Watch out Donald, Barry-O is Back!

Since his last inauguration, Obama’s White House addresses have been the equivalent of Charles Barkley’s jump shot after he had his talent stolen by the Monstars.  Well, this afternoon in Charlotte, Michael Jordan just remembered he can dunk from half court.

In his first appearance alongside Hillary Clinton, Obama delivered a passionate and fiery speech that had democrats everywhere reminiscing of his 2008 and 2012 campaigns–not to mention the 2004 convention–where such vaulting orations were his bread and butter.

Appearing in a blue button down with loose cuffs, Obama walked with the swagger of Steph Curry before a three point contest against a toddler.  He couldn’t have been more relaxed if he had taken a Xanax after a massage and looked on cooly as Clinton introduced him while he sat perched with a teenager’s posture atop the lone stool on stage.

Like the second violinist she was, Clinton delivered an abridged solo and then turned the show back over the conductor and let Professor O take it away.  

Whether it was joking with the crowd or playfully shouting back at (friendly) hecklers, Obama displayed the rhetorical mastery that has always made him a giant among midgets when he takes the stage.  After an introduction in which he delivered character witness worthy testimony that Hillary ought to save and replay for St. Peter someday, Obama turned his attention to building his case not only for Clinton, but for the Democratic party as a whole.

Obama even revived some tracks off his 2008 Greatest Hits album, getting the crowd going with a “Ready to go! FIRED UP!” chant and then later delivering a “let’s take the higher road” zinger by responding the audience’s booing of Trump – whom he never mentioned by name – by saying “I was waiting for this opportunity. Don’t boo. Vote!”

The whole thing was total perfection, and like the last five minutes of a Law and Order episode, Obama tied all the pieces of his case together into a crisp, perfect bow.  

Fourteen million new jobs. A revived auto-industry. Twenty million new people with health insurance. Clean energy production reaching new heights.  

America doesn’t need to be great again, America is already great.

With Clinton grinning like a girl who had just been asked to prom by the quarterback, Obama continued to gin up the giddy crowd.  Fully lost in the moment, he eventually must have looked at his watch and semi-apologized to the crowd: ‘I know I’ve gone on too long. That’s what happens, you haven’t campaigned in a while you start just enjoying it too much.”

Watch out Donald, daddy’s home.

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Photo Credit: Susan Walsh AP

5 Reasons Elizabeth Warren Is Not The Answer

Elizabeth Warren finally broke.  On June 9, she became the last female Democrat in the Senate to hop aboard the Hillary Express: Destination 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  For many in the Democratic elite, the endorsement is only the tip of the iceberg.  They want Clinton to name Warren as her running mate.

Originally the talk of Warren as running mate was tossed around as a feminist, progressive dream.  Two bold, strong women working together to each make history as the nation’s first female president and vice president.  As time wore on, the idea gained traction to the point that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid had his staff review Massachusetts law with respect to the appointment of senators for vacant seats.

The argument goes something like this:  Sanders’ people hate Clinton but love Warren for her progressive prowess.  Clinton also has a huge deficit given the perception that she is in bed with Wall Street while Warren is known as a sworn enemy of all with slicked hair and pinstriped suits.  Therefore, in order to secure the vote of Bernie Bros and those wary of Wall Street, Clinton has no choice but to pick Warren.

Here is why that is a false choice.

First, Warren can be just as, if not more, effective as a surrogate not associated with the campaign.  When your name is on the yard sign, you are accountable at a much greater level than if you are a mercenary free to conduct yourself as you please. A candidate is required to stay on message and consult campaign talking points; rinse and repeat.

The Clinton camp is well known for reviewing the speeches of everyone who speaks at her rallies, so one can only imagine the level of control the running make will face.  In addition, any gaffes will reflect on the campaign as a whole and serve as a knock against the name at the top of the ticket, instead of just against the speaker.

As an unaffiliated surrogate, Warren would be free to throw her barbs whenever and however she wanted.  She could craft her own message and launch her own rapid response apparatus.  In addition, if someone else were on the ticket and Warren continued to be the pitbull she has proven to be, it would open multiple fronts against Trump rather than allowing Trump to just rebuke the campaign anytime Warren went after him.

Trump has already anointed Warren with the moniker “Goofy Elizabeth Warren” which means she has successfully opened a bed and breakfast in his head.  As the summer progresses, any time that Trump spends calling her names is time not spent attacking Hillary.  Trump will look increasingly weak the more he attacks someone who he isn’t even running against.

