A Policy Agenda For Minnesota’s Next Progressive Governor

In 2018, progressive Governor Mark Dayton will be retiring, and Minnesota voters will be selecting a new chief executive.  To retain control of the Governor’s office in 2018, Minnesota Democrats need a compelling policy agenda. It goes without saying that they also need a compelling candidate, but this discussion is about policy.

What constitutes a compelling policy agenda? First, it’s bite-sized. It can be quickly consumed and remembered by casually engaged voters. It’s more like five proposals, not fifty proposals. That doesn’t mean leaders should only do five things as a governor, but it does mean that they should only stress and repeat five-ish policies as a candidate, so that the agenda can be remembered.

Second, a compelling policy agenda delivers relatively bold change. It’s not merely about protection of the status quo from the bad guys, or small incremental improvements (see HRC campaign). It’s aspirational, and not limited to ideas that currently have the necessary votes to pass. If a candidate has to scale it back after elected, so be it. But they should run with a bold vision.

Third, a compelling policy agenda needs to have popular support beyond the political base. After all, a campaign agenda is about winning votes.

Fourth, it’s is easy to understand. Few have the time or inclination to study the intricacies of a 15-point tax reform plan, so candidates should stick to things that most can easily grasp and embrace.

Finally, a compelling policy agenda must be directed at Minnesota’s most pressing problems. It shouldn’t merely be about kowtowing to the most powerful interest groups, as is so often the case. It must actually be about the problems that most need fixing.

What fits those criteria? In no particular order, here’s my recommendation for a progressive gubernatorial candidate’s agenda.

  • MinnesotaCare for All Option. Allow all Minnesotans to buy into the MinnesotaCare public health insurance program. This will put competitive pressure on private insurance companies to keep premiums down, and ensure Minnesotans will always have a coverage option, even if health plans pull out of the market.
  • Transportation Jobs Fund. Increase the gas tax by a nickel per gallon — one penny per gallon per year over five years — and put the proceeds into an untouchable fund that will put Minnesotans to work improving the state’s roads, bridges and transit system. This will lift up the portion of the workforce that is struggling the most, and ensure Minnesota has a competitive economy and quality-of-life into the future.
  • Achievement Gap Prevention Plan. Ensure every child under age five has access to a high quality early learning program, starting with the children who can’t afford those programs on their own. This will prevent low-income children from falling into Minnesota’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gaps, gaps that opens before age two, lead to lifelong inequity and pose a grave threat to our economic competitiveness.
  • Fair Share Tax. Create a new, higher tax bracket for the wealthiest 10% of Minnesotans.  During a time when income inequality is the worst it has been since  just prior to the Great Depression (1928), the wealthiest Minnesotans are paying a lower share of their income in state and local taxes.   Adjusting the state income tax is the best way to remedy that disparity.
  • Super-sized Rainy Day Fund. Increase the size of the state’s rainy day fund by 25%. This will control taxpayers’ borrowing costs and help keep Minnesota stable in the face of 1) an economy that, after the longest period of economic expansion in history, may be due for a downturn and 2) a federal government that is threatening to shift many fiscal burdens to states. Bolstering the rainy day fund will also communicate to moderate voters that a progressive will be a level-headed manager of their tax dollars.

Yes, worthy issues are left off this agenda.  But we’ve seen time and again that when Democrats try to communicate about everything, they effectively communicate about nothing.  Long, complex “laundry list” policy agendas may please the interest groups who are constantly lobbying the candidates and their staffs, but they are simply too much for busy voters to absorb.  As legendary ad man David Ogilvy preached, “the essence of strategy is sacrifice.”  To be heard, many things must be left unsaid.

This kind of progressive gubernatorial policy agenda would be simple enough to be understood and remembered, but not simplistic.  It would be relatively bold and visionary, but not pie-in-the-sky.  It would be progressive, but swing voter-friendly.

