Pope Francis and Scott Walker: Contrasts in Leadership

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterWe have quite the contrast in leadership theories and styles going this week what with the Pope landing one day and Scott Walker quitting the race for President the day before.

i remember well the affection US Catholics had for John Paul II and demonstrated with Woodstock-like crowds for his visits here. I was at the gathering in Des Moines in 1978 and have never, before or since, seen 200,000 people in one place without a single beer can in sight. You can credit any Pope’s popularity to the unique quality of his office. A religious leader, of a billion people, regularly preaching peace and harmony. Unlike government leaders he doesn’t have to pander and strategize for reelection. Nor does he ever have to commit resources to battle, unless of course in the case of the Vatican you count covering up and fighting sex abuse scandals and regular, multi-billion dollar banking “irregularities” as a kind of warfare.

But the vibe around Francis does seem different. That one line, uttered on his plane to a question about homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?” was an enormous breakthrough in papal credibility, certainly with thousands of mostly fallen away Catholics made jaded and cynical by the Church’s refusal to reform and reimagine itself for a century other than the 14th.

As one of those who gave up on association with the church 30 years ago, mainly over the ridiculous misdirection of resources — into endless property enhancement and nowhere near enough to issues related to poverty, as well as the Church’s medieval attitudes toward women, many of which continue to this day — I admire and appreciate what Francis is saying on climate change and income inequality, but remain skeptical on the question if he can actually turn the hidebound Catholic bureaucracy.

But at least his message is inspiring.

Which is not something I’ve heard many people say about any of the current Republican presidential candidates, much less the recently departed Mr. Walker.

While the Pope is using his popularity and influence to appeal to the better angels of our nature, respecting and tolerating differences and accepting sacrifice as a means to retain the health of the planet, Walker and his GOP competition are playing a truly obscene game of one-ups-manship trying to convince the angriest and least tolerant among us that they’ll be more merciless than the other guy (or woman) in pounding Muslims back into submission, blocking off any solution to climate change that involves pumping one less ton of coal or oil carbon into the air and returning the 30 million or so lower-end Americans to emergency room care and imminent bankruptcy rather build out from the Affordable Care Act..

And yet all of them waaaay over-play their Christian card with appalling regularity.

But Scott Walker … . The schadenfreude over this guy’s implosion is truly palpable. Campaign pros can argue over why his popularity fell off a cliff. How much was do to the Trump circus. How much was due to “anti-insider” sentiment, yadda yadda.

It should be enough to say, with great confidence, that once out in the harsh light of day, Scott Walker proved himself to be exactly what many of us thought him to be since he first popped up on the radar. Namely, an extraordinarily cynical, utterly self-serving career politician with little to no interest in “public” service as you or I know it, nor even any any interest in properly educating himself on basic government policy and every interest in exploiting every twist of the rules of the political “game” to his personal advantage.

And without ever being either brave or clever about it.

I remind everyone that Walker’s big moment, his war on (some) public employee unions in Wisconsin was something he dropped on those middle-class Americans completely out of the blue. Had he ever once mentioned it during his 2010 campaign (and real bravery would have been laying out there day after day as a primary objective) I’d cut him some slack. At least then the Cheeseheads would have known exactly what they were buying. But nada. Not a peep. And then he flat-out lied, repeatedly, saying at times that he had and the press simply hadn’t paid it any attention.

Walker was/is another lug out of the Tim Pawlenty mode, a genuinely sociopathic personality capable of calmly and emotionlessly rationalizing no end of discomfort, calamity and cruelty to others as an acceptable price for achieving the greatest goal … their own personal advancement.

I could go on about Walker’s tight, chummy connection to the executives of the M&I Bank (now BMO Harris) and their laundering of Tom Petters’ scummy deals, his sub-servience to the four … four … patrons who provided the bulk of the $20 million in his Super PAC war chest, his sell-out to pretty much the same type of robber barons in the recent Milwaukee basketball arena deal and the gutting of the University of Wisconsin system to paper over the staggering deficit accumulated under his “guidance”. But that’s the past. The guy has another three years to wreak even more havoc on Wisconsin, unless his keepers abandon him now that he has no greater viability.

