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“This Land Is Your Land”: A More Honest Look At What Patriotism Really Means

As we head into this July 4th weekend, I’m thinking about the fact that a lot of liberals struggle with the whole idea of patriotism. That’s because the word has often been associated with the air-brushed view of this country that omits the struggles and focuses mostly on symbolism. President Obama’s speech at the 50th anniversary of the Selma march gave us a more honest look at what patriotism really means.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place? What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents: “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

In honoring a true patriot, that is exactly how Bruce Springsteen described Pete Seeger at his 90th birthday celebration. Bruce used the occasion to recount the time he and Pete sang together at Obama’s first inauguration – when he took the opportunity to tell an overjoyed Seeger, “You outlasted the bastards, man.”

Bruce’s description of Pete tells us what a true patriotic hero looks like:

Despite Pete’s somewhat benign grandfatherly appearance, he’s a creature of stubborn, defiant and nasty optimism. Inside him he carries a steely toughness that belies that grandfatherly facade and it won’t let him take a step back from the things he believes in. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger to the heart of our country’s illusions about itself…He reminds us of our immense failures as well as shinning a light towards our better angels on the horizon where the country we’ve imagined and hold dear we hope awaits us.

So as you enjoy your holiday weekend, take a few minutes to enjoy this patriotic song (all 4 verses).


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 1, 2016

July 3, 2016 Posted by | 4th of July, American Values, Patriotism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Toxic Social And Cultural Stew”: Get Ready For A Long, Very Ugly Election Won On The Ground

Yesterday I wrote that the politically obsessed should not pay attention to general election polls right now, because the GOP primary is over while the Democratic one continues. That in turn has given presumptive nominee Trump a consolidating boost, while Sanders supporters still resist supporting Clinton. That phenomenon will dissipate within the month, and Clinton will get her own boost once the last votes are cast.

Still, the latest poll showing Trump leading Clinton by 2 points is instructive not for its toplines, but for the very high negative public perceptions of both candidates. While the topline numbers should change over the next few months in Clinton’s favor, the candidates’ negatives are unlikely to. Compounding this reality is that the public has lower-than-ever perceptions of the news media, which means we’re ripe for a toxic social and cultural stew as we approach the election.

What does this mean going forward? Mostly that the election will be driven in part by core supporters who do like their respective candidates on both sides, but mostly by fear of the other side. Conservative voters who don’t like Trump will have to make a choice whether to trudge to the polls to vote against Clinton, and liberal voters who don’t like Clinton will have to do likewise against Trump. Undecided voters who don’t like either choice will have to decide whether to vote at all.

Pure partisans won’t have any trouble showing up, because that’s what we do. But general elections aren’t won by pure partisans who vote in every election. Nor are they usually won by persuading the very small slice of people who can’t seem to make up their minds between two very different candidates all the way into October.

General elections are won by turning out the people who already agree with you ideologically, but only show up to vote every other election when they really feel inspired to but otherwise feel that politics is a waste of time that doesn’t change anything dramatically affecting their daily lives.

In that sense, the way both sides will try to win is not to convince the disaffected that their candidate will affect dramatic positive changes (though Trump may have some disaffected voters with whom he can make that argument; Clinton’s chance of persuading her own version of the same is somewhat less due to her intentionally incrementalist message), but to scare them into believing that the other candidate will make dramatic negative changes.

In other words, Trump will try to convince apathetic conservatives that Clinton will turn America into a gun-free Venezuelan socialist despotism, while Clinton will try to convince apathetic liberals that Trump will turn America into an unstable, trigger-happy fascist dictatorship. Clinton will use Trump’s lascivious past against him, even as Trump brings up decades of unsavory personal Clinton associations. It’s going to a very nasty affair. The one big advantage Democrats will have is a probable surge in the Latino vote out of genuine self-preservation.

In the meantime, the election will actually be won not in the air, but on the ground. The ugliness on the air will depress turnout even further, which will require campaign organizers to depend on millions of face-to-face conversations with voters on the fence about whether to vote at all.

All of which is to say this: as we approach the general election, those who want to help their candidate win in November should probably spend a lot less time arguing with other people in online forums or obsessing over television ads, and a lot more time making calls and knocking on doors. That’s where this very ugly game is going to be won and lost.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 23, 2016

May 24, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“I Can Feel Your Excitement Already”: Sorry, Liberals. Elizabeth Warren Isn’t Going To Be Hillary Clinton’s Running Mate

As speculation on whom the presidential nominees will select as their running mates gets louder, almost inevitably eyes are turning to Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden apparently wanted her to be his vice presidential candidate if he ran for president this year. She’s gleefully turning herself into a thorn in Donald Trump’s side. And as Sam Stein and Ryan Grim report, people within Hillary Clinton’s campaign are pushing her to select Warren as her running mate.

