Is Minnesota GOP Sabotaging The Individual Health Insurance Market By Rejecting MinnesotaCare-for-All Option?

Minnesota Republican legislators spent their 2016 election campaigns expressing grave concerns about whether private health insurance companies in the individual market* have sufficient competitive pressure to keep prices down, and whether Minnesotans who live outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan region will have at least one solid coverage option available to them in coming years.

Those are legitimate concerns shared by both parties. But after Republicans won control of the Minnesota House and Senate, they have been unwilling to do one very important thing that that could achieve those two goals. They have been unwilling to give those Minnesotans the option of buying into MinnesotaCare health coverage.

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Governor Dayton’s proposed “MinnesotaCare-for-All option” would allow any individual market consumer to buy into the state government-run health plan that has served over 120,000 Minnesotans since 2006. An unsubsidized version of MinnesotaCare would be an available option for all Minnesotans.

In other words, MinnesotaCare for all would be a Minnesota-specific “public option” that would always be there for Minnesotans. MinnesotaCare wouldn’t be able to abandon individual market consumers the way corporate insurance companies can and do. Moreover, MinnesotaCare’s presence in the marketplace will pressure private insurers to offer more competitive prices, because MinnesotaCare’s prices don’t have to account for corporate salaries and profits.   Representing the buying power of about a million public plan consumers, the large MinnesotaCare plan should also have leverage to negotiate consumer-friendly reimbursement rates with health care providers, which helps keep premium costs more affordable.

In fact, Governor Dayton’s office estimates that Minnesota families who purchase MinnesotaCare coverage would pay on average about $838 per person less in 2018 than they pay for private coverage in 2017.  To secure those long-term annual savings for Minnesota families, a one-time taxpayer investment of $12 million – a relatively tiny drop in the State’s $39 billion annual budget — would be required to establish the option. In subsequent years, no additional taxpayer funds would be needed to keep the lower costs flowing to Minnesotans. The MinnesotaCare-for-All option would be self-sustainable.

If you believe that government-run operations are always less efficient and customer-friendly than corporations, here’s your chance to prove it. If that’s true, comparison shopping Minnesotans will “vote with their feet” by rejecting it en masse. But if it’s not true, Minnesotans in the individual market will finally have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that at least one coverage option will always be there for them and their loved ones.

Given that 71% of Americans support having a similar Medicare-for-All option, a MinnesotaCare-for-All option is likely popular with Minnesotans.  Still, Republican state legislators killed the proposal this year.

Minnesota Republicans can’t have it both ways. They can’t reject the MinnesotaCare-for-All option and then turn around blame others if competition is insufficient in some parts of Minnesota, or if corporate insurers’ prices prove to be unaffordable to many Minnesotans. No one can know for sure if this idea will work, but if Republicans are unwilling to give things like this a try to help vulnerable consumers, then Minnesota voters should hold them accountable for their obstructionism.

*(Note: The “individual market” is made up of the 10 percent of Minnesotans who a) can’t get insurance through their employer and b) whose incomes are not low enough to quality for either of Minnesota’s two publicly subsidized health insurance plans — Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s version of Medicare) for very low-income citizens or MinnesotaCare a subsidized option for the working poor. Last year, about 250,000 consumers bought coverage in Minnesota’s individual market.)

Strib Poll Uncovers Dark Clouds For Republicans

Cursor_and_minnesota_republicans_-_Google_Search 2As the 2017 Minnesota legislative session heads into the home stretch and President Trump is creating a constitutional crisis, the news for Minnesota Republicans in the recent Star Tribune survey is not  great.

To recap, most Minnesotans are…

Digging Dayton. An overwhelming 62% of Minnesotans approve of the job being done by Minnesota Republicans’ primary antagonist, DFL Governor Mark Dayton. Less than half as many Minnesotans (29%) disapprove of the job Dayton is doing.

  • Implication:  He’s grumpy, boring, wonky, and unabashedly liberal, but Governor Eyeore remains quite popular with a strong majority Minnesotans.  Despite Republicans’ best efforts to frame Dayton as being metro-centric and out-of-touch with Greater Minnesota, a majority in every region of the state approve of the job he is doing.  As high stakes budget and policy negotiations between Dayton and legislators begin, Dayton is in a relatively strong position to push his progressive agenda.

In the Dumps About Trump. Only 40% approve of the Republicans’ national leader, President Donald Trump. This marks an all time historical low-point among Presidents, at a time that is supposed to be a President’s “honeymoon period.” For context, eight years ago, during dire economic times, the newly elected President Obama had a 62% approval rating.

  • Implication: To state the obvious, “all time low” is not good.  Republicans who remain steadfastly loyal to their party’s unpopular President could be more vulnerable in the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections. While the conventional wisdom would be for Republican incumbents to distance themselves from the toxic Trump, it’s difficult for them to do so, because Trump remains popular with the narrow band of Trump diehards.  Republican incumbents need those voters on their side in order to survive 2018 primary and general elections. With Trump this unpopular, Republican incumbents are in a political bind.

Swooning for DFL Senators. In comparison to Trump’s 40% approval rating, 58% of Minnesotans approve of DFL Senator Al Franken, and 72% approve of Senator Amy Klobuchar.

  • Implication: Franken and Klobachar remain popular as they relentlessly criticize Trump and his policies, which should embolden other DFLers to do the same. Also, Klobuchar looks difficult for Republicans to defeat in 2018, and both Franken and Klobuchar should be helpful surrogates for down ballot DFL candidates in 2018.

Cursor_and_Minnesota_mexico_wall_-_Google_SearchNot Feeling The Mandate. Trump mandate?  What mandate?  Most Minnesotans don’t like Trump’s policies any better than they like him personally. About two-thirds (65%) oppose Trump’s signature campaign issue – building a Mexico wall. Only 29% support that idea.  The survey also found that Minnesotans oppose Trump’s proposals to accelerate deportations, and his Muslim travel ban.

The only ray of hope in the survey for President Trump was that 70% of Minnesotans support his drive-by Syrian missile strike, proving once again that Americans still love military actions, as long as victory can be declared within a matter of days.

  • Implication. It turns out those “real Americans” at the Trump rallies who cheered wildly about the Mexico wall and Muslim ban are not very representative of most Minnesotans. Therefore, stressing those issues would seem to hurt Republicans more than help them, at least with moderate swing voters. However, the one thing that perhaps could make Trump more popular is a quick, easy military victory.  Don’t think for a moment that a drive-by war has not crossed Trump’s compulsively self-promotional mind.  In other words, it’s probably not a good time to plan a vacation to Grenada.

Nyet On Russiagate Coverup. Republicans steadfastly maintain that no one cares about the Russian controversy. But even prior to the disturbing Comey firing, a majority of Minnesotans (55%) indicated that they would like to see an independent investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, while 39% say there should be no such investigation.

  • Implication: If Republicans continue to cover up and downplay the Russia controversy, it will not pass the smell test with a majority of Minnesotans.

All Aboard On Trains. By a strong twenty-point margin (54% support to 34% oppose), Minnesotans support building two extensions of light rail transit (LRT), from Minneapolis to the southwester suburbs and Minneapolis to the northern suburbs.

  • Implication: Republicans should think twice about making LRT their poster child for wasteful spending.   Despite Republican operatives and talk radio jocks aggressively bashing LRT over many years, most Minnesotans, including plenty of voters in swing suburban districts, support LRT expansion.