And so, as Pope Francis prepared to address Congress tomorrow night and demonstrate what leadership sounds like when disconnected from naked, unambiguous personal ambition, Walker left his little press avail yesterday without taking any questions and after making the preposterous assertion that he was leading … by quitting.

I like to say there’s a special place in hell for people like Walker. But over the years I’ve learned that people like him, fundamentally mean-spirited, selfish and manipulative, are already living there.

GOP Debate #2: Sobriety is Your Enemy

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI watched the whole thing. Do I get an award? A ribbon? Another half dozen stiff drinks?

Actually, anyone who played the buzzword bingo drinking game during last night’s three-hour Chicken Little FearFest/GOP presidential debate would have blown a .55 by the 30-minute mark.

“Terrorists”. Glug.

“Limited government conservative”. Glug.

“Ronald Reagan”. Glug.

“They want to kill us.” Glug.

“Repeal”. Glug.

“On the first day.” Glug

“Radical liberal … .” Glug.

“Strongest military the world has ever seen.” Glug.

“Ronald Reagan.” Oh what the hell, finish the bottle.

Consensus thinking, the specialty of TV punditry depending on who their target consensus group is, seems to see Carly Fiorina as the big winner, and, once again, Donald Trump as the clear loser, a word he reserves only for less “really, really rich” others. Personally, I doubt that Trump will suffer much in the opinion of the really, really white and pissed-off crowd that has loved him up so much this summer … unless the vibe gets out that he is in fact not a “winner” but somehow, a loser.

As the rankest of amateur socio-psychologists, I maintain the view that “Trump people” regard themselves as losers, victimized losers to be sure, but bona fide entitled, exceptional Americans dealt a foul, unfair hand by “multi-nationals”, Hollywood liberals, Muslim presidents and assorted other uppity (pick your sub-group). As a consequence they seek out associations with “winners”, which in their mind is anyone who is on TV a lot, has gobs of dough and can call everyone else playground names with impunity.

But that “winner” thing is kind of like a digital TV signal. In other words, it is really great until you walk one step further and it’s gone. If Trump’s “winner” vibe cracks, which I think is inevitable, his true believers will jump ship in a split second, turn and truly believe in the next guy/gal who, like muttering Steve at the end of the bar, can call someone a horse-faced skank and make the rest of the midday crowd snort and cackle.

The Fiorina thing is actually kind of interesting. Clearly, the tri-corner hat paranoids aren’t interested in “insiders”. (And God help me, when Jeb Bush tries making the case for himself as an “outsider” how do you not just douse your self with gin and light a match?)  Fiorina may be the ultimate personification of the sociopathic corporate Dragon Lady and like Mitt Romney, the face (sorry) of the “entrepreneurial class” that has bayoneted the dreams of Trump’s white nationalist crowd. But she is a woman, and she is without question built to prosecute and endure a long, gruesome campaign. Her prospects for a match-up with Hillary Clinton strike me as far better than anyone else on the stage last night, including Jeb! (no last name, please.)

In fact, in a twist of irony, a rise in Fiorina’s fortunes, (including but not limited to the one she grabbed as part of her Hewlett-Packard golden parachute), might be an asset to Ms. Clinton. The theory being that with a Fiorina ascendancy Democrats would have to stop and seriously assess how many women-who-just-want-a-damned-woman voters they’ll lose if the Republicans, for chrissake, beat them to the punch with a gal on the top of a national ticket.

Other than that last night had a weird familiarity. Like dangerous, nonsensical characters in a recurring dream, I couldn’t get past the sense of having suffered through all this many times before. For instance, I suffered what I think was a brief seizure when Scott Walker again claimed to have balanced Wisconsin’s budget AND, having gutted the state’s college system to pad over that pesky $2.2 billion deficit, stared into the camera and touted his commitment to education as the key to “real job growth”, (glug).

Lord, I despise that guy beyond anything rational.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questions We Should Be Asking About the Health Care Reform Plan Scott Walker Is Unveiling in Minnesota

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is reportedly coming to Brooklyn Center to explain his new health care reform plan to a state that now has a record high 95 percent of its citizens with health care coverage, thanks in part to its Democratic Governor embracing Obamacare.

Spoiler alert: Governor Walker, who is running for the GOP presidential nod these days, has already telegraphed the centerpieces of his plan.  In a National Review oped this week, Walker wrote:

“We must do all of this while ensuring affordable coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.”