Second, the constitutional requirement of a VP is to step into the presidency should the president be unable to serve.  While it is tempting every four years for candidates to choose people who help them politically, Clinton needs a running mate that can govern if need be.  

Warren has great credentials in the finance world, but not anywhere else.  She came to Congress based on her chops as a financial reformer.  She has since taken committee assignments (Banking and HELP) that allow her to further that work.  Should she ever need to sit behind the Resolute desk, she would be woefully unprepared to handle the foreign policy and military aspects of the job.

Third, Warren would only further polarize Clinton’s candidacy.  Clinton is already one of the most disliked candidates in the history of presidential politics and a joint ticket with Warren would only exacerbate that problem.  Warren isn’t shy about her opinions and is widely viewed as a left wing (read: dirty “L” liberal) warrior.

In theory her presence would bring in from the cold all of Sanders’ supporters who view her as an ally in their quest for economic justice. But choosing Warren solely for the Sanders vote is incredibly shortsighted.  Every four years, supporters of the losing primary candidate say they won’t vote for the eventual nominee, but there is barely even scant anecdotal evidence that that actually happens.  There are five months until the election and during that time Democrats will get on board regardless of whether Warren is on the ticket.

Fourth, Warren’s Senate seat is more valuable to the Democratic apparatus than her presence on Clinton’s ticket.  Democrats have a chance to retake the Senate this fall and they need Warren to do that.

Yes, the president is powerful and vitally important to the direction of the country, but an agenda can’t be pushed without a friendly Congress.  The Senate already exists in a delicate balance and if Warren were to vacate her seat for the Naval Observatory, Massachusetts’ Republican Governor Charlie Baker would get to fill her seat, undoubtedly choosing a Republican.  The Democrats have a shot at flipping the Senate and that task won’t be made an easier by starting one more seat down.

Fifth, what is in it for her?  As Joe Biden is fond of saying, the vice presidency is an inherently inferior and powerless position.  

Sure, the office still carries weight, and yes, you have the ear of the president when you want it, but the veep has no true, natural power.  Warren is no Dick Cheney and Clinton is no Dubya, so the idea that Warren would be able to exert massive influence over Clinton’s economic agenda the way Cheney directed the Iraq War is nothing but fiction.

Warren has also become a very influential member of the Senate Banking Committee where as her seniority grows-and if the Democrats retake the Senate-she will be able to pass the reforms and conduct the oversight she desires.  Why pass that up to attend the funerals of B-list world leaders and sit next to Paul Ryan during Joint Sessions of Congress.

Elizabeth Warren is a fantastic representative for the Democratic Party.  She is inspiring, enthusiastic, and eloquent and will be a great asset as the party-and the nation-look to avoid an apocalyptic Trump presidency.

For all the great things Warren brings to the table, she will be much more valuable this election cycle and for years to come as a United States Senator rather than as a passenger in the side-car of Clinton’s Harley.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

 

Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

Last week a New York Times Magazine profile about a certain White House aide has set all of Washington D.C. on fire.  Was the Iran Deal a sham?  Are journalist all stupid?  People demand answers.

In case you live under a rock, this extensive profile was about Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications a.k.a. the White House’s media person for all things foreign affairs.  In the article, Rhodes makes a handful of comments that ignited the latest Washington faux scandal.  If you really did miss it, read about it here, here, and here.

While the critiques are extensive, Michael Cohen of the Boston Globe points out that “the reaction to Ben Rhodes profile is more interesting than the piece itself – a good reminder that DC is like one giant high school.”  I couldn’t agree with him more.  

The interesting aspect of the profile isn’t the surface level name calling that garnered all the attention, but rather the larger picture that is painted of the modern media and how news and narratives are spun from the White House out to the average citizen.

It is no secret that news as an institution has changed greatly over the past decade.  Print newspaper subscriptions have plummeted.  Weekly news magazines are faltering and cable news has turned into one giant, political reality show.  The ADD-like nature of the news cycle has killed journalistic skepticism that made the major networks popular in the first place.  (Brief side-note, accusing the press of failing to counter the White House spin machine is nothing new.)

What journalist found so insulting about Rhodes’ candid remarks on selling something from the White House is that he is mostly right: and the truth hurts.  The communications strategy for the Iran Deal was by no means as big of a success as the author made it out to be – Morning Consult polling showed that almost twice as many people opposed the deal as were for it prior to its signing – but it was still a lesson in how the media’s shifting priorities have allowed it to be manipulated.

