The Two Political Spectrums

2008-Jul-24

For decades we have assumed the political spectrum ranged from Liberal to Conservative, and assumed that all political groupings from the Klan to the Commies could be squeezed into that spectrum.

Well, we are about to discover that the importance of the Liberal/Conservative spectrum is becoming secondary to the far more primordial spectrum, that of the Haves vs Have-Nots. Yes, we will still have elections decided on the issue of whether gay guys should be able to have abortions on demand, but when people have to decide whether their kids will get food or medicine this week, at least some of them will get the picture that they must (at least temporarily) set aside their differences and concentrate on physical survival.

We used to have a middle class in this country. But no one will die middle class any longer. In a generation, all middle class jobs will be done by cheap imported or offshored labor for a fraction of their current wages, and anyone who manages to last until retirement will find anything they saved will be eaten up inflated food or energy or transportration costs, by medical costs not reimbursed by their medical plan, or they will have to sign over all their assets to some nursing home.

No need to worry about the “death tax” because only the super-rich will have anything left but debts when they die.

I’m seeing small groups of people starting to get together, getting past old differences, and cooperating on getting ready to survive the coming hard times. I’m seeing networks where leftie Pagans are getting with right-wing Fundie Christians on common issues.

The coming wars (acknowledged or not) will be between the top one tenth of one percent who will own everything and the rest of us who will own nothing…not even ourselves.

If those of us who are prey can get together soon enough to defend ourselves from the predators, we have a chance to make a society with a substantial middle class again and lessen the growing inequality. But so far it’s just a chance…

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Pennsylvania Primary

2008-Apr-22

I am amazed at the amount of bullshit the mass media are hoping we will swallow, much of it based on claiming that if Obama has problems winning the “big states” in the primaries, then he will have trouble winning them in November. Maybe they can’t do the simple math of comparing the number of Democratic primary votes cast to the number of Republican votes cast. And asking if the number of Democrats in these states who will be so bitterly disappointed that their candidate lost is close to the number of Republicans who have grown to hate the president they voted for and have no love for his replacement.

But no one in the mass media is looking at what should be obvious: Political campaigns are won on the ground.

Even in hot races, many voters have little clue about the issues. They vote on name recognition, and even more importantly on whether they think a candidate cares for them personally. Which is why candidates try to meet as many voters as possible in person, or alternatively through canvassers, or through the media…but the media is not as important as meeting person to person. This will be a campaign based, not on Clinton’s or Obama’s issues (which are damn near identical despite all claims to the contrary), but on their ground game, their ability to Get Out The Vote.

And it is an excellent chance to compare the DLC corporate Dem “swing-state” strategy of Rahm Emanuel versus the “50 state strategy” of Howard Dean. The “swing-state strategy” concentrates all time and effort on winning big “swing states” with a lot of electoral votes, where the winner take all votes in the Electoral College will win the presidency for the Dems. That contrasts with Howard Dean’s “50 state strategy” which tries to build up a Democratic base in every state to contest every election.

The “swing state strategy” is economical and efficient in using resources to win a presidential election, at the risk of ignoring the needs of the Democratic Party everywhere but those few swing states. The “50 state strategy” is a long term movement to build a Democratic majority that can last for decades, but at the risk of losing elections short term that might have been won with a bit more concentrated funding.

Hillary Clinton has been using the corporate Dem “swing state strategy”, concentrating on the big states. Obama has been using the “50 state strategy” and winning more delegates because he has won many small states. Problem is the “swing state strategy” assumes “winner take all” but in the primaries her swing states give proportional representation, so a small win in a big swing state may not give an advantage in delegates. So the Obama/Dean strategy seems like a winner in the primaries.

Hillary’s side is bitterly complaining (whining?) about being “outspent three to one” by Obama. This ignores the advantages she holds in the big swing states by virtue of her strategy (and totally ignoring all the blather about “identity politics”: male/female, white/black, and such). Her strategy concentrates all her energy in those big states such as Pennsylvania, where she has built up a huge organization, and so ought to win handily (and certainly started with huge leads). She also has the name recognition advantages of two terms of the Presidency, which is worth billions of dollars in free advertising. She also has the advantage of many years of machine politics, her contacts with machine Dems and unions, which are permanent sources of funding and volunteer labor.

But Obama has no such links to the Democratic machine. He is a complete newcomer. What he has, in addition to personal charisma, is the Dean Machine, the legions of young, mostly progressive, activists, who have been working ever since Dean’s candidacy to establish their own network, frequently outside the official Democratic machine. They have learned a lot about canvassing and phonebanking, and raising money, and building a political movement through the internet. When Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards gave up, many of the Deaniacs (and Kucitizens) migrated to Obama because they see Hillary as irretrievably wedded to the corporate DLC Dem machine.