At the same time, Governor Walker has long opposed the Obamacare insurance mandate.

“Our plan calls for reducing health care costs through market-driven solutions, not by forcing us to buy an expensive health care mandate.”

At first blush, embracing a ban on pre-existing conditions and excluding an insurance mandate seems like pure political gold. It maintains the most popular part of Obamacare, while replacing the least popular part of it. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?

connecting_the_dots_-_Google_SearchHere’s why: Walker’s logic path quickly collapses as soon as you start connecting the dots.

Q. If we simultaneously tell Americans, 1) “no matter what illness or injury you encounter, insurance companies must pay your bills” and 2) “you don’t have to buy an insurance policy,” what will Americans do?

A.  Americans will wait until they get sick or hurt before they buy insurance. And really, why wouldn’t we, particularly in our younger years? After all, in such a wacky Walkercare world, the moment someone buys coverage, their medical bills get paid, so why would anyone volunteer to pay for protection when they’re healthy?

What’s the problem with that, you ask?

Well, let’s go further down the logic path.

Q. If Americans waits until they get hurt or sick before they buy health insurance, what will happen to the pool of available premium dollars insurance companies use to pay for patients’ medical bills?

A. That pool of money will quickly dry up.

Big deal, you say. We all hate those insurance companies anyway, right?

But keep asking questions.

Q. If the insurance company’s pool of money for paying medical bills gets used up, what will happen then?

A. Insurance companies will go out of business. Then, we won’t be able to get private insurance coverage, health care providers’ bills will go unpaid, and the entire health care system will melt down.

So Governor Walker’s pitch to keep Obamacare’s pre-existing ban and repeal Obamacare’s insurance mandate is politically popular, but infeasible a policy level. It would pretty quickly implode the private health insurance system conservatives laud.

So, why is Governor Walker coming to Minnesota to promote a reform plan like that? It seems like there are two possibilities: 1) He isn’t bright enough to connect those dots or 2) He is bright enough to connect the dots, but doesn’t think Americans are, so he is using this plan as a cynical ploy to get elected.  It feels like the latter, and I’m not sure that makes me feel any better about our neighbor Scott.

FoxNews Debate: God Help Me, That Was Some Sick Fun

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterOk, I admit it. I was rooting for Donald Trump last night. Not because I think he has a clue about anything relevant to you and me. But simply, purely, because as long as he holds center stage he guarantees the belittling light of farce will remain fixed on the entire Republican field. Without him more people might be tempted to take the likes of Scott Walker seriously, to name only one prime example.

When the debate wrapped last night and the Dramamine began wearing off — no point risking stomach distress from the whiplashing motion sickness in the white caps of so much illogic and shameless bullshit — I clicked over to the liberal enclave, MSNBC, for their take on the circus.

First came Chris Matthews, wetting himself over the performance of … Marco Rubio (!?). Then came Chuck Todd with his focus on FoxNews’ opening salvo — asking for a show of hands on who would abide by the party’s eventual nominee and then Megyn Kelly’s long question/indictment of Trump’s catty shots against women over the years — both clearly designed to knock The Donald, no friend of Rupert Murdoch, back on his heels at the get-go.

Trump, a creature of show biz catfighting, gave as he got and I strongly suspect rose today at least as strong as he was before the curtain rose last night. Why? Because his “people” don’t give a damn about “political correctness”, as he argued. Nor do they care all that much about gay marriage or immigration or the Iran deal, or any of the other alleged hot button issues touted by the political class. Mainly, Trump’s people are just pissed off, pretty much at everyone, on the not exactly deeply-examined grounds that “those people” have been screwing them over and are responsible for the condition of their lives.

Of course there’s no logic to their embrace of a ravenous, self-serving billionaire who plainly doesn’t know a thing about foreign relations, national security or public policy. But logic has very little role this early in any election season and almost none at any time in the modern conservative freak show of vanity candidates.

I seriously doubt your average Trump supporter believes for a second he’ll win anything. ot thNe nomination, much less the presidency. All they want for the time being is an entertaining performer who makes the other guys (and gal) look like the scripted stiffs they are.