Rhodes notes that many outlets no longer have even half the foreign bureaus that they used to, so instead of gathering hard news on the ground, stations and papers rely on junior staff sitting at computers in Washington picking facts off the internet.  That is hardly in-depth reporting.

He also observes that many outlets are so keen on pulling in outside “experts” and other figures that if an institution – say, the White House – can get friendly “experts” on television who don’t have White House titles, their point of view gains credibility despite not having been thoroughly vetted.

As with everything these days, the prime examples come from the advent of Trumpism.  Trump’s ideas are ludicrous, but he has friendly “experts” who get spots on cable television to defend him and lend him credibility.  By simply debating the merits of a wall along the border suddenly it seems like that could be a legitimate policy instead of a crackpot idea floated by a human yam.

Even this week – and I literally cannot believe this is a real, actual thing – the media refuses to nail down Trump for lying about impersonating his spokesman thirty years ago.  There is even a video of Trump admitting that he did this and yet still I heard Wolf Blitzer earlier today allow a Trump surrogate to say that it was “allegedly Trump” and he “isn’t sure whose voice that is.”  Because the media gives a voice to a second opinion, even a ludicrous, lying one, it is allowed to stand as legitimate in the record.

In this case, Rhodes’ only crime is acknowledging that the White House is aware of the power of being heard and used that power in order to pitch a major initiative to the public.

Continuing his streak of brutal honesty, Rhodes points out that he hardly encounters a reporter over the age of twenty-seven and that this generation of reporters can’t possibly have the life experience to understand the gravity of what they are reporting or draw in-depth judgments.  

A handful of people I know from my graduating class – also millennials – have acquired journalism jobs at major outlets.  These “kids” are publishing articles on Iran, the election, social issues, and more.  Everything they publish carries with it the weight of the organization they write for, but their life experience only comes with a memory that stretches back to the beginning of the Iraq war.

If one of them publishes a piece primarily based on State Department fact sheets and White House quotes, it will likely contain the exact bias that Rhodes was looking to spread.  It will then be cited as “the Washington Post says” and forever be part of the case.  

Having only studied journalism and political science in college and researched the subject from their desk, are these authors really qualified to be offering in depth commentary on something as important as the Iran nuclear deal?

The truth is they aren’t and if I were Ben Rhodes and I were looking to sell something I know is going to be controversial, these writers are the first people I would make sure every White House press release on the subject went to.  

Rather than take personal offense, the journalists responsible for vetting government policy should take a hard look in the mirror.  If the implication of the profile is correct and Rhodes sold a rotten deal, then these journalists should be asking themselves what questions they should have asked rather than grousing about being slighted in a shameless puff piece about a guy with a basement office in the White House.

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Photo credit: AP

 

Democrats, Leave The Champagne On Ice. For Now…

With Donald Trump locking up the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton maintaining a large delegate lead on the Democratic side, many on the left are giddily starting to plan another four  years in the White House.

On the surface it makes sense because Trump – who is about 207398x more offensive than Mitt Romney – would have to win record numbers of African Americans, Hispanics, and women that Republicans have failed to win in the last two elections in order to win in 2016.  In addition, the Democrats have a built-in electoral advantage with Colorado, Virginia, and Pennsylvania fading from purple to blue.

All that being said, with roughly 180 days until the election there is much to be worried about.  

  • First, each candidate basically starts with 40% of the vote.  A commentator on MSNBC recently pointed out that a piece of paper could earn 40% of the Republican vote just for having an (R) written on it.  
  • Second, if Trump’s boorishness becomes normalized, the shock value wears off, and people consider that vociferousness the norm, he will begin to rise slowly but surely. 
  • Lastly and most importantly, the media demands a competitive narrative and a blowout race doesn’t fit that bill.  Cable news will pitch this as a neck and neck horse race between equals and plug their ears when anyone tries to say differently.

Trump’s campaign lifted off in a way that would have seen any other campaign imploding back into the launchpad.  In his announcement speech he declared Mexican’s to be rapists and then before the primaries started called for a ban on Muslim immigration and mocked and insulted John McCain and a disabled reporter.  The media wagged a finger at him and allowed him to bulldoze his way through the controversy.  Those comments now only survive as prefaces in articles like this.  