Cursor_and_minnesota_tea_party_-_Google_SearchOkay With O’Care. Then there is Obamacare. Republicans seem supremely confident that Obamacare is wildly unpopular.  But a narrow plurality of Minnesotans actually is okay with it. Forty-nine percent of Minnesotans say Obamacare has been “mostly good,” while 44% say it has been “mostly bad.” This issue polled better for Republicans than most other issues, but this finding isn’t very encouraging for Republicans who are dead set on repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a Trumpcare plan that offers many fewer patient benefits.

  • Implication: As Republicans prepare to replace Obamacare with something that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says will erases all of the Obamacare coverage gains, these numbers spotlight the political risk that Republicans are taking.  Republicans are beginning to learn that the only thing many Americans hate more than Obamacare is lack of Obamacare.

Loving Local Control. By a whopping 34-point margin (60% oppose, 26% support), Minnesotans oppose the GOP-backed proposal to prevent Minnesota towns and cities from passing work-rule ordinances, such as minimum wage increases.   In every region of Minnesota, a majority oppose limiting local control.

  • Implication:  This is another loser issue for Republicans.  How in the world did the party that constantly preaches about the need for “local control” end up on this side of the issue?

Wrong Tax Cuts. Inexplicably, the Star Tribune apparently didn’t poll on what seems like the overarching question of this legislative session: What should legislators do with the state budget surplus? That is, should they spend it, cut taxes or save it for a rain day (i.e ask about “all,” “most,” “some,” or “none” for each category). Instead, the Star Tribune only asked how to cut taxes, as if tax cutting were the only thing being debated.

Even within that narrow fiscal category, the news wasn’t great for Republicans. Republicans propose tax cuts targeted to narrow constituencies — smokers, farmers, retirees, people with student loan debt, business owners and others. But most Minnesotans (45%) would rather just cut income taxes for all, perhaps because it’s simple and broad-based. Less than 20% of Minnesotans support the Republican-recommended constituency-by-constituency approach, while the rest support Jesse Ventura-style rebates (30%).

  • Implication: Tax-cutting remains the Republicans’ bread-and-butter issue, and it should be a pretty easy sell. Still, Minnesota Republicans can’t even seem to do that right.   They somehow managed to find the most unpopular way to cut taxes, which might somewhat limit the electoral benefits they stand to gain from the tax cuts.

Political tides ebb and flow, so today’s viewpoints could be very different at election time18 months from now. But as it currently stands in the dawn of the Trump era, Minnesota Republicans are not exactly winning so much they’re tired of winning.

Five Reasons Democrats Should Push A Medicare-for-All Option

As the next iteration of Trumpcare/Ryancare is finalized by warring conservatives, it’s fair to demand that Democrats share their post-Obama vision for health care.

Yes, Democrats need to be fighting efforts to repeal and replace the increasingly popular Obamacare/Affordable Care Act (ACA) system with Trumpcare/Ryancare. Though the ACA is the spurned love child of the Heritage Foundation, Orin Hatch, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, it’s much more humane than Trumpcare/Ryancare, which would cause at least 24 million Americans to lose their Obamacare health coverage, and many more if states choose to further weaken protections.

Cursor_and_medicare-for-all_jpg__360×216_But for the long haul, Democrats need to set their sights higher than Obamacare. They must become full-throated champions for allowing Americans the option of buying into the Medicare system.  Here are five reasons why:

Reason #1. Medicare is popular “government run health care.” For decades, Republicans have robotically vilified “government run health care” and “socialized medicine,” presuming that Americans agree with them that government will screw up anything it undertakes.  And Democratic politicians have cowered in fear.

However, Medicare is a notable exception to that rule. While the private sector-centric Trumpcare/Ryancare has 17% approval and Obamacare has 55% approval, Medicare has the approval of 60% of all Americans, and 75% Americans who have actual experience using Medicare.  It’s not an easy thing for a health plan to become popular, so Medicare’s relative popularity is political gold.  Democrats need to tap into it.

Reason #2. Medicare is better equipped to control medical and overhead costs than private plans. Medicare has a single administrative system, while dozens of health insurance corporations have dozens of separate and duplicative administrative bureaucracies.  That decentralized approach to administration is expensive.

Also, for-profit health insurance corporations have to build profits and higher salaries into their premium costs. For instance, the insurance corporation United Health Care, to cite just one of dozens of examples, pays it’s top executive $33,400,000.   That’s 135 times more than the not-for-profit Medicare system pays its top executive, about $247,000.

Medicare also is large enough that it has a great deal of negotiating leverage.  It could have even more if Congress empowered Medicare to more effectively negotiate pharmaceutical prices.

Because of all of that, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities finds:

Medicare has been the leader in reforming the health care payment system to improve efficiency and has outperformed private health insurance in holding down the growth of health costs…  Since 1987, Medicare spending per enrollee has grown by 5.7 percent a year, on average, compared with 7.0 percent for private health insurance.

So, if Democrats want to better control health care costs to help the economy and struggling Americans, the Medicare model offers the best hope for doing that, not the corporate-centric model that we currently are using.

Reason #3. A Medicare-for-All option is very politically viable. Most Democratic politicians understand that a Medicare-for-All option makes good sense policy wise, but shrug it off as politically infeasible. They’re dead wrong.

By a more than a 5-to-1 margin, Americans support having a Medicare-for-All option. An overwhelming 71% support it, while only 13% oppose it. If you won’t try to sell a proven progressive idea that is supported by a 5-to-1 margin, you have no business being in progressive politics.

While “government-run health care” has been a weak brand for brand for Democrats, they have a clear path for rebranding their agenda.  Medicare brand equity is right there waiting for Democrats to take advantage it, if they’ll only open their eyes to the opportunity.

Reason #4. A Medicare-for-All option will expose private health corporations as uncompetitive. Right now, one of the Democrats’ biggest political problems is that too many Americans have been brainwashed by conservatives into believing that the private sector is always more efficient and effective than the public sector. In other areas that don’t involve “public goods,” that is true, but not with health insurance.

The best way to bust that “private is always best” myth is to allow Medicare to sit alongside corporate health plans in the individual marketplace. If American consumers choose Medicare over private plans, because Medicare proves itself to be the cheapest and best option, then the conservatives’ “private is always best” myth finally will be busted.

Reason #5. A Medicare-for-All option can serve as a bridge to the best health care model – a public single payer system. The research is clear that countries who have single payer health care financing have better and cheaper health care than the United States has with it’s substantially private sector based health care system. For example, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Commonwealth Fund finds:

Even though the U.S. is the only country without a publicly financed universal health system (among 13 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States), it still spends more public dollars on health care than all but two of the other countries. …despite its heavy investment in health care, the U.S. sees poorer results on several key health outcome measures such as life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions.

Obscure research reports like this aren’t proving persuasive to American voters. But when younger Americans are able to see for themselves through their shopping that Medicare is cheaper and better than private health insurance options, Medicare will build a bigger market share.  After Medicare earns a larger market share, Americans may ultimately be much more open to shifting from a Medicare-for-all option to a Medicare-for-all single payer system that the United States ultimately needs in order to compete in the global marketplace and become a healthier nation.