This agenda would put Republican opponents in a political bind, because these progressive proposals are popular with moderate swing voters.  The partial exception is the Transportation Jobs Fund, where swing voters are conflicted.   Surveys tell us that gas taxes are somewhat unpopular, particularly in exurban and rural areas, but the transportation improvements that would be funded by the higher gas tax are very popular with voters of all political stripes, as are jobs programs.  On that front, one key is to guarantee that tax proceeds could only be spent on improvements, something many skeptical voters seem to doubt.

If such an agenda were sufficiently repeated and stressed by a disciplined candidate, fewer Minnesotans would be lamenting that they “have no idea what Democrats stand for.” Most importantly, this agenda also would go a long ways toward fixing some of Minnesota’s most pressing problems.

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.


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.



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

Note:  Collage portrait by Conor Collins.

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.


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.


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!


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

Franken Opponent McFadden Refuses To Confirm Own Existence

invisible_manSaint Paul, Minnesota — Minnesota U.S.  Senate candidate Mike McFadden held a news conference today to announce that he would be announcing nothing.

“Minnesota is great, and I’ll do lots of great stuff in the Senate to make it even greater,” said McFadden, to roaring applause from his supporters.  “Beyond that, I promise that I will not do wasteful ungreat things that keep Minnesota from becoming greater.”

Under questioning from reporters, the wealthy businessman running to replace U.S. Senator Al Franken refused to provide positions  on the national policy issues that are debated in the U.S. Senate.   For example, McFadden declined to state his position on the minimum wage, the Paycheck Fairness Act and a “personhood” anti-birth control measure.

MinnPost reporter Eric Black recently attempted to profile the stealth Senate candidate, but struggled to find anything to profile beyond the over $2 million the former businessman has raised from enthusiastic conservative donors.  Black characterized the McFadden record like this:

I’m not sure what the record is for seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate without disclosing issue positions, but McFadden, who declared his candidacy nine months ago, may be giving it a run.

There is no “issues” section on his campaign website. He skipped the first three opportunities to debate his Republican opponents for the nomination.  On Monday, he appeared at the fourth debate, but that one was closed to the press and public.

The McFadden campaign maintains that the candidate has taken many position stands, such as his desire to “name way more awesome things after Ronald Reagan” and “repeal and replace” the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

When pressed for details about what he would replace the ACA with, McFadden said that announcement would need to wait until he begins his six-year term in office.

“We will help, not hurt Americans,” McFadden  explained.

The campaign did release a 12-page single spaced list of things McFadden would rename after Ronald Reagan.

When asked to name political role models McFadden listed Ronald Reagan, several Reagan impersonators and Chauncey Gardiner.

“By standing for no one, and Mike is appealing to everyone,” said Saul Loes, a conservative political consultant advising the McFadden campaign. “He just might be the most brilliant politician of our generation, if he exists, which we are neither confirming nor denying.”

Note:  This post is satire.

Minimum Wage “Indexing”: DFL Political Marketing At It’s Worst

pay_raiseGetting an “annual pay raise” is pretty awesome, especially if you’re a minimum wage worker.   Fist pumpingly awesome even.  So is getting a pay “bump,” “bonus,” “boost” or “hike.”

But having your wage “indexed” for inflation is underwhelming and/or confusing.

When a politician has an opportunity to legitimately claim credit for a guaranteed annual pay raise, that’s political gold.  So why are Minnesota DFLers marching around the State Capitol continually yammering to Minnesotans about their desire to “index” the minimum wage?  After all, the outcome of indexing is an annual pay raise, unless there is deflation, which is relatively unusual in the United States.

So why not call the DFL’s proposal what ordinary people would call it, an “annual raise?”

“The DFL is fighting to increase the minimum wage increase now, and build-in an annual pay raise for years to come.”

Voters would understand that much better than the current language being used:

“The DFL is fighting to adjust the minimum wage, indexed to the rate of inflation.”

When most minimum wage recipients hear the term “index,” they don’t think “an annual raise.”  They think one of two things:   1) Huh? or 2) The  part of the book that everyone skips because it’s too boring.  Either way, no fist pumps.

Mere wordsmithing, you say?  Republicans invest heavily in wordsmithing, and it has proven very effective for them.  They hire consultants like Frank Luntz, the author of “Words That Work:  It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear,” and many an Orwellian moment.   Luntz famously convinced  Republicans to shift from “inheritance taxes” to “death taxes.”  Luntz understood that “inheritance” sounds unearned and aristocratic to the masses, while “taxing death” sounds outrageously insensitive and unfair.  When Republican leaders followed Luntz’s advice, the level of support for inheritance taxes among non-wealthy citizens dramatically decreased.

But that’s not all.  Luntz convinced Republicans to march in lockstep from “oil drilling” to “energy exploration,” “health care reform” to “government takeover of health care,” and “corporations” to “job creators.” Luntz showed Republicans that words can work against you or for you.  Those seemingly minor shifts have helped Republicans win over many lightly engaged citizens.

So, my fellow liberals, what do you think the great political pied piper Luntz would have to say about Democratic politicians’ love affair with the term “indexing?”

“Indexing” is hardly the Democrats only jargon problem.  There is the coded term “single payer” instead of the instantly understandable “Medicare for all.”  There is the emphasis on the abstract move to “address the achievement gap” instead of on the more understandable push to  “fix failing schools.”  There is the sterile push for something called a “sustainable environment” instead of a push for something more tangible and visceral, such as “clean water, land and air.”

Ever-earnest Governor Dayton is trying to fix this through executive order.  The Plain Language Fact Sheet that he issued notes, plainly:

Using Plain Language to communicate will: 1) reduce confusion for citizens; 2) save time and resources; 3) improve customer service; and 4) make state government work better for the people it serves.

It will also improve DFLer’s chances in elections.  You go, Guv.

Republicans seem to be much more thoughtful and disciplined about campaign communications than Democrats.   Republicans will read Luntz’s talking points, and dutifully execute them day after day.  “Death tax, death tax, death tax.”  Meanwhile, self-serious Democrats  turn up their noses about what they regard as superficial “spin,” and cling to their beloved Wonkspeak to impress the think tankers.

Then, come Election Day, the Democrats wonder why voters don’t appreciate their accomplishments.  But as I watch the DFL speak in code about “indexing,” I don’t wonder.

– Loveland

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

Political Cliches on Amobarital

I suppose it’s a cliché to point out that politicians speak in  clichés.   Their wall-to-wall use of bromides to mask deeper political truths has made political news conferences and speeches a rhetorical wasteland.  Everyone can finish the sentences of the politician speaking:

“We must grow the _______.”

“We must invest in the _____.”

“Our greatest natural resource is our ______.”

“Economy,” “future” and “people/children,” right?  No wonder the masses only perk up for scandals.  They spice up an  utterly predictable political discourse.

To cut through the cliches and learn what politicians really think, what if we snuck a little amobarbital — sometimes used as a “truth serum” to obtain information from those who are unable or unwilling to tell the truth — into the water bottles at the podium of State Capitol news conferences? The first sentence or two would be the predictable, carefully focus-grouped political clichés.  But then, bam, it’s amobarital time, baby!

“It’s time for the Legislature to do what ordinary Minnesota families do when they encounter difficult financial times.  Mom and dad gather around the kitchen table, they thoughtfully review their household finances, and they have tough conversations about how they could cut the family budget to make ends meet.

(Amobarital kicks in)

But then most of those dads and moms say “screw it” and run up their high interest credit cards instead.   After all, that’s why the Federal Reserve reports that consumer debt is at an all time high of $2.75 TRILLION.  So whatever the Legislature does, it should not, I repeat, NOT act like those ordinary Minnesota moms and dads grappling with their financial future at the good old kitchen table.”