Think about that.  In past years candidates have lost races for gaffes half that insulting.  Remember Todd Akin and “legitimate rape”?  Or Richard Mourdock and his assertion that a child born from rape is a gift from God?  In 2012 each of those comments sunk a campaign despite attempts to apologize.  Trump in turn, doubled down on his remarks. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

This past February, Trump began a habit of telling folks at his rallies to physically assault protesters.  In Burlington, Vermont he told police to withhold jackets from those kicked out so that they would freeze in the winter air.  Then, in Las Vegas, he declared that he wished he could punch a guy in the face.  At this point, Trump had made so many comments like this the media quite literally laughed it off.  

Once again, think about that.  Someone is running to be leader of the free world, yet is acting like a caricature of an African dictator and the media’s response is to make a joke and then ask in all seriousness if it helped him politically.  There are not two sides to every story, some things are just wrong.

As the summer progresses and the leaves begin to fall, prepare yourselves to no longer see anything he says treated with shock.  Don’t believe me?  In the 1960’s The Beatles “I want to hold your hand” was considered to be pushing the envelope of decency and then in 2006 a song titled “I wanna f**k you” reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard charts.  Donald Trump just did that to politics in nine months.

Part of the reason the media can’t condemn every offensive remark Trump makes is because it would create an appearance of partiality and a blowout race doesn’t make for exciting media coverage.  CNN didn’t pour $50 million into covering the election to declare Hillary Clinton the president in July.

David Roberts over at Vox wrote a very smart piece on how this will play out over the next few months.  For example, despite the overwhelming breadth of knowledge Clinton has in foreign policy, the media will recite her platform and then allow Katrina Pierson or some other Trump mouthpiece to present the opposite view uninterrupted and unchallenged.  In no way, shape, or form is comparing Trump’s “like, really smart” opinions with Clinton’s vetted, real life experience like comparing apples to apples.  It’s like comparing an apple to a rotten, fly infested banana.

These kinds of comparisons give Trump an air of legitimacy that could help him pick off Republican leaning independents and others who might otherwise be in the “Never Trump” camp.  By making him appear equal to a former Senator, Secretary of State, and First Lady, they are allowing fringe voters to make the justification that he is a suitable alternative to the Democratic candidate.  He is not.

It is a long, muddy road to the election and six months is more than enough time for everything to go to hell in a hand-basket, especially when the basket is already woven. Despite the inherent electoral and decency advantage the Democrats currently hold, the blabbering, endless fountain of meaningless noise that is cable television will undoubtedly make this contest closer than it ever should be.  

Democrats are probably okay to put the champagne on ice, but I wouldn’t pop any bottles just yet.

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Photo credit: REUTERS/JIM YOUNG

Boaty McBoatface is why super-delegates exist

Boaty McBoatface is why we have super-delegates.

The British government recently turned to the internet to name their new state of the art research ship. First off, whoever came up with this idea has clearly never seen how every Twitter Q&A goes off the rails quicker than a Maserati goes zero to sixty.  Well, as the internet is wont to do, the voters in the poll chose the name “Boaty McBoatface.”  The name didn’t just win, it blew the competition out of the water (sorry).

The results elicited this response from British Science Minister Jo Johnson:

“The new royal research ship will be sailing into the world’s iciest waters to address global challenges that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, including global warming, the melting of polar ice, and rising sea levels. That’s why we want a name that lasts longer than a social-media news cycle and reflects the serious nature of the science it will be doing.”

Does that sound remotely familiar to another scenario you’ve probably been paying attention to recently?  Having trouble?  Well then let’s revisit Minister Johnson’s statement and change a few words.

“The new president will be sailing into the world’s most difficult job to address global challenges that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, including global warming, the crisis in the Middle East, and an unstable worldwide economy. That’s why we want to elect someone who will last longer than a social-media news cycle and reflects the serious nature of the job they will be doing.”

Got it now?

As you can guess from the Minister’s quote, the British government has chosen to overrule the voters in the name of sanity.

In American politics however, there is no unique body that has the power to simply tell voters they are being stupid and make a new decision for them.  But the Democratic party has created the next best thing.  

In 1982 the Democratic party instituted super-delegates who are local, state, and national politicians, party leaders, and other influential players who are free to cast their delegate votes free of any bounds from actual voters.

The party will tell you they created these positions to give those involved in the party structure an active voice in the presidential selection process.  But we’re all adults here, let’s not lie to ourselves.  Super-delegates were created to prevent the party from nominating a candidate who is the human equivalent of Boaty McBoatface.