It’s not enough for Democrats to only expose the reckless Trumpcare/Ryancare model and defend Obamacare status quo.  They must also promote a Medicare-for-All vision for moving America forward. With the current President and Congress, a Medicare-for-All option obviously can’t pass.  But aggressively promoting over the coming years will improve the chances that this Congress and President will soon be replaced and that a Medicare-for-All option can be enacted in future years.

Republicans Extremely Unlikely To Impeach Trump

Cursor_and_trump_impeachment_-_Google_SearchThere’s a popular theory among the chattering classes that Trump will be impeached fairly soon.  It goes something like this: Republican members of Congress are getting very sick of Trump, because of his incompetence, conflicts-of-interest, Putin slavishness, and overall lunacy. Long-term, they worry that Trump will hurt their brand with the non-extreme swing voters they need to win elections.

So, the theory goes, congressional Republicans will eventually latch on to an impeachable offense, such as a blatant violation of a court order, which would spark a constitutional crisis. Congressional Republicans will then join with Democrats to impeach Trump, knowing all the while that doing so will empower one of their own, Vice President Mike Pence.

To congressional Republicans, Pence, a former member of Congress and Governor, is a comfortable old shoe.  He has extremely conservative positions on social issues that won’t sit well with American swing voters.  But he has at least been to charm school, and is competent, administratively speaking. So, the Ryans and McConnells of the world would be relieved to have Pence in the Oval Office instead of Trump.

Anyway, that’s the widely discussed theory.

Not Going To Happen

I find it very unlikely. Here’s why:

Yes, Trump is committing impeachable offenses.  Yes, most Republican congressional leaders worry about Trump, and much prefer Pence.  That part of the theory makes perfect sense.

But more than anything, congressional Republicans care about winning elections and holding onto their power. That is their lifeblood. To hold on to their seats and their majority, they need to a) survive Republican primary challenges in deep red gerrymandered congressional districts and b) have their hardcore Trump-loving base turn out to vote in general elections.

I believe it is highly likely that a significant slice of the Trump loyalists would stick with Trump, even after an impeachment, and maybe especially after an impeachment.  A significant proportion of the Trump voters will never stop being loyal to him.

After a historically bizarre and controversial campaign season, Trump is currently going through a disastrous transition and first couple of weeks in power.  He has criticism coming at him from all directions, including from prominent conservative leaders.   At the same time, Republicans no longer have the demonized Hillary Clinton to cast in their “lesser of two evils” narrative, which helped them win moderates in the Presidential election.

Despite all of that working against Trump, a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey recently found that 95 percent of Trump voters still approve of the job Trump is doing, even though only a 47 percent minority of Americans approve, a historically low level for a President in his honeymoon period.  After all of that, 95 percent of Trump voters still approve of his performance.

Clearly, Trump voters are exceptionally loyal to him.  Still, as the Trump-generated outrages continue to pile up, and Trump fatigue sets in, some of that support will die off. Eventually, I could foresee as many as half of the Trump voters changing their mind about Trump.

But even if only half of Trump voters remain loyal to Trump after an impeachment proceeding, the remaining impeachment-inflamed Trump diehards – stoked by the unrepentant pro-Trump messaging machines like Breitbart, InfoWars, and many others — could wreak havoc on incumbent Republicans who supported impeachment. In general elections, a sizable number of post-impeachment Trump loyalists – enraged by the spurning of their hero — could stay home and cause otherwise safe congressional Republicans to lose in November 2018.

None of this is lost on congressional Republicans, who are hyper-sensitive to the Trump voters.  At the end of the day, most Republican Members of Congress seem to care much more about preserving their political power than they do about saving the republic from a crooked, unstable authoritarian. Because of that, and because Trump’s hard core loyalist voters will stick with him through just about anything, I just can’t see the current Republican majority ever agreeing to impeach Trump.

In other words, unless Trump steps down on his own, I think we’re almost certainly stuck with Trump for four years.

Improving Minneota’s Health Insurance Market With A “MinnesotaCare for All” Option

For Minnesotans who can’t get health insurance from an employer, Minnesota Republican legislators have been demanding improvements.

where-mn-get-insurance-donut-graphic-254x300_jpg__254×300_Out on the campaign stump, Republicans say they want more health plan options than are currently available. They want health insurance companies to feel more competitive pressure to keep a lid on premiums. They want consumers to have a broad network of health care providers available to them. They want assurances that there will always be at least one solid coverage option available to every Minnesotan, even when health insurance companies decide to pull out of the marketplace, as they have in recent years. Those are all good goals.

To achieve them, Republican state legislators should work with Governor Dayton to give Minnesotans a MinnesotaCare for All option.

Background

Currently in Minnesota, those who can’t get health insurance from an employer can get coverage from one of three sources:

  • TOP TIER. For Minnesotans who can afford premium costs, they can purchase coverage from nonprofit health plans – UCare, HealthPartners, Medica, and Blue Cross. (As part of the federal Affordable Care Act, about 60% of those buying from these companies through the MNsure online shopping tool are offsetting premium costs with federal tax credits, which this year are averaging over $7600 per year.)
  • MIDDLE TIER. For Minnesotans who can afford some, but not all, of the premium cost, they can purchase MinnesotaCare at a subsidized rate that varies depending on household income.
  • LOWER TIER. For the poorest Minnesotans who can’t afford any of the premium cost, they can get Medical Assistance at no cost to them. Medical Assistance is Minnesota’s version of the federal Medicaid program.

MinnesotaCare for All Option

Governor Dayton proposes to give those in the top tier an additional option.  He wants to give those consumers the option of buying into that middle tier — the public MinnesotaCare program.

Adding a MinnesotaCare for All option would achieve what Republicans say they want – more options for consumers, more marketplace competition to drive down prices, a guarantee that at least one plan option will always be available to Minnesotans, and consumer access to a broad network of Minnesota health care providers statewide.

A fact sheet from the Governor’s office elaborates on the consumer benefit:

Purchasing quality health coverage through MinnesotaCare is less expensive than buying coverage directly from a private insurer, because it leverages the buying power of more than 1 million Minnesotans enrolled in public plans.

Minnesotans who purchase MinnesotaCare would get high-quality health coverage for approximately $469 per month, on average. That is more than 12 percent ($69) less than the average statewide premium of $538 for private insurance in 2017.

Under the Governor’s proposal, families would spend on average $838 per person less in 2018 than in 2017 on their health insurance premiums.

After a one-time startup investment ($12 million), the cost of Governor Dayton’s plan would be funded entirely by the premiums of Minnesotans who choose to buy MinnesotaCare coverage. If the Legislature enacted this proposal by April 1, Minnesotans could purchase MinnesotaCare coverage as early as the 2018 open enrollment period.

Having this MinnesotaCare option would likely be very popular with Minnesotans.  After all, a national poll found that an overwhelming 71 percent of Americans support a similar Medicare for All option, while only 13 percent oppose the idea.

Let Consumers Choose

Why would Republicans not want this for Minnesota consumers? If the Governor’s claims about the MinnesotaCare option turn out to be accurate, many of the Republicans’ stated goals for the individual market would be achieved.

At the same time, if the Governor’s MinnesotaCare-related claims about lower prices and better health care network turn out to be inaccurate or inflated, Minnesotans will surely reject the MinnesotaCare option. If it is to their advantage, consumers will choose a nonprofit health insurance company, or a for-profit health maintenance organization (HMO), which the Governor recently agreed to authorize as part of a compromise with Republican legislators.