My dear liberal friends, I can feel your excitement already. But while Warren will be a great anti-Trump surrogate for Clinton — maybe the best Clinton will have — she’s not going to be on the ticket. Sorry to deliver the bad news.

There are a few reasons for this. The first is that Clinton and Warren aren’t close or even particularly friendly, and personal rapport is a key part of an effective working relationship between the president and vice president, as Clinton surely understands. Warren would come to the office with her own agenda on economic affairs — an agenda more aggressively liberal than Clinton’s, particularly when it comes to how the government should deal with Wall Street. Warren would also bring her own constituency, which could make her an unwanted headache for Clinton, who like all presidents would want a vice president who has no goal other than advancing the president’s goals.

Second, picking Warren would make for a historic all-female ticket, and that could be a risk. To be clear, it’s ludicrous that there should be something troubling to anyone about having two women running together. After all, we’ve had over a hundred all-male tickets in our history, and only two with one man and one woman. But there could well be some number of voters — how many is difficult to tell — who would vote for Clinton with a male running mate, but would find Clinton with a female running mate just too much to handle. It’s sexist, but Clinton is going to need the votes of people who have some sexism somewhere in their hearts, just like Barack Obama needed the votes of people with some racism somewhere in their hearts.

And Hillary Clinton is nothing if not a risk-averse politician. She’s been blessed with Donald Trump as an opponent, and she isn’t going to take any big chances between now and November that might complicate things.

Third, and probably most important, right now the governor of Massachusetts is a Republican, Charlie Baker. That means that if Warren stepped down to become vice president, Baker would appoint a temporary successor for her Senate seat. In other years this might have been a relatively minor consideration, but in 2016 it’s absolutely central to the fate of Clinton’s presidency.

Right now Republicans have a 54-46 advantage in the Senate, but they’re defending many more seats up for reelection. Seats in Democratic-leaning states like Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire may well turn to the Democrats, but it’s likely to be very close. It’s entirely possible that we could have a Senate that’s 51-49 for the Democrats, or even 50-50. One vote could make the difference between Clinton getting her nominees confirmed and having some chance at legislation passing (depending on what happens with the filibuster and the House), or finding herself utterly paralyzed by Congress. Giving up a seat for the sake of a compelling running mate is an enormous risk, one Clinton would be foolish to take. Which, by the way, also rules out a number of other potential vice presidential candidates, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

And though Warren won’t rule out accepting a spot on the ticket if it’s offered, there are good reasons why she would view the vice presidency as a step down. It won’t be a springboard to a presidential campaign, since Warren turns 67 next month, and if Clinton were to win and then run for reelection in 2020, the next chance Warren would have would be in 2024, when she’ll be 75 and probably too old for a bid. Warren has built her career on policy entrepreneurship (the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was her idea, and she has advocated for initiatives like postal banking), but as vice president she’d have to just sell whatever President Clinton wanted to do. If she stays in the Senate, she can keep using her office as a platform to advocate on the issues that are important to her, and she can probably keep her seat for the rest of her life if she wants to.

The good news for Warren’s fans is that it looks like she’ll still have an important role to play in the general election. She has turned her Twitter feed into an unceasing string of criticisms of Donald Trump, and not too surprisingly, it has gotten under his skin (Trump obviously finds it deeply unsettling when a woman stands up to him). He has countered by dubbing her “Goofy Elizabeth Warren,” which is not exactly the most stinging moniker he has come up with.

Warren’s popularity on the left means she could play a key role in convincing Bernie Sanders’ supporters to get behind Clinton, and the plainspoken charisma that made her a star in the first place will also make her a sought-after surrogate for Clinton in the media. All of which means that once the election is over, she’ll return to the Senate in an even stronger position than she was in before. Don’t be surprised if Warren — to an even greater degree than Sanders — becomes the clear leader of the party’s liberal base as it grapples with a Democratic president with centrist impulses. That could make her even more important than if she had been vice president.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 13, 2016

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Do Some People Respond To Trump? It’s Biology 101”: Conservatives Respond To Fear-Inducing Stimuli

As humans, we are first and foremost programmed to survive. Millions of years of evolution through natural selection have sculpted instincts and intellect aimed at staying alive. Fast, sudden movements instantly capture our attention, and unexpected noises cause us to jump back reflexively. It only takes common sense to see that survival requires a certain degree of sensitivity to threat. A desire to feel safe is part of our hardwiring, and as such, we tend to want people and rules in our lives that are going to help protect us from harm.