The supporters of Bernie Sanders have been actively complaining about the presence of super-delegates on the Democratic side as an unfair advantage given to Hillary Clinton.  And while they’re correct – Clinton has 502 super-delegates to Sanders’ 38 – a quick peek under Reince Priebus’ sweat-stained collar should remind Sanders supporters that while they may not love Clinton, no Democratic will ever have to cast their vote for Donald J. McTrumpface.

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Berning Bridges

Consider everything that was recently posted about Bernie Sanders doing Hillary Clinton a favor by not questioning her credibility rescinded.  Since that piece, Sanders has viciously gone after Clinton in every way imaginable.  

He has called her “unqualified,” blamed her for the draconian sentencing laws in the 1994 Crime Bill, accused her of favoring Wall Street over a higher minimum wage, and repeatedly called for her to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs.

Attacks that compare and contrast issues are an integral part of politics.  But Sanders most recent artillery volley has been structured in a way that is neither conducive to building broad support, nor for unifying a Democratic coalition.  He would be wise to note that his meteoric rise since last fall was a result of promoting progressive issues like the role of money in politics and the regulation of big banks, not the bashing of Secretary Clinton.

Take his recent attacks on Clinton for her position on the minimum wage.  Clinton has long supported a $12 an hour minimum wage, but has also said that if localities want to go higher, she would support them in that effort.  Her raise to $12 an hour would be a 60% increase over the current standard, which is an enormous boost to low wage workers.  

Casting aside reason, Sanders uses her hesitance to come all the way to $15 as a bludgeon to further elaborate on the point that he is the only candidate fighting for workers while Clinton is the candidate for  big money Wall Street.  Republicans don’t want the minimum wage raised at all, so the fact the Democratic party is debating between a 60% and a 105% raise is something any progressive voter ought to be thrilled about.  Instead Sanders is using this wedge to divide Democrats when jointly promoting their dedication to the working man would be far more productive.  

Beyond the minimum wage issue, Sanders continues to push for the release of Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speech transcripts.  The Huffington Post recently observed that the release of these transcripts would likely spell the end of Clinton’s candidacy.  Unfortunately, they are probably right.  

The simple fact is that a good paid speaker tailors his or her speech to the audience they are addressing, but in this political climate Clinton’s remarks would instead be painted as “proof” that she is a pawn of white collar, Wall Street thugs being sent to Washington to protect their interests at the expense of Main Street.

For proof of this spin, look no further than the disastrous response to the video of Mitt Romney’s “47%” remarks during the 2012 election.  He was speaking to a crowd a high-dollar donors who have vastly different political and economic interests than the majority of Americans. As such, he was speaking to their needs and what he would do as President for them.  Obviously, in that room he isn’t going to talk about the minimum wage or right to unionize. Regardless, the remark made for a sexy soundbite and the countless replays of the clip on national television helped cement Romney’s image as elitist and out of touch.

This is the exact danger Clinton faces if those remarks become public.  It is unlikely that she said anything outrageously damning, but the collective message will likely contain a positive tilt towards the banking industry.  Sanders has built his entire campaign around anger towards those exact people, so any additional coziness Clinton is seen as having will hurt her dearly.

This is exactly why Sanders actions are so much more damaging to Clinton than they are helpful to him.  Sanders’ rise to prominence was buoyed by his economic message and passion, not by attacks on Clinton.  Voters turned frustration with their economic position into support for a man whose fiery passion was matched only by the thickness of this accent.  

At this point in the campaign, with nearly 70% of the delegates already divided up, there is little that could change the momentum enough to give Sanders a victory, but plenty that could end up costing Clinton dearly going into the fall. Her unfavorable numbers are already much higher than the party would like to see and an additional scandal involving her relationship with Wall Street wouldn’t help.  

To make matters worse, many of Sanders supporters are not down-ballot Democratic voters, but rather are people who only “Feel the Bern.”  They are inspired to become active in politics by Sanders’ message of political revolution and increased economic parity.  If the Democratic party as a whole is going to capitalize on these new, mostly young, voters they will need them (at minimum) to not view Clinton in a negative light.  Having Sanders vilify her at rally after rally makes it that much more likely they will hit the snooze button on election day.

Recognizing his near-impossible path to the nomination, Sanders should revert his campaign back to promoting positive messages of economic equality that the Democratic Party as a whole can capitalize on and stop doing irreparable damage to his party’s  likely nominee.

Photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS