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“What A ‘Career Politician’ Looks Like”: Even Though He’s Been In Elected Office Since Age 25, Walker Denies He’s A Career Politician

If recent polling is any indication, Republican voters place a premium on inexperience. Donald Trump, who’s never worked in government at any level, is obviously the dominant GOP candidate, at least for now, but he’s followed by Ben Carson, a retired far-right neurosurgeon who’s never sought or held public office.

Add Carly Fiorina to the mix and their combined poll support points to a striking detail: about half of GOP voters are backing presidential candidates who’ve never worked a day in public service.

It’s leading more experienced White House hopefuls to downplay their qualifications and pretend they’re not so experienced after all. The Associated Press reported yesterday:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker denies he’s a career politician – even though he has been in elected office since he was 25 years old and first ran for office when he was 22.

 The 47-year-old Republican presidential contender said in an interview with CNBC, released Tuesday, that he is “just a normal guy” and rejects the career politician label despite being in politics for most of his adult life.

The two-term governor argued, “A career politician, in my mind, is somebody who’s been in Congress for 25 years.”

By any fair measure, this really is silly. There’s no point in having a semantics debate over the meaning of the word “politician,” but when Scott Walker dropped out of college, it’s not because he was flunking – he was motivated in part by a desire to run for public office. The Republican lost that race at the age of 22, but Walker then moved to a more conservative district, tried again, and won a state Assembly race at the age of 25.

The man has, quite literally, spent more than half of his life as a political candidate or political officeholder. As an adult, Walker’s entire career has been in politics. The AP report added that Walker has served “nine years in the Assembly, eight years as Milwaukee County executive and is now in his fifth year as governor.”

What’s wrong with that? To my mind, nothing – there’s something inherently admirable about someone committing themselves to public service through elected office. If an American wants to make a difference, and he or she repeatedly earns voters’ support, it’s hardly something to be embarrassed about.

And in Scott Walker’s case, it’s hardly something to lie about. Presidential candidates who pretend to be something they’re not tend not to do well.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 2, 2015

September 2, 2015 Posted by | Elected Officials, GOP Presidential Candidates, Scott Walker | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Vain And The Desperate”: The Caress Of The Spotlight Redeems The Indignities Of The Process

In case you missed it, our nation’s officeholders, current and former, have been working overtime to make us proud.

Ted Cruz threw a histrionic hissy fit in front of Arab Christians. Sarah Palin went to a birthday party where her family reportedly got into a brawl. Mark Sanford emitted a self-pitying aria of romantic angst. Debbie Wasserman Schultz compared some Republicans to wife beaters.

Somewhere in there, I sank into a newly deep funk about the kinds of people drawn to politics these days.

Then I burrowed into Matt Bai’s new book and I hit rock bottom.

It’s called “All the Truth Is Out,” it will be published later this month and it’s about Gary Hart. Remember him: the presidential contender who rode a boat named Monkey Business into a media whirlpool? You should, as the book, which is excerpted in The Times Magazine this weekend, makes clear.

And the reason isn’t so much the scandal that swallowed him or his particular exit from the political arena. It’s the warning that his story sounded — about a new brutality on the campaign trail, about uncharted frontiers of media invasiveness and about the way both would wind up culling the herd, not in favor of the strongest candidates but in favor of those so driven or vacuous that the caress of the spotlight redeems the indignities of the process.

Has running for public office become less attractive than ever? Does it frighten off potential leaders who might benefit us and clear a path for aspirants with less to offer?

Bai’s book suggests as much, and he points a finger at political journalism, which, he writes, is “now concerned almost entirely with exposing lies and unearthing character flaws, sexual or not.”

“Hart’s downfall,” Bai continues, “was the thing that tipped the scales completely, the catalyst that made it O.K. — even necessary — for all aspiring political reporters to cast themselves as amateur P.I.s and psychotherapists. If post-Hart political journalism had a motto, it would have been: We know you’re a fraud somehow. Our job is to prove it.”

“All the Truth Is Out” has fascinating tidbits, in particular about friendships that bloomed between Hart and Mikhail Gorbachev and Hart and Bill Clinton, his descendant in the annals of sexual scandal.