For some people, Donald Trump and his policies are seen as that protection. Afraid of the radical Islamic terrorists who are out there plotting attacks? Don’t worry—Donald Trump is going to ban every single Muslim from entering the country. Do you fear the Mexican immigrants coming across the border that you heard were “drug dealers, murderers, and rapists”? Fear not, President Trump is going to build a wall to keep out all the bad guys.

It is clear that those politicians who are best able to exploit our most basic biological traits, like our instinct to survive, are going to occupy a timeless niche in the political environment. The effectiveness of fear mongering in politics is no real secret to anyone anymore. But there were many GOP candidates who were great fear mongers, like Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, whose success flailed in comparison to Trump’s. That is because fear mongering alone isn’t enough.

After you succeed in making them afraid, you must also convince them that everything will be A-OK if they have you on their side. First you create the need for a hero, and then you pretend you are that hero. Donald Trump is the candidate who is offering the most extreme measures for protection. He’s strong and the other candidates are weak or “low energy.” It is only he who can save the day.

So an obvious question is, why does Trump’s tactic work on some people but not others? Don’t we all want to feel safe? Why is it that liberals and progressives feel like Trump is the actual danger and not the protector? Neuroscience and psychology research supports one clear explanation: Conservatives are hypersensitive to threat compared to liberals, and thus respond more fearfully.

For example, a 2008 study published in the journal Science found that conservatives have a heightened physiological response to threatening stimuli. Researchers tested this by showing participants threatening images—like spiders on faces or car crashes—while they measured skin electrical conductance, and presented loud bursts of white noise while they measured the strength of their eye blinks. The data showed that those who held conservative values startled more easily and had increased electrical skin conductance, which indicates a heightened state of arousal. Those with liberal views did not seem to be affected by the stimuli.

Additionally, an MRI study published in Current Biology in 2011 found that self-described conservatives had larger amygdalas than those who identified as liberals. The amygdala is the region of the brain that is involved in threat processing. Generally speaking, as the strength of the electrical response of the amygdala increases, so does the sense of fear we feel in response to a stimulus. As a result, stimuli that might seem neutral to most people, like Muslims or Mexicans, might appear threatening to conservatives.

Trump is popular amongst the right because he can tap into irrational fears and amplify them. Then, when threat seems imminent, he offers the most drastic solutions. And when danger is on the doorstep, there’s not much time for rational thinking.

One might be inclined to point out that not all Trump supporters appear to be fearful. In fact, at Trump rallies many of the attendees are angry and aggressive toward anti-Trump protesters. But hostility is a natural response when one feels threatened, and the anger that fuels their behavior stems from deep-rooted anxieties.

It is also important to remember that we aren’t just programmed to survive. We are also hardwired to flourish. It is in our nature to vigorously compete for success. In essence, we are constantly trying to win. It’s part of the mentality that drove so many civilizations to conquer others.

As such, we shouldn’t expect all Trump supporters to be fearful or irrational people. Some are just Americans who acknowledge that all of the countries in the world are contenders in one big game of power, and that most of them are not going to play by the book. Are nations like North Korea, Iran, and Russia always going to follow the rules and act according to what is fair? Absolutely not, and to some it would seem unwise and even flat out foolish for us to do so when everything is at stake.

Trump told a journalist what he’s constantly telling the world: “I always win. Knock on wood. I win. It’s what I do. I beat people. I win.” For many, Trump is a president who is going to do everything in his power to ensure that we get ahead as a nation. He will be tough. He will wheel and deal. And he will definitely play dirty when the situation calls for it. Whatever shady dealings Trump does, he is doing it for us, and we should be thankful to be on the winning team.

The rise of Trump has defied almost all logic. But he isn’t appealing to logic. He is appealing to our most basic survival instincts. Those include fear and the natural tendency to thrive and conquer. This presidential election will be an important test for our nation. We will see if we are evolved enough for our logic to overcome our instincts.


By: Bobby Azarian, The Daily Beast, May 6, 2016

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Fearmongering | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sorry, Teabaggers”: America Really Loves These Liberal Policies

I keep hearing Joe Scarborough go off on how the great unwritten story of this election season is how far left the Democratic Party has moved—a drum he’s been beating for months now. The idea, I suppose, is that this will be the Democratic Achilles’ heel this fall; that the whole topic is one huge Drudge siren that no one has bothered to look or listen for because everyone is so fixated on the Republican chaos.