With the addition of the MinnesotaCare option, private, nonprofit and public options all would be available to Minnesotans who are shopping and comparing via MNsure. Then the politicians could get out of the way, and let the consumers choose the option that works best for them.

How Democrats Lost to the Worst GOP Presidential Candidate of Our Times

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about three million votes, a larger margin than Presidents Nixon and Kennedy had. She only lost the electoral college by roughly 100,000 votes (0.08 percent of the electorate) in three states. In a race that close, there is a long list of things that might have shifted the outcome of the presidential race.

I am sure that the Clinton campaign’s get out the vote (GOTV), data mining, advertising, debate zingers, primary election peace-making, voter suppression battling and many other things could have been better.  Who knows, those improvements might have swung that relatively small number of votes. But if I had to name the top three things that swung the election, I wouldn’t name any of those more tactical issues.  Instead, these are my nominees:

WORST POSSIBLE NOMINEE PROFILE FOR OUR ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT TIMES.  I admire Hillary Clinton on many levels, and think she has been treated very unfairly in this campaign and throughout her career.  But early on in the nomination cycle, it was extremely clear that general election voters were in a white hot anti-Washington establishment mood, and were looking for someone very different than a Hillary Clinton-type candidate.

Hillary Clinton was the ultimate Washington establishment candidate. Her resume, network, husband and demeanor absolutely screamed “Washington Insider.”   Democrats could have run a less establishmenty candidate that was more sane than Trump –Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, others — but they chose to run a candidate who had the worst possible profile for the times.

This created two huge problems 1) It caused Hillary to lose change-oriented voters who supported change-oriented Obama in the past and 2) It caused much of the Obama coalition to sit out the race, or effectively throw their vote away by supporting a third party candidate.

President-elect Trump won a somewhat smaller vote total than Republicans have been winning in their past two presidential losses.  Despite all of the post-election hype about the Trump political magic show, he didn’t perform that well, historically speaking.   The difference wasn’t that Trump created a tsunami of support, it was that the cautious establishment-oriented Democratic candidate was unable to generate sufficient excitement among the Obama coalitions of 2008 and 2012, particularly millennials and people of color.  This chart tells the story.

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COMPLETE LACK OF ECONOMIC MESSAGE. In May, I made this argument:

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 destroy hers.

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.

Why choose this framing over all of the other delicious options?  First, it was proven effective against a billionaire candidate in 2012.  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.

Needless to say, this never happened. The Clinton campaign reacted to pretty much everything that Trump did, and never stressed anything close to a bold agenda for addressing income inequality.  She also failed to offer much of a critique of a Trump economic agenda that would badly aggravate income inequality for Trump’s base of voters.

For reasons I’ll never understand, the economic populist message and agenda that an unlikely candidate like Bernie Sanders used to light up the political world earlier in the election cycle was almost entirely ignored by Team Clinton.  As a result, 59% of Americans are somewhat or very confident that the economy will improve under President-elect Trump.  Given the truth about the devastation that will be caused by Trump policies, shame on Clinton for allowing that level of public delusion to develop.

CANDIDATE WITH WAY TOO MUCH BAGGAGE. The “controversies” swirling around Secretary Clinton were less a product of corruption than they were a product of three decades of relentless witch-hunting by conservatives in the Congress and at Fox TV, and gutless false equivalency reporting from the mainstream media. The FBI Director’s shameless manipulation of the email investigation and the New York Times’ ridiculous inflation of the email issue was especially damaging to Clinton.

But as unfair and maddening as most of the Hillary criticism was, Democrats knew full well that it was coming.  They knew Clinton had three decades worth of earned and unearned skeletons in her family closet, but arrogantly chose her anyway.

If Democrats hope to win more Presidential elections, the days of always nominating the candidate with the longest political resume must end. In the current environment of non-stop congressional and media investigations, long political resumes now will always come with a long list of real and imagined “scandals.”   Those alleged controversies will, quite unfairly, make veteran insiders increasingly unelectable, because confused, under-informed voters will always tend to conclude “if there is corruption smoke, there must be fire,” as so many did with Clinton.

If Democrats had run a candidate who didn’t have known “scandals” looming, and who had a background, demeanor, agenda and message that gave voters confidence that they were willing and able to do something about an economy rigged in favor of the 1%, Democrats wouldn’t have needed to look for a stray 100,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They could have won in an electoral college landslide over the worst Republican presidential candidate of our times.

Banning Trump From Ballot Doesn’t Pass Smell Test

cursor_and_democrats_right_to_vote_-_google_searchWhen it comes to the Minnesota DFL’s attempt to bar Donald Trump’s name from appearing on Minnesota ballots, the party is making a mistake by focusing on the could versus the should.

Yes, banning Trump from Minnesota ballots could be possible. It appears as if the ever-bungling Minnesota Republican Party perhaps didn’t follow the letter of the law in nominating their presidential elector alternates. I’m no great election law mind, so I’ll let the Star Tribune explain the DFL’s legal argument:

The petition said the state GOP erred at its state convention on May 20-21 in Duluth, where delegates “at large” and from each of Minnesota’s congressional districts nominated 10 presidential electors but failed to nominate 10 alternate electors.

The petition quoted the law (the italicized type is the party’s) as saying, “Presidential electors and alternates for the major political parties of this state shall be nominated by delegate conventions called and held under the supervision of the respective state central committees of the parties of this state.”

The petition continued: “This language is clear and unequivocal: Alternatives ‘shall’ be nominated — not unilaterally by party leaders — but by ‘delegate conventions.’

It sounds as if they might have case.  But letter of the law aside, should DFLers ban Trump?  The spirit of the law is that citizens should get to a chance to vote for the candidate who prevailed in the nominating process, in this case Trump.   That’s what Minnesotans of all parties feel in their gut.  The practical effect of the DFL’s move is to effectively disenfranchise Trump voters in Minnesota, more than one-third of the citizenry. For a party that justifiably preaches keeping democracy open to all voters, effectively disenfranchising at least one-third of the voters just doesn’t pass the smell test. It will offend many voters, including some who would otherwise be DFL-friendly, and it will seed even more cynicism in an already dangerously cynical citizenry.  That’s not good for our democracy.

Beyond the disenfranchisement of it all, DFL Party leaders perhaps should be wary of unintended consequences. An April 2016 Star Tribune-sponsored survey found Clinton with 48% of registered voters, Trump with 35%, and 17% undecided. While that’s a four month old poll, the chances are that Clinton still holds a lead in Minnesota. So, absent Trump being banned from the ballot by the DFL, Clinton probably would win Minnesota the old fashioned way, by earning the most votes.

So, there probably isn’t a lot to gain Electoral College-wise by gagging Trump voters. However, what happens if Trump refugees and undecided voters coalesce around Libertarian Gary Johnson?  What likely would have been a blue state could become, I don’t know, the Libertarian Party color.  That’s probably a long shot, but the possibility exists after the DFL kicks the Trump hornet nest by taking away their ability to vote for their hero.

DFL electoral tacticians likely see it differently. They may think that if Trump isn’t on the ballot, discouraged Trump voters will stay home, which will help the DFL win down-ballot races.  They’re banking on Trump voters to stay home and sulk, and they may be right.  But what happens if Trump voters instead get outraged enough by the perceived injustice of the situation to turn out in record numbers to vote against the party that they feel stole their votes?

