Words, Not Just Tone, Matter

In the “heated argument” between Kellyanne Conway and Jennifer Palmieri at Harvard last week, the press attention focused on the seemingly angry tones between these two. The audio reflects that tone, both speakers (and others) talking over the others in incomplete sentences, neither side making a coherent argument. What should have been an instructive and reflective examination of the past presidential campaign devolved into a shouted barrage of “Oh yeah?”, “Did not!” and “Did too!”

But for all the shouting and hostility, we should not forget the words — yes, there were words spoken and statements made and claims denied, and these should not be ignored. These words matter, because the claims they make matter and the denial of these claims matter.

So — what set off this heated argument?

Palmieri expressed her pride that Clinton stood up against the “white supremacists, white nationalists” who were attaching themselves to Trump’s campaign as a way to get their message out.

“One of my proudest moments with [Hillary Clinton] is her standing up with courage and with clarity in Steve Bannon’s own words and Donald Trump’s own words the platform that they gave to white supremacists, white nationalists. And it is a very, very important moment in our history as a country and I think as his presidency goes forward I am going to be very glad to be part of the campaign that tried to stop this,” Palmieri said.

The claim, then, is that the Trump campaign gave “a platform” to these groups.

The counter-claim is that the Trump campaign had “a decent message for the white working class voters” and that Clinton “doesn’t connect with people, […] they have nothing in common with her [and] you had no economic message.”

The counter-claim is not, as it turns out, a denial. Conway doesn’t say “no, we did not give white supremacists a platform, we kicked them out whenever they latched on to us.” Conway doesn’t quote any statement by Trump or anyone else in the campaign, telling David Duke, the KKK, Breitbart, the Spencers’ or other known white nationalists to go away. Indeed, when those statements did come, they were only after the election was over and Trump had been declared “president-elect.”

So we have a claim, an accusation if you will, which — given the opportunity — the accused does not deny.

Words shouldn’t be lost in the heat of the exchange. Words aren’t as entertaining as a shouting match, true, but they are instructive.

Words — and the absence of words to the contrary — matter.

Follow The Leader

In our party-driven political system, there are two ways for a party and its “leader” (i.e., presidential nominee) to work together — the people can follow the leader, or the leader can follow the people.

In the 2016 presidential election, the two major parties are following opposite models.

Clearly, the Republican party — both its elected “leaders”, like Speaker Ryan, and its voting members — are lining up behind the nominee, Trump. In this follow-the-leader model, they overlook any faults or failings he may show and happily ‘endorse’ his analysis of problems, his prescriptions for the future and his attitude toward others.

Less clearly, the Democratic party is working the opposite model. The influence of candidate Sanders, Senator Warren, and especially the party’s voting members made its way into both the party platform and the positions of the party’s nominee, Clinton. In this follow-the-people model, Clinton’s positions have moved from the center-right to at least a center-left position, adopting (or “co-opting”?) positions that Sanders held when this campaign started.

The question for voters — for you — is this: which model are you more comfortable with?

Are you comfortable with the follow-the-leader model? This means that you watch the leader to see what he says or does, and let that tell you what to think and say and do. Are you a follower?

Or would you be more comfortable with a follow-the-people model? This means that you make your own assessment of what direction we should go in and the president pushes the government to make it happen. Are you a leader?

Thus far, of the two major party nominees, one side is following the leader and the other is following the people. That should make the choice simpler in November, shouldn’t it?

It’s Election Month! Vote Now!

I started to vote today. I should be done later this week.
I don’t have to stand in a line out in the rain or sun or snow.
I don’t have to show my photo ID.
I don’t have to hide behind a curtain.
I don’t have to use a secret card or a machine.
I don’t have to run a gauntlet of electioneers handing out stickers and pamphlets, or trip over signs stuck in the grass.
I don’t have to bring a “cheat sheet” so I would remember who to vote for.
I started to vote today. It will take a week, I’m guessing, to finish. A little bit each day, over lunch, after dinner, bit by bit. It’s a long ballot (though shorter than most), so I’ll just take my time..

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Indictment, Misdirection and Political Benefits

What is Texas Governor Rick Perry indicted for?
Got it wrong, didn’t you? You thought he was indicted for vetoing part of a bill. Of course, you thought that — not only is that what Perry says (to thunderous applause from his supporters), but that’s what the media says.
So let’s start with the indictment. That sounds obvious, but nobody seems to have actually read the two-page (yes, only 2 pages!) document. Here’s what Perry is indicted for:

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Republican, not Democratic

Michigan strengthens the Emergency Financial Manager law, giving the EFM authority to dissolve local elected officials, both school boards and city councils and mayors. These expanded powers are specifically requested by the Governor and approved by both houses of the legislature.

Michigan legislature meets behind closed doors to draw up a redistricting map, then schedules it for passage within a two-week schedule. This leaves no time for any modifications or corrections that may come from public review and hearings. They include a special provision in the legislation that prevents the bill from being overturned by popular referendum.