The night before the debate I had a long happy hour with former right-wing talk show host Jason Lewis. (There’ll be a Q&A with him on MinnPost.com in the next couple weeks.) Over the course of three hours Lewis did say one interesting thing. (That’s a joke.) And that was that Trump’s immunity to criticism has everything to do with the fact that his demeanor powerfully conveys the attitude, “I don’t need this.” He may want it, like another gilded trophy (or wife). But “need it”? No. Certainly not in the sweaty, grasping, cringe-inducing way of a Rick Santorum, Chris Christie or Mike Huckabee? No way. Not even in the cynically calculating way of a life-long lapper at the taxpayer teat like Scott Walker. Lacking desperation, he exudes a scent of confidence the others can only fake.

The “I hate them all, because they’ve done nothing for me” crowd likes and admires and wishes they were a guy who could say, “Take this job and shove it” … and then fly their private jet back to their “classy” Palm Beach mansion. That crowd’s nihilistic fantasy is that Trump or the next guy/woman like him, will torch the system and, if nothing else, bring all the elitist douche bags down to their forced-to-shop-at-WalMart level. (And yes, do note the irony in that “elitist DB” business.)

But don’t take any of this from me. My assessment of winners and losers last night, Trump aside, was that … Rand Paul and John Kasich stood out, in a positive way.

Paul of course suffers from the same pathology as his father, Ron. Namely, the “Five Minute Rule” as the great Charles Pierce describes it. Both Pauls start in on some topic, usually military adventurism, and you’re thinking, “That makes sense. This guy isn’t quite the whack job I thought he was.” But then, almost exactly at the five-minute mark, just when you’re this close to buying into the hype that these guys are on to something they turn and take a headfirst dive into a 20-foot tub of Libertarian bat guano.

Like this one: ” ‘I think you don’t have a right to happiness — you have the right to the pursuit of happiness’, Paul, an ophthalmologist, said in a 2009 Kentucky town hall meeting. ‘[I]f you think you have the right to health care, you are saying basically that I am your slave. I provide health care. … My staff and technicians provide it. … If you have a right to health care, then you have a right to their labor’.”

WTF?

Kasich, despite the wooze-inducing claim that he was responsible for the Clinton economy of the 1990s, at least came across as a guy with touch of authentic empathy for the 47% crowd.

Ben Carson looked and sounded like a stand-in for a real candidate, like those seat-fillers they have at the Academy Awards show who zoom in when the stars have to take a potty break. Mike Huckabee, “a loser”, as Trump would say, with “no chance” seemed angrier than usual, and no more coherent. Ted Cruz was pretty much overlooked and typically tedious when he did speak, basically echoing the party line that his plan for America is to: A: Repeal everything Barack Obama has touched, and B: Head back over to the Middle East and really kick some towelhead ass this time. Because, you know, it worked out so well when Dick and W* did it.

Jeb Bush, the scion, brother-of and presumptive candidate once Trump flames out or goes independent rogue, came off like a sheet of taupe wallpaper. Like a bond salesman terrified he’ll say the one wrong thing that’ll scotch the deal, which in this case is his entitlement to the job. Beyond that, I’m sure there are millions of Floridians who had no idea Jebbie had transformed their pestilential wonderland of causeway McMansions and meth-head rednecks hiding under double-wides into a goddam Utopia of freedom and gummint service.

Chris Christie? Please. Rubio? Slick, telegenic as hell and as vacuous as a Fox & Friends host. And my boy Scott Walker? A guy who makes me worry because of the profound, visceral, rabid skunk-in-the-backyard repulsion I have for him? Even in this crowd he stands out if the contest is for the most smug and practiced liar. Hell, I’m still cleaning up the mess that shot out my nose when he declared he had balanced Wisconsin’s budget. You know, the one with the $2 billion deficit?

But as raw entertainment? As a combination of non-sequiturs, magical thinking, fear-mongering, denial and misdirection? Great stuff! Two thumbs, way up! Show biz gold, baby!

And really classy.

Where Do I Get a Ticket to Kepler 452-b?

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterThere’s nothing like an American political campaign, especially one dominated by the rolling freak show of our “new conservative movement” to make you wonder if intelligent life exists anywhere in the universe, including here.