DFL leaders probably feel quite self-satisfied about this clever little “gotcha” game.  I’m one strong DFLer who just doesn’t like it.  It feels like a betrayal of one of the party’s most admirable values – defense of every voter’s right to vote for the candidate of their choosing.  In my opinion this is not the Minnesota DFL’s finest hour.

South Dakota: Imagine There’s No Parties

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… 

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

John Lennon

Cursor_and_amendment_v_south_dakota_-_Google_SearchWhen I heard about the constitutional amendment on the South Dakota ballot to make all
state elections nonpartisan, I thought of these lyrics.

Imagine there’s no parties?

Believe it or not, that’s sort of what South Dakota is debating this fall.   At first blush, it struck me as every bit as unlikely and impractical as what John Lennon sang.  But if Amendment V gets a plurality of votes from South Dakotans of all party affiliations this fall, every state office would become nonpartisan.

That means that in every election except for presidential contests there would no longer be separate primaries for the respective political parties, party labels would not be used on ballots, and citizens would no longer have their voting restricted due to their party affiliation, or lack of a party affiliation. Instead of party primaries, a single primary contest would be held, and the top two finishers, regardless of their party affiliations, would face off in the general election.

Cursor_and_nonpartisan_nebraska_-_Google_Search

“Imagine there’s no parties. It isn’t hard to do.”

Partisanship Pros

Except that it is hard for me. Very hard. While municipal and judicial elections currently don’t use party labels, I like having party labels on ballots. They give me helpful shorthand clues when I come across an unfamiliar name towards the end of the ballot.  For instance, if I want to avoid inadvertently casting my vote for someone who wants to underfund public services or weaken environmental protections, seeing that “D” next to a candidate name on the ballot reduces the chance that I will mistakenly vote for someone who doesn’t share my  values.

To be sure, party labels don’t tell you everything, but they give a pretty solid clue about a candidate’s likely positions. I support disclosure in government and governing, and requiring party labels has disclosure benefits.

If party labels weren’t on the ballot, I’d have to do more homework to avoid making voting blunders on the more obscure portions of the ballot.  On the other hand, with online resources that are now available, homework has never been easier.  By the way, this problem could be lessened if all state and local governments allowed citizens to use smart phones or other types of computers while voting. That’s an antiquated rule that needs to be changed.  I need to be able to use my spare brain in the voting booth.

Imagine A Nonpartisan System

Maybe the inconvenience and lack of disclosure associated with a nonpartisan election system would be worth it.  I am painfully aware of what extreme partisanship is doing to our politics. It’s making us mindlessly tribal. It’s causing legislators to substitute logic and analysis for blind loyalty to party leaders and their most powerful interest groups. It’s muting the voices of independent and moderate citizens who don’t identify with either of the major parties. It’s making compromise almost impossible.

Drey Samuelson, one of the founders of the South Dakota public interest group championing Amendment V, TakeItBack.org, feels strongly that the benefits of nonpartisan elections and offices greatly outweigh whatever disclosure-related benefits there might be associated with the status quo.

Imagine no closed door caucus scheming.  Samuelson says one of the most compelling reasons to keep party labels off the ballot is that it removes partisan control from the Legislature, as it has in Nebraska. Party caucuses don’t exist in the Nebraska Legislature, so policy isn’t made behind closed party caucus doors.

Party caucuses aren’t banned by Amendment V.  But Samuelson said that if the nonpartisan amendment passes in South Dakota this fall, there would be strong public pressure for South Dakota legislators to organize themselves in a nonpartisan way — without party caucus meetings and with party power-sharing — as Nebraska has done.

Imagine sharing power and accountability.  In Nebraska’s nonpartisan Legislature, legislators from both parties can and do become legislative committee chairs. Because they share power, they also share credit for legislative successes, and accountability for scandals. There is less time and energy wasted on blame games.

Imagine an equal voice for all.  TakeItBack.org also stresses that a nonpartisan system will give South Dakota’s 115,000 registered Independents an equal voice in the elections and government they fund, which they lack today.  This is particularly important in primary elections, where many of the most important decisions are made.

Imagine a popular Legislature.  A nonpartisan Legislature would also very likely be a more popular Legislature.

“People, by and large, don’t like the division, the bickering, the polarization, and the inefficiency of partisan government,” says Samuelson. “They find that nonpartisan government simply functions better.”

In fact, the nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature is nearly twice as popular as the partisan one to the north. A January 2016 PPP survey of South Dakotans found a 36% approval rating for the South Dakota Legislature, while a June 2015 Tarrance Group survey of Nebraskans found a 62% approval rating for the Nebraska Legislature.

A 62% approval rating should look pretty good to Minnesota legislators.  Minnesota DFL legislators have a 29% approval rating, and Republican legislators have an 18% approval rating (PPP, August 2015).

For my part, I’d be willing to give up partisan labels on the ballot if it would get us a less petty, Balkanized and recalcitrant Legislature.   If Nebraska is predictive of what Minnesota could become, the benefits of such a nonpartisan body would outweigh the costs.

Progressives and Moderates Intrigued By Gary Johnson Should Look Deeper

Cursor_and_gary_johnson_funny_-_Google_SearchWhen I started seeing ads and social media chatter about former Republican Governor Gary Johnson running for President, I went to OnTheIssues.org to learn more.

I liked some of what I saw on foreign policy and law enforcement reform, but one line jumped out at me as particularly disturbing. It said Governor Johnson wants to:

“cut the federal budget by 43%.”

Just to be clear, a 43% cut in federal spending would constitute a major conservative revolution.  That would bring a much deeper reduction in government services than has been proposed in the past by ultra-conservative firebrands such as Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, or Michele Bachmann.

Still, I realize that a 43% cut has surface appeal.  After all, nobody feels a deep affinity for the abstract notion of “the federal government budget.” But budgets are collections of individual programs that deliver individual sets of services and benefits to Americans,  so we need to evaluate Johnson’s radical austerity plan on a program-by-program basis.

So, my fellow Americans, which federal services are you willing to cut by 43%, as Gary Johnson proposes.

Cut Infrastructure by 43%?  For instance, are the American people willing to cut infrastructure investments by 43%?  Do we want to slash investment in roads, bridges, transit, trains, airports, water and sewage systems, and the like?  A GBA Strategies survey finds that an overwhelming 71% of Americans want to spend $400 million more on infrastructure, not less.  Only 13% oppose such a massive federal government spending increase.

Cut Medicare by 43%?  Do the American people want to cut Medicare by 43%? After all, Medicare is a huge and growing part of the federal budget.  Americans not only don’t want to cut Medicare, more than three-fourths (77%) of Americans want to fund a new, massively expensive Medicare-for-All option.  Only 17% oppose such an expansion of government services and spending.

Cut Social Security by 43%?  Maybe Americans want to cut Social Security benefits by 43%?  While Social Security represents an enormous slice of the federal pie, the vast majority of Americans not only don’t want to cut Social Security benefits, a whopping 70% want to strengthen them.  Only 15% oppose expanding Social Security benefits.

Cut National Defense by 43%?  What about a 43% cut in national defense spending? Gallup finds that only 32% of Americans support national defense budget cuts.

Cut Other Programs by 43%?  Similarly, the GBA survey finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans want major government spending increases for green energy technology (70% support, 20% oppose), debt-free public higher education (71% support, 19% oppose), and subsidies for high quality child care  (53% support, 33% oppose) . There is no public appetite to cut any of those federal programs by 43%, as Governor Johnson proposes.