Nonsense. To the extent that the Democratic Party has moved left, it’s mostly as a consequence of following, not leading, public opinion. So if the Democratic Party is left wing, then the American people are too.

Let’s start with some of Bernie Sanders’s positions. Sanders is in all likelihood not going to be the nominee, but a reasonably high percentage of rank-and-file Democrats support him (although not that high—remember that much of his support is from independents). So what are the main things he’s saying?

1.That the system is rigged in favor of the 1 percent. That’s not left wing, that’s just a statement of the obvious. Everyone agrees with that; not least the 1 percent themselves, who are investing billions of dollars in this election in the hope that things stay that way. Anyway, for those who need such things, here’s a poll result from this month. Is the system rigged? Saying yes, 85 percent. Saying no, 4 percent. Supporting the GOP position that the 1 percent needs more tax breaks so they can trickle it down to the rest of us? Well, they didn’t even ask that one.

2. That Citizens United is corrupt and should be overturned. Here, the Sanders position (really the Democratic Party position, since virtually the whole party holds it) doesn’t fare as well. I mean, only 78 percent of America thinks Citizens United was a bad decision; 17 percent take the Republican view that it was well decided.

3. That the minimum wage should be $15 an hour. Here’s one poll of many showing high support for that—63 percent. Also, 82 percent support indexing it to inflation. The Republican position that any increase is a job killer isn’t even asked, but based on those who “strongly” oppose an increase, it would seem to be a view held by around 10 percent of Americans.

4. Free college tuition. This one’s tighter, but even here, a poll last year showed people supporting it by 46-41 percent. That same poll showed more generally that people agreed with the idea, much more broadly reflective of the position of the Democratic Party, that no one should have to go into debt to attend a public university, by 62 to 29 percent. Radicals!

5. Free health care. This does less well, but still wins a plurality of 39-33, with the rest undecided.

Again, Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat, the Democratic Party isn’t going to be nominating him. But I use his positions because generally speaking they’re to the left of Hillary Clinton’s, and large majorities and pluralities support even them. Levels of support for Clinton’s versions of the above policies run higher. For example, she gets attacked from the left for saying the minimum wage could be $12 in rural and less expensive areas. Well, fully 75 percent support that, 12 points higher than the 63 percent who back a $15 minimum.

What about some of Clinton’s signature proposals? Paid family leave, is that radical? If so, 185 countries are left wing. Chad—Chad—gives mothers 14 weeks, paid at 100 percent! As for the polls, 79 percent of America is irresponsibly left wing on this question.

I could go on and on. I don’t want to turn the whole column into the March of the Poll Numbers. But OK, here’s one more. Marijuana legalization—maybe that’s radical? I mean, after all, it’s drugs. Nope, sorry; 58 percent support legalizing pot. The story is the same on same-sex marriage, contraceptive rights, and a whole bushelful of things.

Here’s what I’m getting at: The Democrats’ new positions look radical if you can only look at the world through a Beltway-specific, and indeed Capitol Hill-specific, lens.

Because if Congress is what you see when you see America, then you see a place where roughly half—no, more than half—of the people think that raising the minimum wage is radical, or that health care is a privilege you have to earn, or that climate change is a fantasy (or a Chinese conspiracy, as Donald Trump has been telling it), or that everyone up to and including schoolteachers ought to carry loaded guns.

Out in the real country, only crackpots think these things. As I’ve shown above, 70 percent of Americans agree with these non-left-wing, common sense positions. But the crackpot community is dramatically overrepresented in Washington and skews the way all these things are discussed and described on shows like Morning Joe.

So no, these positions aren’t radical. Or come to think of it, if they are, then it is because the American middle class has been somewhat radicalized. After the meltdown and the good-but-not-good-enough recovery, the people in the middle, making from $35,000 to $70,000 or thereabouts, said “We’ve had it.” They’ve spent 35 years treading water, watching the rich have a party while listening to politicians tell them that the money for their needs just wasn’t there. They’re sick of it. There’s a lot about Sanders I’m not crazy about, but it’s obvious why he’s struck such a nerve.

And this fall, Clinton can’t succumb to this “radical Democratic Party” frame for a second. It’s not radical to tell the 1 percent the party’s over. It’s radical—in the other, malevolent direction—not to.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 26, 2016

April 27, 2016 Posted by | Public Opinion, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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