Thank God then for Stephen Hawking and the NASA teams responsible for the Pluto fly-by and the discovery of “Earth’s twin”, Kepler 452-b. They didn’t quite drown out the buffoonery and cynicism of Donald Trump-Scott Walker last week. But if you were so inclined it was quite pleasurable to ignore the clamor of their toxic grifting and let the mind wander, imagining truly advanced civilizations and what they might think of us.

Among the most interesting people I’ve ever and had the chance to talk with is Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science-fiction writer, best known for co-authoring the screenplay for “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which was drawn from his short story “The Sentinel”. in 1984 Clarke flew halfway around the planet from his home in Sri Lanka to do publicity for “2010: The Year We Make Contact”, an instantly-forgotten sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic. By no means a typical Hollywood type, Clarke arrived for interviews at some Beverly Hills hotel looking like an Iowa mortician. Black suit, white shirt, black tie, horn-rimmed glasses and the demeanor of the guy who makes certain the deceased is returned to the earth with due gravity.

One of Clarke’s many classic quotes is his response to being asked if we are alone in the universe? “Two possibilities exist,” he said, “either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” He also said when asked what we might expect from contact with an extraterrestrial society, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I had only 30 minutes or so with Clarke, and there didn’t seem to be much point in wasting it getting his reaction to the noisy, formulaic sequel to a truly audacious film that left no intelligent viewer with an option other than to contemplate our modest accomplishments — standing upright, conquering to survive and traveling beyond the pull of our own planet.

I doubt the news about our “twin”, Kepler 452-b, 1400-light years away, would have surprised Clarke much. Terrified or not, he found it it difficult to believe, based on the astonishing immensity of the universe that we were all that unique in terms of complex organisms or all that advanced, given the relative youth, 4.5 billion years, of Earth and the Milky Way. Organisms in other parts of the 14 billion year old universe could have hundreds of millions of years head start on us.

I do think Clarke, who died in 2008, would have been delighted to hear of Hawking’s collaboration with a Russian billionaire to re-start a long-term radar search for signals from another civilization, likely a “mega-civilization”, a culture likely generations, millennia or more advanced than ours. He was generally appalled at the priorities of so-called social leaders. (The fact that a single football stadium in one obscure Midwestern city cost more than we invested in the Pluto mission would have been to Clarke a prime example of barely post-amoebic thinking.)

One part of my conversation with Clarke centered on why any truly advanced culture would have an interest in us? And if they did how they would go about looking us over? This of course was the gist of “The Sentinel”, in which millions of years in our past a probing civilization, perhaps assessing Earth’s position in the so-called “Goldilocks” zone in relation to our sun, drops down a kind of cosmic tele-prompter, sparking the decisive leap one species makes toward sentient thought … and then a fire alarm (on the moon) to alert the civilization that one of the species it has incubated is one the move.

I was pleased that Clarke agreed with me that it made no sense at all that a “mega-civilization” (he didn’t use that term), would visit this planet in any kind of mortal form. No little grey men like in bad Hollywood or Japanese sci-fi. No bizarre, multi-tentacled deep space octopi like out of a comic book. Robotic probes alone, and most-likely the size of molecules rather than city-wide flying saucers could tell culturedeep space s capable of spanning  everything they needed to know about life on this rock. That is if at hundreds of thousands or millions of years of development beyond us they had any interest.

Clarke’s argument, in various books, in the script for “2001” and in conversation in Los Angeles is that immortality is probably a primary initiative for any self-aware species, and that following the logic we saw in HAL the computer and see today in any number of the artificial intelligence advances made since his death, the process of separating consciousness out of and away from the frail, mortal carbon container we evolved in would be Job One.

In the “acid trip” sequence of “2001” there’s a shot of seven shimmering crystalline objects, generally regarded as Kubrick and Clarke’s depiction of “mega civilization” life forms. When I asked him if that was in fact the point of that shot, he smiled and said, “I don’t want to say. It’s more fun to imagine.”

So what then? Having transferred consciousness from flesh and blood (or whatever chemical stew might work on other “goldilocks” planets) to a form immune to the ravages of wind, fire, war, radiation and time, what interest would such a form of being have in us? Why would we be of any particular interest at all? We’re probably flattering ourselves that we’re exceptional. Most likely we would be no more interesting than plankton in a tidal pool. Ours would be an existence to be acknowledged, at best. But nothing more.