Michigan’s governor presses the legislature to pass its budget as quickly as possible. Wisconsin’s governor invokes special emergency legislation to deal with its budget. Time is of the essence, so there is little time for careful consideration of the impact or for review and input from those who are affected.

A presidential election is "too close to call". The losing candidate demands that the votes be counted. The winning candidate objects to actually counting the ballots, stages "riots" that threaten the vote counters, and appeals to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court orders the counting to stop, allowing the winner to be declared by the local authority, a member of the winning candidate’s election team. The Supreme Court also declares that its decision must not be referenced as a precedent in any subsequent case.

Bills are under consideration to solve the problem of voter fraud by requiring special forms of identification at the voting booth. Government-issued identification, such as driver’s licenses and concealed weapons permits, are required, although government-issued college identification is not permitted.

New legislation is routinely introduced with a provision that prohibits judicial review of the legislation.

There’s a common thread running through these stories, which reach over a 10-year period. That common thread is opposition to the core tenet of democracy — giving a voice to the people who are being governed.

Democracy is a terrible way to run a government. It’s slow. It’s unruly. It forces people to compromise with opponents, and to explain and defend decisions.

That’s no way to run a business. In these modern times, a modern corporation must be agile, fleet of foot, able to react quickly to threats and opportunities. A modern corporation doesn’t put its decisions before all of the employees for their approval. Nor does it try to satisfy the needs of every employee. The modern corporation acts, and acts quickly. The modern CEO must be able to decide what must be done, and then make it happen.

Good for business. Not good for government. Not democracy.

We are in a new era of government, one in which democracy must — if necessary — take a back seat to solving the crisis we face. In this era, we must trust that the people we’ve elected are clear-eyed and well-intentioned, that they have a full command and understanding of the situtation and that they will make decisions that are good for us.

That’s not democratic. And it’s not Democratic. But it is certainly the new Republican.

The Republican party in Congress is marked by the ability to march in lock-step to a single point of view. Republican members of the Senate have become famous for their ability to stop legislative action while being a minority party. Republican members of the House turn to their leadership to learn how they must vote. These members are coordinated from the top of the party, and vote as directed, irrespective of their personal views and opinions.

The Democratic party is marked by the inability to enforce this kind of rigid discipline. By contrast, the Democratic members are always bickering among themselves, and the party leaders struggle to gather sufficient votes to move the leadership’s programs forward.

Democracy is messy. It’s unruly. It lacks discipline.

It’s the worst form of government, as Churchill said, except for all the others.

Of course, you don’t end democracy by having a vote. A vote would be democratic. You end democracy by simply ending it. By replacing it with something else.

Perhaps democracy has outlived its usefulness. Perhaps we are in a continuing state of crisis where democracy is the problem and not the solution. Perhaps we need to consider some other form of government — government by the enlightened experts, for example.

The Republicans are doing their best to let us see what that is like.


Democracy in New York’s 9th Congressional District

It has been 10 days now in which the leading political story is the story of Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York. 10 days of titillation, 10 days of feigned shock and outrage, 10 days of lies and apologies, 10 days of righteous indignation and hypocrisy, 10 days of political pontification and prediction.

The primary theme has been that Weiner should — many say, must — resign his position.

The call for his resignation has come from the other political party, but that is to be expected. It has come from TV pundits and talk show hosts — that, too, is expected. It has come from his own political party leaders and some members and from the President — that is unusual, but understandable, as they all do the political win-lose calculations for the next election.

The call for his resignation has not, however, come from the people who hired him — from his constituents. Weiner has been elected 7 times to the Congress by his district; in 2010, he received 59% of the votes to win. Polls taken among the voters in his district have produced a lot of ambiguity. People are offended by his actions, but they are also pleased with his actual job performance.

The relevant question here is whether the constituents have — or deserve — a choice in the matter of who their representative is. Should democracy prevail in this case? Or should this choice be overruled by the voices echoing outside of the 9th Congressional District of New York?

It is stunning to note that virtually no commentator — whether politician or pundit  — has started the conversation with this simple truth: "The people of the 9th District are the only ones who can decide this question."

In almost all cases, the authority of the voters is not mentioned at all. Instead, pronouncements of outrage from various leaders are given the status of authority. But the voters — that core element of a democracy — are left in the wings, without a microphone or even access to the stage. The case is treated as one best left to the professionals.

What is the message we send to these voters when we demand that their Congressman resign? The message is clear: "You voters are not smart enough to decide for yourselves. We will decide for you. Or your Congressman will decide that, despite your support, he should not follow your decision in the last election. You voters won’t have a voice because you don’t know what is best for you."

Democracy is a messy business. Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Democracy depends on people, who are as likely to be ignorant and prejudiced as they are to be well-informed and clear-thinking.

Are there cases where the people should not be permitted to decide on their own governance? Is this such a case? What governing principle is this based on?

In good government, democracy is always presumed to be the first and best option. In good government, the only outcry should come from voters inside the 9th District. In good government, all external forces should surrender their opinions to these voters, and advise the voters on whether their decision of November 2010 should be reconsidered or not.

This lynch mob attitude toward Congressman Weiner is not democracy.