In other words,  only a thin slice of the most deeply ultra-conservative voters support Johnson’s fiscal austerity ideas.  Therefore, more moderate voters who are concerned about the nation’s poor, middle class, national security and global competitiveness need to learn about the implications of Johnson’s fiscal proposals before they jump on the Johnson bandwagon.

What Can Hillary Learn From Bernie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real_clear_politics_4-26-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

Sanders Drawing Wrong Parallels To Explain Democratic Socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Health Reform Middle Ground Between Bernie and Hillary

Cursor_and_bernie_hillary_debate_msnbc_-_Google_SearchTo hear Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign tell it, you would think that there is absolutely no way to transition from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) world of today to an eventual Medicare-for-All world that her opponent Senator Bernie Sanders promotes.

The Clinton campaign asserts that the ACA and Medicare-for-All are effectively mutually exclusive. That is, they claim that if you support Medicare-for-All, you must be against the ACA. For instance, former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton was put out on the stump to play Chicken Little:

“Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance. I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we’ll go back to an era — before we had the Affordable Care Act — that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

Chelsea’s mom, a bona fide health care policy expert, knows better. She knows that Senator Sanders proposes to consolidate public insurance programs to make coverage better and more efficient, not eliminate public coverage.

The Clinton campaign’s dire warnings aside, there is a potential middle ground between Senator Sanders’ Medicare-for-All Model and Secretary Clinton’s Stick With The ACA Model.  It’s a middle ground that is more politically viable than what Sanders proposes, and more progressive than what Clinton proposes.

The middle ground is this: Amend the Affordable Care Act to allow ACA exchange shoppers the option of voluntarily buying into Medicare.

This middle ground approach would effectively empower patients to decide the fate of Medicare-for-All.  Here’s how:  If over the years enough ACA exchange shoppers choose of their own free will to buy into Medicare, we will be making progress towards a public single payer system, which in numerous other western countries has proven to be a more effective and efficient model than America’s current model.

On the other hand, if private insurance options prove to be the most attractive, on a quality and/or price basis, the Medicare buy-in option will die off, because it will be exposed as being as inferior as Republicans claim it to be.

But with this Medicare buy-in option, patients would effectively decide Medicare-for-All’s ultimate fate, not politicians.  That’s why it’s a middle ground position.

Senator Clinton maintains that a public option lacks sufficient congressional support to pass, and that is certainly a distinct possibility. But if she proves to be correct and it gets defeated, the ACA will still be there. At that point, we would simply stay with the status quo ACA model.

But I’d like to see an aspirational President who was willing to lead a campaign to enact this middle ground approach.  Because this would be merely optional for patients, it is much more politically feasible than Sanders’ proposal to mandate Medicare-for-All.  Even if a Medicare buy-in option loses, promoting the issue now may pave the way for eventual passage in the future.   It moves the national debate forward.

I actually think a passionate, committed President would have an outside shot of passing this.  After all, there already is a great deal of support for this approach. GBA Strategies recently asked 1,500 likely 2016 voters whether they supporting giving “all Americans the choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurances, which would provide competition for insurance companies and more options for consumers.”

An overwhelming 71% supported this Medicare buy-in option, including 63% of Republicans and 71% of Independents. Only 13% opposed. 

After the special interests start their multi-million distortion and lobbying campaigns, the Medicare buy-in option may well get defeated in a Congress that defeats just about everything. (In fact, any of Senator Clinton’s ideas for incrementally improving the ACA also face a steep uphill battle with a Republican-controlled House).   But this survey tells me that there is a solid foundation of support to build on. So why not lead the American people towards this place halfway between Bernie and Hillary, and at least try to make some progress.

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

The Home of the Brave Has Gotten Irrationally Fearful

Elevator_crashThese are very scary times. Who among us does not lie awake at night worrying about dying in an elevator? I mean, what if one came crashing down while you were riding in it? Makes me shudder just thinking about it.

So I don’t care how tall the building is, I’m taking the stairs.  So are all of my family members. Better yet, we usually avoid going into structures with elevators.  Frankly, I wish they’d just outlaw them.

Or dogs. Oh sure, dogs look cute and all. I do understand that some of them actually aren’t killers. But still, I don’t let my family near dogs, because some have killed humans. Therefore, my family usually carries concealed firearms to protect themselves from being killed by vicious canines.  For goodness sake people, let’s not let any more dogs into our communities!

Paranoid, you say? I should accept the relatively low risk associated with elevators and dogs?  I shouldn’t let irrational levels of fear steal my peace-of-mind and quality-of-life?

Well, the risk of being killed by a dog (1-in-18,000,000) or dying in an elevator (1-in-10,440,000) is actually a bit higher than the risk of being killed by terrorism (1-in-20,000,000).  As context, consider that 1-in-100 Americans will die in a car crash in our lifetimes, yet Americans routinely ride in cars and don’t get particularly stressed about it.

Fear_of_terrorism_surveyDespite this relatively low level of risk, many Americans are overcome by our fear of terrorism. Even in June 2015, well before the recent Paris and California terrorist attacks, Gallup was finding that about half (49%) of Americans were worried that they or someone in their family would personally become a victim of terrorism.  Given the 1-in-20,000,000 odds, that level of fear is not rational.

Because of Americans’ extreme level of fear, we’re stocking up on guns. We’re betraying our national values by persecuting people who look and worship differently than us. Surveys even show that we’re willing to send young Americans to fight in yet another lethal, mega-expensive, and terrorism-provoking middle east quagmire.

Terrorism is a threat. We absolutely should take reasonable steps to limit and reduce the undeniable risk terrorism poses.   But we also need to keep the risk in proper perspective, so that we can continue to truthfully say that we are the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

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

“Trump Wave” Is Only In A Very Small Pond, Except When It Comes To The Issue of Terrorism

Cursor_and_trump_supporters_-_Google_SearchWatching the news coverage of the Republican presidential campaign, you get the feeling that there is a wave of support for the ideas of leading Republican candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. For example, Talking Points Memo recently reported:

GOP Campaign Official to Senate Candidates: Ride That Trump Wave

The Republican Party is preparing Senate candidates for the very real possibility that Donald Trump could be the party’s presidential nominee.

According to a seven-page memo obtained by the Washington Post, National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Ward Baker is encouraging Senate candidates to understand Trumpmentum, use it to their advantage, and then ignore Trump’s most bombastic positions.

But is there really a national wave in support of the positions of Trump and the other extremely conservative contenders? Remember, only about one-third of the general election electorate votes in Republican primaries, so even front runner Trump is only winning about 31% of one-third the overall electorate. So, yes, Trump is riding a wave of sorts, but it is still a relatively modest wave on a relatively small pond.

Ideological Wave?

So, in the midst of all of this Republican primary coverage, it’s important to keep an eye on what the nation as a whole — as opposed to the narrow slide of Republican primary voters — thinks of the positions of the Republican contenders. Public opinion surveys show that there is no wave of support for most of their extremely conservative positions.