More likely, Clarke thought (and wrote in several novels, although maybe most provocatively in “Childhood’s End”), such a culture would practice a form of dispassionate benevolence, offering cues to lower life forms (us) for sustaining evolution, but taking no active role. (They’re a bit more involved in “Childhood’s End”.)

One commentator writing about Hawking’s endeavor reminded readers to do the math on Moore’s Law, which says computing power, in terms of transistors on a CPU, doubles every two years. You can find people who say we’ve reached a limit and that that isn’t going to happen. But since the number of transistors in a CPU has increased from 37.5 million in 2000 to 904 million in 2009, we’re kind of in range. Point being, by 2050, at this rate, our own technology will seem like magic to us today.

And that’s 35 years. For the sake of this discussion, add six zeroes. 35,000,000 years. Then try and imagine what “life” looks like. Most likely we wouldn’t recognize if it was standing next to us.

Now back to the plankton we know as Trump, Walker and the others vying to lead our civilization.

 

 

 

 

Dear DFLers: This is Minnesota, Not MinneSweden

These are very heady times for Minnesota DFLers. Governor Mark Dayton and DFL legislators had the courage to raise taxes, increase long-term investments, and raise the minimum wage.  In the process, Minnesota Republicans were proven wrong, because the economic sky did not fall as they predicted it would.   In fact, liberally governed Minnesota, with an unemployment rate of just 3.7 percent, has one of the stronger economies in the nation.

And the subsequent coverage from the liberal echo chamber has been positively intoxicating for DFLers:

“This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Increased the Minimum Wage — Now, His State’s Economy Is One of the Best in the Country” (Huffington Post)

“The Unnatural: How Mark Dayton Bested Scott Walker—and Became the Most Successful Governor in the Country”  (Mother Jones)

“What happens when you tax the rich and raise the minimum wage? Meet one of USA’s best economies” (Daily Kos)

Comparative_Economic_Systems__SwedenHigh as a kite from these clippings and the vindication they represent, DFLers run the risk of over-stepping, of pushing Minnesotans further than it they are comfortable going. As much as DFL politicians fantasize about bringing the social welfare model of a Scandinavian nation to a state populated with so many Scandinavian immigrants, a recent survey in the Star Tribune provides a harsh reminder that Minnesota, politically speaking, is not MinneSweden.

In the wake of a $2 billion budget surplus, only one out of five (19 percent) Minnesotans wants to “spend most to improve services.” Among the Independent voters that DFLers need to persuade in order to win elections and legislative power, only one out of four (24 percent) supports spending the entire surplus.

At the same time, two times as many Minnesotans support the predictable Republican proposal to “refund most to taxpayers” (38 percent support). Their refund proposal is also the most popular option among the Independent voters that Republicans need to win over in order to have electoral success in 2016.

The Star Tribune also reported that their survey found that Minnesotans are not too wild about the gas tax increase the DFLers propose.  A slim majority (52 percent) oppose “Governor Dayton’s proposal to raise the wholesale tax on gasoline to increase spending on road and bridge projects?”  A healthier majority (62 percent) of Minnesota’s’s Independents oppose the gas tax increase.

I happen to agree with the DFL on the merits.  Minnesota has a lot of hard work to do in order to remain competitive into the future, so I personally support investing almost all of the budget surplus, with a healthy amount for the rainy day fund, and a gas tax increase. However at the same time, I’m enough of a realist to recognize that sustainable progressive change won’t happen if Daily Kos-drunk DFLers overstep and lose the confidence of swing voters in the process.

DFLers who want to win back the trust of a majority of the Minnesota electorate would be wise to enact a mix of sensibly targeted investments, a resilient rainy day fund and targeted tax relief.  That kind of pragmatic, balanced approach won’t turn into St. Paul into Stockholm, but it might just put more DFLers in power, so that the DFL can ensure Republicans don’t turn Minnesota into South Dakota or Wisconsin.

The Daytonomics-Walkernomics Border Battle, MNsure and Our Addiction To Instant Analysis

Because journalists believe their audiences won’t tolerate nuance and ambiguity, they recruit  political analysts who are certain, clear and decisive over those who are unsure, equivocal and astraddle.  As a result, a kind of Punditry Darwinism plays out, where only the cocksure survive to deliver a steady stream of provocative instant analysis informed by little to no evidence.

