Americans still oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act, by a huge 29% to 59% margin.  Independent voters, who will be so important in the upcoming mid-term elections, also overwhelmingly oppose the GOP’s repeal calls, by a 32% to 52% margin.

Survey__59_pct_want_to_keep_acaSo, nervous DFL congressional candidates, improvements to the ACA — a better exhange website, a more robust exchange call center, more exchange “navigators,” stronger enrollment incentives for young adults,  and/or a public insurance option — would be welcomed by voters.  But let your Republican opponents blather on about “repeal and replace” all they want, because it simply is not selling.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

DisHonourable

Minnesota GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour has a surname that sounds as if it was fabricated by a team of political consultants.  What, “Bob Dignity” wasn’t available to run for governor?

I don’t know a lot about Mr. Honour’s pre-political life, but from what he has published on his website biography, he sounds like a pleasant chap and a capable business person.

But so far, his performance since becoming a politician does not live up to the expectations set by his surname.

Mr. Honour has been busy making the case that Minnesota state government spending is out-of-control.  For instance, this campaign video claims:

“Did you know that our state is spending over twice as much per citizen as when I graduated from high school in 1984?  It sure doesn’t feel like we’re getting twice as much value for our money.”

That’s a potent political statement.  But is it an honorable statement?  A truly honorable leader would acknowledge that the median household income when Mr. Honour graduated from high school in 1984 was $22,415.00, while in February 2013 median household income had grown to $51,404, more than twice as high as it was in 1984.

As a successful businessperson, Mr. Honour surely understands that as household incomes have more than doubled between 1984 and 2013, the cost of just about everything else, including the major things government has to purchase – medical care, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, energy, asphalt, private and public sarlaries, technology, real estate, construction materials, etc. — have also gotten dramatically more expensive.  He is a bright and experienced enough businessperson to understand that economic reality, but he is not honorable enough to publicly acknowledge it.

So what’s the truth about state government spending in Minnesota.  A thoughtful and thorough Minnesota 2020 analysis recently found:

Adjusted for inflation, accounting shifts, state takeovers, and the tobacco bond sale, Minnesota is spending about $5.2 billion less (in 2012-13 dollars) than it was a decade ago. That’s roughly $730 less per capita, or an 18 percent decline in state expenditures.

Claims of rapid state spending growth are based on comparisons that fail to account for inflation, population, school funding shifts, and other one-time events that distort spending over time.

If legislature implements Governor Dayton’s current budget plan, by FY 2016-17 Minnesota’s adjusted per capita spending would still be $500 less than it was a decade ago (FY 2002-03).

Continue reading

Legislators Defending Gay Marriage Vote Should Ask “What Would Wellstone Do?”

If I was a DFL state legislator in St. Paul or Minneapolis who supports gay marriage, I’d be elated about today’s Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showing 46% of Minnesotans agreeing with “the Legislature’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage.”  After all, two-thirds (66% agree) of residents of Hennepin and Ramsey Counties and even more DFLers (78% agree) are on my side.

But if the majority of my constituents were outside of those core Twin Cities counties  (only 37% agree), over 35 years old (only 41% agree) or earning under $50,000 per year (only 37% agree), I’d be on edge.

A lot of newly elected DFL freshman are in this position.  If I were them, I would be thinking WWWD – What Would Wellstone Do?

The late Senator Paul Wellstone was much more liberal than the majority of his constituents, just as DFLers in Greater Minnesota are on this issue.  Still, Wellstone was widely respected, even by those who disagreed with him, in large part because he was proactive, sincere, respectful, civil, unapologetic and direct about his disagreements with constituents.  When explaining differences, he made values-driven arguments, not politics-driven arguments. Continue reading

Can Norm Coleman Recover From His Recent Tea Party Cheerleading Role?

So, Norm Coleman won’t rule out a run for Minnesota Governor.  Well, let’s see, what has Norm been doing to ingratiate himself with Minnesota voters since he lost to Al Franken in 2008?  He:

1)   Moved out of Minnesota at the first opportunity.

2)   Became a Super PAC (Congressional Leadership Fund) political hit man doing the dirty work for a group of Tea Party-controlled House members sporting a 9% approval rating, an all-time historic low.

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Three Reasons For The Silence On The Campaign Trail About Vikings Stadium Subidies

In 2012, the dominant issue in the Minnesota Legislature was the debate about public subsidies for the Vikings Stadium.  No issue was more emotionally charged.  No issue was more polarizing.  No issue was more heavily covered in the news.

So just a few months later, why is this marquee legislative issue such an insignificant factor in the campaign for control of the Minnesota Legislature?  After all, based on last year’s debate, you might expect that  it would be The Issue out on the stump.

But I’m not seeing it.  The issue hasn’t been raised once in any of the many political direct mail pieces that have clogged my mailbox, or cable TV ads flooding my living room.  Moreover, I Googled “Vikings Stadium and election,” and found no stories where the mother of all legislative Issues was playing a prominent role out on the political hustings. Continue reading