  • Americans oppose deportation of undocumented immigrants. While bombast about mass deportation of immigrants fueled Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican heap, Gallup finds that only 14% of Americans support deporting all undocumented immigrants to their home country. Among the Independent voters Republicans need to persuade in order to win in November, only 19% support such deportation.  In the general election, this position is a liability, not an asset.
  • Americans oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Every major Republican candidate wants to repeal the ACA, and primary voters love them for it.  But among all Americans, a November 2015 Kaiser survey finds that 42% either want to expand the ACA (26%) or keep it as is (16%), while only 30% support the Republicans candidates’ repeal position.
  • Americans oppose tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Every major candidate’s tax proposal dramatically cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. But an April 2015 Gallup survey finds that 62% of Americans say that upper income people pay too little in taxes, not too much. The same survey found that 69% of Americans think that corporations are paying too little in taxes.  Americans want to increase taxes on the wealth and corporations, while Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio all want to cut them.  Again, in the general election, this position will be a leg iron for the Republican nominee.
  • Americans want stricter gun control laws. Every major Republican candidate opposes stricter gun control laws, a wildly popular position at Republican rallies. But an August 2015 Pew survey finds that Americans actually overwhelming support a wide range of stricter gun control laws. For instance, there is huge support for background checks for gun shows and private sales (85% support), laws to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining guns (79% support), a federal database to track gun sales (70% support), and a ban on assault-style weapons (57% support).

So for the most part, the Republican candidates’ ideas are extremely unpopular with the Americans who will pick the next President less than a year from now.

The Anti-Democratic Wave

But there is one major exception to this trend, and it’s a very significant one.  According to a November 2015 ABC News/Washington Post poll, battling terrorism is currently the second most important issue to Americans.  It ranks just behind the economy, and ahead of health care, immigration and tax policy. On that issue, a majority of Americans are much more aligned with Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio than they are with Clinton and Sanders.

  • Americans want military intervention to counter terrorism. In the direct aftermath of the Paris terrorist assaults, an NBC News poll finds that 65% of Americans want to send troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Also, 58% believe that “overwhelming military force is the way to defeat terrorism,” while only 38% believe that “too much military force creates hatred that only leads to more terrorism.” Similarly, Democrats have a losing position when it comes to Syrian refugees, with 56% of Americans opposed to increasing the number of Syrian refugees in the nation.

Public_Attitudes_Toward_the_War_in_Iraq__2003-2008___Pew_Research_CenterIn other words, the national mood is much like  when America rushed into the Iraq War in 2003.  Pew found that public support for that military action was 72% in 2003, but ultimately decreased to 38% by the end of the war.

While Vice President Dick Cheney estimated that war would cost about $80 billion and end quickly, the last Iraq War lasted seven years and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says it cost about $1.9 trillion, or about $6,500 per American.  The human toll for America was also high – 4,487 American troops died and at least another 32,226 were seriously wounded.  Still, almost three-fourths of Americans are ready to do it all over again.

Overall, this notion of a Trump wave is not supported by public opinion data. Americans are not buying most of what Trump and the other Republican contenders are selling. But if the election becomes dominated by the need to combat terrorism with military interventions, such as if there are a steady stream of ISIS attacks, Democrats could be in big trouble.

Where’s Our Achievement Gap Urgency?

The Minnesota Legislature is crisis driven. It has a brief amount of time to address a long list of requests, so every year it tends to prioritize relatively small number of issues that legislators view as being most urgent. Those prioritization decisions are the most impactful decisions they make in any given year.

So, what should the Legislature’s top priority be for the brief 2016 session? Job-creation? Crime? Homelessness? Social issues? Health improvement? Economic competitiveness? Reducing the cost of government to ease tax burdens?

Each legislator has different priorities, but the one issue that will profoundly impact all of those issues for decades to come is Minnesota’s education achievement gap. If we can narrow the achievement gap in our increasingly diverse schools, it will go a long way to making progress on all of the issues just mentioned.

EdWeek summarizes Minnesota’s situation when it comes to the achievement gap:

Overall, Minnesota is a high-performing state academically, but it has some of the highest achievement gaps in the country between white minority students, and between low-income students and their more affluent peers. Those gaps have caught the attention of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who in a January 2011 speech to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce criticized the state for its “lack of urgency” and its stalled progress in raising the achievement of disadvantaged students.

Well guess what, Arne? Five years later, I still don’t feel that sense of urgency.

Sense of Urgency, Anyone?

For example, we know that retaining effective teachers, and removing ineffective ones, is one of the most important things that can be done to improve student performance. Yet Minnesota is one of a very small number of states that continues a policy of retaining k-12 public school teachers based on seniority, instead of measured effectiveness. This “last in first out” policy makes it makes it difficult to retain high performing young teachers, who disproportionately work in schools serving low-income students.  Though a huge majority of Minnesotans agree this policy should be changed, the teacher’s union’s insistence on protecting the seniority-driven status quo prevails at the Legislature year-after-year.  That doesn’t sound like a state with a sense of urgency about the achievement gap.

Equity_and_equality_graphicWe also know that research shows that education achievement gaps can be measured in children as young as 9 months old. So, clearly the most vulnerable children need help very early in life, not just at age 4.  To catch up, low-income children need extra help as early in life as possible.  Yet, some state education leaders recommend heavily subsidizing pre-k services for parents of 4 year olds who can already afford services before we help the thousands of low-income kids under five who currently can’t afford high quality home visiting and early learning programs.  If narrowing the achievement gap was truly driving education policymaking, we would be helping those most at-risk kids first and fully.

More k-12 funding is also needed to fund gap-narrowing strategies, such as intensive remedial tutoring.  But leaders aren’t acting with sufficient urgency on this front either.   As of FY 2013, Minnesota ranked an underwhelming 21st among states in inflation-adjusted spending, at $11,089 per student. Oh to be investing at the level of even sixth ranked Wyoming, which is at $15,700 per student.  If Minnesota could just be a little more like Wyoming, we could use the additional $4,600 per student to better support our most gap-vulnerable students.

More Rhetoric Than Reform

I’m not saying that Minnesota is ignoring the achievement gap.  It is mentioned ad nauseam at the State Capitol, by people of all political stripes.  Discussing the problem is a necessary first step, but it has to lead to reform of the status quo.

Leaders who are truly feeling a sense of urgency about the education achievement gap don’t continue to fire effective young teachers in low-income schools, ignore the plight of its youngest and most vulnerable children, and remain complacent with middle-of-the-pack investments.  Both the political right and left can do better.

If we don’t start getting more serious about addressing the k-12 achievement gap, Minnesota won’t have the highly educated workforce it needs to compete in the global economy. As Minnesota’s workforce become less competitive, jobs will be less plentiful and will pay less.  When that happens, our state and local revenues will decrease, and our state and local government costs will increase. The resulting fiscal squeeze won’t just hurt those “other people” from different races, ethnicities and neighborhoods; it will hurt all Minnesotans, and our collective future.

That’s why the k-12 achievement gap can’t be considered “just another issue” on a long laundry list of issues. An issue of this magnitude needs to be treated like the Legislature’s top priority. Legislative initiatives to narrow the achievement gap should attract the most intensive focus, the best thinking, the most thoughtful and courageous leadership, the most bipartisan cooperation, and necessary resources.  If we don’t get more serious about the achievement gap soon, the state known for an education-driven “Minnesota Miracle” in the 1970s could become known for an education-driven Minnesota Meltdown in the not too distant future.

Note:  This post was also selected for MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Disclosure: In addition to being a blogger expressing personal opinons, the author is a communications consultant. Among many other clients, he works with a nonprofit that advocates for income-targeted investments in pre-k early education.  As with all blog posts, this reflects solely the author’s personal opinion.