MNsure’s Premature Death Proclamation

Take MNsure, Minnesota’s fledgling online tool for comparing and buying health insurance. When MNsure enrollment started slowly in its first month, Minnesota’s conservative talk radio pundits immediately declared it a train wreck, and this instant analysis has dominated the coverage to date.

MNsure may ultimately be a train wreck.  After all, covering uninsured Americans has always been a very difficult task.  But the immediate post-launch period is not a sensible time to make that judgment.

Romneycare_enrollment_chart-2Historical data shows that consumers don’t tend to purchase health insurance the way they purchase Xbox 360s, lined up outside the store on launch day.  Quite the opposite, most consumers purchase insurance at the very last moment possible.  Purchasing an expensive service that you hope to never use is just not very satisfying, so most of us procrastinate.

I’m not pulling this assertion out of my pundit posterior.   In Massachusetts, just 123 early adapters stepped forward during their first month, and it didn’t get much better the second month.  Instead, the big rush came just prior to the open enrollment deadline, when people face the prospect of a missed deadline and financial penalty.

It turns out that pulling the plug on the Massachusetts exchange when it only had 123 customers would not have been a wise decision for Commonwealth citizens, because  Romneycare ultimately was worth the wait.  After a few years of growing pains, Massachusetts’ Obamacare-like reforms increased the ranks of the insured to 97%.  This puts states like Minnesota (91% insured) to shame, not to mention Chris Christie’s New Jersey (84% insured) or Ted Cruz’s Texas (76% insured).

Declaring a trainwreck just as a new train is lurching out of the depot is ludicrous.  As much as it pains the cognoscenti, at this stage they need to be saying the four little words that might  get them deleted out of reporters’ speed dials – “I don’t know yet.”

Daytonomics The Winner Already?

Then there is the Minnesota-Wiscoonsin border battle over state fiscal policy.  In a New York Times commentary piece that has been widely shared via social media, a University of Minnesota professor and pundit recently declared that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s Keynesian approach to state fiscal policy has been more successful than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s austerity approach.  His conclusion:

“The lesson from the upper Midwest is that rigid anti-tax dogma fails to deliver a convincing optimistic vision that widens economic opportunity and security.”

To his credit, the University of Minnesota professor does include  caveats, such as “firm answers will require more time and more data.”  But in the rush to be a clear and certain pundit who can get past the New York Times gatekeepers, the professor ultimately declared Daytononomics triumphant.

Here’s the problem with that:  Daytonomics is very much in its infancy.  Most of Governor Dayton’s most progressive policies are only now being put into effect, so the state of Minnesota’s economy can’t yet be attributed to the Daytonomics.

It’s true that Dayton has been in office for three years now.  But, with the exception of Dayton’s expansion of Medicaid to 95,000 uninsured Minnesotans, the lion’s share of his progressive agenda — the improvements to education and other government services funded by tax increases on the wealthy — passed just a few months ago, after the 2011-2012 GOP-controlled Legislature was vanquished and could no longer block Dayton’s progressive policies.

Just as President Obama could not be fairly blamed for the 2008-2009 economic meltdown that played out before he could put his policies into place, Governor Dayton cannot be fairly celebrated for a better-than-average state economy when most of his progressive policies are only now being put into place.  As a liberal, I hope Daytonomics bests Walkernomics, and expect it will.  But it’s much too early to declare a winner.

As a public relations guy, I understand why the media wants  commentators who give their audience instant gratification through instant analysis.  But as a citizen, I worry about what all of this instant gratification does to us.

Psychologists find that children who can’t learn to delay gratification at an early age are much less likely to succeed in later life.  The research indicates that the ability to delay gratification is absolutely key for success in school, marriages, friendships, health and jobs.  The young kids who can’t learn to stop themselves from consuming marshmallows become the adults who can’t stop themselves from consuming the adult versions of marshmallows.

Given that research, what kind of democracy will we become if journalists, pundits and voters can’t learn to wait to make policy judgements until evidence is available to inform our debates?

– Loveland

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

Packers-Vikings Border Battle: Wanna Bet?