The Pennsylvania primary today will give us a good chance to see how the orthodox Democratic machine and the progressive Dean machine fare when matched up against each other.


Dumpster Diving

2006-Nov-10

I wonder what you might find if you were to raid the dumpsters outside all the abandoned campaign headquarters of all the campaigns the day after the election… Do you think the minimally-paid staff spent the next several days shredding everything that might be valuable to an opposition researcher?


Canvassing, Phonebanking, Spam, Oh My!

2006-Nov-09

My daughter works for the Democratic Party back east, and when elections come around she spends a huge amount of time volunteering. For Democrats, volunteering almost inevitably means canvassing and phonebanking. During the last election they lost an election they expected to win, and when they went back and asked the voters why they voted against our candidate, the voters said they had rebelled against getting so many phone calls and literature drops.

And I got some 20 calls in one day. And in the campaign I was working on, we had several people tell us, “Ok, I’ll contribute, but only if you promise to stop calling.”

The double whammy is that we are inundated with advertisements and phone calls, but we see much of it as just inwanted spam rather than valuable information.

“When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer,
every problem looks like a nail.”

Problem is, campaigns just don’t know any better, spamming us is all they’ve been taught. They are doing what the campaign before them did, and by the time they got to work, everything was already in crisis mode, so they didn’t have time to try out new ideas. And if they received any training, such as Camp Carnahan, they were taught by those whose day job is to sell canvassing and phonebanking and similar forms of spam to the campaigns.

And much of it is just that: spam. The voters want hard information so they can distinguish what makes the candidates differ from each other so they can make in informed choice. And the campaigns all too often want to win just by name recognition or by emotion, so they send out tons of literature with family pictures, but too little about issues. And in this last campaign, many campaigns didn’t even want the voters to know which party the candidates belonged to. In the campaign I was with, our side sent out a flyer noting that our opponent never stated anywhere that he was a Republican (yet we weren’t much better…). (Same with Jim Talent…guess nobody wanted to say they were Republican this election…)

And if you check out all those organizations which ask candidates where they stand on the issues, the candidates very seldom respond.

So the vicious circle continues. Every election, the candidates spend more and more money to spam us with more and more non-information that tells us less and less about them.

Maybe if we start getting more involved with the campaigns, we can push from the inside to get them to give out more information rather than just more spam, and perhaps find ways to give people the information they want and need in ways they want to receive it.

Ideas?


Time for work

2006-Nov-08

It’s November 8, the day after. We won a lot of races. My candidate (the one I never identified so my occasionally radical and scandalous views would not be attributed to her) won by 54% to 46%, so I fulfilled my pledge to spend my unemployment working for someone whose Progressive credentials were unimpeachable.

And come election day, because so many of us chose to spend this year working for the greater good, we have fewer lesser evils to vote for than if we had just sat on our butts complaining.

But some very good Progressives lost. We still need them to be there for us as winners. We need to make them winners. The way to do that is not by waiting until a few months before a general election, but by starting to work for our folks right now.

One of the problems I found in the campaign I was working for (and I suspect for most of the rest) was that creating well-designed and implemented systems to make a campaign run smoothly cannot be done in the heat of the campaign, but absolutely must be done months (maybe years) before, while everyone can think calmly about what they need, and make good decisions.

So we need to start now to get ready for next time.

If you have been issues-oriented before, but haven’t connected with the party, start getting acquainted with your local township committee organization and see what they are up to, and how you can help. A few Progressives could have a provound effect on the small organizations that are typically starved for help. Howard Dean’s 50 State Strategy (running a candidate for all major races and never let the other side get off easy) is likely the reason why we now have a majority in the House of Representatives. So connect up with Corey Dillon and Corey Platt, our permanent staffers for the Missouri Dems, and see what they will need for next time, and be ready to get started now while we have the leisure to brainstorm new ideas, now techniques, new technologies with enough time to fix mastakes before we are in campaign crisis mode.

So start now.


Muddled Middle: Endangered Species

2006-Sep-29

I’ve already criticized the foolish Democratic strategy of ignoring our base and concentrating on winning the “Muddle-of-the-Road Terminally Undecideds”. A bit more ammunition from over on MyDD (always a wealth of political insight):

… the Bush pollster discovered that the traditional swing voter was fast becoming an endangered species as only 7 percent of the electorate in 2004 had voted independently of party loyalties. …. “Rove instantly recognized the significance of the numbers. ‘Really,’ he said, grabbing the sheet from Dowd’s hands, his voice rising with excitement. ‘Man, this is a fundamental change.'”