Reality Check Needed In GOP Debate Venues

GOP_debate_audience_-_Google_SearchIf I were a political party chair, I would make one simple adjustment to make my party more competitive. I would only allow general election swing voters to attend candidate debates.

In general elections, history tells us that the Republican nominee is going to win most Republican voters and lose most Democratic voters. Therefore, their fate is usually going to be determined by their relative ability to attract the roughly one-third of the electorate who are undecided and/or don’t have predictable partisan voting patterns.

If only these type of “swing voters” were sitting in the audience of the debates, candidates would get the kind of reality check that they just don’t get when speaking at partisan debates, rallies, fundraisers, and interest group endorsement interviews.

For instance, when billionaire Donald Trump demeans women, Hispanics, immigrants, and other large voting blocks, he wouldn’t hear the roar of approval he hears from his loyal supporters. He would hear the groans of a broader group of Americans, 59% of whom now have an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Trump, by far the worst of all Republican candidates.

When Dr. Ben Carson says the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the worst thing since slavery, he wouldn’t be rewarded with the hoots and hollers he gets at gatherings of extreme conservatives. Instead, he would hear disapproval from Independent voters, a plurality of whom want the ACA either maintained or expanded (only 30% want it repealed).

When Senator Marco Rubio brags about his legislation opposing Affordable Care Act funding of birth control, he won’t hear the “amens” he gets at gatherings of his anti-abortion supporters.   He’ll hear boos from the 69% of Americans, and 77% of women, who support that ACA birth control benefit.

When Jeb Bush describes his predictable plan to further cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, he won’t get the cheers he gets from the GOP establishment. He’ll hear boos from the 66% of Independent voters who want to increase income taxes on people earning over $250,000 per year.

When Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rick Santorum, Governor Bobby Jindal and Dr. Carson all tout their support for a constitutional amendment banning same sex couples from getting married, an audience of swing voters would not react nearly as positively as conservative audiences do.   After all, a solid majority (61%) of Independents now favor same sex marriages.

To save their party, Republican candidates desperately need a reality check to prevent them from taking extreme positions that sell well with extreme right wing activists, but harm them in general elections, when they need to win a majority of middle-of-the-road voters. Removing the conservative hallelujah chorus from presidential debate audiences would be one good way to begin to inject such a reality check.

BLM Protests Are Starting to Spotlight Disruption More Than Discrimination

I want what the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement wants.

Police body cameras? Yep.   Punishment and removal of police officers who are abusive and/or are engaged in racial profiling? It’s about time. Prosecution of police offers who break the law? Yes.   More diverse police forces? Definitely. Better training in deescalation techniques for police officers? Badly needed. Less draconian drug laws? Amen.  More white awareness of examples of disgraceful racially based abuses in the law enforcement system? Absolutely.

Black Lives Matters is on the right track, and I’m with them.

But when it comes to disruption of community events that have nothing to do with racial discrimination in the law enforcement system, BLM loses me and a lot of other sympathetic citizens.  Legal authorities can determine the extent to which such disruption is permissible, but my question is whether it is persuasive.

Protesting at the scene of an incident of police abuse is persuasive, because it shines a light squarely on an example of abuse.  Just as sit-ins at segregated diners forced white America to open their eyes to the injustice of Jim Crow laws, shining a light directly on undeniable examples of police abuse is having a profound effect on white opinions.

Americans__Satisfaction_With_Way_Blacks_Treated_TumblesFor instance, between 2013 and 2015, Gallup finds a 14-point increase in the number of white Americans who are not satisfied with the way blacks are being treated. Another poll finds that an overwhelming 89% now support the use of police body cameras.

Black Lives Matters is starting to win, and that’s very good for our country.

But disrupting community activities that have nothing to do with police abuse – fairs, commutes, and sporting events — effectively is spotlighting disruption more than discrimination.  Because the disruptions are unpopular, I worry that the tactic will result in fewer allies for police abuse reforms. If the ultimate goal of BLM is to change the law enforcement system so that it better protects black lives, rather than to simply get on the news, disrupting non-discriminatory community gatherings strikes me as self-defeating.

The Saint Paul BLM chapter apparently is planning to disrupt this weekend’s Twin Cities Marathon, an uplifitng community event that is not the least bit connected to the issue of racial bias in the law enforcement system.   This is of particular interest to me, because my son has been training for months to run his first marathon that day, and I’ve been looking forward to a 10-mile run.  The protest could change all of that.

To be clear, I am keeping this in perspective. Seeing my son have his dream of completing a marathon taken from him is obviously nothing compared to black parents seeing their children have their dignity, dreams and lives taken from them due to our discriminatory law enforcement system.  I get that.  But such disruptions of community events do feel unfair, unnecessary and unfocused to a lot of citizens, and I fear public resentment of the tactic will inadvertently set back a very important cause.

DFL Shouldn’t Politicize Makeout-gate

news_conference_microphones_-_Google_SearchThe messenger is the message. If a professor delivers a message, it tends to sound objective, studied and evidence-based. If an elder statesman delivers a message, it tends to sound thoughtful, even-handed and rational. If a reporter of a credible news outlet delivers a message, it tends to sound legitimate, consequential, and relevant.

And if a political party leader delivers a message, it tends to sound one-sided, hyperbolic, manipulative and, obviously, political.

Maybe that is not always fair, but the messenger delivering the argument profoundly shapes how the audience processes the messages that are presented.

This is hardly a novel observation, yet it seems completely lost on Minnesota’s major party leaders. Often when political party leaders weigh in on an emerging issue, they inadvertently leave a slimy residue behind.  The message becomes “this is a political game being played, not a legitimate issue.”  At a time when survey research shows that a strong majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of both major political parties, pointing the spotlight to a partisan messenger can be the PR kiss of death.

Take the issue of whether or not two Minnesota state legislators should apologize to a suburban law enforcement officer.   The legislators initially called the officer a liar when the officer reported that the legislators were doing something in a suburban park that was a bit more intimate than the claimed “exchanging documents.”  The teen term of art “makeout” was used in the officer’s report, and, to the delight of the incurable gossips who inhabit the State Capitol campus, more racy details were included.

Subsequent news accounts reported that the officer documented the salacious details of the incident via email in near real time. Faced with this new reporting, the legislators in question reversed course.  As the Associated Press reported:

Two Republican lawmakers whom a park ranger cited for making out in a public park apologized Monday for accusing that ranger of lying and stepped down from a Minnesota House ethics panel in an apparent effort to head off a complaint from Democrats.

But that wasn’t good enough for DFL party officials.  Two days after the legislators had already apologized and resigned from the House Ethics Committee, the DFL called a news conference to ask the legislators to, I don’t know, issue a new and improved apology.

With reporters and law enforcement officials exposing the truth, and reporters continually seeking legislators’ reaction to each new revelation, why do DFL PR people feel the need pile on with self-righteous sermons? I’m sure partisan warriors surrounding DFL leaders were giving them high fives for continuing to criticize the Republicans, but their partisan finger wagging is starting to make the whole issue look like just another partisan pissing match, which many Minnesotans are conditioned to tune out.

In public relations, as in health care, the guiding credo should be primum non nocere, Latin for “first, do no harm.”  Party messengers especially need to realize the harm that their tainted voices can do.  Or as the country music classic put it, sometimes “you say it best when you say nothing at all.”