In case you haven’t heard, there is a Vikings-Packers game happening this Sunday that has playoff implications.  A couple people seem to be interested in it.  It’s reportedly an even bigger deal than the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

So, of course, now is the time when rival state politicians customarily make a sporting bet over who will win, to prove to the commoners that they are just regular Joes obsessing about football like everyone else.

Usually the bet is pretty predictable.  If Minnesota wins, Green Bay pays in cheese.  If Green Bay wins, Minnesota pays in pork, or whatever industry the politician wants to court.  Hilarity ensues.  We all can’t get enough of it.  It’s one of the most hackneyed and enduring rituals in American politics.

But how about we spice things up with some more culturally appropriate gifts? Continue reading

Grover Norquist: Pawlenty Is “A Little Scott Walker”

Yesterday’s New York Times brings us an interesting quote about Minnesota’s favorite son candidate for the GOP veep nomination, former Governor Tim Pawlenty.

"A little Scott Walker"

Grover G. Norquist, who leads the group Americans for Tax Reform, said the full scope of Mr. Pawlenty’s record was strong, despite the tax increase. He pointed to his leadership on a 44-day transit strike in 2004, where he won a fight over compensation and retirement benefits.

‘He was a little Scott Walker before Scott Walker,’ Mr. Norquist said…”

The GOP primaries and caucuses are over, so hard core conservative voters are no longer Romney’s biggest need.  At a time when Republicans desperately need help winning over middle-of-the-road moderate Republicans and Independents, it’s not helpful for TPaw to be compared to a perhaps the most polarizing political figure in the Republican Party by one of the most polarizing conservative ideologues in the nation.

Did Walker win? Or did recalls lose?

A New York Times exit poll suggest that that the general notion of a policy-based recall election was bothering  an overwhelming majority of Wisconsin voters.

Exit pollsters asked “Do you think recall elections are appropriate?”  To quote the late, great Richard Dawson, “survey SAYS:”

  • For any reason:  27%
  • Only for official misconduct:  60%
  • Never:  10%

In other words, seven-out-of-ten Wisconsin voters thought a recall election over a policy disagreement, such as anti-union legislation, was inappropriate.  So many Wisconsinites may have opposed the recall of Scott Walker more because they disliked mid-term recalls based on policy disagreements, rather than because they loved Governor Walker.

This would help explain why exit polls showed that the same voters who gave Walker a 8-point win were also picking The Antiwalker, President Obama, over Walker supporter Mitt Romney by 7 points.  Some of those Obama supporters who opposed recalling Walker may just have been uncomfortable with the idea of the concept of this recall.

– Loveland

 

Note:  This post was also featured as part of the “Best of the Blogs” feature in Politics in Minnesota’s Morning Report.

Why DFLers Should Be Happy Scott Walker Won

Minnesota’s DFL Governor Mark Dayton has taken controversial positions that most Minnesotans oppose, such as support for a subsidized Vikings Stadium, an individual health insurance mandate and gay marriage.

So conservatives would be justified in launching a recall election to remove him from office, right?

Of course not.  Whether the target is liberal like Dayton or conservative like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, honest policy disagreements shouldn’t lead to mid-term recalls.  Recalls should be reserved for people who engage in proven criminal behavior.  For policy disagreements, we have a tried and true solution — regularly scheduled elections.

If a recall had succeeded in Wisconsin, more mid-term recalls would surely start to sprout around the nation, funded by corporations and billionaires who no longer are limited in their political spending.

And  what would policymaking look like if we were in a constant state of policy-based recall elections?  Chaos. You think the Minnesota State Capitol is chaotic, polarized and ineffective now?  Imagine it in perpetual recall campaign mode.

The other destructive outcome of a policy-based recall epidemic would be leaders who are even more afraid to take positions that don’t have strong majority support, for fear that doing so would make them a target of a multi-million dollar recall drive.

And here is the problem with leaders not questioning majority viewpoints:  Many times, the majority is just flat wrong.  The majority was very wrong on slavery and civil rights for a long time.  It was wrong on the Iraq War, trickle down economics, no new taxes, and single payer health care.  We need leaders who are not afraid of questioning the majority viewpoint.

What distinguishes Democrats from Republicans is that Democrats want government to be functional, because they know a dysfunctional public sector can’t help ordinary people pursue the American dream.   For that reason, they should oppose these policy-based recall elections that thrust government into mid-term chaos.

– Loveland