It also has a few belly laughs — painful ones. Bai writes that when the media was consumed by Hart’s sex life, Johnny Carson joked that “the nomination would fall into Hart’s lap — if there was any room left there. On the highly rated sitcom ‘Golden Girls,’ one of the little old ladies commented of another character, ‘She’s Gary Hart’s campaign manager. It doesn’t pay much, but you don’t have to get out of bed to do it.’ ”

Those jokes serve a point: Hart was reduced to a single trait, and everything else he had to say was muffled by it. And the same questionable fate befell many politicians after him, as privacy perished and the media’s insistence on a certain sort of juicy narrative intensified.

“It’s just getting worse,” Stuart Stevens, the veteran Republican strategist who spearheaded Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, told me. “It’s the most grueling process imaginable.”

As CNN’s Peter Hamby noted in a study he wrote during a fellowship at Harvard last year, the accelerated news cycle of the social-media age demands meaningless scoops, trumpets dubious gaffes and turns the reporters trailing a candidate into “one giant, tweeting blob.”

That blob suffocates its quarry, often at the prodding of his or her rivals, who supply opposition research (or “oppo”) that strays from serious byways down silly cul-de-sacs. This was captured in a story about the Senate elections that was splashed across the top of the Politico website Friday afternoon.

The headline blared, “GOTCHA! How oppo took over the midterms.” And the story began, “Why would anyone want to talk about immigration, terrorism, gun control or the national debt, when there’s Alison Lundergan Grimes’ bus, John Walsh’s thesis, Bruce Braley’s chickens and Pat Roberts’ recliner? Gotcha stories — ranging from those tangentially related to issues of the day to the completely ephemeral and even absurd — have been front and center in an abnormally large number of top races this year.”

Everything’s a teapot, primed for a tempest. Although Joe Biden has a famously spastic tongue and there’s no reason to believe he is anti-Semitic, he makes an indecorous reference to “Shylocks” and the outrage machinery cranks into gear. The content-ravenous blogosphere lights up.

But the hysteria of the present media climate isn’t the only problem or turnoff. There’s the extended duration of a political race. There’s the ceaseless fund-raising, the burden of which was spelled out in an internal memo that leaked from Michelle Nunn’s Senate campaign in Georgia. It decreed that drumming up money should consume 80 percent of her time in the first quarter of 2014, declining to 70 percent in the third.

The memo identified Jews as a “tremendous financial opportunity,” so long as Nunn struck the right position on Israel, still to be finessed. Ah, the heartfelt conviction that animates today’s candidate!

Writing about the memo in The Times Magazine, Mark Leibovich said that his main takeaway was “that a political campaign today is a soul-killing pursuit.” He presumes a soul to take.

Seriously, who’s attracted to this ordeal? Some people with only the best intentions and motivations, yes. But also plenty like Sanford, whose 2,346-word Facebook post about his postmarital woes signaled a Newt-caliber neediness. Or like Wasserman Schultz, an intemperate warrior who, if Politico’s profile of her last week got it right, is consumed by self-centered ambition. Or like Cruz, with his lust for attention, even if it’s negative.

Or like Palin. She’s clearly on Bai’s mind when he writes that the “post-Hart climate” of estrangement between politicians and the press — and of shallow campaign pageantry — made it easier for candidates with little policy expertise or insight into governance, because no one expected any candidate to say anything too detailed or deep.

“A politician could duck any real intellectual scrutiny simply by deriding the evident triviality of the media,” Bai writes.

It’s odd and funny that the conservative writer Charles Krauthammer sought to vilify President Obama last week by calling him, of all things, a narcissist. When this came up on “The View” and narcissism was explained to Rosie O’Donnell as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of self and their own importance and a deep need for admiration,” she replied, “That’s every celebrity I know, including me.”

It’s a lot of politicians, too. The process guarantees it.

 

By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 20, 2014

September 22, 2014 Posted by | Media, Political Journalism, Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Missing Generation Of Obama-Inspired Politicians”: Congress Is The Last Place From Which Important Change Is Going To Come

The 2008 Obama presidential campaign, you’ll no doubt remember, was a marvel of social engagement, particularly among young people. They got involved in politics, they saw the potential for change, they sent emails and posted to Facebook and knocked on doors. But as Jason Horowitz reports in The New York Times, not too many of them decided to run for office. I’ll solve that mystery in a moment, but here’s an excerpt:

But if Mr. Lesser, who is on leave from Harvard Law School to run for office, is the face of the promised Obama political generation, he is also one of its few participants. For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama, the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office. Far more have joined the high-paid consultant ranks.

Unlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who inspired virtual legislatures of politicians and became generational touchstones, Mr. Obama has so far had little such influence. That is all the more remarkable considering he came to office tapping into spirit of volunteerism and community service that pollsters say is widespread and intense among young people. Mr. Obama has come to represent that spirit, but he has failed, pollsters say, to transform it into meaningful engagement in the political process.

There are a bunch of empirical claims here that may be questionable. Are there actually fewer young people running for office six years after Barack Obama got elected than there were in 1966 or 1986? Perhaps, but I don’t know that anyone has determined that for sure. And as for more of Obama staffers going into consulting than running for office, that always happens. You could without question say the same thing about every president since political consulting became an industry. Running for office is something very few people ever do, and for people who are working in politics and want to keep working in politics, the move from staffer to consultant is a natural career progression without huge risks.

More importantly, running for office is just one tiny part of “meaningful engagement in the political process.” What other things have all those former Obama volunteers been doing? The answer may be that they’ve actually been doing quite a bit.

But if mounting a congressional campaign is the one thing they haven’t been doing, it would be hard to blame them (and they may be running for other offices, but national reporters haven’t noticed). The last five years haven’t exactly made being a member of Congress look like the kind of fulfilling endeavor for which you’d make extraordinary life sacrifices. In fact, these days Congress looks like the last place from which important change is going to come. So if you’re an idealistic young person and the prospect of spending the next few years voting against the 50th and 60th and 70th Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act doesn’t stir you to the depths of your soul, it’s hard to say that’s Barack Obama’s failure.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 14, 2014

April 15, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Scourge Of The Businessman Politician”: I’m No Politician, But I Can Clean Up Washington

Attentive readers will recall that among my many pet peeves (and being able to complain to a wide circle of people about your pet peeves is one of blogging’s greatest fringe benefits) is the candidate who proclaims that you should vote for him because he’s “a businessman, not a politician.” As though the fact that there are a lot of shady car mechanics out there means that when you need a new timing belt, the best person for the job would be a florist or an astronomer, because they’re not tainted by the car repair racket.

I’ve written at some length about why exactly success in business doesn’t prepare you to be a good senator or governor, but the short version is that the two realms are extremely different. So it isn’t too surprising that when businesspeople decide to run for office, most of the time they fail. They come in with a lot of money, flush it down the toilet on an overly expensive campaign, and quickly discover that there is a whole set of skills necessary for success that they don’t possess. When you try to think of business leaders who got elected, then used their business acumen to do things differently and really made a major impact, it’s hard to think of many names other than Michael Bloomberg. Here and there you’ll find someone like former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen who did pretty well, but more common is candidates like Ross Perots, or Meg Whitman, or Linda McMahon, or Al Checci (there’s a blast from the past for you political junkies). They think, “Sure I can do this better than those empty suits—I’ve made a billion dollars!” And then they lose.

Not every time, of course, but most of the time. Which is why Democrats should be pleased to hear this:

Republicans are banking on businessmen to help them retake the Senate in 2014.

A half-dozen top GOP candidates boast records as wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs. If voters decide they’re successful job creators on Election Day, Republicans could be on their way to the six seats they need to win the upper chamber.

Now maybe these candidates are all going to turn out to be just aces. But if history is any guide, more than a few of them are likely to be terrible at running for office. For many of them it’s their first time, which is often a disaster, and it’s particularly hard to have your first run for office be a high-profile Senate race with lots of pressure and press scrutiny. (The list of highly successful politicians who had a loss in their first run for office, or one of their first runs, is a notable one. It includes Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, among many others. It seems that early loss is a highly edifying experience.)

It’s easy to see why this is happening. These candidates are attractive to party leaders because they bring their own money. Republicans have also spent years creating a cult of the businessman, trying to convince others, and no doubt convincing themselves, that those who succeed in business are the most virtuous, brilliant, and generally admirable of all human beings. And that may extend to primary voters, to a degree anyway. Which gives them a good shot to make it to the general election, and which also means that we’re going to have to endure a lot more of that “I’m no politician, so I can clean up Washington!” crap in this election. But what else is new.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 26, 2014

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Businesses, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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