So the Republicans have been winning and winning by energizing their base and getting them out to vote, and the Democrats have been consistently losing by running away from their base and running to that vanishing middle. Kerry tried it against Bush (saying he’d do the same things as Bush in Iraq, but somehow it would all work better if a Democrat did it) … and he lost. Jeanne Carnahan tried it against Jim Talent (I still remember her debate with Talent in Columbia where Jeanne said, “But I voted with the President [Bush] 83% of the time!” and Jim responded, “But that’s not good enough”) … and Jeanne lost. And Claire McCaskill lost to Blunt. In fact, running to the middle has never been a winning strategy for Democrats. The only example they try to point to–Bill Clinton–where running to the middle supposedly won is spoiled by the fact that Ross Perot gave the presidency to Clinton by taking 20% of the vote, and taking more from the Republicans than from the Democrats (all protestations from James Carville to the contrary).

The way to win is to run to your base–your core constituency groups, and try to break up the alliance of core constituency groups of the other side … and let the Muddled Middle work themselves out. Losing the votes of the middle 7% is insignificant compared to seeing 20% of your base get sick and tired of being ignored and deciding to sit this one out.

Until Howard Dean came around, the main Democratic strategy was to tell the Unions, Blacks, and Progressives, “You have to come out and work for us. Sure, we’ve done nothing for you, we’ve taken corporate cash and worked for the interests of the corporations and the rich just like the Republicans do. But we’re not as bad as they are, so you have to choose the lesser evil.”

Well, not only has it been a morally corrupt strategy, it has been a loser of a strategy. How many more Democrats have to lose before they stop using it?


School Vouchers

2006-Jun-13

Over at the Urban Review blog, Steve Patterson has decided that maybe Liberals ought to support school vouchers:

… school choice has existed for decades, those with more money simply move to get better schools (or at least what they perceive as better schools). The reverse is true, people don’t move into areas where the schools are bad. A school voucher system in St. Louis … would allow someone to live in the city with less concern about the state of the public school system.

Presumably if people could live in the city but avoid the public schools, then more people would live in the city and there would be more tax dollars for public schools which them might…might…get better.

Well, I think vouchers are what they always were, a means for the almost-rich to get another leg up on all those below them on the ladder of success, a leg up paid for by those who are poorer than they are. So let’s look at a few numbers…

Folks are eager to talk about vouchers, but seldom do they actually spell out the specifics, especially not in print where someone can check them out. But I keep hearing that people would get $2,000 or $2,500 per year per child (and sometimes they go as high as $5,000). So just what will that do for all those disadvantaged families who will now have a chance to get as good an education as their suburbanite brethren?

Tamika is a single mom in north St. Louis with two kids, one in jr high and one in high school. She gets twice minimum wage and after taxes and deductions gets about $10,000 take home a year. She pays $300 a month for an apartment, $300 a month for food, and $200 a month for utilities and clothes and everything else, and nothing for entertainment. That’s $9,600 a year, and she’s got $400 a year to pay for private school for her two kids.

Tiffany is married and living in Chesterfield with two kids, one in jr high and one in high school. They both work and have a combined income of $130,000 a year, and around $100,000 take home. They pay $20,000 a year on their mortgage (after getting to deduct all that interest) and $50,000 a year for food and utilities (and they get to spend money on entertainment). That leaves them $20,000 a year for private school tuition.

So what would that private school tuition be? Well, I took a look at St. Louis Parent Magazing (available for free every month at your local grocery store). In the last few months they have been concentrating on summer camp, but last October they listed local private schools and their tuition rates. I’m going to use the maximum rate because the lowest rates are usually for two or three days a week for pre-kindergarden, which would give a wealthy suburbanite mom a wonderful break from the kids, but wouldn’t do much for a working mother who needs someone to take care of her kids every day while she’s at work.

Academy of the Sacred Heart $6,250
Andrews Academy $10,998
Central Christian $5,227
Chesterfield Day School $13,309
Chesterfield Montessori $9,100
The College School $11,435
Community School $12,640
Forsythe School $12,595
Rohan Woods School $11,850
Rosman School $13,400
School District of Clayton $12,450
St. Michael School $9,975
Gateway Academy $6,525
Visitation Academy $12,600
John Burroughs School $17,000
Thomas Jefferson School $17,800

Hmm, Tamika is screwed, no matter what. No way she can take advantage of any voucher that doesn’t cover pretty much the full cost of tuition, school supplies, lunch, and transportation to get there and back.

But Tiffany is gloriously happy. The greater the voucher, the better the school she can send her kids to.

And no matter how intelligent Tamika’s kids may be, they will be stuck in the public school, which will get less and less money and provide a worse and worse education as funding is all taken away by the middle and upper classes to send their kids off to private school.

I wonder if that’s how it was all designed?