For the record, State Capitol Police Force, I understand that drugging elected officials would be an ill-advised and felonious act that I am not seriously contemplating or encouraging.  But a boy can dream, can’t he?

– Loveland

Michele Bachmann and the Anatomy of a Laugh

“The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses.

They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, the laughed at the Wright Brothers.

But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

– Carl Sagan


Minnesota’s Government Spending Is Neither “Skyrocketing” Nor “Slashed,” But It Is Insufficient

In this year’s battle for control of the Minnesota State Capitol, Republicans and DFLers alike hyperventilate over government spending.  DFLers maintain Minnesota has drastically cut state and local government.  Republicans claim that state and local government spending is skyrocketing out-of-control.

Candidates on both sides exaggerate.  Over the last decade, Minnesota has had divided government – with Governor Dayton checked by a GOP-controlled Legislature and Governor Pawlenty checked by a DFL-controlled chamber of the Legislature.  Divided government has produced a remarkably flat price of state and local government for Minnesotans, hovering right around 15% of average annual income. Continue reading

If Romney Is Politically Strong With “Makers,” Why Is He Losing Minnesota?

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney privately told his supporters that he has written off Americans who are not currently paying federal income taxes.  Those Americans aren’t worth the bother — too whiney, too dependent.  But he assures his uber wealthy funders that he’ll win in places with more “makers” than “takers.”

If that were the case, Minnesota would look to be Mitt Territory.  Mitt-esota even.  After all, only 30% of Minnesotans are not paying income taxes, which puts the state in a national tie for fifth in that category.

Surely, Romney is leading in a state with 70% of what he would classify as “makers,” right? But according to the most recent poll done in Minnesota, Romney is trailing Obama by a healthy margin, 44-51.

Ironically, most of the states with the highest percentage of Americans that Romney bitterly dismisses as takers are in Republican-dominated states, mostly in the deep south.  For instance, according to numbers from the Tax Policy Center, 45% of Mississippi citizens have no income tax liability, a much higher rate than the national average (36%).

But curiously, “taker” state Mississippi is a Republican stronghold.  In 2008, Republicans won Mississippi by a whopping 13 points.  I’d share a 2012 poll with you, but Mississippi is considered so far in the bag for Romney I can’t even find anyone who is polling there.

Romney’s assertion that our fellow Americans who are not currently paying income taxes won’t take personal responsibility for their lives is insulting.  These folks are retirees who worked their entire lifetimes, military personnel who are stepping up to serve their country, and poor people struggling to get their families out of a hole.  Moreover, most of these Americans are paying payroll taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and/or sin taxes.  In fact, some of them are paying a larger proportion of their income in taxes than the wealthiest Americans.

Moreover, 100% of Americans are guilty of the sin Governor Romney described in his private rant, the sin of being dependent on government.  In fact, every citizen of every modern society on the planet is dependent on government.  Government funded military, police and fire personnel protect us all. Government funded environmental, safety and consumer protections safeguard us all.  Government funded infrastructure, education and research fuels the economy that supports us all.  Because we all benefit from government, we are all dependent on it.  We are all in this grand American experiment together.  That’s not scandalous, that’s just how successful modern societies work.

But substance aside, let’s return to Governor Romney’s electoral strategy.  If Romney was correct that he will do best in states with a high percentage of voters with income tax liability, I have just one question for him:  What about Minnesota?

– Loveland

Romney is Correct About Americans Being Government-Dependent

I hate to admit when Governor Mitt Romney is correct.  But when he said 47% of Americans are dependent on government, I have to face the facts.   Romney had it right.

He just understated the claim by 53%.

After all, 100% of us are dependent on government, and it’s been that way for the entire history of the nation.  One hundred percent of us are dependent on publicly funded national defense, roads, highways, bridges,  police, fire, water, sewage, environment and health protections and education.   We can’t compete and succeed without those things.  We are dependent. Continue reading

Likes and Dislikes About Political Conventions

Okay, I’m officially conventioned out.  I watched too much, and slept too little.  Thank goodness they only come along once every four years.  Anyway, to help me move on, I need to give voice to some of the things I’ve been mumbling about to myself the past two weeks.

Convention Dislikes

Boos.  Mere mention of an opponent or his policies brings a chorus of forced, obligatory “boos” from hyper-partisan activists.   Canned convention boos are like laugh tracks on a bad sitcom — automatic, artificial, and mindless.   Conventions should be about winning over the moderate swing voters who will decide the General Election.  Well, for middle-of-the-road viewers who tune in to see if the party in question is serious about solving the country’s problems, or just planning on more petty partisan gamesmanship, the boos give them their answer.  So self-defeating.

Revisionism.  In the alternative universes that exist in political convention halls, Reagan wasn’t too liberal to be nominated by the GOP today. Clinton never pissed away the opportunity to pass progressive policies over a cheap thrill.  JFK wasn’t a relatively unaccomplished President.  Those realities are glossed over.  At conventions, parties ignore historical reality, and build up their Presidential icons and lore.   For people who care about accuracy in history, it’s excruciating.

Call and Response.   This is when the speaker makes a series of red-faced claims, and the crowd is trained to respond with a canned line, such as “yes,” “no,” “that dog won’t hunt,” or, I don’t know, “set it and forget it.”  Maybe somebody did it before Ted Kennedy, but he is the first person I remember using the now tired call-and-response gimmick at conventions.  I get that the crowd likes to be involved after sitting through 500 consecutive speeches saying roughly the exact same thing.  But the tactic is badly overused by both parties.  While people inside the hall apparently love call-and-response games, to viewers outside the hall, it makes Tampa and Charlotte look like Jonestown.

USA, USA, USA.  Ostensibly, this chant that both parties love so much is supposed to translate into “we love our country,” which is touching.  But let’s be honest.  The actual translation is “we love our country more than the America-haters in the other party do,” and that is tiresome and ugly.  Enough.

Convention Likes

The JV.  It’s kind of fun to watch Junior Varsity pols get some playing time on the national stage, at least on C-Span.  Usually they’re barely watchable. Occasionally they’re terrific.  Either way, it’s entertaining to see someone other than the overexposed top-of-the-ticket politicians.

Real People Speakers.  They can’t speak off a teleprompter in a natural way.  They step on every applause line.  They sweat through their brand new clothes.  But after listening to 500 consecutive speeches by over-programmed elected officials, reality TV is a real treat, and it reminds us that policies impact real people, not just politicians.  I didn’t cry when Old Yeller died, but a couple of these ordinary folks made me mist up.  Love them.

The Unexpected.  Very little about conventions is unexpected.  They are heavily scripted and choreographed.  That’s why it is so delicious when brief moments of spontaneity creep in.  For instance, sometimes an old man starts talking non-sense to a chair in prime time.  How cool is that?  Or sometimes the crowd applauds at an unexpected spot for unexpected reasons, such as when the crowd went wild over Obama pointing out that he is the President.  Let’s face it, we all secretly watch NASCAR hoping for crashes, and attend weddings secretly hoping the flower girl picks her nose to liven up the starchy ceremony.  Similarly, I watch political conventions hoping for the handlers’ orchestration to fall apart.

Delegates.  Conventions make for great people watching.  When TV cameras pan the delegates, I’m always struck by the fact that:  1) We’re a wonderfully diverse nation; 2) These delegates truly are the unwashed masses, and not just the privileged elites; 3)  Whether you agree or disagree with them, these folks really care about their country.   The delegates and their actions are not always beautiful, but if you worry whether Americans still give a damn about their democracy, political conventions offer a beautiful answer.

There.  Now I feel better.  RNC and DNC, I’ll see you in four more years…four more years, four more years.

– Loveland


Note:  This post was also featured as a “best of the best” on MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.